From my arrival in Varanasi, clinging to my luggage to keep it from falling off the small bicycle rickshaw that escorted me into the city to my last morning there spent drinking spicy warm chai and wandering the narrow streets, I was in love with this place. You just have a sense of the age and depth and spirituality when you arrive. It is one of the oldest living cities and tells a story at every corner. It is a place for those seeking more. And I am always seeking more and was blessed to walk the streets and pray blessings. I learn so much from seeing how other’s seek God and Varanasi is a place for seekers.
One of the days we were in Varanasi a few friends and I were able to get a seat on a boat filled with pilgrims touring the holy city. It was amazing to see them all experience the tour in the holiest of cities for their faith. The tour was in Hindi so I did not benefit much from the information shared but it is pretty amazing how much you can pick up from gestures and reactions (and our guide LOVED to gesture).
As we floated pass the banks where many families came to cremate their family member who had passed the air and emotion was heavy. It was an amazing and personal experience: one that I was keenly aware of as we were floating along the ghats alongside pilgrims seeking faith and peace.
Out of respect I did not photograph the bodies being burned. Families bring the body dressed in red and yellow cloth bought in town and dip it in the river and then lay their loved one on the piles of wood and burn the bodies. I think what was striking is how public this all is. In Western culture we are so removed from death in many ways (a funeral home is called, everything is arranged outside the family and home, and ceremonies are private) but here families often keep the bodies with them and even bring them here dressing them in special funeral wear bought along the ghats and then the male family members carry wood and stand by while their loved one is burned and the ashes released into the river.
Every morning I woke before sunrise and made my way down to the ghats to see the pilgrims praying and bathing in the river. I admire the communal spirit of their faith. Many were bathing in family units and one family was being led in prayers by an older woman. They could tell I was interested and soon invited me in with them! I was warned by many about the dangers of bathing in the river but I just could not resist and went in! I would rather regret the things I did than the opportunities I missed (and so far no parasites followed me home from India)! And I was able to capture these moments.
Our faith may be different but I; in many ways, joined the pilgrims during my time in Varanasi. Both by actually getting in by capturing their devotion and hope and by walking the streets and offering my own prayers to the Creator. Varanasi is not just a place you “see” it is meant to be experienced and taken in with every sense you can awaken and I cannot wait to return one day.
A visual storyteller that focuses on human emotion & connection. I help families, individuals, & couples to share their beautiful messy story.
I also partner with humanitarian, non-for-profit organizations, and NGOs share their stories with intention, dignity, & excellence, so they can have a greater impact on their communities.
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