Why Sex Workers Dance Amidst Funeral Pyres at This Ghat in Banaras

On Saptami, during Chaitra Navratri, sex workers dance between the funeral pyres at Manikarnika Ghat in Banaras.

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On Saptmi (7th night of the moon) during Chaitra Navratri, sex workers dance between the funeral pyres all night. 
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Irrespective of where a crematorium is, you will only find those mourning the loss of a loved one there. But Banaras’ Manikarnika Ghat, where the light of funeral pyres never dies down, has a strange tradition. On Saptami (the seventh night of the moon) during Chaitra Navratri, sex workers dance between the funeral pyres all night.

This dance of these sex workers is not some kind of celebration; rather it is an act of penance before the Mahashamshan Baba. The locals believe that by doing this the prostitutes will find dignity and happiness in their next life.

Why Sex Workers Dance Amidst Funeral Pyres at This Ghat in Banaras
(Photo: The Quint)

Manikarnika Ghat, a place where Lord Shiva once performed tandava (the dance of destruction) over his separation from Sati, saw a gathering of dancing prostitutes on Saptami.

As funeral pyres burned all around, about a dozen prostitutes got up to dance after praying to Mahashamshan Baba. 

This scene would seem weird to anyone; where on hand there were people mourning the loss of their loved ones, on the other there were prostitutes dancing on the stage.

It is definitely strange, but only for those who are unfamiliar with the tradition. In reality, the decked-up prostitutes are in much more pain than the people who are there to cremate their loved ones. The locals say they dance all night before Mahashamshan Baba just so that they don’t have to face this fate in the next life.

They call it tapasya, a penance.

Why Sex Workers Dance Amidst Funeral Pyres at This Ghat in Banaras
(Photo: The Quint)
I have come here for the first time, dancing at this crematorium on this day makes your next life better. An acquaintance of mine told me this. 
A prostitute from Basuka in Ghazipur district 

Pintu Kinnar from Banaras, who had also come for the event, said even though they were not allowed on stage, she still spent all night serving the Baba, in the hope that he will bless her and she won’t have this fate in her next life.

This event happens every year during Chaitra Navratri, from Panchmi to Saptami/Ashtami. On the last day, the prostitutes come.

When Did The Tradition Begin?

In the 16th Century, the Raja of Amber, and one of Akbar’s trusted nauratan, Raja Man Singh restored a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva on this fabled ghat, and to celebrate this occasion he wanted to organise a musical event.

But none of artists at the time could muster the courage to come to the cremation grounds. So then, the prostitutes were called and they came without any hesitation.

Since then, this became a tradition and even today prostitutes come to these celebrations in the hope of a better future.

(This article was originally published on Quint Hindi.)

(Translated by Mariam Shaheen)

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