The Sounds of Death: Varanasi.



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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