beggars in India

I worked with an anthropology student named Sophia from University of Berlin. I had already worked with her before a few years ago and it was my second time of work with her. This time she was not working for her university but for a big private publication company in Germany. She just wanted to interview different kind of people and listen to their stories. We met several different kinds of people but most striking news came out of the beggar community living in Varanasi. I had a shop few years ago near to Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi and I knew that there was a group of beggars living near to Dashashwamedh Ghat so I took Sophia there.

I had already heard some crazy stories about beggars living there but had no idea how serious the condition was. They told us so many things but the worse story was about their sexual harassment by local people. We interviewed an old woman who told us that she was raped several times by a local bully who comes to them every night and rapes whoever he wants. There were several girls and all aged women living there and many of them said that this person rapes really young girls who are just 14-15 years old.

They went to the police several times but the police never entertains their complaint only because they are poor and they don’t have any connection in politics. A chai shop keeper who had a shop near to the place where this community lives also said confirmed it. When I asked him why locals don’t take any action against this person, he said that he is a big criminal and nobody can do anything, not even police. He also said that he comes almost every night, chooses any girl or woman he wants and take them away with himself. He doesn’t even take the girls at his home but he rapes just somewhere on the road.

I was shocked to hear all these things happening openly in my society. I just did not know what to do with poor beggars. They also talked about corruption in government policies for them. They said that Government of Uttar Pradesh also has a program for rehabilitation of beggars in Uttar Pradesh but there is so much corruption involved in it and beggars are not benefited by it at all. They talked about a housing program where government is providing free housing to the beggars but government officers ask for bribe in order to provide them a house which is built for them and which is supposed to be free of cost.

They said that government is asking for a lot of documents including local residential proof which sounds hilarious to me. How come a beggar can have a residential proof? They live on the road! This idea of asking for residential proof and other documents seemed really stupid to me. I was thinking about these corrupt government officers who don’t forgive even the beggars. They are begging from the beggars which means that they are bigger beggars. There is a saying in Hindi चोर के घर चोरी Chor ke ghar chori (stealing in thieves home) and now we need to start another saying- भिखमंगा से भिखमंगई Bhikhmanga se Bhikhmangai (begging from beggars).

Trip to Nepal for Kathmandu Gay Pride 2010

beautiful nature

beautiful nature

I traveled to Nepal with my friend Babu to attend Kathmandu gay pride and it was a really unforgettable experience. I took a bus from Varanasi to Sonauli. There are several buses from Varanasi bus station and we took the last one at 8.30 pm. It was an overnight journey from Varanasi to Sonauli and the bus ride was really uncomfortable. The road was terribly bad and I just could not sleep for the whole night. Finally we arrived Sonauli border at 7 am and took a paddle rickshaw to cross the border. I was carrying a few electronics like video camera, photo camera and voice recorder etc.  and wanted to declare them at the Indian custom office.

Babu

Babu at Pashupati nath temple

When I told Babu to about declaring the electronics at Indian custom office, he laughed at me and said that there was no need to do such thing but I had already experienced the problem before when I went to Nepal first time in 1996. Actually I was traveling to Nepal with my family those days. We had a camera and we informed the custom office at Sonauli border about this camera and got a receipt but we lost it somewhere in Nepal and returning time they checked our baggage and found that camera and said that it was not allowed to bring any electronics from Nepal to India.

very colorful country

very colorful country

We were shocked and we told them that it was our camera which we had brought from India and we had a receipt but we lost it but those crazy custom officers said that it was not allowed. Actually they wanted a bribe so finally we gave them some money and only then we could move. I still had that story in my mind hence I did not want to take any risk. So I went to the custom office at Sounali border and told them that I had a few electronic goods and I wanted to declare them but as I told this, all those officers laughed and said: you are very smart.

carving on Nepali houses

carving on Nepali houses

Anyways, I declared my stuffs and got a receipt for it but they again asked for a bribe only for giving me this receipt. I was like why bribe now? He said that this is system and I have to give them some money otherwise they would not give me my receipt. I gave him Rs. 20 but he said that he wanted at least Rs. 50. Finally I gave him Rs. 40 and took my receipt. I wast thinking that I declared my electronics in advance to avoid any kind of problem and corruption but there was actually no way to avoid it. After taking the receipt, we crossed the border and arrived Nepal.

carvings on temples

carvings on temples

Although Nepal also used to be a Hindu country only until a few years a go and I was hoping for Nepal culture to be close to Indian culture but Nepal was different starting from right at the border. Different looking people, different clothing, more working woman, different vehicles… there was a huge difference between India and Nepal. I really felt like being in another country. But there was something very similar to India- touts fucking tourists all the time. It was really overwhelming. Several people approached us right at the border to sell bus tickets to Kathmandu. They all wanted to sell bus tickets to Kathmandu and hotel rooms.

forest

forest

Babu said that they were all touts and tell  lies all the time. All of the touts were saying there was a bus going to leave within one hour but Babu said that these buses never leave before 4 pm. I did not believe Babu but my rickshaw driver also told me the same thing. Actually there are direct buses from Sonauli border to Kathmandu but only in early morning and late afternoon time like around 6-7 am or 4-5 pm. I was lucky that Babu was with me and I did not go with them. We took a bus from Sonauli border to a place called Bhairava which was hardly 30 minutes bus ride.

green and wet

green and wet

Bhairava is the biggest bus station near Sonauli border and they have regular buses to Kathmandu. We arrived there by 9 o’clock and came to know that there was a bus a 9.30. I realized something really strange that Nepal has no government bus service; all the buses are private hence there is no fix fare or anything. I did not know that I was supposed to bargain even for bus fare but Babu managed it. There was a counter at the bus station and they asked us for Rs. 450 NR but ended up paying Rs. 350 NR.

pashupati nath temple

pashupati nath temple

The bus started at 9.30 but was stopped again right after 15 minutes by The army. I thought that he would check everyone but he just came in, looked around and started checking the bags of a few people. The strange thing about this check up was that they were not looking for arms only but they were looking for potatoes and sugar also. I started laughing when Babu told me that he was looking for potatoes and sugar but it was true. Actually the rate of sugar and potatoes and and other vegetables are different between India and Nepal hence they do not want people to smuggle cheap stuffs from India and sell them in Nepal. It was interesting.

family voilence

family voilence

Nepali buses were really crap. They were too small and had no space for my legs. It was raining continuously all the way from Sonauli border until Kathmandu and believe me the water was coming through the window even after closing it. I was wet all the time continuously for more than 12 hours in the bus. The nature was just awesome; clean river, fresh air, greenery… I noticed something really different in Nepal. I saw that there were more working women in Nepal than India. I notice that most of the shops were run by women and Nepali women seemed to be in better condition than Indian women.

Nepali girl

Nepali girl

Nepal seemed to be more progressive in terms of women rights when compered with India. The women were traveling alone, going to office, running shops, women auto rickshaw drivers and the women seemed more friendly with men… it looked really cool to me. I was happy to see it. I saw so many alcohol shops run by alone women. I had never ever seen anything like that anywhere in whole India. Once I saw an alcohol shop with a woman owner and I decided to talk with her. I went there and started asking about alcohol first and when we became friendly I asked her about her life.

liberal Nepali girl

liberal Nepali girl

I asked her if she feels safe sitting alone at alcohol shops and dealing with male customers who are drunk sometimes and she told me that she managing the business is just like any other male member of her family managing the business; no difference so problem to her. I asked her if people in the society mind women working at the alcohol shops and again she said that Nepali society is very progressive when it comes to equal rights for women. I asked her if she had ever been to India and she said that she had never been to India before but had seen India on TV. In reality she did not seem excited about visiting India.

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

the most beautiful alcohol bottle I had ever seen

I told her that it is just not possible to see any women selling alcohol in India and that there are less percentage of working women in India and she said that she was very well aware of the situation of women in India. She said that there are so many Indian families living in Nepal and they also do not allow their women to go out and work. I asked her what Nepali people think of this situation and she said that to be honest, we think that Indians are crazy and backward people. I was surprised to hear this but in reality yes, we are much backward than Nepal in terms of women rights and equal rights for women.

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

the most luxry way to travel in Nepal

The nature was just awesome all over Nepal. One could easily see that their nature is still untouched. Beautiful thick jungle, beautiful rivers, less industries, less people, less traffic and lots of mountains… it was just awesome. I really enjoyed nature a lot in Nepal. I also noticed that I saw only five big factories in my whole bus ride all the way from Sonauli till Kathmandu. In fact, two of them were Indian factories which sounds nice because there is less pollution because of less factories but there is another truth that there are less jobs because of less industries which means more poverty.

beautiful windows

beautiful windows

Poverty in Nepal really hurt me. There were so many family houses right along the Sonauli-Kathmandu highways so I got to see so many people doing things. But the really interesting thing for me was that nobody was doing anything, just sitting or talking with people, that’s all. It seemed like they just don’t have any work. I had never seen that many young people just sitting here and there and passing time. There were so many kids selling water bottles and snacks on the road. Nepal has been suffering a lot from its political instability for the past few years which seems to be the biggest reason of poverty of Nepal. I dont know, maybe some other reason but Nepalis were just not happy at all from their political system.

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

cremation at Pashupatinath temple

Finally we arrived Kathmandu by 8 PM and it was still raining. I had read about a neighborhood called Thamel which was full of hotel. I wanted to stay there. I asked Babu to ask some locals about where was this neighborhood and he told me that Nepali people are crazy and never tell you the right direction. He suggested me to go to any shop run by any Indian and ask them about the direction of Thamel. We went to a paan shop, bought a few things and asked him the direction to Thamel and fortunately he was a nice guy who told us the right direction to Thamel. It took us about 10 minutes of walk and we had to ask a few other people also the direction to Thamel but we arrived there.

life and death at same place

life and death at same place

We arrived Thamel which was full of hotels, in fact it was the most popular neighborhood in Nepal for backpackers. We went to several hotels but their price seemed too steep to us. Babu was telling me that we could easily find a hotel room worth 500 NR but none of them wanted to charge us less than 1000 NR. Finally we reached a hotel Annpurna hotel. They wanted to charge us 800 NR per night. I told him that I was a government approved tour guide in India and all the hotels give me discount in India then he agreed to give me a room for 500 NR.

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

Nepali food that I didn't like at all

The hotel seemed nice at first but later we realized that pillow covers and bed sheets were used, cable connection was not working properly, telephone was there but dead. We complained about it and were promised to get everything on work by next morning but in fact this next morning never came before we left. In any case, I was not there to enjoy luxury, watch TV or make phone calls from my room hence I also did not mind it. We went out to take our dinner at some restaurant but most of the shops were closed by 8.30 PM. We found a restaurant opened and had our dinner there.

Nepali highways

Nepali highways

I had read several articles about nightlife in Nepal including dance bars and massage centers. A lot of the articles said that Nepal nightlife was safe but most of them said that it was really crazy and dangerous. I had several articles talking about how people went to a night club, spent a few hours, had a few beers and dinner and paid Rs. 40-50,000 and were misbehaved. Several articles talked about how 14-15 years old kids are involved in sex industry and work as pimps. I was curious about what was going on and we had decided to visit at least one night club while being in Kathmandu.

I was just walking here and there in Thamel and saw so many massage parlors. Once we were just passing by a shop which had a sign board saying massage parlor and I was showing this to Babu. Suddenly a hardly 15 years old guy came to me and asked what I was looking at. I told him that I was just watching the advertisements and he said that no, I was looking for something else, something special. I was like no I was just looking here and there. He again asked me if I needed some special service and I told him that I did not need any special service.

We walked away from there but this guy was keep following us and was asking if we needed a girl. He offered us young beautiful girls for really cheap price. He was not alone, there were so many pimps here and there watching tourists. Anyways, I was able to get back to my hotel safely. The next day we worked for a while, walked around, did some shopping… and it was a nice experience. I really missed veg Indian food as it was meat everywhere. But I liked something that they had drinks very easily available so I was enjoying all different kinds of alcohol.

I wanted to use an ATM in Kathmandu but was concerned about paying international transaction fee but Babu told me that a few Indian banks also have their own ATMs in Kathmandu like State Bank of India and Punjab National Bank. There was one State Bank of India ATM near Darbar Square. I used this bank and did not pay any transaction fee. So I would suggest anyone holding Indian bank card should just look for Indian bank ATMs in Kathmandu. Telephones were also so cheap in Nepal. I paid only Rs. 1 per minute for a phone call to India.

Since we were so interested in visiting a night club in Kathmandu. we were gathering information about it through online sources. But fortunately I met a guy at the NGO, where I was supposed to work, who was a male prostitute. I thought who could provide better information than him about night life in Kathmandu. I asked him about it and he suggested me not to visit any night clubs in Kathmandu as they are not safe at all, especially for tourists. He also told me the same thing what I had read online so finally we decided that we would not visit any night club in Kathmandu.

We visited a few temples, markets and participated in Kathmandu Gay Pride. Finally my time was over in Kathmandu and now we needed to head back to home. Babu told me that they had overnight buses from Kathmandu to Sonauli until 10 PM. We arrived at the bus station around 8 PM but all the buses were already gone by then. They said that the last bus was at 7 PM. So we took our dinner, stayed at a hotel near bus station and took an early morning bus to Sounauli and then another bus from Sonauli to Varanasi. It was a successful journey full of learning. I really plan to go back again to Kathmandu sometime for longer period of time.

Please click here to see more pictures:

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.

Group wedding of 32 poor couples

Chairs for couples

Chairs for couples

Lok Samiti organized a group wedding of 32 poor couples again this year on 10th of May. It was again a huge event where more than 8,000 people were present. I reached there around 1 o’clock afternoon time and saw all the families preparing for the wedding; people were so excited. Lok Samiti had organized this wedding at a Hanuman Temple near Rajatalab, Varanasi. Definitely the temple did not have enough space for that many people so they had organized everything right behind the temple on an open space. They had a tent where there was a well-decorated stage for couples.

Groom swearing to not ask for dowry in future

Groom swearing to not ask for dowry in future

Lok Samiti had also arranged food for the people who had come to attend the wedding. The main idea behind organizing group wedding is stopping dowry and helping poor people get married. Since this wedding is registered and everything is organized by Lok Samiti, the groom’s family could not even think about asking for any dowry to the bride’s family because they sign a document saying that they will never ask for any dowry in the future. I really like this idea. All the couples who had got married under these condition were extremely poor that they could not get married on their own.

Bicycles for grooms

Bicycles for grooms

Lok Samiti gave bicycles to all the grooms and sewing machines to the brides so that they can be self dependent. Actually a lot of people come to Varanasi city area from the villages to work and the idea behind giving bicycles is that these people can use theses bicycles to come to Varanasi and work. The same idea is behind giving sewing machines as well, that the brides could do some sewing work and make some money. A lot of people from different parts of India and abroad had donated money to make this noble event true. I was responsible to bring some foreign donation.

Groom with traditional wedding dress

Groom with traditional wedding dress

Lok Samiti’s members had been collecting donations for the past three months and finally they had collected donations worth Rs. 2,60,000 which included cash, grains, clothes etc. The MP (member of Parliament) from Rajatalab area was the biggest donor who had donated Rs. 66,000 and his wife was second biggest donor who had donated sarees worth Rs. 15,000. The same way several people donated and gifted a lot of different things. I was also told to give something but I could not because of this crazy economy and no work for me. Last year I had donated clocks to all the couples on behalf of Sanjeevani Booti.

The bride

The bride

Lok Samiti had appointed a few people in different villages to see if anybody wanted to get married under group wedding and these people went to all the villagers asking about it. First of all they chose the boys and then told them about the girls who wanted to get married. They introduced their families to each other and fixed the wedding. I heard that some of the couples had come from other districts. All the couples were different ages, some of them seemed over 40 and some of them seemed only 15-16 years old, I am not sure about it but Lok Samiti said that they choose only people who are over 18.

group wedding

group wedding

Lok Samiti had organized the group wedding for 30 couples but at some point it seemed like all 30 couples would not be present there. But at last not only 30, but 32 couples got married. Two of the guests just decided to get married. They chose a bride who was also a guest there and informed Nandlal Master, President of Lok Samiti. Lok Samiti had arranged only 30 chairs, specially designed for weddings, �so they had to bring two normal chairs on the stage and these two other couples also got married.

sindorr box

sindoor box

This group wedding was a little bit different from the usual Hindu wedding. In this wedding couples adorned each other with flower garlands first, grooms put sindoor on the bride’s head, held the�hand with each other (symbol of long lasting relationship), and circled the Hanuman temple seven times instead of the fire. After all these things the families were free to do whatever rituals or other things they wanted. After completing the seven circles, grooms and brides returned to the tent and then families completed other rituals.

looks like over 18?

looks like over 18?

It was really so fun and interesting. This year’s wedding seemed more liberal from the bride’s point of view because all the brides were told to show their faces. In the last year’s wedding all the brides faces were covered with their saree. Although brides had come up on the stage with their faces covered; later Lok Samiti told all the brides to show their faces. It was so fun to see 32 couples getting married same time. My overall experience was nice but there were a few things that I did not understand; like I saw a few brides sleeping. It seemed like they were not interested in being married or maybe getting married doesn’t mean anything to them.

sindoordan

sindoordan

Lok Samiti is planning to organize a group wedding of 51 couples again next year on the 10th of May. Actually they have chosen this date because it is the wedding anniversary of the MP (Member of Parliament) from Rajatalab area. And since he is always the biggest donor and help for this wedding, they have decided that they will organize this wedding again and again on the same date. I am excited for the next year and hope to see all the brides and grooms excited and laughing and awake.

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.