Varanasi, the holy city that is known for the thin line between life and death and where death isn’t looked at as some malicious thing but as something peaceful and what grants you deliverance from life and its hardships. In the heart of Varanasi is such a place that grants you ‘Moksh’ i.e deliverance from rebirths. The place is called Mukti Bhavan and it is like a Death Hotel only with lesser room service and more funeral services.
No matter how it sounds, it isn’t as gloomy. Really sick and dying people just check into this hotel and are allowed to stay up to 15 days to fulfill their last desires of dying by the banks of Ganga in the holy city of Varanasi. Legend has it that anyone who dies here achieves what Hindu mythology calls ‘Moksha’ and does not have to suffer the cycle of rebirth again. And what Hindus want more than the dreams of heaven is liberation from the trepidations of life. Achieving ‘Moksha’ on your death-bed frees your soul ever after and you never have to be born again.
But only the truly sick and dying are allowed staying here, sometimes even free of cost if they cannot afford even rent and lighting. The manager Bhairav Nath Shukla prays for the salvation of people’s soul and at this point can even calculate when the person will die. The Salvation Palace has 12 rooms and a temple for the priests and for the family of the dead to pray and perform funeral rites.
Though the whole deal sounds quite spooky, it has become normality for the manager’s family and you can even see the kids playing in the playground. They have gotten used to the dead corpses and the grieving people. Because they don’t see death as something the people who come there are afraid of. They come to the palace ready and asking for peace in the form of death. However, the place comes with its own sets of terms and conditions and no one is allowed to stay here for more than two weeks, after which, the guests are asked to move out and make space for other dying people.
The place has attained a great name over the years and even had a movie made on it. While other salvation houses did open up in Varanasi, Mukti Bhavan remained the oldest one in town. Thousands of visitors visit the place throughout the year. But just to clarify, it isn’t a place for someone to commit suicide or even mercy killing. Only the people die naturally are allowed to stay here while the priest performs rituals to free their soul from this earth.
A man Girish Kumar, 85-year old who can barely walk into this dimly lit hotel checks in waiting to take his last breaths, never hoping to get out of this hotel alive. Why would a person travel through long and tiresome roads when he can barely walk, just to stay in a hotel? He came there to die. More specifically, to achieve Moksha. While there are many other paths people choose like taking a dip in the Ganges to wash off their sins, for those with no one to take care of them, Moksha Bhavan has become kind of a sanctuary to come and lie in peace while breathing the last breaths.
But the problem arises when people refuse to leave even after having waited their two weeks for death. Those stubborn guests refuse to pave the way for other people waiting to have their chance at redemption and wait for months at length. This is the reason the hotel has started admitting only patients that the doctors have termed terminally-ill.
Kalawati Devi, aged 99 years has been living in Moksha Bhavan for over four months now and each day they think she is going to die, she lives to see another day. This definitely slows down the entries into the Salvation palace because no one can give a certain date for when someone will die. All doctors can do is give an estimation or an indication as to the health and thus, a rough time period accordingly.
This turns out to be a problem for such hospices because managing the money turns out to be difficult. A Salvation house isn’t something you open for commercial purposes because sometimes the people asking for a place to stay can’t afford it and they are coming there to die. Managing the finances for electricity and the funeral wood can be hard on the owners of these hospices. Mr Bhairav Nath Shukla has been praying for the salvation of souls for 44 years and you can say Varanasi which is known to be the city of life is getting popular for its death tourism now. Over the years, Mr Shukla has seen over 12000 deaths of both the rich and the poor in the same rooms, praying for peace. Some people come with their relatives and for others, it has been years since they saw their own child.
More than the pilgrims who visit the city for their religious beliefs is the population of people coming there to die now and it is hard to comprehend how well that bodes for the city. But as long as the people are terminally ill and there is no meddling with the law, it is all about the religious sentiments of people and the procedure they believe in. As for the institutions, it has already been established that hospices like Moksha Bhavan are for people who can afford it and even for those who can’t so it is a good thing for everybody especially the dying who can die with the knowledge that their soul will be free after the act. Those peaceful last moments is all anyone can hope for and as long as the place provides that, it is a good thing. Just an understanding needs to be accomplished with the people staying there for months, refusing to leave till they die because one never knows the particular time of death and it just hijacks some other person’s shot at deliverance.