Varanasi is India’s one of the holiest, Hindus pilgrimage place and India’s most curious city. Why is it called Holy city Varanasi? In Hinduism, the only way to end the reancarnation is, to die and to be cremated in Varanasi. For this reason, many Hindus come to Varanasi and await death.
Why is Varanasi Holy City?
The belief of reincarnation is the main basis of Hinduism. Hindus believe that they come to Earth again and again after they die, but in fact they want to end this death-life cycle and restore their souls to eternal freedom. This is called “moksha”. Feeling that death is approaching, old or sick Hindus come to Varanasi and wait for the day they will die. For more detailed information, you can read What is Hinduism ? and Religions in India.
Varanasi is the city of Shiva, God of destruction, by the holy Ganges river. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, where settlement still continues, with its 3000-year history. It is also holy in Buddhism as it is the place where Buddha made his first speech after enlightenment.
How are Cremation Ceremonies in Varanasi?
There are 2 ghat in Holy City Varanasi where cremation ceremonies are held. Ghat means steps leading down to the river. These steps were built as the river level changed throughout the year. You will see a lot of ghats in Varanasi and across India. Except for those used for cremation ceremonies, people take a dip to the river to purify their sins from these ghats, wash clothes, take boat tours, and aarti ceremonies are held to salute the Ganges river.
Cremation ceremonies in Varanasi ,continue for 24 hours without interruption .Approximately 300 cremation ceremonies are carried out a day. The body is wrapped in a white cloth ,brought to the ghat on the shoulders to be cremated. First of all, it is placed to Ganges river to take a dip to purify the soul. An average of 300 kg of wood is required for cremation and the process takes 4 hours. Sandalwood , various oils and species are used to avoid the smell. However, because sandalwood is expensive, who cannot afford it ,they put wood from other trees in the lower layers and only cover with sandalwood on top.
The person who will start the cremation is the eldest son, grandson or brother of the deceased. Before starting the ceremony, he shaves his hair and beard and take a dip in Ganges River to be purified from his sins. After 7 turns around the body, the cremation process begins. These are all included in the ritual. After the relatives of the deceased have been there for a while, they transfer the continuation of the process to professionals. After the whole body is cremated, the ashes are thrown into the Ganges river.
Who Is Not Cremated?
Although it is the aim of all Hindus to die and be cremated in Varanasi, under some conditions this process is not done.
-Children under 9 years old
-who died in pregnancy
-Sadhus (Hindu clergy)
– who died due to snake bites (Hindus believe the snake is a sacred animal)
If not, what are they doing when they die? Thay have been tied with stones at their feet and left in the Ganges river.
Varanasi from My Eyes
-Varanasi is the dirtiest place in India in my opinion. Especially the ghats where ceremonies are held are incredibly dirty, garbage everywhere, cows dirty everywhere. So I was very surprised that these sacred ceremonies were held in this dirty place.
-I experienced my only stomach problem in India in Varanasi. Really dirty everywhere.
-Before I went, I watched so many videos about Varanasi and it is said there were no photos or videos taken in cremation ceremonies. (Of course this is what should happen because it is a sacred ceremony) For this reason, I thought just I’m gonna watch the ceremony from far away without camera. But when I went to the ghats ,I was so surprised. Everyone both locals and tourists was taking selfies and videos.After I see them I took pictures and videos and nobody warned me.
-I think everything in Varanasi is now corrupt. Everyone is trying to make money by using religious excuses. While watching the ceremonies, someone suddenly approaches you and tells you something about Hinduism and tries to get your money, or he puts a paint to your forehead and wants you to pay for it.
-You can really watch the cremation ceremonies very closely. It is so close that you can see everything very clearly, including the face of the deceased.
– I did not smell any burning smell in the area where the ceremonies were held. Many people wonder about the smell but as I told you I never smelled. I guess sandalwood and incense work. Even a small note: My Canadian friend with whom I was in Varanasi had watched these ceremonies in Nepal before and said that it smells of burning so badly, but it is very interesting that this does not happen in Varanasi.
-To be honest, I could not find the spiritual atmosphere in Varanasi which is mentioned in many articles and videos in. I think the most spiritual place in India was Pushkar. Of course everyone’s experiences are different.
– I hope my negative commends don’t make change your mind if you want to visit to Varanasi.It is one of the most interesting place in the World. Definitely you should go and see it with your eyes.
What to Do in Varanasi?
– Of course, first of all, the purpose of going to Varanasi is to watch the cremation ceremonies. You can even go both day and night, both are different atmosphere.
– Watch the aarti ceremonies held at sunrise and sunset every day of the year. The ceremonies to salute the Ganges are truly a visual feast.
-Make sure to take a boat tour at sunrise. Looking at Varanasi from the Ganges is truly fascinating.
– Watch the Hindus who walk along the Ganges and take a dip in the river to be purified from their sins.
-Eat fruity lassi at the Blue Lassi. Lassi means a mixture of yogurt and water. Yoghurt is used a lot in Indian cuisine. Blue Lassi is a very famous place, but almost every street there are fake Blue Lassis. Find the original one.
– Be sure to stop by Sarnath, where Buddha gave his first speech, which is 15km from Varanasi. This is one of the most important places for Buddhism.
-Varanasi is a small place. You can do everything within 2 days.