Menstrual cycle

I recently learnt something really interesting- the religious idea behind women having their menstrual cycle. I tried to learn about it because I often hear about women considered as impure during their menstrual cycle and a lot of crazy ideas associated with it. The religious reasons I found behind women considered impure during their menstrual cycle has a very interesting story associated it and I just don’t know if I would ever believe in this reason but I thought to share it with the world through my blog.

Within a past weeks two things happened with me that made me think about it. Actually there was an old Neem tree in my neighborhood that died a few weeks ago and I was seriously sad about it as it was the only tree in my whole neighborhood.  I was talking about it with my friends and one of them told me that there was a girl from my neighborhood whose menstrual cycle was going on and she touched the tree and this touch killed the tree. I asked him how this could be possible and he said that since women are very very impure during their menstrual cycle, if they touch any plant, the plant dies of this touch.

The second incident that happened with me was I was working with a girl and we went to an ashram where there were only women living there. We went there to schedule the appointment for interviews in coming days. They asked us to come on the next day but when we were leaving the ashram, one of the women came and asked the girl with me if it was her menstrual cycle going on that day and incidentally it was her menstrual cycle days those days so she said yes. And right after hearing this this women asked her to not come to the ashram until her menstrual cycle days are over.

She became kind of angry and started telling me that now she would have to take a bath because she talked with this girl and touched her whose menstrual cycle was going on. I did not know what to tell her but her view was really strange for me. Anyways, I talked about it with a very educated woman who has very good knowledge of Hindu religion and she told me a really nice story. She said that once Lord Indra , the king of Gods, had to kill two Bramhins because of some reasons which were a very big sin and because of this sin Indra lost all of his supernatural power and his powers.

He wanted to hide himself and went to a river and hid himself under the water. His guru Brihaspati wanted to see him and could not find him. Finally he reached to the river where Indra was hiding. He met Indra and asked him the reason behind him hiding himself in the river and Indra explained to him the reason. Indra requested his guru Brihaspati to help him in getting rid of this sin and Brihaspati suggested to him that he find people who would share his sin with him. He said that this was the only way for him to get rid of the sin. Indra came out of the river and started looking for people who would agree to share this with him.

He asked so many characters but nobody agreed to help Indra; but finally four characters agreed to help by sharing his sin: mountain, tree, river and women. Since all of these four characters shared the sin, all of them were cursed that they would become impure for a certain number of days every year or every month. She said that sometimes the whole mountain or a certain part of the mountain’s appearance change every year when they turn a little bit red and it is a sign of their menstrual cycle. There are a few trees which release glue or kind of a sticky thing which is sign of their cycle. This glue is used widely in India in pregnant women’s food.

She said that the river’s cycle is for two months every year and this is the time when rivers foam a lot and their current is very high; this is the sign of their cycle. And because of this cycle it is prohibited in Hinduism to take a bath in the rivers for two months every year. Only Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati rivers are all time pure rivers so there is no prohibition of taking bath anytime of the year, even when their cycle is going on. And we all know about women’s menstrual cycle. And since this cycle is the result of the sin of killing two Bramhins, they are considered impure and are prohibited from many activities.

In most parts of India, most of the women follow certain rules during their cycles like they do not enter the kitchen, do not touch their elders, they sleep on the ground whereas their husbands sleep on the bed, they do not take a bath for the first three days… Marwaris are more strict about it. They keep their women in a separate room and I have heard that more strict families do not allow women to come out of their room. Nobody enters their room and goes to talk with them. Only food is served in their room. They come out of their room on the fourth day and take a bath.

The pots they use to take their food is purified by lighting up a small fire in the pots or by just moving them around the fire and only then these pots are brought back in the kitchen. Fire is used to purify the pots because fire is considered to be the purest thing and it is believed that fire can purify anything, just anything. The women whom I talked with said women should respect the rules for monthly cycle and should not go out and should not do any hard physical labor. She said that all the companies selling napkin pads say in their advertisement that now women can out and do whatever they want even during their periods which is very bad, and they should not do it.

I asked her what if a woman has a job and can not get a leave of three-four days each month. She thought for a while and said that we have to think about when these rules were made. She said that these rules were made thousands of years ago when there were no napkin pads available in the market and so it was not good for women to work during their periods but since a lot of women work now and obviously can not get a leave every month, they should not stop themselves from working but they should make sure they are not doing anything which is hard physical labor for them like weight lifting, jumping or playing…

She said that even science also says the same thing. She said that women should see their periods as God gifted vacations of three days every month and should enjoy this. But I was wondering how they can enjoy their vacations if they are not even allowed to come out of their rooms or talk with others. She said that if women do not respect the rules, they may be punished with sickness or diseases in the future. I don’t really know much about human body but I love to hear about human body science and always want to learn about it and this story was very interesting for me.

I am really surprised to see such writings present in our sacred texts which were written thousands of years ago. I am seriously in love of those people who wrote these things, just don’t have any idea whether these stories are true or not but one thing is very sure that the writer was super smart. His imagination power would have been just awesome. Hats off to you my dear Hindu sacred text writers!!

Widows in Vrindavan

I worked again with Irene who was doing her M.A. from Ca’Foscari University of Venice and her research topic was Hindu widows. I had already worked with her in October 2009 in Benares but this time she wanted to visit Vrindavan because she had heard a lot about Bengali widows living in Vrindavan and how important this city is for Hindu widows. I contacted my friend Yashu who lives in Vrindavan and asked him to help as I also did not know much about Vrindavan. He promised to help me and in fact he arranged everything- hotel, food and many interviews also.

Irene had already heard about Bhajan Ashrams (ashrams where chantings are organized) working in Vrindavan and she wanted to visit them and see if it was possible to interview women there. I had also heard about widows working at Bhajan Ashrams before but I had no about idea of how big and how many Bhajan Ashrams were there in Vrindavan. I think there was at least one ashram in each alley and few of them were really huge, having three-four thousand widows under the same roof.

These bhajan ashrams are run by rich religious people. They give Rs. 2 and a little bit of rice and a little bit of lentils to each widow chanting for three hours. They have two to three shifts of work. The first shift start around 8 o’clock in the morning whereas the last shift of work ends around 6 o’clock in the evening. Not just any widow can enter in any bhajan ashram and start chanting and then get some money. They have to get registered with the ashram first and then their timing is decided and only then they can work.

There are thousands of widows living in Vrindavan and most of them, over 90% come from Bengal and do not speak any Hindi. Some of them live in a government widow ashram, some of them stay at private ashrams, some of them have rented a room and  some just sleep somewhere on the road or along the river Yamuna. Over 95% of the widows living in Vrindavan make their living from working at bhajan ashrams and begging. All of these women go to bhajan ashrams in the day time and then beg in evening and morning time when there are more pilgrims going to the temples.

Vrindavan is also called city of temples, there are around 5,000 temples in Vrindavan and this city is considered as a holy place amongst Hindus so hundreds of thousands of people visit the city every year. And since people visit the city for religious purpose, people donate a lot of things which makes Vrindavan a good place for begging. It was very sad to see the number of beggers in Vrindavan. I think most of the widows living in Vrindavan are involved in begging.

We asked them why did they chose Vrindavan only and why not some other place like Varanasi or Haridwar as they are also sacred cities for Hindus. Most of them said that since Vrindavan is very popular amongst Bengalis, most of the Bengali widows come to Vrindavan. We asked them why Vrindavan is popular and most of them did not know the reason behind it but one lady who was not a widow told us a very interesting story about why Vrindavan is popular amongst Bengali people.

She told us a story of two brothers who used to work as a cashier at some king’s palace. Once they were working at the king’s palace and while working they ordered a glass of water with sugar but by mistake the servant mixed salt instead of sugar and gave the drink to those two brothers. They drank it and did not realize that there was salt instead of sugar because they were too busy with their work. But later when the servant realized that he had made this mistake by giving salty drink instead of sugar, he went to those two brothers to say sorry.

He told those two brothers that they he had mixed salt instead of sugar in their water but those two brothers did not believe it. The servant told them again the same thing and then these brothers asked the servant that if he had mixed salt instead of sugar then how come they did not feel it while drinking it. And the servant answered that since they were too much busy in their work, they did not realize whether there was sugar or salt in the water. Both brothers were shocked to hear this and this feeling changed their whole lives.

They thought if they would have worked with the same honesty to find the God, the way they had been working for the king, they could have found God. This was the moment when they decided to leave the materialistic life and devote themselves completely to the God. They left their job and came to Vrindavan, which used to be a jungle those days, to meditate and devote themselves completely to the God. They became so popular amongst people that the king of India decided to meet them. When the king came to see these brothers, they were sitting on a ghat along Yamuna river and meditating.

The king told to one of the brothers that he was so happy with their devotion to the God that he wanted to do something for them. He offered any kind of help or money they wanted. These brothers asked the king to get the broken stones repaired at the ghat. The king started laughing and went to see the ghat. But when he arrived there he found that this whole ghat was made of precious stones. These stones were so expensive that they were not available even in the palace of the king. At that moment he realized the supernatural powers of those brothers and immediately went back to them and said that he had realized his mistake of offering just anything.

He said that he was unable to give them what they already had but he still wanted to give something to them. He said to those brothers to that he would donate them all the land he could see from his eyes at once. One of the brothers stood up and looked around and finally all the land they could see from eyes by standing at one place was donated to them and this land is what we call Vrindavan now. So the people meant to say that the city Vrindavan was established by Bengalis and this is why it is so popular amongst Bengalis, very interesting story.

We could interview only ten women in a city where there were thousands of widows because most of these widows did not know any Hindi and I did not know their language. Anyways, we visited a government widow ashram also. There were two government run widow ashrams- one run by the central government and other one was run by the state government of UP. The ashram run by the central government seemed more organized than the state government one. It was new building with at least 500-600 rooms. There were about 2700 widows living in the same building.

We met a government employee there who was working as a helper. We asked for permission to take interviews and he seemed fine with it. He said that all the widows staying in the building come to him everyday in the morning time to get free grains which are provided to them by the government. He said that we could interview them when they come. We were just sitting there and I noticed a lady watching us from another building. She called me and started asking me why we were there and when I told her about Irene’s research she said that it was not allowed.  She asked us to go to the district magistrate and get permission from him.

It seemed really strange but we could not do anything. We did not understand why she was stopping us. Then we went to the biggest Bhajan ashram of Vrindavan but the same thing happened there as well; they did not allow us to talk with the widows there. Finally we reached to the state government run widow ashram and met the security guard of that building and explained the project to him. He was a really nice guy. He said that the officers were not at the ashram now and told us to complete the interview before she comes back.

I asked him why he was telling us to complete the interview before the officer arrives and he said that officers do not allow anyone to talk with widows living there. I asked why they don’t allow and he answered that since both of the officers working at the ashram were completely corrupt and eat the pension money which comes for the widows, they do not want others to know about it. I was really sad to hear this. He said that the government provides a monthly pension to the widows but these officers keep half of it for their enrichment and give only half to the widows.

He said that first of all they ask for Rs. 300 to all the widows just to get them their pension registration card and then they say that it takes about a year for pension to start when in fact registration is free and the pension is started within only a few days. He meant to say that the officers keep all of the first year pension money for themselves and then start pension from the second year and they give only half of it. We asked him how many widows were living at that ashram and he said about 300 which means these government officers steal Rs. 90,000 per month.

He said that they give a small percentage to other government officers also like the district magistrate and other people but most of the money goes to them. I was seriously shocked to hear all of these stories. I just could not believe how someone could take money of those poor women who work for only Rs. 2 and a little bit of grains everyday? Anyways, now I knew the reason why that other government officer at central government run widow ashram did not want us to interview women living there. It was very sad but this was the truth.

We realized that it was very difficult to interview the women living at ashrams so we decided to interview the women who live independently. We started visiting widows at their homes and started talking with women on the road or living in small ashrams. All of them had seriously sad stories. Most of them were married at a very early age and their husbands also died soon after the marriage. They were not allowed to study and finally they decided to leave  home and come to Vrindavan. Some of them left home because their children did not care about them.

We interview to a few Bengali women who said that they stay for about 11 months in Vrindavan, save some money and grains and then go back to visit their family and give all of their savings to their children. We noticed something really interesting- that idea of the reason of their widowhood is sin in their past life was not so popular amongst Bengalis whereas widows from North India had this strong belief that the reason of their widowhood in the present life is because of the sin they had done in their past lives.

Most of the North Indian people believe that the biggest discrimination with widows happens in the Bengal region but the Bengali woman whom we talked with said that they never felt discriminated. It was really strange to hear them saying this. I think that they do not see the discrimination; as a discrimination, they think that this is the way it should be. Anyways, we all know that widows are discriminated all over India, but the biggest discrimination is there in Bengal region.

We got to interview a few Hindi speaking non-Bengali women also. We asked them why did they choose Vrindavan and they said that since Vrindavan has a lot of Bhajan ashrams where at least Rs.2 with some grains is provided, it was a good option for them come to Vrindavan instead of dying at their place. It was a very interesting answer but I do not know to what extent it was true. We interviewed a few widow women who said that it is much better to stay at home and find a job rather than going to an ashram and living like a beggar. I liked this idea better.

We asked all the widows about the remarriage of widows and we noticed something really interesting that most of the widows who were close to 70 years old said that remarriages should happen but all the widows who were close to 40 or 50 said that remarriage of a widow a big sin. They believe that the God has given them punishment in the form of their widowhood life and they should respect it because if they do not respect it then they will go to hell and will become a widow again in their next life so it is much better to live like a widow in one life rather going to hell and becoming a widow again in the next life.

I think the reason behind older women believing in the idea of remarriages was they had already seen their whole lives and now they were alone and helpless so they they think that it is much better to remarry and have a family whereas young widows can take care of themselves hence they believe in living alone. Anyways, it is only my idea; I still do not understand what could be the reason behind it. After coming back from Vrindavan we decided to contact some religious person to ask him questions about what is there in Hindu sacred texts for widows.

We met a woman who had done her Ph.D. in Sanskrit and works as a katha speaker at several temples and ashrams in and out of Varanasi. We asked what could be the reason behind a woman becoming widow and she told us several interesting things about what is written about widows in Hindu sacred texts. She said according to Hindu texts if you try to disturb a couple or make them marry with someone else forcibly, this could also cause you lose your life partner in your next life. I asked her what if a man does it and she said that the rules are the same for men and women both so men can also be punished in the same way.

The second reason could be if you are married but you have relations with other people. There are two kinds of punishment for this sin- one is that when you go to the hell, you have to make relations with a burning iron body and the other is you could lose your life partner in your next life. She said that making relations while in the menstrual cycle could also be a reason of widowhood in next life. All of these reasons seemed genuine to me and made one thing clear that love marriages were accepted in Hinduism and there is a very hard punishment for not accepting it. I think the parents who do not want their children to marry with their girlfriend or boyfriend should think about it now, otherwise they could become a widow in their next life:)

After studying Hindu widows in Vrindavan and Varanasi, I have developed this impression that the widows who decided to stay with their family and find a job, even small, are much more happier than those widows who decide to stay at Ashrams or go begging. I do understand where did this idea of staying at ashrams and discriminating against widows came from, but the situation is very sad and corrupt government officers make the situation more sad. Again I see only one solution of this problem- education, education to women. I believe that if women are educated and have working skills, they can at least try to find a good job and live a better and happy life. But lets see when the government of India will become serious about education for women.

Holika 2010

Holika 2010

Holika wood pyre

Holika is a festival which is celebrated on Holi eve. It was on the 28th of Feb. this year but I could not attend it. This festival has a very interesting story behind it. It is said that there were two brothers named Hiranyakashyapu and Hirnakchya. Both of them were evil souls and were always just fighting and were killing religious people. Finally Lord Vishnu killed Hirnakchya and since then he became the biggest enemy of Hiranyakashyaup. After sometimes Hiranyakashup did meditation and made Lord Vishnu happy. Lord Vishnu appeared in front of Hirnyakashyapu and asked him to make a wish.

Fire start

Fire start

Hirnyakashyapu asked for immortality but Lord Vishnu said that whoever has born, has to die for sure and then Lord Vishnu asked to make some other wish and and then Hirnyakashyapu did something really smart. He asked for a condition where neither a human or an animal could kill him, neither in the day nor in the night, neither on the earth nor in the sky… and finally he was granted this boon by Lord Vishnu. After being granted this boon, he started taking advantage of it. He started harassing innocent people, prohibited religious practices, declared himself as a God…

Didn't like this at all

Didn't like this at all

Hirnyakashyapu had a son named Prahalad who was a very religious kid. But his father was always against him. He asked Prahalad several times to not pray to Lord Vishnu but Prahalad continued his devotion to Lord Vishnu. Hirnyakashyapu tried everything he could to stop Prahalad from practicing religion but Prahalad never stopped. Finally Hirnyakashyapu decided to kill his son Prahalad. He through Prahad in the ocean but Prahalad survived and returned back to home, then Hirnyakashyapu left him in the jungle but again Prahalad survived and returned home.

Prahlad’s aunt whose name was Holika had a boon that she would never be affected by fire so she offered her brother, Hirnyakashyapu, to help him killing Pralahad. Hirnyakashyapu agreed for it and they setup a wood pyre to burn Prahlad alive. Holika sat on the wood pyre with Prahlad hoping that Prahlad would die and she would not be affected by fire at all but some miracle happened Holika burnt alive and died and nothing happened to Prahlad. Now people celebrate this festival on the Holi eve. People setup wood pyre and put a statue of Holika and Prahalad and burn it.

On the festival day, people make mustard paste and rub it over their body. After rubbing the mustard paste whatever the waste comes, is put into the wood pyre. The idea behind it is that people get rid of their sin and get a fresh body and soul. But this festival has become an environmental issue now because people cut green trees and burn it. It was the first time this year when I saw a group of student educating people about not cutting green trees for the festival. I also believe that this should not happen but I am sure it is not going to stop soon.

Benares is already in lack of greenery and not only Benares but the whole world is talking about this issue. I have heard that Chinese cut over 25 million trees every year just to make chopsticks. India has also cut over 75% of its jungles. I do not understand what will happen in future if such practices continue. I hope someday people will understand the issue and change such practices. I know that education and awareness about the issue is the only key to stop such practices but don’t know who will bring this change. I know that we can not stop this festival but we can replace green trees by other wastes so please stop cutting trees and plant new ones.

Arranged marriage of cousin

It was my cousin’s wedding on the 12th of December and I was so excited for it but fortunately I could not attend it as I had to be Gwalior for my written exam and interview for tour guide training. The wedding was on the 12th and it was my exam on the 13th, the party was on the 16th and it was my iterview day in Gwalior so I could not attend either of them. I tell it fortunately because something really crazy went on the wedding and now I feel fortunate that I did not get to attend the wedding or party.

My cousin used to work at a travel agency in Delhi and he is 30 years old and wanted to get married.He wanted his parents to find a girl for him. One of my uncles had a relative in Benares who was looking for a boy for his daughter so my uncle became the midiator and arranged this wedding. The wedding was arranged in May and date for wedding was fixed for December. My cousin used to talk with the girl over phone, he came to meet her in Benares but they met secretly as girl’s father did not want them to meet before getting married. Anyways, they met, talked and they liked each other.

My cousin used to talk about how happy he was with the girl. Even he left his job in Delhi and came to Benares and joined a travel agency so that he could stay in Benares with his wife becasue Benares is cheaper than Delhi. The girl’s father was seriously a crazy guy. He came to my father a few days before wedding and said that he wanted to get my cousin’s horoscope rechecked by some big Bramhin. He said that his family priest had told him that horoscope of my cousin doesnt match with horoscope of his daughter.

Actually everyone’s horoscope talks about 32 different qualities of one’s life and when somebody gets married, the horoscope of bride and groom is matched and is looked how many qualities match. If less than 16 qualities match, the wedding is canceled. The girl’s father said that my cousin was a Mangla means my cousin had some problem with his Mars. The girl’s father wanted to see if his daughter, his grand child and his grand child’s child will be happy or not if he gets his daughter married with my cousin, serious craziness.

Finally the horoscope was rechecked and they decided that wedding be done on the same date. All these things happened only a few days before the wedding. All of my relatives gathered together for wedding and everything was going very well. On the wedding day, when wedding parade arrived at the bride’s place, they heard few people fighting and shouting. They came to know that the bride did not want to marry with my cousin as she was already in love with someone else. Her boyfriend was also there with a advocate and he came to my cousin and said that he wanted to marry the girl.

The girl also left her place before a few minutes of wedding parade was going to arrive at her place and went to her neighbor’s house who was supporting her. She did not want to get married with my cousin. Her father with few other people went to the neighbor’s place and brought her back to the house. She was crying and was shouting that she wanted to marry her boy friend. Everybody from groom’s side heard her saying it and they went to the groom and told him the situation and asked him what was his decision. And I just don’t understand why my cousin said that he still wanted to marry her.

The girl’s family beat the boyfriend and his uncle who was in support of thier wedding and locked them up in a room for the whole night and finally the girl was forcebly married to my cousin. The wedding rituals were done quickly and the bride was brought forcebly to groom’s place. The bride told everything again to my cousin and asked him to help her meet her boyfriend but my cousin said that she should not do such things as she is married to him now. It is hard for me to understand why my cousin married her even after knowing everything but I think he was in dipression.

He would often talk about his age and would tell me that after a few years nobody would marry him. I am sure this is not the case anymore in India but my dipressed cousin… I don’t understand a few things like why the girl did not tell anything about her boyfriend to my cousin before marriage and why did they wait till the wedding date? I don’t really know who is responsible for the whole situation. I have heard that bride’s family knew everything but the father of the bride did not like bride’s boyfriend.

Arranged marriage is still very popular in India but now I hear of more people coming against this idea. The concept of arranged marriage is not a problem to me also as long as the couple is happy but when such things happen like what happened with my cousin’s wedding then it really makes me angry. I just don’t know how someone can do this? I don’t know if I should want my couisn and his wife to live together or get seperated but one thing is very sure that if the girl does something like eloping with her boyfriend, it would be a huge problem for my cousin and his family.

The God got sick :)

Yesterday it was an important day for the God Jagannath’s temple. Many people all over India go to the Jagannath temple and make the God bathe with water. This happens for the whole day and in the evening time it is said that the God gets sick because of this all-day-long bathing. Usually people offer sweets in the temples but after the God gets sick, people offer parwal (a vegetable) and basil soup, and then this soup is distributed amongst people as blessing. After this offering, temples are closed for the next fifteen days.

Parwal and basil soup is an Ayurvedic medicine and is prescribed to people suffering with cold and cough. So the idea is that the God will also feel better after taking this Ayurvedic medicine. The temple gate is kept closed for the fifteen days. The priest opens the gate once everyday to offer basil and parwal soup. It is said that the God will be okay after fifteen days and then people take the statue out of the temple on a chariot and bring it to the Lord Jagganath’s Sasural temple near Rathyatra. This is done to give some good time to the God after the sickness of the fifteen days:)

In Benares, the God is brought to his Sasural temple but in Puri, people bring the statue to Lord Jagganath’s aunt’s temple. The statue is kept for the next two days in these temples and then a huge fair is organized. In Benares, the statue is brought on a chariot and is kept for three days on the main road near Rathyatra Crossing and after three days of fair, the statue is brought back again to the temple. These are the only three days in a year when the God Jagganath’s temple is out of any statue. This festival is called Rathyatra.

The Benares fair is not big, but not small either but the Puri festival is literally huge. Over ten million people had atteneded the Puri fair last year.

End of life – Sadhus and Sanyasis

According to Hindu Mythology there should be four parts of life, called as Ashrams. The four ashrams are- Vidyarthi, Grihastha, Vanprasth, and Sanyasa. Vidyarthi ashram is the students life which ends after age of 25. People can still be student after Vidyarthi ashram, but they should get married after 25. Grihastha ashram starts 26 and ends at the age of 50. During this period people should get married and have a family. Vanprastha is life between 50 and 75. This is the time when people are supposed to prepare themselves for Sanyasa.

During Vanprastha time people are supposed to get rid of their responsibilities like get their daughters married, help their son to become self dependent. During the same period people should prepare themselves for Sanyasa by start meditating, and doing rituals. Sanyasa start at the age of 76 and lasts until a person dies. People have to perform certain rituals to enter in Sanyasa life. Sanyasis never stay at home. There are monasteries in every Indian city where they can live for free of cast.

Sadhus at the river Ganga

After entering in Sanyasa life people are called Sanyasi. People have to perform a lot o rituals be become Sanyasi. The most important one is to get rid of their body. They stand nude in the river and read some mantras, and by doing this they get rid of their body. They perform all the sacrament that is done after a person does during their lives time. So even though they are alive but their Terahi is done. This is the reason why body of Sanyasis are never cremated, their bodies are always drowned in the river.

After performing this sacrament, they don’t consider themselves as part of the earth, and become Sanyasi. Sanyasa is a very tough life. They are supposed to follow a lot of strict rules of Sanyasa. Few of the rules are- they are not allow to deal with money, they are not allowed to deal with fire, they are not allowed to cook the food, they always have to beg, they have to repeat name of lord Ram for twenty-one thousand times everyday, they are not allowed to eat any food that has a taste etc….

They always beg for food, and wash the food before eating it so that they can get rid of the taste. They always wear a orange dress because orange is the color of Hinduism. Sanyasis who are Bramhan by caste carry a stick all the time with them. They get this stick when they enter in Sanyasa life, and this stick is drowned with their body when they die. No other caste than Bramhans get this stick. This stick is very important for Sanyasis. It is also rapped with orange color cloth.

Usually Sanyasis live in monasteries with other Sanyasis. They spend most of their time just repeating the name of lord Ram. Sometimes their famiily also visits them, but usually they spend their time alone. I have talked to many many Sanyasis while working with researchers, and everything that they told me was surprising for me. Everybody was so happy to say that they were waiting for their death. They say that they repeat the name of lord Ram and tell him to give them death as soon as possible.

Once I was talking to a 70 years old woman who had been living in a monastery for the last 30 years just waiting for the death. This was the first time when I was talking to a female Sanyasi. She said that females don’t go through all the rituals that are done for males. They just leave the family, dress like Sanyain and start living in the monasteries like Sanyasin.They also follow all the same rules as males do. They live in the same monasteries but all the monasteries have a separate section for females.

The woman I was talking to was not a Sanyain. She came to Beanres 30 years ago with her husband. Her husband had TB, which was kind of untreated disease about 30 years ago. When he got TB, he decided to come Varanasi and live last part of his life. A lot of monasteries have a separate section for family people. So if someone who does not want to become a Sanyasi can also live in the monastery by giving a certain amount which covers their room rent until they die.

Her husband died after living for 3 years. But she was still in the same monastery just repeating the name of lord Ram, and praying him to give death. She said that her family visits her once in a year for one week. I was kind of not comfortable asking someone about their death, but she was so happy to answer all the questions. She said she came to Varanasi to die and it will be happiest moment of her life when she gets it. When we asked her about was she sad when her husband died, and she said that she was so happy because her husband got was he was looking for only within 3 years.

We talked to a male Sadhu also who was about 70 years old, and had taken Sanyasa when he was only 35. He took Sanyasa because his parents died early, and he was cheated by his brothers. So he was sad and decided to become Sanyasi. The women we talked to seemed so healthy and it didnt look like she was going to die soon, but this male Sanyasi was really sick and maybe would die soon. He was also so happy to talk about his death. I wonder how someone could be happy talking about their death.

We met one Sanyasi who took Sanyasa to escape from the police. He had murdered at least 10 people and when administration ordered police to kill him, he left his village, came to Varanasi and became Sanyasi. He had been living in Varanasi as Sanyasi for the past 15 years. He family often visits him, give him money and he had kind of family life. He had sweets which he gave us. I am sure he had lots of money. He also admitted that he never wanted to become a Sanyasi, but the police compelled him to become a Sanyasi.

So I met a lot of different kind of people who had accepted Sanyasa. Most of them were just waiting for death and wanted to die as soon as possible. They say that God don’t give death if you have done sin in your lifetime. So being alive as a Sanyasi was a kind of punishment for them. Hinduism says that family life is the best life, better than Sanyasa. I think we have an very famous idea of Sanyasa, and when people feel lonely like after their wives death they want to become Sanyasi or some people just want to die living as a Sanyasi so that their soul could get liberated.

The number of Sanyasis have decreased a lot in recent past years. But Varanasi has still a lot of Sanyasis. Usually people leave their home town and go to other cities to live, but Varanasi is the only place on the planet where people come to die.

Learning about Aghoris for the MTV documentary

First of all I want to tell how I know about this society. I worked with MTV Italy as local assistant. My job to find the characters and schedule appointment for interviews. They were interested in strange Sadhus and Aghoris. They didn’t want normal looking Sadhus and Aghoris, but they were more interested someone with dread locks, beard, without clothes etc. I had only three days to arrange 5 days of shooting. I went to lots of monasteries, met a lot of babas, sadhus, and Aghoris. I went to all the big Aghor monasteries of Varanasi including Kina Ram Aghor Peeth, Bbhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram, Baba Harihar Ram Ashram, Baba Anil Ram Ashram and many others. I went to both cremation places of Varanasi, Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat, in search of a few Aghoris and it worked. I met few very interesting Aghoris. So, that is how I came to know about them and their society.

Aghor society people are Hindus but their philosophy is different from the typical person’s. They pray to the same Gods whom Hindus pray but sometimes their rituals could be different. Like on the night of Diwali all the Hindus pray to Laxmi (goddess of money) but all the Aghoris go to funeral place and meditate and try to make their mantras more powerful, try to achieve some super natural powers or just try to make connections with ghosts to make them work for Aghoris in the future. Hindus light up the candle, clean their home and practice few rituals on Diwali but Aghoris like to go in dark and peaceful place like cremation ground. So these are the kind of differences between Aghoris and general Hindus.

Aghoris connect their religion to the cremation ground at every level. If you go to any Aghor monastery, you always find a place where some wood is burning all the time and that wood comes from the funeral place. Real Aghoris put that ash on their forehead and naval to make them feel secure and they use it get rid of diseases. I met a lot of Aghoris and asked them about significance of that Ash and everybody said that it is all matter of belief. If someone has belief in that ash then it could be better than a medicine and if they don’t have any faith in it then it could make them sick because then the person would worry continually about ash that has come from a cremation. All the people whom I met at Aghor monasteries had great faith in that ash. They said that they apply it everyday and if they are going somewhere out of the city then they keep some ash with them all the time. Some body said that once he had some strange disease and no doctor was able to treat him then he went to that monastery and applied some ash on his forehead and naval it made him get rid of that strange disease. All the fake Aghoris use that ash to attract people and sometimes to make them threatened.

Research on death in Varanasi

A German girl named Sophia wrote me on couchsurfing for meeting. She asked me about Hindi classes in Varanasi. At the same time I had a tenant named Dave from Fresno who was learning Hindi with Professor Virendra Singh so I introduced Sophia to Dave. She was doing anthropology research from University of Berlin and was interested in the people who come Varanasi to die. I took Sophia to one of the places where Sadhus stay to die and translated the interview.

Sophia was so happy to understand people because I was translating the interview. She asked me if would work for her as translator for next few days. I was happy to get a new job but was worried about work with Amanda, other student from Yale University, who was to visit Benares after few days for her research regarding Coke issue and I had already promised to work with her. I told Sophia about this problem and we decided that I would work with Sophia first and if Amanda comes, then I would go with her.

We went to 3 monasteries and talked people. We went to Machali Bandar Math, Mumukshu Bhavan and Kashi Mukti Bhavan. All these monasteries are for people who come Benares to die. There was a little difference between all those. Machali Bandar Math only permits Sadhus and Sanysis to stay there, Mumukshu Bhavan had non Sadhus also like families, and Kashi Mukti Bhavan is a place for sick people for short stay. The people who are seriously sick and seem like going to die soon come to Kashi Mukti Bhavan becasue Kashi Mukti Bhavan doesn’t allow long term stay.

We talked to a lot of Sadhus and non Sahdus living in Mumukshu bhavan. I was shocked to meet a woman who was in Mumukshu Bhavan since past 30 years and waiting for her death. She came Varanasi with her husband and her husband died after 2 years but she was still alive and waiting for her death. We asked her if she was not worried about her death. But she seemed so happy replying that she wanted to die in Varanasi. She said that she prays to God everyday to give her death. She said that there could be nothing better than if she dies in Varanasi.

We visited two Aghor monasteries also, Kina Ram and Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram Ashram. Both of monasteries belong to Aghor society. Sophia was very much curious about the ash that Aghor people use. We asked about it to a lot of people and everybody said that they use it to save themselves from diseases and other problems. They said that ash only works if you have belief in it. They carry the ash when they travel so that they could use it everyday even when they are far away from the monastery.

There is a place in Kina Ram monastery where they have fire going on since hundreds of years, they say that it never got peace. They bring the wood from cremation place, I didn’t understand why they bring the wood from cremation place but there was some religious importance of it. Cremation place is very important for Aghoris. They perform a lot of rituals on cremation place. On the night of Diwali, a lot of Aghoris go to cremation place and do some puja for the whole night.

The second monastery we visited has its name in The Guinness Book of World Records for treating most number of leprosy patients. They have a hospital that uses only Ayurvedic medicines and treat leprosy. They have a school also for street children, a library, a research center and a press where they print Aghora books. They are involved in lots of other social work. This monastery was founded by a Aghor guru called Bhagwan Avdhoot Ram in the year 1962.

They organize group weddings also because they don’t believe in the idea of wasting money like a lot of other people do in weddings. They had organized a group wedding and we were also invited there. I really wanted to see a wedding of Aghor followers because their philosophy is different than general Hindus. The major difference is that they don’t believe in casteism. I was surprised to see that the priest was a Kshtriya, not Bramhan. I asked them about it and they said that anyone who learns religion or Sanskrit could be a Bramhan. I loved it, I really like Aghor society.

We went to Mother Teresa home also to interview people. They were really nice. I always want go there. They help poor and sick people. I saw a lot of mentally retired, sick and injured people. Even though the institution is run by Catholics but they don’t bother people to practice Christianity. People living there are free to practice their own religion. They get veg meal six times a week and a non veg meal once in a week on Thursday. I liked the devotion of the Nuns there.

We went to talk to few Doams also who work at funeral place. Sophia asked them about their job and feeling of people who bring the body there. They told us that babies, pregnant women, leprosy patients, Sadhus and snake bitten people are not cremated, they are drowned in the river. Usually Doams drink and smoke a lot. They asked Sophia also to buy them a bottle of whiskey. We asked them why do they drink all the time and they replied that it is hard to cremate a body when you are normal therefore they drink every time they work.

They told us the idea behind why people come Varanasi to die. They said that when Shiva left Varanasi, he made Vishnu promise him that he will come and tell the name of Ram in everyone’s ear, in the last moments of life, who die in Varanasi. Since people hear the name of Ram when they dieing, they get liberated and this is why people want to die in Varanasi. He said that Shiva has left the city and now resides on Kailash but the city is still situated on his trident. It was interesting.

We went to meet Lali baba also who is an Aghori baba. He is the most fascinating character of Varanasi. Sophia wanted to spend sometime alone at Lali baba’s monastery because she was very much interested to see Lali baba doing his daily routine. She was so happy to meet Lali Baba. Sophia said that even though Lali Baba is very commerical but it is still worth meeting him. I also like Lali Baba a lot.

Finally Amanda came and I had to go back work with her.