The next morning we went to Kashi Vishwanath temple for darshan. Kashi Vishwanath temple is one of the most famous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple stands on the western bank of Hinduism’s holiest river Ganges, and the deity is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas the holiest of Shiva deities. The main deity is known by the name Vishwanatha or Vishweshwara meaning the Ruler of the universe. The temple town that claims to be the oldest living city in the world, with 3500 years of documented history is also called Kashi and hence the temple is popularly called as Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Due to this 15.5m high golden spire, the temple is sometimes called as the Golden Temple, similar to the Sikh Gurudwara at Amritsar. There was a huge rush in temple. After half an hour we had the darshan and it was my first Jyotirlinga darshan.
Then, we went to see the ghats. The first one was Lalita Ghat. Lalita Ghat got its name from Goddess Lalita (also known as Tripura Sundari and Red Goddess), who is often referred to as the beauty of three worlds. The ghat is famous for a Nepali temple named Kathwala, which enshrines the image of Pashupateshwara. Built by the king of Nepal in 1841, this temple excels in its architecture and boasts exquisite wooden carvings of the erotic scenes and gateways and doors decorated with geomagnetic frame. This ghat also has a temple dedicated to the Ganges River.
The next was Manikarnika Ghat. Manikarnika Ghat is the main cremation Ghat of Varanasi. Manikarnika Ghat is one of the oldest and most sacred Ghats in Banaras. According to the Hindu mythology, being burned here provides an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and rebirths. Lying at the center of the five tirthas, Manikarnika Ghat symbolizes both creation and destruction. At Manikarnika Ghat, the mortal remains are consigned to flames with the prayers that the souls rest in eternal peace. It is interesting to know that cremation Ghats are usually placed outside the main town, as they are considered inauspicious. Nevertheless this doesn’t stand true in the case of Varanasi where Manikarnika is situated quite in the middle of town itself. This is precisely because the entire city of Varanasi is considered a “Maha-Shamshan” or the Great Cremation Ground. Manikarnika Ghat is perpetually crowded with funeral parties. You will find shops lined up with things used during the cremation such as Ghee, wood, offerings and clothes. These cremations are felicitated by Doms who are considered the guardian of dead. Seeing bodies being cremated so publicly has always exerted a great fascination for foreign visitors to the city who find it utterly amusing and deviated from the one practiced in Semitic religions.
The philosophical aspect of Manikarnika lies in the fact that this Ghat is an optimal amalgamation of both life as well as death. Manikarnika that lies at the center of the Panch-Tirtha symbolizes both creation and destruction, epitomized by the juxtaposition of the sacred well of Manikarnika Kund and Manikarnika Ghat. While Lord Vishnu has dug the former at the time of creation of earth Shiva, the destructor, inhabits the hot and sandy ash-infused soil of the later. Manikarnika Kund is considered to be even older than Ganges and as legend has it, Vishnu cared the kund with his discus, and filled it with perspiration from his exertions in creating the world, at the behest of Shiva. When Shiva quivered with delighted, his earning fell into this pool, which as Manikarnika – “Jeweled Earring” – became the very First Tirtha in the world.
Manikarnika Devi who is worshipped by millions every year inhabits the place. There is also a small Vishnu Shrine that is marked by the paduka (footprint) of his. This too along with the Tarakeshvara Lingam remains flooded with people yearlong. Strictly speaking, Manikarnika is the name given to the kund and to the Ghat, while the constantly busy cremation ground is actually called Jalasi Ghat. The place can be easily identified because of a dark, smoke-stained temple that stands there.