RELIGION

AP PHOTOS: Ganges overflows its banks in India holy town

  • A thin line of smoke rises from burning funeral pyres on a rooftop of a temple at the flooded Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, India, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. As the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks this past week following heavy monsoon rains, large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi were submerged by floodwaters, keeping away thousands of Hindu devotees. Varanasi is a pilgrim town that Hindus visit to take a dip in the holy Ganges. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

    A thin line of smoke rises from burning funeral pyres on a rooftop of a temple at the flooded Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi, India, Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. As the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks this past week following heavy monsoon rains, large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi were submerged by floodwaters, keeping away thousands of Hindu devotees. Varanasi is a pilgrim town that Hindus visit to take a dip in the holy Ganges. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 photo, the Manikarnika Ghat, center, is submerged by the flood waters in Varanasi, India. As the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks this past week following heavy monsoon rains, large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi were submerged by floodwaters, keeping away thousands of Hindu devotees. Varanasi is a pilgrim town that Hindus visit to take a dip in the holy Ganges. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

    In this Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 photo, the Manikarnika Ghat, center, is submerged by the flood waters in Varanasi, India. As the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks this past week following heavy monsoon rains, large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi were submerged by floodwaters, keeping away thousands of Hindu devotees. Varanasi is a pilgrim town that Hindus visit to take a dip in the holy Ganges. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 photo, a body to be cremated lies on the floor of the Manikarnika Ghat, submerged by the flood waters, in Varanasi, India. As the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks this past week following heavy monsoon rains, large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi were submerged by floodwaters, keeping away thousands of Hindu devotees. Devout Hindus believe that if they are cremated on Varanasi's ghats, or steps leading to the river, they earn immediate salvation and are freed from the cycle of birth and death. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

    In this Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 photo, a body to be cremated lies on the floor of the Manikarnika Ghat, submerged by the flood waters, in Varanasi, India. As the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks this past week following heavy monsoon rains, large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi were submerged by floodwaters, keeping away thousands of Hindu devotees. Devout Hindus believe that if they are cremated on Varanasi's ghats, or steps leading to the river, they earn immediate salvation and are freed from the cycle of birth and death. (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)  (The Associated Press)

As the mighty Ganges River overflowed its banks this past week following heavy monsoon rains, large parts of the Hindu holy town of Varanasi were submerged by floodwaters, keeping away thousands of Hindu devotees.

Varanasi is a pilgrim town that Hindus visit to take a dip in the holy Ganges. Devout Hindus believe that if they are cremated on Varanasi's ghats, or steps leading to the river, they earn immediate salvation and are freed from the cycle of birth and death.

The ones most affected by the floods are those who have come to the town to cremate their loved ones. The floodwaters have submerged the popular Manikarnika ghat and several others, forcing the local administration to appeal to people not to bring their dead for a traditional cremation at Varanasi.

On Friday, some funeral pyres were lit on the roofs of the houses located near the ghats because the lower levels were under water. Groups of people carrying the bodies of their relatives thronged the single stretch of the river where funerals were still being held as the Ganges' raging waters swirled nearby.

Meanwhile, local boatmen who ferry pilgrims and grieving family members to the cremation sites have hiked their rates, realizing that people could not carry the dead to the ghats. Lumber traders have upped the price of wood used for the funeral pyres.

More than 200,000 people in Uttar Pradesh state, where Varanasi is located, have been evacuated and are living in relief camps, with floodwaters entering homes in some 800 villages across large swaths of the state. Floods are an annual occurrence in many parts of northern and eastern India during the June-September monsoon season.