16-21 january 2011 – manikarnika ghat

(disclaimer: these are not my best shots from the afternoon; i’m going to try to get those published somewhere. you get the rest.)

on my fourth day in varanasi, i went to manikarnika ghat. manikarnika ghat is one of the two crematoria on the banks of the ganges. according to my guide – an 18-year-old kid who basically started showing me around unbidden, but who ended up being a lot of help – they burn upwards of 400 bodies each day there. (i’d estimate only 100-200 based on the traffic i saw, but i may have been there at a slow time; only two bodies came in while i was shooting, whereas during my first visit four days before, they were coming in one every five minutes.) the mourners bring the body, wrapped in colorful cloth, down to the ganges to be washed; then the dalits take the body up and build a pyre. meanwhile, the chief mourner – a husband, oldest son, etc. – is being shaved by one of the barbers just outside the ghat: the barber shaves the mourner’s face and head, leaving only a tuft of hair at the back. the dalits sprinkle the body with sandalwood powder and spices and then the chief mourner lights the pyre with embers taken from a 3,500-year old, continuously burning fire.

photography is strictly prohibited inside the ghat, unless you get permission from the boss. permission cost me 6,000 rupees for an hour of shooting. (my guide had said it would only cost 5,000 rupees, but the boss said, through an interpreter, that there were a lot of policemen who’d have to be paid.)