Varanasi, India – The holy city of Varanasi in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state is the gateway to salvation, so goes a Hindu belief. Fuelled by such faith, thousands over the last many centuries have travelled to Varanasi, also called Kashi, with a desire to die there. Dying in Varanasi is supposed to break the cycle of death and rebirth. Once one dies in Varanasi, he or she is never reborn, and thus attains salvation.
To house those wanting to die, all sorts of hotels and lodging have sprung up over the years. One such place is the Mumukshu Bhawan (Home for the Ailing) established in 1920. Locally known as the Moksha Bhawan (Salvation Home), the elderly settle here, stubbornly waiting for death. Some, for decades.
Eighty- year -old Manbudh Tripathi has been staying at Mumukshu for the past 17 years. “I have been waiting for the day to come when I will leave this world never to return. My sons send me money every month but it has been more than 10 years since I last saw them,” he says.
“More than 300 people stay in Mumukshu and most of them are above 60. They come here to die,” says Manish Pandey, 43, the manager. “In Varanasi death is not mourned but considered a blessing.” he says.
Mumukshu charges a minimal rent for accommodation and electricity. Those who cannot afford are also allowed to stay.
Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan is another home where you come to die. But unlike Mumukshu, Mukti Bhawan houses only those who are expected to die within 15 days of admission.
Bhairav Nath Shukla, 60, has been managing the Mukti Bhawan for more than four decades. “In a year we get around 800 people from around the country who come to spend their last days in Kashi. Some non-residential Indians too have come. On an average people are allowed to stay for 15 days. For some it could be two or three days or even a month till they die,” he says.
A fee of 20 Indian rupees (less than half a dollar) is charged for those who can pay. It is free for the poor. “We even help the poor to buy wood and other materials needed for cremation. Moreover, after being here for so long, I can easily calculate when a person will die,” says Shukla.
Bharat Singh and his wife have come from the eastern state of Bihar with their old and suffering aunt. “It’s been two days that we have been waiting and we expect that she will die within two or three days. It was her wish to die in Kashi and we have got her here,” he says.