Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cremation in India

Saranga Devi is a mysterious old lady, who works among the world of Doms, the “undertakers” of Hinduism, who tend to sacred cremation grounds in India. When her husband died 26 years ago, Saranga Devi decided to take on his job herself — instead of her sons, as tradition would dictate. She began taking care of the eternal flame, becoming de facto Dom Rani, the Queen of Doms. Doms, a lower-caste community usually employed as farm workers and weavers, or else relegated to the nefarious task of cremating dead.

 Today, rumor has it that the Doms are millionaires, thanks to the flourishing cremation business. Varanasi is the place where every Hindu wishes to die, in order to break free from the cycle of reincarnation, samsara, and to obtain moksha, liberation. Dying here means ending one’s cycle of death and rebirth and finally attaining nirvana. That’s why the sick and elderly come from far away, hoping to pass out in the holiest city in India, while legions of others bring their dead to be cremated here.

Saranga Devi sits by the sacred fire on the ghat.

The main burning ground in Varanasi, the Manikarnika ghat, seen from above. There are different levels of terraces and gated grounds where the dead are burned according to their caste: the lower the caste, the lower the ground.

An Aghori Baba meditating inside a soot-blackened and abandoned building behind Manikarnika ghat. Aghoris are one of the most extreme and controversial sect of Hindu holy men, called sadhus, who often dwell near cremation grounds.

Chotu Chowdhury, 65, has been a Dom for 40 years.

Male relatives of the deceased carry a stretcher towards the Ganges River as part of the ritual before cremation.

Pots used to collect water from the Ganges to purify the body.

A corpse is wrapped in colorful cloth before being dipped in the river. On the river, boats loaded with wood cruise towards Manikarnika to unload their wood in the early morning. Manikarnika is the place where every Hindu wishes to be cremated.

A man’s body is washed by his relatives in the Ganges.

An iron scale on the banks of the Ganges, used by Doms to weigh the wood. The quantity of wood is calculated by the weight of the deceased. The cost will be bargained by the relatives according to quality and quantity needed.

A body needs approximately three hours to burn entirely, depending on the weight and quality of wood. Some families are too poor to buy sufficient wood so the corpse stays half-burned. It is the Dom’s duty to take care of the fire by poking it continuously.

A male relative of the deceased throws water on the nearly extinguished funeral pyre, as the ritual dictates. This marks the end of the cremation ceremony.

Photo credit: Andrea De Franciscis
Via here

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Alligator Feasting on Reptiles

The moment an alligator feasts on a lunch of turtle and snake. Nature photographer Gary Meyers was taking pictures of nesting birds in Jefferson Island, Louisiana, when the hungry reptile caught his attention. In a series of extraordinary - and graphic - photos, the beast crushes the turtle's shell with his teeth and wolfs its bloody carcass down its throat. Louisiana has the highest alligator population in the United States, around two million, according to the state's Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. They can be found in the ponds, lakes, canals, bayous and swamps of Louisiana, where their habitat sprawls across 4.5million acres.  Males grow to around 13ft long and 500lb, and adults' diets consist of beavers, raccoons, large birds, snakes, turtles and even deer.

Photos via The Daily Mail
All photos credit: Gary Meyers 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Crucial Interventions: An Illustrated Treatise on the Principles & Practice of Nineteenth-Century Surgery

Richard Barnett studied medicine before becoming a historian. His writing has appeared in The Lancet, The London Magazine, and The Natural Death Handbook. He is the author of Medical London: City of Diseases, City of Cures and The Sick Rose. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Dead Babies' of Guatemala

Vultures circle overhead as the decomposed bodies of babies are pulled from their 'final' resting places and thrown carelessly into plastic bags. Each year, Guatemala City's cemetery workers use sledgehammers to break open crypts belonging to babies and children, simply because their poverty-stricken families can no longer afford the $24 rent on the plot. In a heartbreaking series of images, photographer Saul Martinez sheds light on the country's forgotten children destined for a mass grave at the edge of the city's rubbish dump.

Six years after the body of an adult or a child is laid to rest in the main cemetery in Guatemala City - the capital of the Central American country - relatives must pay $24 to cover the cost of the plot for four more years. If they are unable to pay, the crypts are smashed into and the coffins, some tiny and decorated with white satin, are prized open. The little corpses, still dressed in the clothes they were buried in or swaddled in blankets, are ripped from the boxes and rolled into bundles. Grieving relatives can collect the bodies, but often they are just wrapped in plastic bags before being disposed of in a mass grave. 

The decomposed body of a baby wrapped in the blanket

A doll, bottle and blankets discarded after being removed from a coffin at Guatemala City cemetery

Cemetery workers use sledgehammers to break into coffins removed from tombs.

A cemetery worker holds the body of a baby in his arms after it was pulled from its tomb

Maria Gomez received the remains of her son, who died in 1983. He was exhumed and moved to a cemetery closer to her home

Tiny coffins, adorned with satin, are loaded on a wheelbarrow and as children's bodies are stuffed in plastic bags

A girl reaches up to place flowers next to the crypts.

The yellow and navy blue dress of a child who was buried at the cemetery is held up by one of the men who exhumed her.

Tombs, which once contained loved ones, lie vacant

Bodies are bagged up and unceremoniously dumped into a mass grave 40 meters down

Vultures circle overhead as the bodies of babies are removed from their crypts and dumped in plastic bags at the cemetery.

Photo series credit: Saul Martinez