India – a land of diverse Culture & Heritage, Rituals and beliefs, of stories and facts, of beautiful hidden alleys and colorful markets, such a city that is inculcated with all these features is Varanasi – referred by many as Kashi Vishwanath Ki Nagri. Ruled by Mughals and Kings in the past, this Oldest city of India is now a hub of saints and sages and has a beautiful amalgamation of our religious past and a modern future.
Being the oldest city of India, the city has the finest river frontage in India with miles of Ghats or steps for religious bathing, an array of shrines and temples and various other beautiful palaces. Having around 84 ghats in the entire city most of which are popular for bathing and Puja ceremony there are two ghats that are exclusively used for cremation rites. One of them being the Manikarnika Ghat also referred to as the burning ghat of the city. There are various legends and mythologies related to these ghats. Let us explore some behind it.
It is among one of the most quintessential experiences of Banaras which one should not miss. Being one of the oldest ghats it has many lores attached to it. As the name suggests, Manikarnika means Jewel of the Ear or earring wherein “Jewel” stands for “Mani” and Karnika stands for “ring of the ear” respectively. So according to one of the most famous lore, Mata Sati sacrificed her life for Lord Shiva after her father humiliated her husband – The Shiva in a Yagna. Then Lord took her body in his arms and wanted to take it to the Himalayas. During this time, looking at the unending sorrow of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu sent his divine chakra to cut the body of Mata Sati into 51 pieces which fell on different parts of the earth. Here, as the earring of Mata Sati fell at this place, so the place came to be known as Manikarnika.
Mythologically it is also stated that the places where these body parts of Mata Sati fell, in all those places various Shakti Peethas are built. The Shakti Peethas are places of worship consecrated to the goddess Shakti or Sati. So at this side of the river Ganges, the two Shakti Peethas of Mata Sati is the “Vishalakshmi” and “Manikarni”.
According to the excerpts of history, another myth that is associated with this is that Lord Vishnu dug a well at this place known as Manikarnika Kund for Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati to bathe in. When they were bathing, one of the earrings of Lord Shiva fell in the well and thus the name came to be known as Manikarnika Ghat. People firmly believed in their version of the story but the belief system for the Ghat is unanimous.
According to another, yet very famous legend is a very interesting and a prevalent story about this Ghat. The story goes that as the creator of the world, Lord Vishnu knows that Lord Shiva will be annihilating the world very soon. So being a religious place, He does not want that Kashi should be destroyed. So for thousands of years, he prayed to Lord Shiva. Pleased by Vishnu’s prayers, Shiva along with Mata Parvati or Sati came to Kashi and granted a boon of eternal peace to the city of Kashi. As a consequence of this wish, any departed soul that gets their last rites performed here in Varanasi attains the complete liberation from the cycle of birth and death and attains a stage of complete Moksha – (liberation). This is due to this prime reason, that in Hindus this land is considered to be most pious and sacred for cremation.
The “Kashi Vishwanath ki Nagri”, as Varanasi is famously called is known for Manikarnika Ghat when it came to the stories of birth and death. The ghat is also known as Maha Shamshana because here the death is celebrated at every hour, at every moment. It is said that the smoke of the fire here never goes to rest. On average, approximately 180-200 bodies are cremated here every day. Remorseful chants of “Ram Naam Satya Hai” – (true is the name of Lord) are sung at every hour of the day and there is smoke everywhere as the bodies are cremated for their eternal peace.
It is weird and bizarre to see how tourists from all over the world who visit here have a fascination to visit this place to see this last-minute journey of a soul. Broadly if we see, then one can say that this is the ultimate reality of life. Nothing but the ultimate truth. A famous poet has also phrased this reality as:
“Zindagi to bewafaa hai, Ek din thukraaegi;
maut mehbooba hai Apne Saath leke jaaegi.”
— Life is actually a myth, an illusion, which can actually betray us at any point. The true reality is the death that is bound to come – for sure. —
The routine ceremony here starts by bringing the body wrapped in a plain cloth on a stretcher made of bamboo woods amongst the chanting of Ram Naam Satya Hai echoing in the air. Here people calculate the cost of cremation depending on the weight and type of wood used to cremate the body. The corpse is then dipped in the water of the river Ganges while the wood is stacked to build the pyre. It is really surprising to see how for the entire life a person is a “human” and has a particular name but once he is dead, it has only one name attached to it which is “corpse”, a “body” as everyone refer.
Though the photographs are not allowed at this ghat so maybe we don’t have many of the pictures to show of mourning but still few people click them while on the boat ride through the ghats. This place is an important inclusion in our tour to the city, so let us be your host and allow us to share some interesting stories and facts of birth and death.