Life and death at Manikarnika Ghat

Life and death at Manikarnika Ghat

A ghat is hindi for “a stairway in India leading down to a landing on the water”. In Varanasi there are many places like this along the Ganges. Places where humans and animals can have access to the water. Some ghats are used to take a bath, to wash clothes or to collect a small amount of the holy water to bring home. In Manikarnika Ghat they burn dead bodies.

Stairway to liberation
Manikarnika Ghat is one of the holiest places along the Ganges and according to Hindu religion it is believed that a dead humans soul find salvation when cremated here. The reincarnations will stop and the soul will merge with the divine consciousness. No wonder this is a popular place to let go of your body when that time comes. It is estimated that up to three hundred bodies are burned here every day.

A place full of life
I have been sitting here several times during my time in Varanasi, just observing and taking in the atmosphere. This is where the dead bodies are turned into ashes but it is also a place full of life. There are family members, tea salesmen, tourists and of course people from “the untouchable” cast who handle the actual burning. Wood is being weighed and prepared, the shiny fabric the bodies are wrapped with sparkles in the sun and the fumes from the fires are reaching slowly towards the sky. And of course it is all the cows, bulls and dogs. Manikarnika Ghat has probably the highest density of free roaming animals I have seen in Varanasi. The cows and bulls feed on the flower garlands and the dogs search for the more fleshy leftovers. And so the circle of life goes on, someones death keep someone else alive.

“I used to believe in reincarnation, but that was in a past life.”
/Paul Krassner

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