Lecture by Rajat Nayyar on October 20, 2015

On Oct 20th at 16.15 (Ülikooli 16-214) Rajat Nayyar, a visualanthropologist from India, will give the lecture "Dying in Kashi: folklore on dying and death in the Bhojpuri region" and show his films.

Below is his short introduction to the topic.

"No other city on earth is as famous for death as is Varanasi [=Kashi]. More than for her temples and magnificent Ghats, more than for her silks and brocades, Banaras, The Great Cremation Ground, is known for death. At the center of the city along the riverfront is Manikarnika, the sanctuary of death, with its ceaselessly smoking cremation pyres". (Diana L. Eck)

The foci of my research:

1. How the conceptions about what it is to die influences the way you actually die.

2. Historical context of dying in Kashi

3. Dying as a tradition (Nirguna)

4. Dying in a spiritual system; Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan

5. Good death

The audio-visual ethnographic research at the hospice in Kashi has been about building a relationship with one of the priest responsible for daily readings of holy texts for each dying pilgrim and evening devotional singing ceremony which is broadcasted to each room. It also studies the dynamics between the priest and the family members of the dying pilgrim. The videos naturally shows it or perhaps the camera exaggerates it with its presence. I will be using some of these a/v excerpts in the presentation.

Before or after death in Kashi, the families must make sure that the ritual for cow donation is performed in their own village. The cow is donated to the local priest of the village. This they believe helps in crossing the mythical river "Vaitarni" after (during) death. Holding the tail of the cow, the dead can cross the most treacherous river. During this time, Garuda-Purana is read for the whole village community which emphasises the need to die in Kashi. In the presentation, I will screen videos of one such ritual.

Occasionally during or after this ritual, some members sing Nirguna folk songs, a tradition said to be initiated by mystic poet, Saint Kabir. In the Bhojpuri region, it is common to find female groups and male groups, collectively singing these songs, which reminds the temporary nature of the body and the need to become one with the universal spirit. Sometimes, the myth of Vaitarni river is sung and reminded. These songs are generally a dialogue between the spirit (whose body has just died) and it's meeting with the God. This god according to Kabir has no shape, no form and no qualities. This meeting is also referred to as a Marriage, which is why death becomes an event to celebrate. I will be playing some videos of community members singing these songs.