Some Questions About Varanasi/Benares,
First of all, I would like to state as a disclaimer that I am in no way trying to portray Sanatana Dharama and it's adherents in a bad light. The following, rather mish-mashed questions are simply queries that have been lingering in my mind for quite some time now. In light of this, I sincerely request the moderators of this section of the forums to let this post go through. My intention is inquisitive and not to defame my religion.
So please, be patient with me and my ignorance, and kindly answer the following questions-
Recently I have seen a certain article about the negative aspects of Benares being posted all over various internet forums. The article itself is rather bit bitter-sweet in it's approach towards the author's account in India, and specifically Benares. There are also some very graphic adjoining pictures that go along with the article, which, to be honest, put me in a rather disturbed state of mind and somewhat sceptical and disillusioned with (what seem to be) malpractices in that very great holy city, the very beacon of Hinduism.
Here is the link to the article :- Reflections in the midst of extreme poverty and filth — a record of a trip in India
With all due respect to Benares, a city of great antiquity, history and valour; at times I have found it to be a bizarre place in some aspects, be it the occasional floating corpses on the Ganga to the tamasic Aghori Sadhus. These are some aspects of this holy city that are often sensationalized and somewhat exaggerated - perhaps not exaggerated, but it's presence is overemphasized and thereon these facts are propagated to the Western world as the only truth, further reinforcing negative stereotypes while ignoring the positive aspects of the city which far exceed the negatives and the bizarre ones.
Yet, as a new generation of rational-thinking, progressive and modern Hindus; we cannot brush aside such aspects of our country and our holy cities.
Forgive me for being blunt in my approach towards some of the cultural affinities of the city, but I find it rather absurd that people sip, clean, bathe and pray in the same water in which there are un-cremated, bloated and rotting corpses; human and animal excreta and the pollutants and effluents released by the surrounding industries of the area. I do not want to sound like the anti-Hindus and our other adversaries, but I cannot help it!
I have read that it is believed that there was a mass migration of original Sanatana Dharmis from the North-Western parts of India upon the aftermath of the demise of the ancient Indus Valley civilization to the Ganga. The emotional attachment was high towards the holy river, and thus the Ganga furnished as a new giver of life. Thus, the holy dip (bathing) in the Ganga is a reflection of this attachment which has lasted thousands of years. But is the attachment really so much that reverence to Ganga-mata is placed above basic hygiene?
I was under the impression that the phenomenon of floating corpses in the Ganga is mainly owing to misinterpretation on the part of the largely impoverished Hindus of the area. As far as I know; as per Hindu tradition, merely some of the ash of the individual who met his/her demise is supposed to be sprinkled in the Ganga. This is part of the rites towards the liberation of the soul. But for some time now, whole corpses are being put in the once beautiful Ganga as many cannot even afford to cremate their dead fully. I have also heard that the (dead) Sadhus are not cremated by their fellow Aghoris, and are instead left to float in the river.
Till a while ago I thought that letting uncremated corpses float into the river was a recent phenomenon. But apparently, this practice was prevalent even in Sri Buddha's times wherein his disciples sat in meditation watching decaying corpses in order to create revulsion towards the human body and thus aid their efforts to give up clinging to their own body and its sensory desires?
Does traditional Dharmic philosophy propagate such a practice, or is it misinterpretation on the part of the locals there? Also, do Brahmins sometimes carry out the same in Benares?
Would someone be able to give me a rough account on the actual ritual that needs to be carried out for the expired person(s) near the Ganga?
It is indeed with regards to Benares, but unrelated to the queries above.
Often I see, be it in documentaries of Benares or in Internet photos of Benares, many pilgrims on the banks of Ganges. Many of them also bear the sacred thread - a disproportionate amount considering that Brahmans make a minority in both India and Benares - although it definitely does have one of the highest concentration of Brahmins for an Indian city.
Compare - typical Pandit(s) from Varnasi performing Ganga Aarti (click on the thumbnails to make it bigger)
Some Hindu pilgrims, tagged as "Brahmin" on the site which I retrieved it from ..
..and also bearing the sacred thread, although their attire is totally different from the previous Pandit(s)
Once again, I sincerely request the moderators to let this go through. Kindly answer these queries when you have the time, brothers and sisters.
Jai Sri Ram!
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