Report from the city, which is forbidden to shoot
Every day in Indian Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges River, hundreds of bodies are cremated - Hindus believe that those who are burned in the holy city go straight to Nirvana, bypassing the stages of rebirth. Once at the fireplace, photographer Alexander Utkin uncovered a camera and soon realized why there are so few photos of this ritual on the web.
- Varanasi for Hindus has about the same meaning as for Catholics - the Vatican. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, it is about three thousand years old, although local people believe that all are five.
Varanasi is a major pilgrimage site for Hindus. According to their teachings, this city is the center of the earth. Religious activity in Varanasi is associated with embankments along the Ganges River, where Hindus perform the most popular ritual - ablution. Every day tens of thousands of Indians come to the city for this.
In parallel with the washing, here, by the river, everyday washing takes place.
Especially for believers on the banks of the Ganges built ghats, stone stepped structures, which is performed the ablution ritual. In total there are 84 ghats.
The most sacred to Hindus are the Dhasshwamedh and Assi ghats. They are held every evening the ceremony Ganga Aarti, the sacrifice to the deity of the river Ganges. People observe this ceremony from the embankment and from the water.
On the ghats of Manikarnik and Harishchandra, special areas for cremation have been built. Every day hundreds of dead Hindus are burned there.
Each of the billion professors of Hinduism dreams of a ritual funeral on the banks of the Ganges. It is believed that the deceased, whose body was burned in Varanasi, instantly falls into nirvana, bypassing the cycle of reincarnation. The cremation rite has strict rules, the main thing is to burn the body exclusively on a fire made of natural wood.
Bonfires here burn 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. After burning, the remains are dumped into the river. The bodies of some of the dead — monks, pregnant women, children with leprosy — are not burned. A stone is tied to their corpses, taken to the middle of the Ganges and thrown from a boat.
The cremation rite has strict rules, the main thing is to burn the body exclusively on a fire made of natural wood.
On the approach to the ghats, every first person considers it his duty to warn the foreigner with a camera:sir! ”Particularly annoying followers say that it is forbidden to photograph a ritual and you can be sent to the police for breaking this rule, then to the prison where you will be beaten and eventually deported. After that, it usually turns out that a person who is not indifferent to your fate is directly involved in cremation, that his family has been supporting fire for centuries, selling wood, flowers and other ritual accessories.
Such conversations, as a rule, end with a business proposal: the photographer is invited to remove the cremation very close, next to relatives, paying 1,000 rupees (about $ 15) for each click of the shutter.
One of these guides did not lag behind even after my refusal to pay for the shooting and offered to take me to the roof, which offers a good view.
The picture was really impressive. My guide told me that in this place the richest Indians were cremated: the ceremonies were distinguished by a large number of various attributes and the appearance of the deceased themselves and their relatives. The guide wrapped in a handkerchief kept repeating: “Take pictures while I'm nearby — there will be no problems. No one will ask for money. ”
At some point I made three shots, clearly hearing how behind him he was counting out loud: “Once! Two! Three! Three thousand rupees from you, sir! ”
My refusal to pay led to a scuffle: the guide pressed me against the wall and demanded a rupee, threatening the police. Soon he came to the rescue of another custodian of ancient customs. Fortunately, there was a friend with me who managed to get me out of the fighting that started.
Those who do not trade for extortion, earn on the rental of boats. The annoying “Boat, sir?” Accompanies the visitor everywhere. In addition, tourists in Varanasi are persistently offered to undergo the rite of purification of karma, shave-shave, drink tea or try drugs.
But if you do not take into account the funeral ceremony, photographing in India is a pleasure. People seem to not notice you, do not climb into the frame and do not pose. You can take a person in minutes, but he will not say a word and will look through you.