Manikarnika: Uncovering the Other Side of Varanasi


Standing near the Ganges, vicariously experiencing its fresh air and the carrying the sacred essence of the historic city is precisely the most captivating thing one can do. It was a normal winter evening with the cool bracing air, many devout pilgrims’ worshipping, and tourists collecting countless photographs of the scenic beauty, shopkeepers selling out their local products, a busy city life. After viewing this, one will undoubtedly find the city as normal as any other cities. Then, like many others, I also took a boat ride to visit the ghats and adequately explore their historical origin and mythological stories connected with them.

Source – Dennis Jarvis via Flickr

The city we are verbalizing about is Varanasi situated in Uttar Pradesh and is the cultural hub of many sacred temples. However, the origin of this city has been a mystery until now. As we know, that India remains a country where many conflicting religious beliefs and practices co-exist. Divine faith is deeply implanted in many shrines and religious places, which leaves the people in bemusement. Therefore, let us instantly make a journey straight to the sacred land and find out about the gruesome tourism of death at the Manikarnika Ghat.

The Manikarnika Ghat is one of the oldest and the holiest among the sacred riverfronts. Not a single day passes when dead bodies are uncremated here with the number increasing from two to three hundred every day. It is believed that after death, a human soul, attains salvation (Moksha). In India, death is considered as the gateway to another life depending on our recent actions (Karma).

Source – Dennis Jarvis via Flickr

Every day the routine ceremony starts when the dead body being draped in red clothes arrive and is carried on a bamboo stretcher. The cost of cremation is discussed, and it depends on the weight and type of wood being used. Sandalwood is undoubtedly the most expensive wood being used for cremation. At that point in time, the corpse is dipped in the holy water of Ganga and is left till the water from the body gets drained. Till then the burning woods are carefully stacked to properly build the funeral pyre.

The sacred fire in Manikarnika Ghat never sleeps to be it at daytime or night. Certain caste of people tend to professionally perform these ceremonial rituals and funeral pyre at this ghat. The caretaking is traditionally passed from one generation to another generation. But astonishingly these people are considered to be lowly untouchables, they are not even allowed to merely visit the main Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

Source – Arian Zwegers via Flickr

Hence, what is Manikarnika??

Manikarnika Ghat has two legends Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. One of the mythological stories says that Lord Shiva along with Parvati came to Varanasi before Vishnu to grant him his wish. Then Lord Vishnu dug a well on the bank of the river Ganga for their bath. While taking a bath a Mani (jewel) from Lord Shiva’s ear fell into it. Since then Manikarnika name(Mani: Beads Karna: Ear) opted for this place.

Source – Luisen Rodrigo via Flickr

Another Myth states when Lord Shakti sacrificed herself in a fire during a ritual conducted by her father to humiliate Lord Shiva, he took her burning body to the Himalayas. Lord Vishnu decided to end the sorrow and cut the body into 51 pieces that fell on the earth. The place where Shakti’s earring fell is called Manikarnika Ghat.

At the Manikarnika Ghat, death is celebrated. This burning ghat is also termed as Maha Shamshan where chants are sung every hour of the day and dead bodies are cremated for eternal peace. Though photography is prohibited still one can capture pictures of these rituals without disturbing the people around.
Welcome to the Gateway of heaven and Peace at Manikarnika Ghat||

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