EPL Prediction Competition 2018-2019 Kata Rocks
Login | Create Account Poll Currency Weather Facebook Youtube Search

King of the ‘Ghats’

INDIA: It is well past midnight as Bahadur Choudhary, a fourth-generation caretaker of Varanasi’s ancient cremation grounds, sprinkles ceremonial butter on huge funeral pyres burning on the banks of the Ganges.

culturedeath
By AFP

Sunday 29 July 2018, 02:30PM


Members of the caste Doms maintain funeral pyres in Varanasi, India. Photo: Chandan Khanna / AFP

Members of the caste Doms maintain funeral pyres in Varanasi, India. Photo: Chandan Khanna / AFP

Choudhary is illiterate, poor and low caste, but his role in Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in India, is sacrosanct in Hindu mythology.

Born a keeper of the flame, tradition dictates that Choudhary oversee the sacred fires and cremation grounds at Varanasi that Hindus believe free them from the cycle of life and death.

These funeral custodians are the Doms, a small community living by Varanasi’s burning ghats, where cremation fires burn day and night and the smell of the dead hangs heavy in the air.

“The dead are our only business,” Choudhary said at the Manikarnika ghat, where thick black smoke rose from pyres as huddled families sobbed, and beggars and near-naked holy men wandered around seeking donations.

For centuries, the Doms have provided the ceremonial flame used to cremate the dead brought to Varanasi for moksha, or release from the Hindu life cycles.

At the ghats, the Doms pass flaming torches to the families of the deceased, who ignite the wooden pyres dotting the riverside.

As the bodies wrapped in white shroud and marigold flowers are turned to ash, the remains are collected and sprinkled in the Ganges, and the Doms collect their dues.

Choudhary, instructing two fire attendants to add more butter and wood to a pyre, said their community survives off whatever the mourners pay them.

“Some can barely afford the cremation,” he said. “Others make generous donations, and even offer to feed all the labourers.”

Choudhary said he could earn as little as 150 rupees (B72) for backbreaking labour that could last 18 hours. A good day could bring up to $75 (B2,508), he said.

Thailand Property Awards

It is little income to sustain their families, Choudhary said, but there are few other opportunities for work.

Despite the importance of their ceremonial duty in Hindu funeral rites, the Doms hail from the bottom rungs of India’s lowest-caste Dalit community.

All are engaged at some level in the cremation business – maintaining fires in the ghat temples, arranging wood for the pyres or selling flowers and other ornaments for the ceremony.

The most coveted role is that of “king” of the ghats – a temporary designation that rotates through Dom families. The titleholder is afforded clout, honour and additional alms in the day-to-day running of the cremations.

But most within the marginalised community work are confined to menial jobs tending to the dead.

On the ghats, the Doms spend long hours surrounded by the heat of pyres and the swirling chaos synonymous with Varanasi.

Some also sift for any valuables, including gold ornaments or even gold teeth left behind on the bodies by family members.

Choudhary wanted his two sons to find a different path in life, but both dropped out of school to follow in their father’s footsteps, he said. They will become the fifth generation from his family to tend the pyres.

“Times may change but nothing will change here. People will keep dying and coming to Varanasi, and will look to the Doms to do the sacred work of the gods.”

 

 

Comment on this story

* Please login to comment. If you do not have an account please register below by simply entering a username, password and email address. You can still leave your comment below at the same time.

Comments Here:
Comments Left:
# Characters
Username:
Password:
E-mail:
Security:

Be the first to comment.

Have a news tip-off? Click here

 

Phuket community
Phuket Governor to appeal to Cabinet for B108mn to improve marine safety

The list of "improvements" are a telling indication they have no idea, stop being so lazy ...(Read More)


Foul stench of sewage in black-water canal spurs Phuket hotel wastewater inspections

“We are planing to inspect suspicious hotels in the area from Monday (Aug 21),” he said. Will n...(Read More)


Phuket to hold mass merit-making event for Phoenix victims

Poor wording, "merit-making" Merit, the quality of being particularly good or worthy, esp...(Read More)


Phuket Governor to appeal to Cabinet for B108mn to improve marine safety

So this is his final gift to his cronies before being shuffled to the next area where he can continu...(Read More)


On Phuket, hotel guests check out of plastic waste

Why the pic of Bali when every beach on Phuket right now is also encrusted with refuse? Could the ...(Read More)


Phuket law office raided over nominee land deals for foreigners

If you ever need some remote editing done...I know just the person. btw I loathe the 3 stage captch...(Read More)


Foul stench of sewage in black-water canal spurs Phuket hotel wastewater inspections

Once again their "solution" is let it flow more freely into the sea. The guys says it stin...(Read More)


Truck driver blames reckless tourist for motorbike slam

How utterly tacky to show the victim and the blood. Please pretend like you've got some class an...(Read More)


Disaster officials on alert amid heavy rain warning

If you bothered to read the article it states, "... small boats keep ashore lasting 20 August.&...(Read More)


Phuket Town ‘unofficial parking crew’ cleared by police to collect ‘tips’

Geez...by putting your own silly spin on the article, don't you people read or understand a simp...(Read More)