Varanasi: City of Light and Death

Varanasi: City of Light and Death April 26, 2014

Here is a fascinating and touching story about Varanasi, the most sacred place for devout Hindus. One of the things that makes it so sacred is that it is a destination for many dying Hindus who believe that they can only reach moksha, or freedom from the cycle of rebirth, by taking God’s name and dying in the holy city.

Moni Basu, a practicing Hindu and a reporter for CNN, follows an 80 year old Hindu who wants to take his last breath in the city of Varanasi.  That city is what Basu calls the “epicenter” of Hinduism. It is to Hindus what Mecca is to Muslims and what Jerusalem is to Christians.

But unlike those cities, Varanasi is a destination for many dying Hindus. Basu explains why dying in Varanasi is so important.  And she introduces us to Mukti Bhavan, a “liberation” house where some Hindus spend their eleventh hour. Basu calls it “Hotel Death.”  There, she tells us, she saw death in a “new light.”  The house lacked warmth, love, or “any other emotions we linked to the process of dying.”

But later in the story, we see the house through the eyes of its manager, Bhairavnath Shukla. For him, death is not to be mourned. In fact,  he sees it as mukti, or liberation.  According to Basu “he and everyone else at Mukti Bhavan see death in Varanasi as a marriage of one’s soul with God?”

Basu’s story helps us to understand Hindu spirituality and the significance of Varanasi in sustaining it.

Does the Hindu view of the afterlife differ from other religions. Basu included a chart of those views which you can see below.

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