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Life & Death & Thanatology

August 04, 2020 3 min read

The first trip to Banaras in 2016 had a spiritual purpose: to immerse the ashes of my grandma in the Gangaji.

Death brought me to Banaras the first time.

And so it was not a topic to avoid or shy away from.

In fact, if one were to define the essence of Banaras or the single-most important aspect of life in Banaras, it would be Death.

For to recognise that is no greater event in life after birth than death, demands a philosophical and objective view – one that only be assumed only when everyone around is on the same plane or platform.

And that spiritual ethos is exactly what the hundreds of  temples, the priest caretakers of the temples, their Sanskrit chantings & artis of the priests, the lamps and bells accompanying the chants, the engaged dedication of the locals, the flowers  and the prasad offerings provide.

And sitting amidst all that beauty of sound and vision and scented smoke that overwhelm all one’s senses and blank out thoughts, I am able to confront the idea of death.

One’s own and that of others.

It feels uncomfortable at first but the place accustoms me to the idea that it is the only certain thing in life…

According to Hindu ideology the soul lives on and takes on another life form after the death of the body and this cycle or rebirth continues. One’s karma determines the next life form. Now one can be released altogether from this cycle of life and death and thus obtain “moksh” or release, if one were to die in Kashi …also known as Banaras.

And so there are several places that people come to when they know their end is near.  Close family brings them from far and wide, and they all live together at Mukti Bhavan – cooking, eating and living together until the last breath of the dear one. The family suspends their life for this period and devote their time to this event.  These places are run by charitable trusts and so the rent is negligible but one can stay in each of these places only for a limited period.  It is a time of peaceful family bonding of giving all the love one has in one’s heart. Because there simply won’t be a ‘later’.

On my visit I met one family that was in this peirod of waiting but out of deference,I did not take any photos of them. My photos are only of the building.

But there are plenty on the internet and most showcase the last exchanges of love.

1. The Mukti Bhavan



And the Moksh Bhavan



The irony is that while Kashi’s most important feature is the arrangement for death, each day is conducted in celebration of life…. more about that in the next note.


There must be infinite peace in knowing in advance that one is going to die soon and to prepare for it properly.

To have that chance to say all you need to and pass on all the important messages to all concerned.

If death itself didn’t kill me, the realisation that before I went silent I forgot to tell my children the keys to the textile storage room would certainly kill me fully and finally!


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