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DISPOSAL OF THE DEAD 103 of Shiva's city, devoting themselves entirely to the prescribed observances of the Brahmin ritual. Some of the principal funeral rites take place on the banks of the Ganges. The nearest relatives of the deceased carry the body to the river, and place it by the water's edge, either near to the burning ghât, or close by the ghât where he or she would daily come to bathe. \l'hen the last offices of the dead have been performed by the relatives, the corpse is placed on the funeral pyre, prepared by the low-caste Doms at the burning ghât, who, however, are not allowed to touch any but the bodies of people of their own caste.
There are two exceptions to the ordinary rule of cremation of the dead. A sunnyásí, the Brahmin who, after passing through the stages of studentship and householders..., ..ds renounced a worldly life and entered upon the strict ascetic rule of his religion, is thereby freed from the pollutions which infect the common clay, and his body after death is considered too holy to require the purification of the funeral pyre. The strangest sight of all to be seen along the ghâts is the sannyâsi's corpse, tenderly carried down by his disciples or other Brahmins of his sect, then posed like a bronze idol on the steps, garlanded and reverently saluted, while the temple musicians blow the sacred conch and beat the drunis to announce that another human soul has finished the painful cycle of transmigration on earth, and is about to re-enter into union with the Absolute. The body, placed between two large flat stones, is afterwards removed to a boat and thrown into the river, opposite to the shrine where the sannyâsi had been accustomed to worship
The other exception to the rule of cremation is in
BENARES, THE SACRED CITY
the case of bodies of Hindus who have died of smallpos. According to the weird imaginings of Puranic. Hinduism, they are supposed to become possessed by Sitala, the goddess of small-pox, one of the manifestations of the Destroyer, and the goddess would be offended if Agni, the god of Fire, drove her from her habitation.
It would be impossible to describe, or even to enumerate, all the rites and ceremonies which can be observed along the ghâts, changing according to the day, the month, or the occasion of the numerous Hindu festivals. The most beautiful of all the latter is the Diwali, or Feast of Lamps, in honour of Lakshmi, the goddess of Fortune, at the end of the month of Kartik (October-November). In the evening, when the short Eastern gloaming is merging into night,' numbers of girls and young women, graceful as Greek nymphs in their many-coloured saris, come silently down to the ghâts bearing little earthen lamps, which they light and carefully set afloat. Then with eager faces they watch them carried away on the rippling surface of the water, still shimmering with opalescent tints from the last rays of the after-glow. For if a tiny wavelet should upset the frail craft, or if the light should ficker and go out, it bodes misfortune in the coming year. But if the light burns strong and well, till the lamp is borne far away by the current in mid-stream, happiness is in store for her who launched it on the waters. By the time the twilight fades there are hundreds of twinkling lights dotted over the river, as if holy Ganga had borrowed the stars from heaven, whence she came, to adorn her earthly robes. The buildings, platforms, and steps
FEAST OF LAMPS
along the shore now gleam with rows of lamps which the pious elders have lighted for their worship. Our boat drifts slowly down the stream, through the fitful glimmer of Lakshmi's fragile fleet, which magnifies the lofty piles towering above the ghâts into some gigantic citadel, built by the Djinns of Eastern legends. Below the Observatory the lamps get fewer and fewer, and near Manikarnika the whole scene fades away, as the lurid glare of the funeral pyres Aashes across the water, amidst the inky blackness of the burning ghât. Dark figures are crouching on the great smoke-begrimed piers which Aank the ghất, and demoniacal forms appear moving to and fro between the faming heaps. A horrid crackling noise arises from the burning wood. From the darkness up above comes the raucous note of a temple conch, and the booming of drums.
Presently a strangely familiar sound comes floating on the still night air, like a Gregorian chant with its slow and solemn cadence. In a distant monastery high above us the Brahmins are chanting the old sacrificial hymns, the Sâm - Ved, which the Aryan priests may have chanted here thirty centuries ago — still held so holy that it is sacrilege for our impure ears to listen. They are singing the praises of Rudra, the Mighty, the Terrible, lord of sacrifices, who has a thousand eyes, and carries a thousand quivers full of arrows of destruction.
The European traveller generally makes first acquaintance with the ghâts of the river- at Dasasamedh— the ghất. of the Ten-Horse Sacrifice-to which the principal roads of the city converge. It is also an important point in the river traffic, for the boats bringing stone from the. Chunar quarries, which have supplied Benares with building material from times immemorial, here discharge their cargoes. The popular legend which accounts for the name of the ghât probably refers to the time when the Brahmins were beginning to recover their authority in the city, on the decline of Buddhism. The story goes that all the gods had been expelled from Benares by Raja Divodás, who had acquired extraordinary power by the practice of religious rites. Shiva, wishing to return to the city, invoked the aid of Brahmå, who transformed himself into an aged Brahmin, and sought an interview with the raja. The latter . received him with much respect, and begged him to ask whatever he might desire. Brahmâ replied that the only favour he craved was that the raja would furnish the materials for the great horse-sacrifice.
Now this was one of the most complicated of the Brahminical sacrifices, requiring a perfect knowledge