The Varanasi Heritage Dossier/Manikarnika Ghat
25º 18.673’ North and 83º 00.899’ East (Maheshvara linga at the bank). 25º 18.669’ North and 83º 00.878’ East (Tarakeshvara temple at the bank).
Exact location on a map
Manikarnika Ghat, near the bank.
0.05ha (the ghats and nearby area)
-- In the Matsya Purana, ca. 6th-7th century, this ghat is described as one among the five water-spot sacred sites. Culturally, this site is important in a sense that this had been the meeting point of Shaiva and Vaishnavite traditions. The Vishnu Charanapaduka, a slab of marble representing the footprints of Vishnu, is considered as “the holiest spot in the sacred city”. Mythology reveals that Vishnu performed meditation here in standing pose for about 500,000 years to please Lord Shiva. Finally Shiva appeared, and by virtue of Vishnu’s boon, settled here. From this area, one can easily identify the Vishnu Kshetra of the north and Shiva Kshetra of the south. This ghat is described vividly in the KKh (26.119, 122; 33.103; 34.17-34), and popularly eulogised as “the great cremation ground”. The Manikarnika Ghat is mentioned in the Gupta inscription of 5th century. The stone stairs were made in 1303, and rebuilt in 1730 under the patronage of Bajirao Peshva. In 1791 Ahilyabai Holkar rebuilt the entire ghat. Again in 1872 repairing and renovations are made. In 1965 the government of Uttar Pradesh has repaired and re-built this ghat.
Maharaja Mangal Singh of Alwar Estate, Rajasthan, built the Manokameshvara Temple in 1895, on the roof of his residential quarter. The sectional parts include half-sanctum, half-pavilion and the rectangular mandapa. The porches are well decorated and represent the mature work of stone carving. There are gates in all the four directions of the inner sanctum. There are beautiful images of Shiva, Ganesha and Parvati. To reach this temple, one has to pass through the residential quarter, which many times is unpleasant.
Close to the bank is the Maheshvara linga in the open air. On the right one can see a temple slowly leaning into the Ganga. Since the early 19th century this temple has been standing in the same way. Close to it is Chakrapuskarini or Manikarnika Kunda, a sacred water pool. According to puranic mythology Shiva’s crest-jewel (Mani-) and his wife Parvati’s earring (-karnika) fell off into the sacred pool, hence the name Manikarnika. A tale relates that with his disc (Chakra) Vishnu made this pool, which is reflected in the name Chakrapuskarini. According to the 12th century text, the Kashi Khanda (26), Vishnu made this beautiful ‘lotus pond and filled’ it up with water from the sweat of his own limbs, and performed fierce austerities here. The tank, surrounded today by a cast-iron railing, is some 18.3m square at the top, narrowing to about 6.1m square at the water’s edge. The Kunda represents the world’s first pool. It was the first holy spot dug out at the dawn of time and filled with the sacred water of Lord Vishnu’s perspiration. As a testimony to that story Vishnu’s footprints are visible nearby. Each year when the river Ganga recedes, the water leaves a huge mass of alluvial silt in the tank. When flood and water recede, gradually the excavation and reclamation of the silt begins and is completed by Shivaratri (the new-moon day of February-March). On this occasion a great celebration takes place here.
Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore built the temple Tarakeshvara (“Lord of Crossing”) in 1795, on a rectangular plan. The temple is structured with the base of six pillars. At the entrance is the image of Ganesha. In the inner sanctum, in a vessel is a four-headed Shiva lingam. Like the Banaras style of Pancayatana temple, here also are the images of Surya, Durga, Ganesha and Vishe in the four corners. This Shiva image, in the forenoon decorated with five-headed mask made of bronze, provides liberation to the departed soul by putting sacred verses in the ears. Tarakeshvara is propitiated after the completion of cremation rites. This temple is assumed to be the replica of the famous shrine, about a 100-km north of Kolkata. At the three famous sites of Shiva temples there exist the image of Tarakeshvara, i.e. in the Jnanavapi, east to the great Nandi bull, in the Khemaka temple near Golden (Vishvanatha) temple, and at the Kedar Ghat. Bajirao Peshva built the nearby ghat in ca 1735, but before the basement had been raised some metres, the tremendous weight of the massive masonry caused a landslide, which made the whole fabric topple over, so that the work had to be abandoned. The unfinished façade and portion of the ghat are still visible. In fact, the entire structure sunk several metres into the earth since its erection. Later in 1830, the queen Baijabai of Gwalior get it repaired and partly rebuilt; moreover, she built the Ratneshvara temple in the Gujarati style at the bank side, which also shrunken down only after a few months of construction and since then laying down as such. This is a landmark at this area. A little over 30,000 corpses are cremated annually in Banaras of which about 28,000 are cremated at Manikarnika cremation Ghat, and the rest at Harishchandra Ghat in the south. Cremating a dead body consumes on average about 5 quintals (500kg) of wood. Every dead body gets registered at the nearby office, followed by the negotiations and bargaining with the funeral priest (Dom) who gives the sacred fire for funeral.
Present state of conservation
Except by the temple trust and the local public organisations, those work on their own ways, there are no specific action plans, programmes and strategies for conservation and preservation of the ghats.
Specific measures being taken for conserving the specific property
It is expected that by the support of active people participation, awareness to save the age-old rich heritage, and development under the Master Plan (and its judiciary control) the ghat heritage will be protected and conserved for the better befit to the society.
The temples are owned by their Temple Trusts; the ghat area by the Municipal Corporation.