“I am the Fire who will ignite your mind
I am the Fire who will take you to the path of glory
I am the Fire who will purify you for total renouncement
I am the Fire who will engulf you to pave the way to meet me at the End”
– The Soul, always an unknown Saint.
Ashes were flying everywhere. The smell of the burning ghat was choking my senses.
I was standing at one of the corners of Manikarnika Ghat, the famous Hindu burning ghat of Varanasi, where dead bodies are burnt in wooden pyres and the fire continues to spread its fangs round the clock.
It was in 2006 when I made my first involved trip with my camera to Varanasi. Everything was shining- the temples, the Ghats, the sadhus, the priests and the common people! But at any point of time, never I thought of facing the brutal truth of Death till I reached Manikarnika Ghat. The sole purpose was to go to one end and try to capture a better pictorial view of Varanasi but it threw me off-balanced!
“Yes, it is the Hindu belief! – asserted the priest, the beetle-nut seller, the sweet-shop owner, the saree seller and the boatman, “If anyone dies here, even a sinner, goes to Heaven .”
By the time the boat brought me to Dashashwamedh Ghat, where, the daily Ganga Arti was at its peak. The smell of burnt human flesh and ash dust were replaced by beautiful light, chanting of hymns with a melodious commentary about beauty of life!
It was a sigh of relief! The crowd, the colors and the Arti made the atmosphere electrifying. But it was short-lived. The boat was moving forward and bumped in to Harish Chandra Ghat, the other end of Varanasi Ghats where the flames were engulfing the darkness. I could see the glowing red faces of the dear ones of the dead, I could feel the tears rolling down their cheeks and asked myself-Who was she or he?
“It is a curse if you live beyond a certain point of time! “ The sage told me.
Why? –I countered.
“It is the other room which is far better than this one! Do not try to cling on to this place”- He smiled.
The thick smoke, smell of human flesh being burnt and the glowing flames were still with me.
It was an aversion, dilemma, fear and at the same time a curiosity pushed me to explore the different faces of death, related rituals and mood to understand Hinduism and its philosophies of life.
This work will take you to harsh realities where a small boy just lost his parent, someone with dazed look is being supported by his friend at the time of distress. People shave their heads and wrap themselves with white cloths for all rituals on the Ghats as well as in The Ganges. “Pinda Dan” or offerings to the ancestors and the dead relative are conducted by the priests (the whole family consider the ritual as a holy one if it is in Varanasi).
And you could also watch children playing with kites at the backdrop of the wooden logs used for the pyre! The contrast in our lives are the thread which binds all our lives. Life is not only a journey but a catalog of contrast!
About Abhijit Bose
Abhijit started his journey in photography in 1978 with ISOLY-II, a point and shoot camera. He is well traveled in Europe, Africa and Asia. He specializes in Fine Arts, Landscape and Travel Photography.
He received the Excellence FIAP Honors from Federation de l’Art Photographique, world’s highest body in Photography. He also holds the Crown 2 Honors from Global Photographic Union, Greece. His works are awarded in prestigious international competitions. More than 500 of his works are widely accepted in more than 50 countries. He also published his works in Dodho, NatGeo and The Statesman Tabloid, London to name a few. He was thrice finalist in HIPA, UAE, and also a Silver Medal winner in Nature-Landscape category in Moscow International Foto Awards, 2017. His works were also awarded in IPA 2017 and PX3 (2017). He is based in Mumbai.
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