ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Teeming World of Nimtala Ghat

This nearly 200-year-old cremation ground in Kolkata is part of a vibrant precinct containing old palaces, a haunted house, shops selling mouth-watering snacks and places of tantric activity.

Over the past few years, a visit to the cremation ground of Nimtala Ghat in Kolkata has become a regular feature for me, because of the deaths of elderly family members. While every death brings sadness, Nimtala never ceases to amaze me: it relentlessly does its duty of discharging people from the realm of mortality. Nimtala Ghat, where Rabindranath Tagore was cremated, has existed since 1827, precisely when Calcutta started functioning as an urban centre. Untouched by the economic changes outside, informal networks of labour continue to supply the numerous items required for Hindu death rituals, generation after generation.

At the cremation ground, people from many castes play a role: from the Brahmin, who recites prayers, to the Dom, a caste that manages funeral practices. A mourner must collect a coupon and wait for the body to be put on the pyre. While people wait, they undergo a range of emotions. Some mourners are restrained, while others openly display a storm of feelings. People often strike up conversations with sashan-bondhus, a Bengali term for people who accompany the dead body to the cremation ground. These conversations sometimes yield chilling accounts of unnatural deaths.

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Updated On : 5th May, 2017
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