Photos: India’s holy city where elderly Hindus ‘invite to death’

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By Webdesk


Murali Mohan Sastry peacefully awaits his death on the banks of the Ganges River in India’s northern city of Varanasi, revered by millions of Hindus.

More than a decade ago, the 82-year-old former university teacher and his wife left a comfortable life in the southern city of Hyderabad.

Now he hopes that by dying in Varanasi he can break the tenuous cycle of death and rebirth, an article of faith for many Hindus, to attain salvation.

“We invite death,” Sastry said shortly after singing his morning prayers as he dove into the river three times fully clothed.

“And he’s actually our guest. We are therefore proud that we are going to die here.”

The couple, who live in one of the Spartan community houses in the holy city, intended for those who want to spend their twilight years there, were inspired by the example of Sastry’s mother, who had lived in the same place.

While Western-style retirement homes are becoming popular, Sastry has no interest in worldly comforts, preferring to spend his last days studying and praying.

“Our Indian philosophy is that those who seek worldly comforts can never go to God, can never reach God,” said white-haired Sastry, his shoulders draped in a yellow shawl with scriptural phrases picked out in saffron.

“Avoid all these things as much as possible. Don’t go for them. Go only for God.”

More than a million people live in the ancient city famous for its temples and bathing places next to Hinduism’s holiest river, where believers from all over the country flock for rituals that mark events from birth to death.

“Now I don’t feel like living in this world anymore,” said Ram Pyari, another resident of the home, as she prepared a meal for her husband, who is largely bedridden in what he is sure will be his last days. .

“One has to face so much suffering that one gets tired of it. So you feel that when you reach salvation, you don’t have to suffer anymore,” added Ram Pyari, who is in his 80s.

The caretaker of the home, Mumukshu Bhavan, which dates back to the 1920s, says it is at full capacity with more than 80 residents, though demand for places remains high.

“More and more old people want to come and stay in Varanasi,” said the official, Manish Kumar Pandey. “But we can only place a limited number.”

Yet the devout who cannot breathe their last in the holy city can take solace in the Hindu belief that their remains are cremated one step closer to salvation.



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