Taking Sarasvati’s ashes to the river


Sarasvati’s cremation was Monday. Today, Thursday, early in the day before eating or bathing, Rajan and I collected ashes from Sarasvati’s cremation and then took them to a place in a river where, by local tradition, ashes are often taken for final dispersal back into the earth.

We got to the cremation grounds a bit after 6:30 in the morning.

Today is New Year’s Eve, and a full moon night, so already there are many people walking. From the size of the crowds, right now it is at about 150,000 walking pradakshina (girivalam in Tamil) around Arunachala. This will go on at about this rate all day, then after dark the crowds will increase, how much I don’t know. From what I saw this morning, I guess 500,000 will walk today, and maybe 1,000,000 will walk tonight.

There are a few people walking by the cremation grounds. Arunachala is in the background, with a cloud covering the peak. Sarasvati’s ashes are in the foreground. A fresh cremation, probably from last night, is still smoldering.

There are fresh puja items, like rice and bananas, at the new cremation site.

Good food for monkeys.

When we walked in, the monkeys scattered into the adjacent graveyard, waiting for us to pass.

When we get to Sarasvati’s cremation, Rajan starts another puja. First he lights incense.


Then sticks the burning incense into bananas.

He then makes a milk offering to the remains, dropping several  handfuls of milk onto the cremation.

Last is the camphor. Rajan sets out a few pieces of camphor.


When lit, it burns nicely for a few minutes, leaving no ash.


We then get a clay pot.


And start filling it with bone fragments …


and ashes.

The pot was given to me so I could carry it to where we will release the remains. The ashes were still warm.

We get into Rajan’s rickshaw, and head out of town. I don’t know where we’re going, just that we are going to a river where ashes are usually released. We drive  like we were going to Sathanor Dam, but went further down the road past the turn off to the dam. Here is a map, to give you some idea where this is. It is about 20 km from Tiruvannamalai. It is a lower dam in the river that runs out of Sathanur Dam. This lower dam is a place where Tiruvannamalai gets water. 


It is a such beautiful spot. This early in the day the water is still, with great reflections of the bank on the other side.

It looks like such a nice place to get into the water and maybe swim. I did notice a sign with a picture of a crocodile at the side of the dam. I asked Rajan and he confirmed that, yes, there are (sometimes) crocs here. I did not get the idea there was any danger though, at least for us today.


The spillway is where we will throw the ashes. This is downstream of where Tiruvannamalai gets their water, so this will not pollute town water.


Downstream from the spillway flows the river. I see a man doing something, maybe fishing in the river. He is not afraid of crocodiles. This river seems like it would be fun to go explore someday. We can put on tennis shoes, and walk down the river. This can be very enjoyable.


Now to the serious business for which we were here.

More incense.

Another milk offering, this time to the river.


Milk flows over the spillway.


Now to release Sarasvati’s ashes.


Then you MUST wash your hands.


More camphor to burn.


And we are finished.

I stop for a bit, to say a last farewell to the body of a friend and fellow spiritual seeker, Sarasvati.

I then look once more at the peaceful and beautiful waters here. My thought is that I too may be blessed to die with Arunachala, and maybe this is where the last remains of this body will be placed.


Now we can go home, take our morning baths and eat breakfast. 

Related Posts

Sarasvati’s Mahasamadhi
South Indian Village Funeral
South Indian Village Shraddha
Visiting Sathanur Dam

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2 Responses to “Taking Sarasvati’s ashes to the river”

  1. andreakatzer Says:

    Amazing story and photos of the ritual, Richard. Blessings to you. Andrea

  2. shibudevadas Says:

    Blessed, blessed Sarasvati. A wonderful death and transition. Thanks, Richard and Carol, for sharing, and for the care you showed for Sarasvati.
    Jai Bhagavan!

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