Banaras (Kashi or Varanasi) is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together– Mark Twain
The holy city of Kashi (Varanasi), an abode of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, has earned the titles like “City of Temples” and “religious capital of India”. It is known for Moksha (salvation), a concept of liberation from trials and tribulations of life, when one gives up all materialistic pleasures to be one with the soul.
It is believed that men and women go direct to the heaven, if they die in Kashi. It’s called Kashi-death or Kashi-labh. In older days, it was called Kashi-karvat. The elderly people come here on their own or with their relatives, who wish to breathe their last in Kashi.
A few people stay in lodges or dharmshalas for this purpose, but to cater to such demands, a guest house was constructed way back in 1908 in Kashi (Varanasi). It’s called the Kashi Labh-Mukti Bhawan, the double-storeyed, 12-room ashram, where the room accommodation is free, as it’s run by a religious charitable trust. A companion is also allowed to stay with the elderly person.
Only those who are supposed to be on the brink of death are allowed to stay in the guest house for a fortnight. If they don’t die during this period, they are sent back home.
There is also a small temple with a priest in ashram. It offers professional services at no cost that include constant chanting of the Gita and Ramayan as also Bhajan-kirtan (musical holy verses) by ashram’s singers and evening Satyanarayan Puja. The residents are daily given the Ganges water and basil leaves. All these help them distract with the worldly affairs and depart in peace.
There are a number of stories related to ashram residents. One story relates to the old man, who had disputes with his younger brother and a wall was erected in the middle of their house. His heart was heavy in those last moments. He called his estranged brother, embraced him, asked for his forgiveness and requested him to bring down the wall. Both cried in each other’s arms, and within minutes, he was gone.
There was an interesting movie “Hotel Salvation.” There was also a short movie named “Mumbai Varanasi Express” on this subject.
There was a time when people had to wait for entry to this asram, but now it remains almost vacant. I don’t like to comment on the beliefs and faiths of any religion, but I tried to imagine the mindset of those who check-in the ashram with sole purpose to die.
Whenever a person visits funeral ground, a lot of emotions cross the mind as to what is the purpose of life. People come and go empty-handed, then why so much struggles, enmity, rivalry or bad blood.
It’s therefore advisable to resolve conflicts, as quickly as possible. Arguments, resentments or disappointments, all are futile, that unnecessarily leave us with heavy hearts. Today we are alive, but don’t know how long.
I conclude with a famous quote by Alexander, The Great-
When my casket is being carried to the grave, leave my hands hanging outside. For empty-handed I came into this world and empty-handed, I shall go! My whole life has been a hallow waste, a futile exercise, for no one at death can take anything with them!”