'Burning Ghat, Benares', c 1865.
© National Media Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
A photograph of a burning ghat at Benares, India, taken by Samuel Bourne. Benares (or Varanasi) is the Holy City of the Hindus. There are 1,500 golden shrines in the city, which is on the banks of the River Ganges, the most sacred river of the Hindu religion. The ghats are riverside structures used for sacred bathing by pilgrims. Some are also burning ghats like this one, where the dead are cremated. Funeral pyres are built on the ghat and watched over by the Domrajas, keepers of the sacred fire and cremators of the dead. The ashes of the dead are then scattered in the river. Bourne, a pioneer of travel photography, established a studio in Simla. Between 1863 and 1870 he produced a collection of landscape views unsurpassed in technical skill and compositional elegance.