In the labyrinthine lanes of Kashi, which is believed to be “older than history, older than tradition and older even than legend,” stands a structure at the corner of its busiest crossing, where rooms are reserved for death.
The two-storied hospice ‘Kashi Labh Mukti Bhawan’ hosts the elderly who wish to spend their last days in the search for spiritual liberation.
Shanti Devi, 85, lies wrapped in bed sheet in one of the 10 rooms of the temple-cum-building. Her corner room, lit with incense sticks, is next to a small temple inside the premises, which is most active at the time of dusk and dawn.
Devi, who travelled all the way from Newada in Bihar, mostly chants mantras near her room’s window. A priest, one appointed for every patient, comes regularly in her room to check in on her.
Barely able to speak with her tooth-less mouth, Devi says, “I become restless with the passing of every hour. My family is here who are helping me gain moksha and I do not want to disappoint them. I know Kashi will take me inside her peacefully.”
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Established by the Dalmiya Charitable Trust in 1958, the Bhawan does not charge anything from the people who come here for a purpose.
The trust bears all the expenses from the stay in the house, to all the rituals of the day, to the cremation after “the soul leaves the body.”
“This is a holy place, and charging money means we are into a business. We do not want to be labelled that way. Our Trust bears all the expenses from food to rituals because we believe in providing spiritual satisfaction,” says 60-year-old Bhairava Nath Shukla, says the Bhawan’s manager.
“Not only India, but devotees from England, Japan and Mauritius have spent time in our shelter to understand the concept of Moksha, life and death,” adds Shukla.
Varanasi is famously known for being the ‘religious capital of India’ where thousands come for various spiritual purposes. Some come for the last rites, some to conduct their new born’s’ birth ceremony and some, to die peacefully.