They all seem mixed together here in Varanasi. I have noted several times before how India is always a mixture of the sacred and profane, how all elements of life are seemingly jumbled up and criss crossing. In Varanasi this is even more evident and the addition of the palpable presence of death here completes the picture.
We took a fascinating walk last night through the tiny alleyways and over to the Manikarnika (also known as Cremation) Ghat. There, we witnessed the preparation of bodies and their placement on funeral pyres, and their burning. It was a very moving and slightly destabilizing sight. As we stood above the fires, our eyes burned from the fumes and we had to descend after several minutes. A while later after continuing our walk we came back and actually stood on the ghat next to the burning pyres, and I could see a body burning. I have to admit to being a little shaken up. Our guide had explained the whole process to us, what the family does, how people say goodbye and what rituals there typically are in mourning.
There are things that you understand intellectually, and there are things that you understand on an emotional level as well. Varanasi brought home to me something real and ultimately peaceful about acceptance of our mortality and the beautiful cycle of living and dying.