Wood, Manikarnika Ghat,
Piled high
As kites can fly
And like the spires
Of Hindu Ghats
The wood of Kashi
On Ganga banks

To build the pyres
For funeral blaze
Lit from embers
Of Shiva’s fire
Burns every hour
Of every day
Four thousand years
And still today

Manikarnika Ghat
On the banks of the Ganga (Ganges River)
Kashi (Old Varanasi)
Uttar Pradesh, India

Taken during travels, 2017

Funeral pyres burn 24/7/365 at two Ghats (Hindu temples) on the banks of the Ganges in Kashi, Varanasi’s oldest neighbourhood (4,000 years old — among the oldest continually inhabited places on earth): Manikarnika Ghat and Harishchandra Ghat. Pyres are generally simple, a pile of wood enfolding the ceremonially wrapped body, which has been carried through the streets to the site and purified in the Ganges. The flame which lights them is transferred by dried grass from a Shiva Fire, a fire which legend says the god Shiva himself first ignited and which has been kept burning continuously for four thousand years.

In about 3 hours, the burning ends, but the body has typically not been completely converted to ash, and some small part is ceremoniously offered to the Ganges, to complete the purification of the body.

Between these two Ghats, up to 300 funerals are held everyday. Adequately cremating a human body requires bout 150 kilos (300lbs) of wood. That’s a lot of wood. Up to 45,000 kilos (10,000lbs, 5 tons) every day. So wood is stockpiled in enormous stacks all around the Ghats.

And, it’s expensive. Up to 380 rupee per kilo. A bit under $7 Canadian. About $5.50 US. So a funeral can cost as much as 57,000 rupee. That is serious coin here.

There are a number of sources online going into more detail, if you’re interested. This one seems as accurate as any. And this one features photographs, which can only be taken with express permission.