Where: Varanasi, India People: Indians Religion: Hinduism Ritual: Cremation
It can be discussed whether Hinduism is a religion or closer to a set of different complex ways of believing that have the same origin and share the same values and ideas. Hinduism may be the oldest of the five main religions.
Although local customs and traditions vary greatly, the basic idea of Hinduism is the rebirth. Your good deeds in life are reflected in your rebirth. If you have behaved properly, you will be reborn on a “higher level”. However, if you have behaved badly, you will be reborn as something low-grade, such as a worm. Life and death are aspects of the same existence until the spirit/soul is freed from the cycle and merges with the divine.
It usually takes many rebirths to achieve this release, which is the ultimate goal. But there is a shortcut. If you die and get cremated in Varanasi, you are almost sure to achieve moksha (the release). Therefore, Hindus from all over the world travel to Varanasi to die and get cremated there. Cremation is by many Hindus believed to be the best way to treat a body, as the spirit/soul is easier released if there is no trace of the body.
A traditional cremation ceremony begins with a ritual washing and dressing of the body, which is then decorated. The body is carried to the cremation grounds, while prayers to the god of death, Yama, are cahnted. The body is dipped in the Ganges River, whose water is sacred and cleans all sins away. After that, the dead is laid on a large bonfire, which is prepared by the workers at the cremation ground. It is usually the oldest son who carries out the rituals. With a burning twig of the holy kusha grass, he walks five times around the body (once for each of the five elements where the fifth element is the spirit/soul) towards the clock since everything goes backwards in death. Then he lights up the fire. The dead is now a victim of the god of fire, Agni, who brings the dead to heaven. During the cremation, the grandson walks around the fire and recites mantras to ensure that the spirit/soul of the dead is released. After the cremation, the ash is thrown into the river, preferably Ganges, and the mourners leaves from there without looking back.
A huge thanks to the family of Shakundtla Devi and all the other families at Manikarnika Ghat.