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Sex workers` ritual dance at Varanasi funeral ground continues

A cremation ground with pyres burning continuously in the background is an unlikely place for a dance performance.

Varanasi: A cremation ground with pyres
burning continuously in the background is an unlikely place
for a dance performance.

Not so at Varanasi`s Manikarnika ghat, which annually
plays host to sex workers from the city`s adjacent areas who
dance in obeisance to `Smashaneshwar Mahadev,` the ruling
deity of the funeral ground for salvation and a better life in
their next birth.

The ritual dance performance dating nearly 450 years
back to the era of Raja Manjsigh and re-instated by Baba
Shamshan Nath - the Godman of the cremation grounds - is held
every year to coincide with the `Navaratri` festival.

"The event is celebrated as `Shringar of Smashaneshwar
Mahadev` and sex workers from Shivdaspur, Manduadih, Chunar
and Dalmandi red light areas of Varanasi come here to pray for
a better life in their next birth," says astrologer Prasad

At the venue also known as `Mahashmashan` or the grand
cremation ground because of the popular belief that funeral
pyres never run out, people throng to have a glimpse of the
dancers perform into the wee hours of the night. Meat, bhang,
ganja, money and even bottles of wine are offered to the

"The unique performance dates back to Raja Man Singh,
who funded the restoration work of a temple here. No one was
willing to mark the completion of the restoration with dance
and music. The Nagar-Vadhus (sex workers) stepped in and
formed a tradition that still continues," Gulshan Kapoor,
in-charge of the five-century-old temple and programme
organiser said.

The dance marks the culmination of the three-day
annual embellishment and festival which starts on fifth day of
Chaitra Navratra, he says.

"We come here and pray to the Baba to help us attain
blessings for a better life in our next birth. We pray that
our life is better next time and to achieve this we come here
once every year to dance," says Chanda, a sex worker, who
considers it a huge honour to be able to perform during the

Visitors often stop to watch the midnight performance
at the cremation ground even as large number of people busy
themselves completing the last rituals of their near and
dear ones. According to Indian mythology anyone who dies in
Varanasi, also known as the land of Shiva, is believed to
obtain moksha or freedom from the cycle of life and death.


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