Who dies in the waters of the Ganges obtains Heaven - bathing and burning Hindu dead - Benares, India
Photographer: Ricalton, James
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic photograph of a burning ghat at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, taken by James Ricalton in c. 1903, from The Underwood Travel Library: Stereoscopic Views of India. Hindus regard the River 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. The ashes are later scattered onto the river. The cremation ghats are presided over by the Doms. This is one of a series of 100 photographs, designed to be viewed through a special binocular viewer, producing a 3D effect. The series was sold together with a book of descriptions and a map to enable the 'traveller' to imagine that he was touring around India. Stereoscopic cameras, those with two lenses and the ability to take two photographs at the same time, were introduced in the mid 19th century and revolutionised photography. They cut down exposure time and thus allowed for some movement in the image without blurring as subjects were not required to sit for long periods to produce sharp results.