08 May, 2021

Priestess Of The Pyre

Meet Gulab Malkin of Allahabad, India's only woman cremator

Priestess Of The Pyre

She’s unique. The wrinkles in time haven’t left their mark on her 86-year-old stout frame. Nor has she flinched from the sight of death in the past 75 years. For, she earns her living from the dead. She’s Gulab Tiwari, India’s one and only woman cremator.

Popularly known as Maharajin Bua, Gulab has made Rasoolabad ghat on the banks of the Ganges in Allahabad her second home. The astute manager sits there with 12 men at her beck and call. Besides learning the cremation rituals from her, they pick up the basics in fencing, martial arts and wrestling from their maha-malkin (grand-mistress).

A trip down memory lane peels off the tough exterior Gulab has cultivated for herself to survive in the trade. "The choice was between becoming a beggar or a dom (cremator)," recalls Gulab. Her father, Laxmi Narayan Mishra, was one of the most sought-after priests in the ghats of Allahabad for cremation and other rituals. He had a good earning and gave the best to his family. "My father always tried to give us the best," she says with a sense of...

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