India-Cremation on The Ganges, A Celebration of Fire

We traveled The Ganges at night in a wooden boat. The sun was setting and the white sky was diminishing into blackness. As usual, I can no expectations, I was just content happy to drift on the water and be able to take it all in.

Direct experience is wonderful but to a modern American it could be a bit uncomfortable. Back home it seems we have to be continuously stimulated and have our senses shocked. Watch a fast paced car commercial and count how many times they change the image or count how many 30 second ads there are during a TV program break. Is the length of our attention span decreasing?

To drift down a river in a foreign country like India, to be stranger in a very unfamiliar context , to be in a reality with no escape or off button is overwhelming. As a captive in a present moment, I tried to get my money’s worth, “I will not pass this way again”. I was on the famous Ganges River, Gandhi was here, people come to be absolved of their sins. It is sacred. I take in as much as I can with all my senses. Will it be enough?

We are told to look to our right, I see piles of wood, flames. and a lot of activity. This is the most sacred place of cremation in the India. If a person’s body is reduced to ashes here they are guaranteed eternal light after death.

The rituals practiced on this site never stop, they go on 24/7. A source fire has been maintained for hundreds of year and provides the flames for all burnings. Bodies wrapped in cloth and sometimes flowers are carried in by mourners, lower in to the The Ganges for purification, and then placed on the burning wood pyres. Later the deceased person’s ashes are returned to the Ganges.

Our journey in the darkness continues and we are told we are going to a ritual that is repeated every night by Hindu priests, The Celebration of Fire.

So much to take in, strange rituals, an unfamiliar religion. I shouldn’t judge. I have my own needs. Like all human beings since the beginning of time I, too, deal with the fear of the unknown. You would think with all our advancements we would have everything figured out and under control by now but it seems that the things that kept us up at night just keep multiplying. Everyone deals with this in their own way; materialism, power, drugs, alcohol, anything that offers escape.

I felt totally out of place in this dark Indian night until I was handed a diya, a floating votive candle surrounded by a ring of flowers. Our guide lit it and instructed me to put in the water to remember a loved one who has died. Tears came to my eyes. I placed the symbol in The Ganges and remembered my mom. More than anyone she is responsible for my trip to India. She prepared me in so many ways, giving me the skills and the strength to set out to unknown places.

Religion, let us live and let live. I will continue to learn and respect the beliefs of all people and hope others will do the same for me. My faith is how I deal with the puzzles of life. It’s so nice to know there are others who do the same.

10 thoughts on “India-Cremation on The Ganges, A Celebration of Fire

  1. llgreenesq

    I especially enjoyed this entry…..memories of these moving ceremonies and my own loss of my dear husband of 50 years! Thank you!

    Louise L. Greene, Esq. Attorney at Law

    ________________________________

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Autonomous Traveler

      Sorry for the loss of your husband. I have a feeling he was a very nice person. Yes, it was very moving to remember our loved ones at that moment. All the best to you, my friend!

      Like

    1. The Autonomous Traveler

      I know, travel helps us be tolerance. But we can start here at home by listening to people’s stories and trying to understand their viewpoints. It’s a start. Have a great day.

      Like

  2. Michele

    Thank you, Joyce, for the great pictures of nights on the Ganges. To witness such rituals certainly put things in perspective. Every culture has their own way to deal with lost. I agree with you that our attention span is lowering (at least mine is or is it my patience?). It can be difficult for North American to just be in the moment and savour it to the fullest. I can relate to your experience somewhat as I also felt so humbled to walk the “Original Way of the Cross” on my trip to Jerusalem.
    Keep on enlightening us, Joyce.

    Liked by 1 person

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