A Travellerspoint blog

SRIRANGAPATNA - the sangam

This is a short account of my recent sad visit to the sangam at Srirangapatna in which I describe the Hindu funerary procedures following the death and cremation of a close relative in India.

View of the sangam at Srirangapatna

View of the sangam at Srirangapatna

The ashes of Hindus, who have been cremated, are usually placed in the waters of a river that flows into the sea. The deceased's ashes were to be placed into the waters of the River Cauvery at the sangam (place where several streams unite) at Srirangapatna.

Crematorium Lalbagh

Crematorium Lalbagh

Hindu graves at Lalbagh crematorium

Hindu graves at Lalbagh crematorium


We drove to the crematorium near Bangalore's Lalbagh Gardens. While the ashes were being collected, I looked at the cemetery next to the crematorium. This extensive slightly overgrown plot was full of graves. These were all Hindu graves. In the past, I had visited another cemetery dedicated to Hindu burials. Then, I had been surprised to discover that Hindus were buried instead of cremated, but it had then been explained to me that in Bangalore (and maybe other places) there are sects of Hindus that favour burial over cremation.

The ashes were returned to us in an open terracotta pot. We placed these in the car, and set out towards the old Mysore Road. The traffic along the section of this that runs through the extensive outskirts of Bangalore was terrible. This was because of the construction works for a new elevated metro line, which will run above the old Mysore Road. Eventually, we reached the highway to Mysore (State Highway 17). This good road had been built in 2003 to make it easier for the then Chief Minister of Karnataka to travel between Mysore and Bangalore.

At the  Iyengar restaurant

At the Iyengar restaurant

Dosa with chuthey and sambar (red liquid) at the Iyengar restaurant

Dosa with chuthey and sambar (red liquid) at the Iyengar restaurant

We stopped for breakfast at a small, extremely clean, roadside restaurant run by Iyengars (a caste of Tamil Brahmins, devoted to the worship of Vishnu). I ate one of the best dosas (rice flour crepe) that I have had for a long time.

Mourners performing a Pooja by the Cauvery

Mourners performing a Pooja by the Cauvery

The sangam at Srirangapatna is at the eastern end of an island in the River Cauvery, which contains the extensive remains of the capital of the state run by the great Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), including his lovely Summer Palace decorated extensively with frescos. Most of Tipu’s former capital is at the western end of the island. The sangam is a few yards east of the beautiful Al Aqsa Masjid, a complex containing the mosque where Tipu’s body lies.

Man holding jar of ashes in a coracle at Srirangapatnam

Man holding jar of ashes in a coracle at Srirangapatnam

We parked next to the small bazaar, which stands high above the waters of the river. Apart from snacks and drinks and tacky souvenirs, this market supplies many items needed to perform the ceremony that precedes placing the ashes into the river. These include coconuts and small jugs for pouring milk or water, and also items of clothing. We had brought all that we needed from Bangalore, and did not need to use these stores. The view from the bazaar is lovely. The three streams of the Cauvery converge, flowing rapidly around small rocks and islands. The river banks are covered with luxuriant vegetation, and hills can be seen in the distance.

Rowing a coracle towards the lingam

Rowing a coracle towards the lingam

Steps lead from the market to a large stone-paved area, the ‘ghat’, at the water’s edge. More steps lead from the paved area down to beneath the level of the water. People mill around. Most of them are either locals or mourners, who have come to immerse ashes. There are always a few foreign tourists and, also, local beggars. Others are the tourist policemen, and they are outnumbered by Hindu priests who offer their services for a fee, which has to be negotiated with some bargaining.

By the ghat at Srirangapatna

By the ghat at Srirangapatna

Having engaged a priest, X, carrying the deceased's ashes, followed him down the steps leading to the water. Seated facing the priest with the ashes between them, X and the priest performed the complicated ceremony that precedes immersion of the remains. The ceremony, or ‘pooja’ (as Hindu ceremonies are called), involves much chanting and placing various items on top of the ashes. I was too far away to see exactly what was being done.

Idols and birds on a rock near the sangam at Srirangapatna

Idols and birds on a rock near the sangam at Srirangapatna


When the pooja was over, X carried the ashes down the slippery steps under the water, and then released them and their container into the water so that the deceased's remains could flow to the sea. After doing that, X immersed himself in the river before returning to dry land. As tradition dictates, he removed his clothing, and discarded them on a pile of other discarded clothing, before dressing in fresh clothes. Although we did not discard our clothes after the cremation, we were asked to bath, and then change into new clothes after it was over. It is considered inauspicious to re-enter the house wearing clothes that have been present at a funeral.

Many people at the sangam dispose of ashes far out into the river at a small stone ‘lingam’ around which the waters swirl vigorously. They reach this place in coracles rowed by oarsmen whose services can be obtained for a small fee. When another relative died some years ago, we visited the lingam in a coracle about a month after his death. We wanted to see where his ashes had been released. The coracles are so unsteady that passengers are advised to lie down in them to improve stability in the crocodile-infested waters of the River Cauvery.

Coracle at Hampi

Coracle at Hampi

Some years later while we were visiting the archaeological site at Hampi, we had to cross the River Tunghabhadra in a coracle because the bridge that had been built there had collapsed, and had never been rebuilt. Unlike the coracles at Srirangapatna, the ones that ferried people at Hampi were full of people. We had to stand up, wedged in with bicycles and motorbikes. By the time we had crossed the short stretch of water, we were up to our ankles in water which had seeped into the coracle!

Women washing at the ghat   Srirangapatnam

Women washing at the ghat Srirangapatnam

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 02:53 Archived in India Tagged india bangalore ghat karnataka cremation srirangapatna river_cauvery lingam

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents

Be the first to comment on this entry.

This blog requires you to be a logged in member of Travellerspoint to place comments.

Login