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A festival that involves throwing cremation ash at one another

Varanasi, India is famous and unique. A holy Hindu city whose principal business is death, many families take their loved ones to be cremated there, while western eyes may view it as macabre, the locals have a very different take.

Reincarnation is a fundamental part of the Hindu religion so moving from this life to the next doesn’t have the same finality as does in many other parts of the world, there is obviously grieving as loved one will be missed, but it is perhaps considered much more part of the whole life cycle.

This acceptance in a place so closely associated with death become even more pointed when it comes to the festival of Holi and participants can be seen throwing pyre ash at one another or smearing each other’s faces with it (have a look at this news video on the subject http://rt.com/in-motion/237921-india-cremation-ritual-holi/).

Whilst this approach already seems startling, after reading up on the celebrations there was one other aspect of the festivities that added to ‘other worldliness’ of the whole event, according to various sources in amongst the smoke of the cremations that are going on all around on the seventh night of Navratra (an important lunar festival) the ‘Brides of the city’  (Nagar Vadhu)  or in other words sex workers, offer their prayer and dancing on a makeshift stage to the deity of cremation ghat (a ghat is a place of cremation that has steps leading down to the river Ganges).

Can you image the prostitutes of the Black Country coming together performing a dance and chanting in the grounds of Wolverhampton crematoria, before smearing each other with cremation ash? Sometimes when someone says to me ‘Ou, isn’t it’s a small world?’ I do think ‘Yes, but….’

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