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Thursday, May 28, 2015

along the ganges in varanasi

After a grueling twelve hour turned nineteen hour overnight train from Delhi, I arrived bleary eyed in the oldest city in India, Varanasi. Along this city's banks lies the Ganges river. It is the largest river in India with an extraordinary religious importance for Hindus. Ironically enough, it is also the sixth most polluted river in the world. People travel great distances to bathe, drink, wash their laundry and cleanse their souls in full view on the riverbank.  

Hindus also believe that Varanasi is a favorable place to die. They believe that dying and being cremated here offers "moksha", liberation from the endless cycle of rebirth. The sights, sounds and smells in and around the ghats, a series of stairs which lead down to the river, can be overwhelming.

As I walk along the banks, I notice that a few ashes the wind picked up from the cremations have settled on my clothes and in my hair. I can also feel a heaviness in my lungs when I breathe. Out of respect for the  deceased and their families, photographs are not allowed in the burning ghats. Instead, I take about a million mental photographs. Shrouded bodies laying on pyres while members of their families recite prayers and light fires below them. I stand there and watch the whole process fascinated by what is so very different than what I'm used to seeing in Western culture. 

All photographs © Lisa Rozwadowski

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