Varanasi is the Hindu world’s mystical center where every visitor can witness an abundance of Life & Death. 2021 and one winter night I found myself in the smoke-filled Jalasai Ghat (‘Sleeper on the Waters”). Jalasai Ghat also popularly known as Manikarnika Ghat in Kashi the eternal city is the place where one comes face to face with the fact that…
“Cremation ground is the final destination of Life, and a funeral pyre is a final truth while Death is an eternal truth. One forgets this in the circle of life, and hence the action s are not as per dharma.
jatasya hi dhruvo mityur dhruva janma mitasya chaDeath is inevitable for one born, and rebirth is inevitable for one who has died. Therefore you should not lament over the inevitable _ Bhagavad Gita
tasmad apariharye’ the na tva shochitum arhasi
Manikarnika Ghat in Kashi
Shrouded in legends, one among them is Kashi’s significance and its relation to Life & Death’s cycle. It is said that Lord Vishnu prayed for thousands of years and finally obtained a boon from Lord Shiva that when the annihilation of the world happens, Kashi will be spared. Consequently, any departed soul that gets their last rites per the Hindu scriptures performed here attains complete liberation from Life & Death’s cycle thus attaining Moksa( liberation).
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Fires of Manikarnika
In this context, the funeral’s burning pyre’s flame is drawn from the eternal fire burning for more than 3500 years. All fires that used to cremate the bodies are started from this eternal fire only. The fire is sacred because it would have provided the initial flame that led to the Cremation of the person’s ancestors also at one point in time—a poignant and profoundly provoking thought. I walked up to the steps leading to this eternal fire. There were few Doms (the traditional sect of people who are the custodians to perform the funeral rituals at Kashi).
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They looked at me with glazed eyes, bloodshot on account of the smoke of the funeral pyres or deep intoxicant drunk to overcome the entire day, day after day doing this task. I am not aware, but I treaded here carefully for it was their world while I was a visitor.
In the semidarkness of the night as the nearby temple bells rang loudly in the glory of Lord Shiva and chants filled the air, I found myself in the company of the Doms. I sat quietly with them for a few moments as they assessed me unabashedly taking in my camera and the curious look in my eyes. Finally, they asked me to respect the dead and to click discreetly to which I nodded.
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My blog focuses quite a bit on ancient temple history among other places of travel which I keep doing. The temple history posts come up because there has been in ancient Indian History so many monumental architectures which were created. Read through the posts on Land of 1000 temples , Tamil Nadu or Stunning churches of Goa. I am sure a visit to them would be fascinating to just about anyone purely from an architectural magnificence prism of view. Temples of Pattadakal travel guide is based on the same theme. In case interested read about HAMPI here.
Timeless Manikarnika Ghat in Kashi
Manikarnika Ghat is the place where hundreds of funeral pyres are lit every month. The ghat and Varanasi symbolise the hope of millions’ as the final step in attaining salvation from this mortal life, no matter how it has been lived. In the end, everyone is the same out here. It is said that Shiva took the form of Kaal Bhairav in Kashi. The task was to do Bahiravi Yatna on all those who came to die in Kashi.
In that one moment of Death, for all that one has been; whole many many lifetimes plays out in a moment with great intensity inclusive of all pleasures and sufferings within a minor second. This intensity cannot be held on or endured hence is called Bahiravi Yatna. It is said that this is done to create such phenomenal pain that is impossible to comprehend or endure, but only for a second and after that nothing od the past remains and the soul is now free from the libration cycle of Life & Death.
Wandering through Manikarnika Ghat
That winter night in the Kashi Vishwanath ki Nagri I wandered amongst strangers, forms were blended in the numerous funeral pyres’ smoke, silhouettes lit against the burning flames. No detail was clear, yet everything was left for the mind to form an image and give it a form and theme. Manikarnika ghat, also known as MahaShamshana, is where Death is celebrated every hour of the day and night. It is said that the smoke of the fires is never laid to rest.
Trying to understand Manikarnika
There are no wailing or loud cries of pain, for it is considered to inauspicious. The family members stand in stoic silence. I found three overlapping circles of thought, as I tried to fit my subconscious into the frame I was seeing while my body remained motionless. The three overlapping circles were, the commerce associated with Death wherein money exchanged hands over a dead body whose soul has left the world order. The money was for those who would do the task of burning the pyre and wood purchase.
The second circle was the mortals’ belief that this is where one came to die and escape Life & Death’s cycle. The third circle was the personal grief of those who stood watching the body burn away into the night. The grief was unique and not vocal at the same time. The man standing just a few feet away was unaffected by this personal grief as he went about the task he was doing .. he could be a visitor or a medicant or a passing nameless person.
It was something that struck me as I stood there looking at the scene unfolding in front of me. I tried framing some visuals in the camera. However, I think it is my mind that captured the vivid scene of a winter night with the darkness all over. The Ganges shimmering silently in the city of Kashi and funeral fires blazing boldly into the night while we believed that Tarkaeswar’s ( Lord Shiva ) presence was omnipresent.
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Final thoughts on Manikarnika Ghat in Kashi
I shall always remember this night for it was my first close encounter with Life & Death’s aspect in such a surreal manner in Kashi. I will definitely come back to Manikarnika, Kashi if Lord Rudra wills for something that draws me to the ash & wood with flames burning in the dead of night.
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