Burning Ghat Benares
Photograph of Hindu temples at the Manikarnika Ghat on the River Ganges at Varanasi (Benares) in Uttar Pradesh, India, from the Macnabb Collection: Album of views of India and Burma, taken by Samuel Bourne in the 1860s. Varanasi is one of the seven sacred cities of Hinduism, situated on the Ganges River at a place where it bends to the north, considered to be an auspicious direction. Much of the religious life of the city revolves around the ghats. Hindus believe that bathing here purifies them of sin. It is known as a tirtha or ‘crossing place’ where devotees can gain access to the divine and where gods and goddesses can come down to earth. It has been a centre of pilgrimage among Buddhists, Hindus and Jains for more than 2500 years. The city’s riverbank is dominated by a great number of ghats, long flights of stone steps, where people come to perform religious rituals including cremation and ablution in the River Ganges. Pilgrimages involve immersion in the river at particular ghats and bathing in sacred kunds (tanks) as well as visiting auspicious sites and temples to worship.This photograph is a view of the temples on the steeply rising western bank of the river, next to the steps of the Manikarnika Ghat, the main cremation ghat that is also regarded as the oldest and most sacred. In the middle of the Ghat is the Manikarnika kund (tank) which is said to have been dug by Vishnu with his discus and filled with his perspiration from the exertion of creating the world. There are footprints of Vishnu set in a circular marble slab on the ghats. According to legend, Shiva's mani (crest jewel) and his consort Parvati's Karnika (earring) fell into the kund while bathing, thus came the name of the Ghat.