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The Marketplace of the Dead
DAVINDER P.S. SANDHU  11th Mar 2012

Once a holy person volunteered to give me a tour of Anandpur Sahib area in Punjab. At Anandpur, he promised to introduce me to a remarkable place, yet little known in the area.

We left Anandpur Sahib for Chandigarh, and just as we cleared the town, we turned left onto a dirt road. We drove around two kilometres, and after another little turn, stopped at a cluster of thatched huts. The signpost at the cluster took me by surprise. In the Gurmukhi script, the signpost said "Moyan di Mandi", the Marketplace of the Dead.

We entered and were gently greeted by the inmates. I enquired about the rather strange name of the settlement, and I learnt of its history.

The settlement was started by a retired army officer. Any person can join the settlement, but they have to "die" before being admitted. This is performed through the entrant digging his own grave, lying in the pit for one day, and then conducting his own last rites. He then declares himself dead. From that day, the inmate has no earthly property, and gives away whatever is on his person. He makes his own suit out of a discarded jute sack, by cutting out two holes for the arms and one for the neck. During the famous Hola-Mohalla and other festivals at nearby gurudwaras, the inmates will collect food thrown away by the pilgrims, dry it in the sun, and stock it. This is their only staple diet. The day is spent in serving the needy in nearby villages — helping a poor person in harvesting crop, or looking after an ill person. The remaining time is spent in meditation.

I was reminded of the lines from Guru Granth Sahib:

First, accept death, and give up any hope of life. Become the dust of the feet of all, and then, you may come to me.

As I took leave of the inmates of the Marketplace of the Dead, one of them whispered, "Glory to Him, for never shall I die again."

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