A frail 96-year-old lady, Urmila Devi, checks into a dimly-lit hostel, a red building a little older than herself, in the holy town of Varanasi. The old lady from a small village in South India can barely walk but manages to get in with the help of a walking stick. Why would someone like her come all the way from down south to Varanasi, one would wonder. Like a thousand others, Devi is here to die. Yes, you read that right. Having lost all her close ones, her last wish has been to die in the holy city of Varanasi, after which she hopes to attain Moksha – freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
The Moksha Bhavan or Salvation House has 12 rooms along with a small temple and place for the priests. Varanasi, the quaint, old town located on the banks of the River Ganges, is considered to be one of the holiest places in India. People from all over the country, and even abroad, visit the town to wash off their sins and attain salvation.
However, living at the Moksha Bhavan comes with its own terms and conditions. Guests cannot stay there beyond two weeks. If they do not die within this duration, they are politely asked to move out to make way for other ‘dying’ guests.
Hostel manager Bhairav Nath Shukla has been praying for people’s salvation for over 44 years. Interestingly, he can even predict when a person is likely to die. Shukla and his family are now used to the dead bodies and the mourning relatives around them. While he prays for their salvation, his kids playfully have fun in the same compound.
According to a Reuters report, 14,578 people have checked in the hostel as of July, 2016. While most of them have attained moksha, the others, who couldn’t die, had to leave disheartened.