Monday, December 27, 2010

A Heavy Hour in Varanasi

While wandering the thin ally's in Old Varanasi we were pushed aside by crowds of people carrying shrouded bodies of the dead on stretchers made of bamboo toward the river. We turned down a different path, but eventually noticed piles of wood packed along the edges and smoke filling the streets telling us we were coming upon the cremation ghat. It was as if we had no choice but to visit again.

The quiet spot we had seen in the early morning was now bustling with a dozen bodies on fire and others lined up while more were being carried in. Asiana was initially reluctant to visit this place again, but once we looked upon it we were mesmerized by the action, energy, and non-chalant chaos taking place. We perched ourselves in a small overlook and quietly witnessed. The energy was as thick and heavy as the smoke that filled the air. It was harsh and extreme. We watched the well decorated bodies have their flowers and gold shrouds ripped off and tossed into the bottom of the large bundles of wood, these to be burned with the bodies. Every moment made us dizzy with the pure stickiness of the place.

Cows were tied up next to us to provide manure for the fires. A freshly born calf of one was gushing diarrhea and a scruffy crippled dog was licking it up as if it had not eaten in weeks. A bird shit on me just as I was becoming overwhelmed at the rawness of it all. A man started giving the low down that I had received earlier that morning by a worker and before I knew it I was being dragged up some steps and standing a meter away from a burning body giving off heat that was searing. I was on the upper deck reserved for the Brahmans and I had to dance around bodies to get away from the heat. My completely freaky "tour guide" reached into the ashes of a freshly burned body and marked my forehead with the remains of the upper class for good luck. I could energetically feel Asiana worrying about me and ran out of the area back to where she was. The man ran after me. Others told Asiana not to give that guy any money and when looking at him we could tell he was a druggie desperate for some cash. I was shaking from the intensity of it all, and ref us to give him any Baksheesh (tip). He was aggressive and persistent telling me it would be bad karma for me not to give him anything. I had a moment where I felt like I was going to turn on him, raise my arm, and start yelling either out of anger or at least to show him how scary I could get, but I have not really witnessed true anger in this country. There are arguments all the time, but there is really never anger behind it. I could not take this personally. It was not about me. I did not want to be that way. I let him know calmly that his poor behavior was forcing me to leave and it was his karma at stake. At this, Asiana and I walked off, he ran by trying to get in front of us and slipped on some shit and fell down the stairway leading to the fires. I winced, but didn't look back. Sometimes karma acts fast. I never saw him again.

Walking away down the cool shaded alleys I felt completely calm. It was a powerful moment I not only witnessed, but felt a part of. It was a moment I had to have. This dark moment helped me in my lightness.

Location:Varanasi India

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