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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 15:54 GMT
Hinduism's ancient ritual
Varanasi is one of India's holiest cities

Sanjoy Majumder

When George Harrison's ashes are scattered on the waters of two of India's most sacred rivers, the Ganges and the Yamuna, it will continue a tradition dating thousands of years.

For Hindus, nothing can be holier than dying by the bank of the Ganges - and if that is not possible, sprinkling one's ashes on its waters.

From India's leaders such as Gandhi and Nehru to ordinary citizens, the last rites of millions of Hindus have taken place along the Ganges and the Yamuna.

Harrison was a strong supporter of the Krishna movement, a Hindu sect, and has donated considerable funds to the organisation.

According to the tenets of Hinduism, followed by the Krishna movement, the immersion or scattering of ashes on the sacred river is a symbol of the soul's journey towards eternal consciousness.

Hindus believe that if their ashes are sprinkled in the Ganges, the soul achieves salvation.

Holy city

The best time to conduct the ceremony is just before dawn, at the start of a new day.

Dawn on the Ganges river
The most auspicious time is at dawn
And the holiest site for cremation or the immersion of ashes is in the city of Varanasi, one of the oldest in the world.

If you happen to die by here, it releases you from the cycle of death and rebirth.

On any given day, thousands of Hindus arrive in the city to wash by the river and cleanse their souls.

But many arrive simply to die - patiently waiting by the river's edge.

Another sacred site is in the city of Allahabad - where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers form a confluence.

Historic link

As a strong believer in the Krishna sect George Harrison would have been familiar with the ritual of immersion.

But he also had an older, more profound link with the Ganges.

It runs through the retreat of a Hindu spiritual guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, in the Himalayan town of Rishikesh, where Harrison had his first brush with Hinduism in the sixties.

It was here, along the clear waters of the Ganges rapids that he began his spiritual discovery of Eastern mysticism, which eventually led him to his involvement with the Krishna movement.

The singer's family has asked his fans to join them in a minute's meditation at the time of the immersion "in honour of George's journey".

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