One of the most pious cities in Hindu mythology…Varanasi, Kashi or Banaras (As it is commonly called) will make you lose yourself in the crowd & be a one among many. That’s d beauty of the city which I have never felt in any corner of the world till date. It has the sense of oneness (Read एकम्in Sanskrit or Hindi). It engulfs all the pilgrims, charsis (dopers!!!) & visitors alike who get magnetted to this root of mysticism.
We are all witness to the fact that Varanasi is not only a city hosting the famous Hindu temples of Jyotirlinga of Kashi Vishwanath, Sankatmochan, Kalbhairav, Annapurna Temple etc. to name a few Hindu shrines but also it is an abode to the Muslim mosques, Buddhist pagodas & Jain temples as well. Banaras is the embryo of Zardosi work and silk sarees (Banarasi Silk), Banarasi Paan and the famous Gharanas of music & dance.
This city based on the banks of Ganga is blessed with the grace of Lord Shiva & He is worshipped in the form of Vishwanath (Supreme ruler of the Universe) here. If Shiva is here, can destruction be far behind? The other face of Varanasi can be seen in the Ghats where thousands of corpses are cremated every day. Someone who has left behind several mourners & someone who had no one to look forward to be decimated to the same ashes…
How do we travel to this place called Manikarnika Ghat you must be wondering? Well you have to travel to Varanasi (VNS) i.e. Lal Bahadur Shashtri airport or BCY, Varanasi City/BSB, Varanasi Junction railway station from any part of the world you belong to. The Google map is attached for your reference.
I now invite you to an untrodden path, a path most detest going but a path one has to compulsorily go through if you are born as a human.When I decided to go into the uninvited zone in Feb 2014, I was up for comments & criticisms. But I knew in the heart of hearts that I have to visit this place to satiate my curiosity & absorb the mysticism that this place had to offer. A Hindu female is generally forbidden to enter a Samshan/crematorium & therefore my access to MANIKARNIKA ghat was almost restricted.
You can call it Death Tourism but a lot of travellers do really take a trip to this ancient city to watch the bizarre yet most certain phenomenon of DEATH& the rituals associated therewith. You can see tourists enjoying a boat ride in Ganga by the dawning & dusking Sun as they sketch few canvasses or choose to DSLR their memories. The panorama of Varanasi will remain incomplete without the mention of ‘Aghoris‘ who famously/infamously exponentially increase our curiosity through their unconventional ceremonies.
Please click to watch the journey to the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi
If I were to believe History & scriptures, cremation at Manikarnika Ghat ensures MOKSHA or liberation i.e. freedom from the birth & death cycle. The name Manikarnika is derived from the Sanskrit word Manikarna which means bejewelled ears as it is believed in Hindu mythology that Sati’s earrings fell on this ghat as Lord Vishnu’s chakra ripped her corpse after Shiva’s humiliation & ensuing rage in the Dakshya Yagya. These places commemorating each body part of Sati are worshipped as Shakti Peethas and they number to 51 in Toto.
My colleagues introduced me to the Ghat as यहांचिताकीआगकभीठंडीनहींपड़तीहै i.e. the pyres never burn out &forebode me of consequences if I resolved to visit it. Tired of pleading & convincing people around, I thought of visiting the Ghat alone but I was caught in a fear of What Ifs…Seeing my trilemma, my boss offered me to accompany me to this place & I will forever be thankful to him for this gesture.
Walking through the Galis of Varanasi & traversing the forbidden path with my boss to the Ghat was a once in a lifetime experience. My palpitation was quite irregular & I was open to any experience that came my way. The moment I hit the ghat, I was literally & figuratively ZONED OUT. There was a deep silence amongst the din that prevailed…DEATH, THE GREATEST LEVELLER was everywhere!I was too numb to feel anything through my senses; it was only my inner self which was absorbing the stark reality of the most uncertain entity called LIFE.
I took my time in acquainting my eyes with the corpses being brought in; the strange smell of bodies burning &perceivingwhy I was there. As my five senses were returning to their normal chores, I realised I was the only female there. All ego & inhibition shed by itself as I stood by myself face to face with Death. A strange stillness took over the mind & body as I realised how simple a process it was & that we HOMO SAPIENS so called, will be a part of the earth either cremated or buried, no matter what.
My eyes were moist from the flames that were burning full blaze & the emotional discord that I just encountered. Around 10 pyres were burning simultaneously& corpses were being brought in randomly, some decked as a bride & some unclaimed. There were people standing by the side & trying to strike conversations amongst them about the person who died & his inheritance. The irony of life lashed me hard & I could not help taking a dig on myself.
Life was there in front of me dancing in the form of fire engulfing the mortal remains and yours sincerely waited in patience to be succumbed into a silky slumber.
Manikarnika was an eye-opener for me; it awakened me into new dimensions of life & made my journey more meaningful. Apart from the emotional & vital statistics that we all have, I realised that there is another perspective that silently watches & is all-knowing. That neither dies nor takes birth…It was, is & will be….