Manikarnika Ghat is the main cremation Ghat of Varanasi. Manikarnika Ghat is one of the oldest and most sacred Ghats in Varanasi. According to the Hindu mythology, being burned here provides an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and rebirths.
Manikarnika Ghat, the main burning ghat, is the most auspicious place for a Hindu to be cremated. Dead bodies are handled by outcasts known as doms, and are carried through the alleyways of the Old City to the holy Ganges on a bamboo stretcher, swathed in cloth. The corpse is doused in the Ganges prior to cremation.
Manikarnika Ghat is associated with the Hindu Deities Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva. According to some Hindu tales, Lord Vishnu dug a pit by using his Chakra whilst Lord Shiva observed him. An earring (Manikarnika) fell inside the pit unnoticed while both were preoccupied.
Another account claims that when Mata Sati sacrificed her life and set her body ablaze after Raja Daksh Prajapati tried to humiliate Lord shiva in a Yagya practiced by Daksh. Lord Shiva took her burning body to Himalay. While going to Himalaya Mata Sati’s parts of body started falling on earth. Lord Shiva established Shakti Peeth wherever Sati’s body had fallen. At Manikarnika ghat, Mata Sati’s Ear’s ornament had fallen. This ghat which symbolizes both creation and destruction is located in the heart of the city at the center of the five tirthas.
In a third tale of Manikarnika Ghat’s origin, Lord Vishnu struggled to please Lord Shiva for centuries and pleaded with him to reconsider the destruction of Kashi (a holy city). Lord Shiva arrived in Kashi with his consort Parvati, to grant Vishnu’s wish. On the banks of the Ganges he dug a well for bathing and it was during his bath that a precious ear ornament fell into the well – consequently providing the name for the location.
Lying at the centre of the five tirthas, Manikarnika Ghat symbolizes both conception and devastation. Mortal remains are consumed by fire with prayers so that the soul rests in eternal peace. The hot ashes of the burnt bodies makes you ponder over the inevitable destruction of everything in the world.
Manikarnika Devi who is worshipped by millions every year inhabits the place. There is also a small Vishnu Shrine that is marked by the paduka (footprint) of his. This too along with the Tarakeshvara Lingam remains flooded with people yearlong. Strictly speaking, Manikarnika is the name given to the kund and to the Ghat, while the constantly busy cremation ground is actually called Jalasi Ghat. The place can be easily identified because of a dark, smoke-stained temple that stands there. The ghat also houses a Shiva Durga Temple, which was constructed by Maharaja of Awadh in 1850.
Manikarnika Ghat is one of the sacred ghats in Varanasi which will help you to soak in divinity. The ghat has a lot of religious and historic significance attached to it and hence it is mandatory to explore the same, during your Varanasi trip. Even though the entrance to the ghat is free and there are no Manikarnika Ghat tickets in general, still there are Manikarnika Ghat tours which will give you some enlightenment about the holy place.