Morning comes on the Ganges mirroring burnished copper and glistening gold across its broad reaches at Varanasi. Birds swirl across the waters, practiced, ready for devotees making puja by throwing crumbs into the river for them. Others make their morning worship, by bathing in the holy stream, lighting a candle or meditating with the dawn in their niches.
On the river, boatmen make their way, mostly rowing tourists along the ghats passing temples, historic forts, and guest houses where pilgrims come to stay, and sometimes die before being cremated alongside the Ganges. Funeral pyres burn night and day at the Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats filling the air with smoke. Large wood piles are stacked by the shore. Pallbearers and mourners carry the corpses of their loved ones wrapped in white cloth to the ghat, placing it on a bier ready for the flames in the belief that when the dead are cremated here, the soul of the departed finds salvation or moksha.
Nearby I notice a lone, pale skinned Caucasian women with dark braided orange hair, dressed in a black dress and matching cape, being rowed along the river. On reaching the Harishchandra Ghat she unbraided her hair, brushed her long locks so it flowed over her cape and clothes, and then directed the boatmen to row close to the shore and funeral pyre.
One person’s salvation is perhaps another’s liberation, so the cremations on the ghat became the backdrop for the selfies she directed the oarsmen to take of her. I wondered whether she styled herself as a Beat poet, spiritualist, or witch. Would she be eternally memorialised by these images on the web? It was a scene macabre, and one could not but think of Lady Macbeth. On the shore, bereaved mourners and holy men saw her and started to shout at them to move on. Nothing to see there but the profane and its death.
Mourning comes to the Ganges…
All photos taken on Velvia 100 with a Mamiya 6.