The Sounds of Death: Varanasi.

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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.

 

 

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