Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi

Tripoto

"Having become Time itself, I destroy the world here, O Goddess!" ~ Shiva, Padma Purana.

I’ve come across tourism of all kinds - adventure, eco-friendly, cultural and even virtual. But nothing as unusual and macabre as death tourism! The unearthly Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi thrives solely on that. Not a single day passes when dead bodies are not cremated here with the number going up to two to three hundred every day.

Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi

Photo of Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India by roottraveller

Manikarnika Ghat is a place you must visit, but it is not for the faint-hearted. It is probably the most ancient ‘chitta’ – fire to burn dead bodies and it has been going on non-stop at this Ghat for years & year to comes...

Cremation fires burning at Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller

Varanasi is a sacred and holy place to cremate your dead. Hindus from all over the country and maybe even from the world are bringing their dead near and dear ones to Kashi, Manikarnika Ghat, to burn them here. Thousands of bodies are cremated on the banks of the river Ganaga every year, many being released into the river with hopes that their souls may have a direct path to heaven.

A body being carried to the funeral pyre and chantting ‘Ram naam satya hai’

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller

Piles of wood greet you at this ghat. The traditional Hindu burning methods here is to make a squarish pile of wood, logs stacked in a Jenga pattern. The routine ceremony starts when the dead body (wrapped in cloth) arrives and is carried on a bamboo stretcher with the chant ‘Ram naam satya hai’(The name of Rama is the truth) echoing through the air. The dead body which is brought in by families and dears ones is first dipped into the Ganga then put onto the fire for burning it to dust & ashes.

Older than history - Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller

There are certain sect of people who tend to perform these chittas and rituals at this ghat. From what I have read, the care-taking is passed on from generation to generation. Also these sects are considered to be lowly untouchables. I find it surprising though because after all this place is considered as epitome of spiritual energy - This never ending chitta (fire).

Fire at Manikarnika Ghat never sleep, Varanasi

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller

At a time there could be anywhere from 4 to 40 dead bodies being burned. Some covered partly, some fully covered and even adorned with ritualistic material.

Wood use for making fire stack

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller

Manikarnika or The Burning Ghat is just one of the many ghats of Varanasi. It is the main ghat where bodies are burnt. If you walk a little ways beyond the burning ghat area, you will come to the submerged temple.

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller

So what is Manikarnika – and why is it synonymous with these other stuff? There is a small kund just close to the submerged temple. Dirty, filthy, green with moss and filled with garbage. This kund is called Manikarnika – apparently Shiva’s earrings fell into this kund when it was made. Hence it is called Mani(bead) Karni(ear)ka. The ghat is famous as Manikarnika. Since the burning grounds and submerged temples are totally adjacent to this kund, they are all referred often as Manikarnika.

Death is only true freedom

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller

At the Manikarnika Ghat, death is celebrated. Remorseful chants are sung every hour of the day and smoke engulfs the area day and night as dead bodies are cremated for eternal peace. Welcome to the gateway to heaven, at Manikarnika Ghat.

Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi, India from 1922.

Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller
Photo of Manikarnika - The Burning Ghat, Varanasi by roottraveller
3 Comment(s)
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I remember the incident when i was in varansi,my father took me to the ghat saying that i am going to show u the most intresting ghat of varanasi.I thought there would be some thing special and i got so excited and when we were just about to reach the ghat ,my father said from the distance,that's the ghat i saw a pile of woods and a vary large quantity of smoke was coming from there and i hadn't been to cremation ground before that time.I thought any ritual is going on just like holikadahan and i just got more excited but when i reached there, i saw people with dead bodies waiting for the cremation procedure and i was like "what is this.why is this ghat famous and honestly i got scared seeing dead bodies there and told my father to go from the place asap.And we had aborted the place in a very short time.BUT after listening the stories of that place and in morning also we have seen a huge number of people holding dead bodies going for cremation.Onand all it was strang experience but gud
Tue 02 27 18, 11:30 · Reply · Report
Rishi, You've done a great job documenting the ghat in its purest form, keeping the religious emotions intact. This type of documentation is certainly loosing its ground, and have lost their existence between 5 places and 10 places kind of write-up(s). Keep up the work. Observing, documenting and showcasing the other side of the society makes one different than others.
Mon 04 17 17, 18:35 · Reply · Report
I do not think it was good to put up a post on Manikarnika that too up and so close. It is not permissible!!
Mon 04 17 17, 18:02 · Reply · Report