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The Burning Ghat, Benares.

The Burning Ghat, Benares.

Photographer: Bourne, Samuel

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1865

Shelfmark: Photo 11/(41)

Item number: 1141

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the Burning Ghats, Varanasi, taken by Samuel Bourne in the 1860s. Hindus regard the Ganges as amrita, the elixir of life, which brings purity to the living and salvation to the dead. Those who die at Varanasi are considered extremely fortunate and blessed for they attain release from samsara, the unceasing cycle of death and rebirth, and are assured of moksha or enlightenment. The dead person’s family brings the body down from the city on a bamboo stretcher covered in a red or white cloth, following with chants and prayers. The body is dipped into the Ganges and put on a funeral pyre lit by the eldest son or a close relative from an eternal flame which is kept burning on the ghat. Burning the body is a way of offering it to Agni, the god of fire. The ashes are later scattered onto the river. The cremation ghats are presided over by the Doms.

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