Kashi, also known as Varanasi and Banaras, is the oldest living sacred city in the world.
The fame and auspiciousness of Kashi is such that most eminent personages of India have visited / lived in this sacred city at one time or another. Shri Vallabh's childhood and initial years of study were spent in this wonderful city. Shri Vallabh used to spend his time between his three homes at Gokul, Adel and Charnat (near Kashi). At the close of his life, Shri Vallabh came back to Kashi and entered the divine realm by walking into the holy waters of the Ganges at Hanuman Ghat.
Manicarnika ghat is very central to the legend that is Varanasi. It is the oldest living city in the world and the most active cremation ground too. Shivaits consider this entire world as a vast cremation ground where all of us are burning in one sort of fire or another - fire of desire, jealously, envy, etc. Varanasi is the ideal place to be cremated in this vast complex as at least if you burn here, all that burns are your karmic bonds and eventually you are freed. Perhaps appropriately, the holy city is mainly situated between the two most famous burning ghats of Kashi, ManiKarnika ghat and the Harishchandra ghat.
Seeing all the miseries of mankind, Lord Shiva, the eternally compassionate one, cried tears of supreme sorrow. Rudra (He who crys / is crying) decided to perform penance and ask the Lord Vishnu how to help the helpless of this world. Lord Madhava is the only one who can grant Moksha - nirvana/ liberation - hence Rudra decided to call upon Him to find an answer for the liberation of all the souls of this world.
So fierce was the penance of Yogishwara Lord Mahadeva, that Yogeshwar Lord Narayana came in person to grant a boon to Ishwara. The Lord of Vaikuntha asked Lord Shiva to open His eyes, desist from this penance and ask for any boon He desired. Seeing the Lord before Him, Shiva bowed and asked for but one thing, "Please grant an easy route for salvation to all the creatures of this world. Their sorrows, caused by ceaseless cycles of birth, death and karmic entanglements this incurs, grieves me much. Please find an easy, fool proof route so that they may be liberated with ease from this cycle of constant rebirths."
Smiling His charming smile, Lord Hiranyagrbha said, "Thou art the most compassionate being in this universe. It behoves you to think thus. This sacred land where you have performed such severe penance for the good of the world, is so hallowed by your association, that from this day forth, anyone who comes here, will attain liberation. This I grant for your sake, and give you exclusive powers to liberate all creatures who come to you here."
Knowing the capricious nature of souls enmeshed in the quagmire of samsara, Lord Shiva desired to extend the terms of the boon. "Lord, please grant such a boon so that even if the creature that comes here is dead, their soul should attain nirvana."
Moved by Rudra's infinite compassion, the Lord Keshava shook His head in admiration and said, "Thou art compassion incarnate. I will grant you a boon so that anyone who comes here, dead or alive, will attain your grace. Even if a creature dies here; or is cremated here, having died elsewhere; thou hast the power to grant them liberation." When the Lord shook His head in admiration for PashuPatiNath's compassion for all jivas, one his gem encrusted earrings fell to the ground, near the kund (pond/ lake) where Lord Shiva was meditating. The hallowed spot where Lord Shiva performed his penance and where the Lord's jewelled earring fell, is the current ManiKarnika ghat (lit - mani = jewel / karnika = earring / ghat = bathing place).
Later, when the heavenly river Ganges descended to the earth and purified the souls of Sagar's sons, She decided to pay homage to Lord VishwaNath's penance and came to flow past this spot, transforming the ghat of a small kund (pond/ lake) into a ghat (bathing steps) on its own mighty banks.
From time immemorial, the burning ghat at ManiKarnika in Varanasi have attracted those seeking salvation. At a time when travel was neigh impossible and pilgrimage across the vast sub-continent a major achievement of its own, people used to commit ritual suicide at this ghat so that they may die and be liberated. In those days, travel was a dangerous adventure and having once achieved the goal of reaching Kashi, some visitors felt that it was best to seek salvation here and now, rather than risk being killed by bandits on the way back, or dying of illness back home.
Currently, this is the busiest burning ghat at Kashi, and indeed probably the whole world. As a result, most corpses do not get enough time to burn properly and are often unceremoniously dumped, half burnt into the sacred river. A constant stream of corpses come to this ghat to be burnt, day and night. Between the two burning ghats of the city - Manikarnika and Harishchandra ghat, the holy city hums with its own eternal life.
� Bhagwat Shah
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