The bells clanged urgently, piercingly loud,
the brass drums reverberated wild;
as the priest stood on one foot at a time –
flailing his tiny arati with no reprieve.
The little temple was so full of fumes
that threatened to blind my sight,
but they weren’t all from the incense stand:
there were several pyres burning outside.
As the clamour of drums accelerated
and brass bells jangled with insistence and might,
the priest hopped over to shove wood from pyres
into a pit, to chase away spirits – to my right.
The four men ringing bells as if death knells,
also women wriggling ten dumroos with might –
were unaffected by their handiwork in a cubby,
but as about to rupture – my eardrums thumped.
Few visited this temple other than crematorium staff,
including a few westerners who frequented its enclave –
with no idea of Hindu death rituals and superstitions,
that made outcasts of the dead and families it swathed.
The tourists who came by tended to return often –
as they began to gravitate to these deafening sounds,
that wrapped them in a trance-like hypnotic state:
Purging negative energies – they addictively claimed!
In front was an altar – down a short flight of stairs,
the stone Shivling under a tripod was shielded in:
where the priest chanted on one leg, flailing his arati –
as fires from pyres outside – blew high above grills.
I watched these fires rise as orange balloons at night –
as if lifting souls off their pyres that burned bright:
while on the right wall an appeased Kali, painted all blue –
skipped gaily with her head thrown back, tongue out.
I remained rooted, taking deep breaths, eyes closed –
as there’s no way I’d succumb to deadly discordant sounds,
that perhaps disperse souls from Varanasi – never to be reborn:
in thus attaining Moksh at the famed Manikarnika Ghat.