Waiting to die at ‘Salvation House’

‘Mukti Bhavan’ or ‘Salvation House’,  is a charity-run hostel for people who wish to die in Varanasi. It has 12 rooms, a temple and small quarters for its priests. Guests can normally stay up to two weeks after which, if they haven’t yet passed away, they are gently asked to leave  

Munna Kuvar, 105, lies on a bed receiving comfort from her relatives as she waits to die in Varanasi, widely considered Hinduism’s holiest city.
Hindus believe that dying here and having their ashes scattered in the Ganges allows their soul to escape a cycle of death and rebirth, attaining “moksha” or salvation.
For this reason, many journey to the city to spend their final days there.
Reuters photographer Danish Siddiqui documented “Mukti Bhavan” or “Salvation House,” a charity-run hostel for people who wish to die in Varanasi.
It has 12 rooms, a temple and small quarters for its priests.
Guests can normally stay up to two weeks after which, if they haven’t yet passed away, they are gently asked to leave.
Bhairav Nath Shukla, 61, the hostel manager, has been taking in the dying and performing prayers for their salvation for over four decades.
More than 14,500 people have checked in to date.
Eighty-two-year-old Kishore Pandey travelled with his three daughters from a small village in eastern India to die at Mukti Bhavan.
Traditionally in Hinduism sons perform the last rites for their parents but Pandey’s daughters were there for him instead.
The eldest, Usha Tiwari, explained: “We had no brother but we didn’t want our father to feel that he has no son.”
Ninety-seven-year-old Bhogla Devi also came to the hostel accompanied by her 30-year-old grandson Divyesh Tiwari.
“My grandmother is the most precious thing I ever had.
I would like her to attain salvation in my arms,” said Tiwari.
After dying at Varanasi, many are cremated at this holy site next to the River Ganges.
Families can have their pictures taken with the deceased; many want to preserve memories of their loved ones being cremated at this sacred place.
Munna Kuvar, 105, lies on a bed inside Mukti Bhavan.
Her husband died in this hostel about 18 years ago and according to her 45-year-old nephew Surender Upadhyay, it was Kuvar’s wish to die in the same place.
“We all have left our work and come here with her so that she can attain a peaceful death,” he said.
Kishore Pandey, 82, lies on a bed at the hostel as his daughter Usha Tiwari feeds him.
Kishore Pandey, 82, lies on a bed at the hostel as his daughter Usha Tiwari feeds him.
Pandey’s daughter, 38-year-old Neelam Tiwari, peels lychees for her father. — Reuters

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