Dying the Good Death

The Pilgrimage to Die in India's Holy City

By Christopher Justice

Subjects: Ethnography
Paperback : 9780791432624, 268 pages, February 1997
Hardcover : 9780791432617, 268 pages, February 1997

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Table of contents




Notes on Transliteration

1. Perspectives on Death and Dying

2. Kashi and Studying Hinduism

3. The Historical Context of Dying in Kashi

4. The Kashi Labh Muktibhavan

5. Dying as Tradition

6. Dying in a Spiritual System

7. Dying and Morality

8. Physiological Dying

9. Good Death and the Dying Process


Appendix: Survey Questionnaire and Compilation of Responses

Glossary of Commonly Used Hindi Terms




Exploring the Hindu concepts of good and bad deaths, this rich ethnography follows pilgrims who choose to travel to the holy city of Kashi to die.


Dying the Good Death is a unique ethnography, the first to focus on the experiences of dying at the end of the life cycle. In a region of northern India, some people at the end of their lives leave their villages and travel to the Hindu holy city of Kashi to die. These pilgrims expect that by dying in Kashi they will obtain the spiritual reward of moksha—liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.

Based on fieldwork conducted in Kashi's hospices or "mansions of liberation," Christopher Justice introduces us to a number of dying individuals and their families, providing rich and evocative descriptions of their remarkable experiences. The social contexts of these experiences are explored through descriptions of the families who provide care and the priests who chant the name of God twenty-four hours a day. The book also has clear implications for the potential ways in which we may choose to face the ends of our lives.

Christopher Justice is Postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Studies of Aging in Ontario.


"This book is about a fascinating topic. It is about the death retreats (bhavan) of Kashi where Hindu people go to die. It is also about the way in which individuals in the bhavan make sense of death within their social/cultural and religious environment. And it is about the relationship between an individual's understanding of the good death to that person's actual experience of dying and the interaction between the cultural and physiological processes of dying." — Dorothy Counts, University of Waterloo

"This is a wonderful book in that it brings to life the experience of those pursuing a good death in Benares. Case studies of actual pilgrims and the response of their families allow the reader to gain a rare glimpse behind the scenes of media images of Hindu cremation ceremonies at the banks of the Ganges River.

"There is considerable interest in the experience of death cross-culturally. The book suggests lessons such studies can provide for the West which is currently experiencing considerable ambiguity with respect to the concept of a good death." — Mark Nichter, University of Arizona