In normal times, the mythologically renowned Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghat cremation grounds here function almost 24X7, with many bringing bodies even from neighbouring districts. Hindus believe cremation here assures salvation (moksha) to the dead.
But the spread of Covid-19 has led to an abrupt decline in the number of cremations. Post the lock-down to check spread of the disease, people from neighbouring districts and states like Bihar and Madhya Pradesh are avoiding bringing bodies here.
To note, though the boundaries of the districts and states are sealed, there is no restriction on taking bodies for cremation.
Gulshan Kapoor, managing trustee, Baba Mahashamshan Nath Mandir, Manikarnika Ghat said, “Earlier, on an average 80 to 100 bodies reached the ghat daily for the last rites. Ever since the lock-down has been enforced, the number has gone down to 15 -20.”
Jagdish Chaudhary, senior member of Dom Raja’s descendants’ family, also confirmed the figure. He expressed concern over the outbreak of and wished that the pandemic would to an end soon.
To note, the honorific Dom Raja traces its origin to the first undertaker of Kashi cremation ghats who had made legendary king Harishchandra his apprentice.
The livelihood of those who make a living among the dead has also been impacted following the corona scare.
Saran Chaudhary, a descendant of the Dom Raja family, helps perform the cremation at Manikarnika Ghat. He helps make the pyre and light it. In lieu, he receives some money from the kin of the deceased.
He said in normal days, people from Jaunpur, Ghazipur, Mau, Bhadohi, Ballia several other areas in eastern UP brought bodies to Manikarnika Ghat for cremation. Bodies from Bihar’s Bhabhua and other districts also arrived here. But due to the lock-down, people from the adjoining districts and states were not bringing bodies. Hence there had been a decline in the number of cremations.
The sale of wood had also gone down at the ghats due to fewer cremations, said Suresh Prasad Yadav, who sells wood at the ghat.
Bahadur Chaudhary, a member of the Dom Raja family at Harishchandra Ghat who looks after last rites, said that on an average, 15 to 20 or more bodies arrived at the ghat. But now only a few cremations were taking place as people were reluctant to come due to the lock-down, though there was no restriction on bringing bodies here.
Divisional commissioner Deepak Agarwal said, “There is no restriction on bringing bodies from adjoining districts for cremation at Manikarnika Ghat and Harishanchandra Ghat. However, less than 20 people should accompany the body. Everyone should follow the measures to keep Sars-Cov-2 infection away.”
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