Navadwip, India — Wednesday, January 7th

Bolo Hari!

Every other day, death passes by me, just a few feet away, beneath my window. Alerted by cries of "Bolo Hari!" I stare out of my third-floor window overlooking the street, at the funeral procession below.

Life is simple here in the towns and villages of India — and so is death. Whenever somebody dies, within a few hours the corpse is bathed, wrapped in white cloth, and carried swiftly to the "burning-ghat" on the bank of the Ganges River, where it is cremated, and the ashes scattered in the holy waters.

The shrouded corpse is placed on a makeshift bamboo stretcher and carried shoulder-high, at a brisk pace, through the crowded streets, accompanied by a somewhat boisterous "dirge," a call-and-response: "Bolo Hari!" (Chant the name of God!) — "Bol!" (Chant!)

Almost every night, it seems, I hear these faint chants of "Bolo Hari!" (the burning-ghat is open all day and night) as another poor soul, somewhere in the distance, is claimed by Yamaraj, the Lord of Death.

And still, I think that I will not die!

Oh, I understand that I will die, all right, but it is an abstract notion, not something that I believe with enough conviction to change my life, or anything drastic like that. Yudhisthir Maharaj describes this cognitive dissonance in the Mahabharat:

ahany ahani bhutani / gacchantiha yamalayam
sesah sthavaram icchanti / kim ascaryam atah param

"Day after day, innumerable living entities are taken, against their will, to the kingdom of death, but those who are temporarily spared never think that they, too, will soon be forced to go on this grim journey. What could be more astonishing than this?"

I am living in Death's shadow. He passes me by, every day. He often passes right beneath my window! I see him, but I do not see him... at least not face-to-face. He always seems to come for somebody else, never for me, so I feel that I have nothing to fear. Is there anything more incredible than such willful blindness?

I can understand the new-found eagerness of the pallbearers (usually male relatives of the deceased) to "Bolo Hari!" but I just don't feel that same urgency to chant the Holy Name — at least not until the Yama-dutas actually come to drag me off by the scruff of my neck!

But that's not going to be any time soon, right?

Tags: Chanting

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Layout by iMonk — January 7th, 2009.