Posts Tagged With: ashes


From Khajuraho, we took a 40 minute plane ride to Varanasi and checked into our hotel. Because we leave before dawn to see the religious festival that attracts thousands of pilgrims to the sacred River Ganges, Ranvir asked to host our farewell dinner a night early. First a concert by two excellent musicians. The drum sounds like a deep throated bull frog between taps with hands and sticks.The stringed instrument emits high pitched notes our ear is not used too. Not easy to play, both men worked up a sweat while playing.

We dress up for dinner. Theo has a nice tie and a shirt with a collar.

Dinner is fast paced with food coming at you in waves of various smoked meats and vegetable dishes, sauces and exotic combinations.  Adam told this great story of his college days at Cambridge. He would enter a pub and have a drink, then challenge anyone to eat three boiled eggs, without liquid to wash them down, faster than he could drink a flagon of beer. The loser paid for his  beer for the evening. He always won. My son Doug would pull a similar trick. As a carpenter, his challenge was that he could pound 10 3-penny nails into the end of a piece of 2 x 4 in ten seconds. He always drank free.

Before dawn, the bus takes us where permitted and then we walk to the river. Everyone is bundled up and we take in the ever changing panoply of street people.

Beggars hoping for a handout.

This is our guide hailed by a holy man with white paint who anoints him with a red dot on his forehead. Our guide took us through a narrow alleyway shortcut.  Motors and walkers in tight quarters squeeze  past each other. He warned, stick together like glue. Theo wasn’t feeling well and stayed in.

We load into boats and view everything from the river. They cremate 150 to 200 bodies a day on the Ganges River.

We watch the sun come up and view the bank where the cremations take place, from the boat.

It takes 200 to 300  kilograms of wood for one traditional cremation. The body is placed in the middle,  covered in branches of sweet smelling herbs, then covered the rest of the way. It costs the equivalent of $6000 American for a traditional burial. Most people must use the electric, or in some communities, gas crematoriums, which are cheap.

In this picture, the man in white with a shaved head is the one who lights the fire for his father. (Or, brother, or wife, or son.) He walks around the funeral pyre three times clockwise, and three times counter clockwise before he torches. Notice the man, lower right corner, carrying a huge pan full of ashes on his head. The untouchables will go through the ashes and collect anything of value like gold fillings, or gold fibers before delivering the ashes to the river.

Here you see the body coming in under the red plastic. Under that is the body covered in a saffron robe with gold fibers. It is removed and along with the pallet thrown into a separate fire. Taking pictures of a cremation is forbidden, our guides tells us.

This body is getting a dip in the Sacred River before cremation. Pregnant women, infants, people who died of snake bite, people who have leprosy or anyone who renounces faith will not be cremated. Women are no longer allowed to attend cremations because they would often throw themselves into the fire to go to a better place with a loved one. The government forbids that now.

The festival is very spiritual. It isn’t only about cremation. On the riverside are ghats where people register their dead, and arrange for prayers and a proper entrance into the hereafter.

This man is performing his own ritual with the candles, flowers, fire and bells.

The participants sometimes get into a state of ecstasy or trance.

Each ghat has a priest who records the death for the government and performs the ritual for his customer. The government records births and deaths now. Ranvir tells us that at one time, a person could go to his village priest and he would have the records of your father, your grandfather and whoever died before them, handed down from a former priest. This city is 4,000 years old and death is a cause for celebration.

The Ganges is a mecca for pilgrims to come and take a ritual dip and cleansing in the sacred waters.

Some may travel across the country and make it once in a lifetime to the Ganges. Others come every year.

Bathers are everywhere. Some bring vessels to take the precious water home with them.

Bathing and lighting a ceremonial fire for a loved one departed.

The process is fascinating.

Men and women bath together.

These women sought a bit of privacy among the boats.

More tomorrow.

















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Driving home from Oregon yesterday took seven and a-half hours. As I rolled into the county, local radio announced a burn of 450 acres near Mountain Ranch, the area that took the brunt of the Butte Fire. The Butte Fire is considered the worst for home losses in the state from a single fire.

The day before I left, I managed a quick trip to the local Arts Council Gallery for a look at their exhibit entitled History From The Ashes. DSC08424 (Copy)

There is no joy in picking up cherished or simply common objects from your burned out property. Mostly sadness, tears and awe that anything recognizable survived the conflagration.

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We know art is healing. And there is something about picking through the ashes that must be common to all of us. I watched on television as folks did just that after Katrina. The flood, destroyed as completely as fire.

DSC08436 (Copy)When my house burned to the ground in Michigan, I remember finding  my melted marbles and my mother’s  jar full of precious coins. The wafts of smoke coming from the ashes, the strong smell, the bent bed springs and melted cook stove didn’t make me give up hope that I might find a heart shaped plastic locket my grandmother gave me that contained a tiny rosary. Of course, it couldn’t possibly survive, but my 8 year self believed in miracles.

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Items found, were given an artful setting of remembrance.

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Or put together to form a sculpture or a mobile.

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One survivor made a fabric wall hanging, with burned out spars of trees surrounded by wild flowers. A reality, wild flowers, rain fed, follow a burn.

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Dead bushes and trees amid new grass on this canvas.

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You can see my face reflected in the glass covering a spectacular photo by John Slot of the borate bomber releasing its chemical fire retardant.

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And this photo by Katie Clark of a partially burned home with a surviving flag.

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The most spectacular piece in the show is this shawl, positioned like an effigy with burned offerings at its feet. The shawl was made from the ties that bound hay bales distributed to land owners. Hay spread on bare ground, an effort to help prevent erosion. This artist washed and dyed the pieces. She softened them enough for weaving and wove this shawl.

It is a good feeling that something pretty, or remembered or useful rises from the ashes of despair and we can all see through to their recovery and healing, as art surpasses the ashes.










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DSC06718 (Copy)Yesterday, I drove to Mountain Ranch to the park on Whiskey Slide Road where Fema and the Red Cross have set up a fire victim recovery center. Mountain Ranch Rd. was filled with traffic with 3 major stops for road crews re-establishing power lines to the area; removing dead debris from the road, and cutting dead roadside trees with potential to fall on the road.  Mountain Ranch Rd winds treacherously through the canyon without much shoulder space to stop.  At each forced stop, I took a picture from my window. It always baffles me that one tree still has green leaves while the next one is almost completely brown and scorched.

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Somehow, when a fire goes through an area, I’m not alone in thinking that everything is burned down to the ground.  I’ve seen devastation like that. There is plenty of ash, and plenty of dead trees to come from my very limited view.

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In the foreground on the left is a small blackened pine. Pine trees will die in a fire like this, but many of the oak trees, if given a chance, will survive. I don’t understand fire science and what makes this a hot spot where big trees burned and other areas are islands of green. Recovery is better when trees, are left standing, and even some dead ones left on the ground to hold water and gather clumps of washed dirt against them to aid in regrowth and insect activity.

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At the park, I took this picture of mass, organized chaos when I first arrived. Then, it was a matter of slowly making my way around the park to drop off the carload of items I brought. Soap and shampoo one place. Black garbage bags another. Charcoal, boots, medications, paper plates, toilet paper, jackets, toys, pants, shirts, books, belts, scarves…

Before I returned to the site above the four pairs of boots I had left were already gone. One guy told me, “Oh, thank you. I have such trouble finding size 13.”

They aren’t accepting appliances or furniture until people have power and shelter to put it in.  Many have found places to stay. Some are camping on their property or are in Fema trailers. 545 houses burned.  State Farm has set up a Disaster Recovery trailer in San Andreas where people go to file their claims.

I worked hard; never getting a chance to take more pictures. I met a couple from Manteca and another from Modesto who came to help. The community of volunteers from Mountain Ranch was fantastic, practical and upbeat.  Then, late in the day, about 3:00, word came that rain was expected. Then it was a matter of getting tarps under all boxes of sorted clothing so wet couldn’t seep into the boxes. And covering them from the top with rolls of Visqueen plastic. I returned home late in the  day completely exhausted. Today, I’ll work on getting my own stuff back on shelves, that my kids removed for me. Sunday, my oldest son will bring back a van load of genealogy, family photos and records from his garage in Valley Springs.

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