Isaac D. Joseph
Colorado Technical University HUMN250-1303A-08
Prof. Linda Silva
The smoke is thick around the public funeral ground, the air heavy with the smells. Eyes are stinging, burning wood, incense, and somewhat a disturbing aroma. Varanasi’s ghats are large stone steps constructed along the banks of India’s holy river, the Ganges. For many centuries, people have been coming to the river to pray, meditate, bathe, and cremate their dead. The larger of the burning ghats, Manikarnika is believed to host around 200 cremations in a single day.
The river of life and death, The Ganges, is a trans-boundary river of India and Bangladesh. The longest river in India and the second greatest river in the world by water discharge, it is a lifeline to the millions of Indians who live along its course. The Ganges is the most sacred river to Hindus and is worshipped as the goddess Ganga. Ganga is said to have been descended from heaven to earth, with that being said she is also the vehicle of ascent from earth to heaven.
How can we understand the role of mortuary ritualism reinforcing a sense of community? The ritual treatment of the dead body was a means of reproducing a sense of identity and community. The many ways in which the Indian people deal with the dead body gives form to central concerns, regarding life and death, the living and the dead, of the society in which these acts take place. In this world created through ritual practice, each movement, sound and gesture becomes a part of the process of structuring, and the active participant thus becomes included in this hierarchy through the ritual practice. It is thus through practice, the bodily engagement in the ritual, that the structure is created connecting the burial rituals to the community. This also gives the burial ritual a sense of identity. If we return to the theme of burials and more particularly to the handling of the dead body, this means that everybody in a society is connected. For example one of the rituals after the burning of pyre is for the ashes to be scattered and then bathe in by the family. With more than 200 cremations happening a day that is a lot of community connection taking place.
There are many factors that have shape the burial practices in India. Religion plays a great deal in the burning the funeral pyre. In ancient times the Indians were known to practice cannibalism, but as Hinduism became the dominant religion the practice of pyres came into fashion. There are many…