In the holy city of Varanasi, regarded as the spiritual capital of India, lies a fascinating custom. People flock from all over the country, along with a few tourists from around the globe to partake in a seemingly strange ritual. One such place home to this ritual is known as Moksha Bhavan. Moksha Bhavan or House of Salvation is a place where the living check-in to die.
(Yes, you got it right ….‘check in to die’!!)
This place, akin in many ways to a guesthouse, has 12 dimly lit, minimalistic rooms where the people are lodged for a period no longer than that of 2 weeks. These 2 weeks are spent in anticipation of their death.
If they find themselves unfortunate enough to survive beyond the stipulated 2 weeks they are kindly asked to leave to make room for other guests. It might sound strange and controversial to some that I use the word unfortunate to describe surviving death. But, to the people of the guest house it’s a sacred honor to die in Moksha Bhavan.
The atmosphere at Moksha Bhavan is far from grave. As people cherish and celebrate life, here at Moksha Bhavan death is treated with equal fervor.
Why is it that people seek to die in Varanasi? What is so sacred about death in this context? According to Hinduism, the greatest triumph of the individual in their lifetime is to attain freedom from the torturous cycle of life and death. Taking your last breath at Moksha Bhavan guarantees salvation or transcendence from the cycle of life and death.
Some might wonder if an unconventional practice such as this clashes with the Law? The answer is no. Death is a passive process at Moksha Bhavan since no methods are enforced to catalyze the deaths of the guests. The natural process of death is allowed to run its course.
Elderly people check in at the house with the desire to die. But, many leave the house unsuccessful in their endeavor. What baffles many is a question to which there is no tangible answer. What determines the point at which people feel they are ready to cross over from life to death? According to Bhairav Nath Shukla, the manager at Moksha Bhavan for the last 44 years, the only criteria for admittance is the acceptance of death as a reality, and the desire to die in Kashi and attain Moksha.
Having witnessed over 12,000 deaths he claims to be able to predict when a person is close to their death, and therefore extend their stay at the Moksha Bahavn. But, when further probed, he failed to quantify what makes him sure that a person is close to their death. People at the Moksha Bhavan, themselves fail to quantify what makes them feel so certain that they are close to their time of death. They intrinsically seem to know and feel that it is their time to leave the physical body behind.
What are the thoughts and feelings that dominate the minds of these individuals during the time leading upto their death? In another interview with Bhairav Nath Shukla, emerged an invaluable lesson. He elaborated on how most individuals expressed a desire to resolve all their conflicts in the personal sphere of their relationships in order to find solace. This sweeping commonality across all the individuals at the Bhavan seems to carry an important message for us, the living.
Within the confines of the Moksha Bhavan, lie many insights into the human psyche, and an innumerable wealth of knowledge and wisdom. No laboratory in the world can credibility and ethically simulate the conditions present at Moksha Bhavan, and I hope we never cease exploring the insights it has to offer.