Manikarnika Ghat has a great significance not only in Hindu mythology and way of life but also in the philosophies of life and death. Manikarnika is basically a cremation Ghat. 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-Shmashan" 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. It is worthy to note that photography is strictly
considered a taboo. So please avoid doing that as this might be seen as
a provocation and act of hostility and might lead to unwanted troubles.
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 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.