Paper No. 3 (2018) 08-1

Submitted: Mar. 12, 2018
Accepted: Jul. 05, 2018
Posted: Aug. 01, 2018

„We are not only here to die” - living in a spiritual old age home in Varanasi, India

Leona Dotterweich, Department of Anthropology, University of Heidelberg, Germany

Abstract: The current living situation of elderly people in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh is discussed in this paper based on ethnographic research, which is part of my PhD thesis to be published. Fieldwork over a period of six years in several old age homes in urban North India was conducted around the topics of aging and dying with respect to the ideal of the ashrama concept as well as the importance of Varanasi as a holy place for Hindus in this last stage of life. The changing family patterns und living situations in urban India will be presented below as well as the rise of old age homes (OAHs) and similar institutions as an alternative living arrangement. The emphasis of this paper is on the presentation of one home for the aged to give an account of who the residents are, why they have chosen, and how they deal with, their new living situation. The establishment of new roles in an unknown, often called 'non-Indian' environment with a focus on social interaction and the creation of networks in an almost total institution will be discussed. Data was collected through various research methods, mainly participant observation and one to one, group and 'expert' semi-structured interviews as well as through the distribution of questionnaires. The results show, that Varanasi is a quite unique case when it comes to old age homes, because here they are not so much a safe haven for the aged urban middle class but more an idealized or 'modernized', adapted and mixed version of the life in the vanaprastha (the third life stage as a hermit) and samnyasa (the final stage as a renunciant.

Keywords: old age homes, homes of aged, ageing, norms and age, modernization and old age, vanaprastha, samnyasa, geroanthropology, individual and ageing, urban old age, caste and old age, joint family, Hindus and old age

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