Vinicio Fosser

Varanasi Journal #3

The last part of Vinicio Fosser's journal is a full experience, lived from within, in the holy city of Varanasi, India.
Varanasi | Vinicio Fosser ©2019

This post is also available in: Italiano

At the Manikarnika ghat, I follow the scraggly flip-flop of a little boy who calls me “come…” trying to evade a couple of other tattered kids who have popped up in the dark…from the balcony I listen as they carry an orange shroud toward the shore and chant something I don’t understand while the skinny man-but they are all skinny-with a shaved head and dressed only in a white cloth repeats Rama nama satya hai — Rama nama satya hai in a gentle chant immersing the body in Mother Ganges, a baptism before the fire.

The man with the shaved head, the one most closely related to the deceased, leads the line five times counterclockwise and it is he who pours the sandalwood oil before lighting the pyre by drawing on the sacred fire that never goes out and has been burning since the world was created, here at the Manikarnika ghat in Varanasi–he who has had his head and eyebrows shaved in the ritual that makes him suspended between the living and the dead.

He will be the one to break the skull with a bamboo stick at the end of the fire to release the soul and pour a banta of water on the left shoulder to symbolically extinguish the pyre…from here–in eleven days of mourning and celebration–the soul will reach the opposite bank safely on the twelfth if all rites have been observed correctly… and the ashes are raked and swept into the river and a new body carried and immersed before being set to burn…even the water is sooty and dark, almost burned…new boats arrive overloaded with logs…skeletal little men, industrious labour in the service of death, take them on their shoulders.

The only ones with sad faces are us Westerners, but the dead here do not like outbursts of grief. The amount of malaise, poverty, suffering and pain that these people endure without complaining, without expecting to get better soon, without even the hope of reducing fatigue is enormous… while we are distressed by the mere waiting, the delay…

Outside the “pedestrian zone”, it is a constant honking of horns…but it is magnificent to think that there are places in the world where din, dust, and splaying thrive, where there are no orderly and silent rows, where elephant-headed gods are being wheeled around by rats, where deranged people pass themselves off as saints, where cows fertilize the streets, monkeys perform acrobatics on temple pinnacles, and children beg for a few rupees…

Everything was clamouring to be photographed–I had my camera, of course, but I couldn’t…and… everything remained in my heart.

Varanasi | Vinicio Fosser ©2019
Varanasi | Vinicio Fosser ©2019
Original text in Italian - In house translation
India
Varanasi, India

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