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Manikarnika Ghat - Varanasi

Varanasi Tourism

Arriving at their last stop, the Panchatirthi pilgrims might see the bright blue-lettered inscription of a local poet, painted on the white-washed wall above the ghat:

This is Manikarnika, where death is auspicious,
Where life is fruitful,
Where one grazes the pastures of heaven.
There is no tirtha like Manikarnika,
There is no city like Kashi,
There is no linga like Vishveshvara,
Not in the whole universe.
At last, the pilgrims return to Manikarnika ghat, at the centre of the three mile long sweep of the city’s riverfront. This is the most important of the river ghats and the fifth of the five tirthas. As with many groupings of five in Hindu symbolism, the fifth is the centre, the supreme anchor of the quadrant of four; so it is with Manikarnika. It is said to be the place of the earth’s creation as well as its destruction, containing both the sacred well, dug out by Vishnu at the beginning of time, and the cremation ground, where the created order burns at the end of time. Both the water of cremation and the fires of destruction join in the aura of sanctity that pervades Manikarnika. Here the Panchtirthi pilgrims are advised to bathe at Manikarnika Ghat as well as in the sacred tank Manikarnika Kund. Bathing at Manikarnika and having the darshana of vishvanatha have long been the centre of religious life in kashi, both for the daily worshipper and the pilgrim. The common saying is “every day one should see Vishveshwara and bathe in Manikarnika” (Drishyo Vishveshvaro nityam, snatavya Manikarnika). Many of the city pilgrimages, such as the Panchakroshi pilgrimage around the city, include a ritual bath at Manikarnika and the darshana os vishwanatha at both the beginning and the end.

Manikarnika Kund
Although the name Manikarnika is today most frequently associated with the cremation ground, its oldest and most important association is with the sacred well, called Manikarnika or Chakrapushkarini Kund, the “dicus lotus-pool.” The pilgrims will surely hear of the antiquity of this site from the priest who makes their living here. This well or tank, according to the Kashi Khanda, is so ancient that it is said to have been present in kashi long before the river Ganges arrived at the heels of Bhagiratha: “For the benefit of the three world” they say, “King bhagiratha brought the Ganges to the place where Manikarnika is-to Shiva’s Forest of Bliss, to vishnu’s Lotus pool.”

Kund was originally a very large lake, said by tradition to have extended from a place called Harishchandra Mandapa near Sankata Ghat in the north, to Ganga Keshva at lalita Ghat in the south, to Svargadvara, the “Door of heaven” located in the city on brahma Nala lane in the west, and to the middle of the Ganges in the east. The lake of Manikarnika was, by tradition, quite large and around its bank were the cremation ground. On its northern bank, indeed, is one of the cremation grounds said to have been worked by the legendry king Harishchandra. When the Ganges arrived, it is said to have inundated this long lagoonlike lake, leaving only a part of it visible as a spring-fed kund.

Manikarnika Kund is Located today right in the middle of Manikarnika Ghat proper, to the north of the cremation grounds. Ascending the flight of steps from the river’s edge, the pilgrims reach a broad, flat landing, from which the city again rises steeply and dramatically, penetrated by the narrowest of stair-step lanes. It is on this landing where the city meets the ghat that the pilgrims find Manikarnika kund.

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