Tuesday January 22, 2019

Manikarnika Ghat: A lavish celebration of death on the banks of River Ganga

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By Rukma Singh

The city illumines truth and reveals reality. It does not bring new wonders into the scope of vision, but enables one to see what is already there.  Where this eternal light intersects the earth, it is known as Kashi.” -Diana L. Eck

Kashi, or Benaras as it is popularly known, is a phenomenon in itself. It is where all lives are believed to have begun, and where all lives should ideally end.  A brief picture of Benaras would be incomplete without the endless course of pilgrims going up and down the ghats all day, air filled with chants of priests, hues of saffron and yellow all around, and well sculptured temples. But even in the constant hustle-bustle of the city, everything is ultimately believed to fall into perspective. The mayhem is almost natural, as if it were meant to be there.

Whatever fruit is said to accrue from thousands of lifetimes of asceticism is known to be obtainable from just three continuous days of fasting in Benaras and a dip in the holy waters of the Ganga.

Out of the 87 ghats along the Ganga, there is one ghat that serves as a window to the other side of Varanasi ; the side where life comes to an end, and where the end of life is made ‘worthwhile.’

Manikarnika Ghat houses some sharp contrasts. Cremation areas are considered to be unlucky and are situated beyond the main city to keep it away from ‘grief’. But Manikarnika happens to be situated right in the middle of all the ghats. The reason behind this is the fact that the entire city of Benaras is considered to be a ‘Great Cremation Ground’ or a ‘Maha Shamshan’. A life that ends here is a successful life.

“Death in Kashi is not a feared death, for here the ordinary God of Death, frightful Yama, has no jurisdiction. Death in Kashi is death known and faced, transformed and transcended.”

Death Tourism

To think of death being ‘utilized commercially’ is a scary thought. But, Manikarnika Ghat has given rise to the phenomenon called ‘Death Tourism’. Due to the ‘guaranteed’ liberation of a soul from the endless cycle of life and death, thousands of tourists come here every year only to witness the large scale cremation activities and to gain peace and perspective in life. Even though photography is seen as an act of insensitivity and hostility, tourists don’t refrain from it.

Some of the local residents, however, do not allow their young children to look at the ghats or to even go that way. They believe that it could have a negative impact on the kind, because of the grief associated with cremation.

The ghat is lined with a series of shops providing material for cremation. These range from different types of cloth to a variety of woods: sandalwood being the most expensive and most preferred one. Death, here, is a lavish affair.

The legend

Legend is that Lord Shiva gave the boon of eternal peace to the Manikarnika Ghat. It is believed that for thousands of years, Lord Vishnu prayed to Lord Shiva asking that the holy city of Kashi, as Varanasi was known earlier, not be destroyed during the then planned annihilation of the world. Pleased by Vishnu’s prayers, Shiva came to Kashi along with his wife Parvati and granted him the wish. And by consequence, any departed soul that gets its last rites performed in Varanasi attains moksha (liberation).

There are a few more myths around how the Maha Shamshana got its name. One is that Vishnu dug a well for Shiva and Parvati to bathe in. When Shiva was taking a bath, one of his earrings fell into the well and since then it has been known as Manikarnika (Mani is the jewel in the earring and Karnam is the ear).

At Manikarnika, death is celebrated in a worldly fashion. Amidst the chants of remorse and the smoke engulfing the ghat, there’s an unusual happiness – the happiness of leading a loved one to the ‘gateway of heaven’.

Next Story

Unites States’ Death Rate By Cancer Hits Milestone

In the early 1970s, colon cancer death rates in the poorest counties were 20 percent lower than those in affluent counties

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Cancer, U.S.
Researchers have discovered new species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the blood of two patients in China, according to a recent study.

The U.S. cancer death rate has hit a milestone: It’s been falling for at least 25 years, according to a new report.

Lower smoking rates are translating into fewer deaths. Advances in early detection and treatment also are having a positive impact, experts say.

But it’s not all good news. Obesity-related cancer deaths are rising, and prostate cancer deaths are no longer dropping, said Rebecca Siegel, lead author of the American Cancer Society report published Tuesday.

Cancer also remains the nation’s No. 2 killer. The society predicts there will be more than 1.7 million new cancer cases, and more than 600,000 cancer deaths, in the U.S. this year.

A breakdown of what the report says:

Cancers, U.S.
Women receive cancer treatment at The National Oncology Center in Sanaa, Yemen. VOA

Decline

There’s been a lot of bad news recently regarding U.S. death rates. In 2017, increases were seen in fatalities from seven of the 10 leading causes of death, according to recently released government data. But cancer has been something of a bright spot.

The nation’s cancer death rate was increasing until the early 1990s. It has been dropping since, falling 27 percent between 1991 and 2016, the Cancer Society reported.

Lung cancer is the main reason. Among cancers, it has long killed the most people, especially men. But the lung cancer death rate dropped by nearly 50 percent among men since 1991. It was a delayed effect from a decline in smoking that began in the 1960s, Siegel said.

Cancers, U.S.
Diakite, 46, looks out the window after her annual check up with Dr. Abdoul Aziz Kasse at the Clinique des Mamelles in Dakar, Senegal on July 13, 2017. Diakite has successfully recovered from cervical cancer thanks to Dr. Kasse and yearly checks. VOA

Prostate cancer

The report has some mixed news about prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

The prostate cancer death rate fell by half over two decades, but experts have been wondering whether the trend changed after a 2011 decision by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to stop recommending routine testing of men using the PSA blood test. That decision was prompted by concerns the test was leading to overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

The prostate cancer death rate flattened from 2013 to 2016. So, while the PSA testing may have surfaced cases that didn’t actually need treatment, it may also have prevented some cancer deaths, the report suggests.

Obesity

Of the most common types of cancer in the U.S., all the ones with increasing death rates are linked to obesity, including cancers of the pancreas and uterus.

cancer, cellphone, U.S.
A radiologist examines the brain X-rays of a patient. In a small study, patients with brain tumors were given genetically modified poliovirus, which helped their bodies attack the cancer. VOA

Another is liver cancer. Liver cancer deaths have been increasing since the 1970s, and initially most of the increase was tied to hepatitis C infections spread among people who abuse drugs. But now obesity accounts for a third of liver cancer deaths, and is more of a factor than hepatitis, Siegel said.

The nation’s growing obesity epidemic was first identified as a problem in the 1990s. It can take decades to see how a risk factor influences cancer rates, “so we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the effect of the obesity epidemic on cancer,” Siegel said.

Disparity

There’s been a decline in the historic racial gap in cancer death rates, but an economic gap is growing — especially when it comes to deaths that could be prevented by early screening and treatment, better eating and less smoking.

Also Read: https://www.newsgram.com/drugs-breast-cancer-treating-drug-resistant-lung-tumours/

In the early 1970s, colon cancer death rates in the poorest counties were 20 percent lower than those in affluent counties; now they’re 30 percent higher. Cervical cancer deaths are twice as high for women in poor counties now, compared with women in affluent counties. And lung and liver cancer death rates are 40 percent higher for men in poor counties.

Dr. Darrell Gray, deputy director of Ohio State University’s Center for Cancer Health Equity, called the findings “important but not surprising.”

“We’ve known for some time that race is a surrogate” for other factors, like poverty and difficulty getting to — or paying for — doctor’s appointments, he said. (VOA)