Posted by: Bert and Tania | December 18, 2009

Manikarnika Burning Ghat

Thought I’d explain a bit more about the Manikarnika (Burning) Ghat (River Front) at Varanasi which we actually went to three time in the end – twice via boat and once on foot.

We were taken round by one of the workers there who explained:

– This is an incredibly holy place for Hindus and if you are cremated here your soul will go to Nirvana so people are brought from all over India.
– We were there at 6.30am having watched sunrise on the Ganges and 27 bodies had already been burned. They cremate 300 people every day.
– Wood is brought from 300km away as special wood with oil in it is needed to prevent the smell of burning hair and skin.
– First the body is submerged in the Ganges to bless it with holy water.
– One layer of wood is laid on the ghat, then the body (we saw this being done) then another layer.
– The pyre is then lit with straw that has itself been lit by the ‘eternal fire’ which has been burning continuously for 5000 years as a source of ignition.
– Bodies take three hours to burn. At the end, the hip bone of women and chest bone of men remains and is dropped into the Ganges by a family member.
– There are old people’s homes surrounding the Ghat full of people waiting to die and be cremated there. Money is collected from tourists to pay for the wood for people who cannot afford it.
– Most people at the ghat are family members of the deceased and the ceremony is a happy one, otherwise the sould might not go to Nirvana. Crying is delayed until they get home.
– Pots are filled with water from the Ganges and mixed with the ash of the deceased. The pots are then broken open and at that moment the soul is released and goes to Nirvana.
– Children (and pregnant women) cannot be burned as anyone under 16yrs is pure and the cremation is not necessary. Instead, they are tied to large rocks and tipped into the centre of the Ganges which is 40m deep. (We saw this too)
– Holy men, lepars and animals are also dropped into the water like this (apparently lepracy is carried in the smoke).
– People bitten by cobras are half alive, half dead and are bound tightly around where they are bitten and floated downstream where hopefully they will come alive again.
– The worker was saying how people are burned with their hands open to symbolise that when you die you have nothing. During your life everyone is chasing money, cars, houses, cameras etc. but at the burning ghat everyone is equal.

We were not allowed to take pictures but I found some on the internet:


  1. I wont be sending the book then
    It wasnt you who wrote it, was it?

    Please avoid cobras!

  2. You can Take Pictures of Electric Cremation at Kolkata.

    KEORATALA SHAMSAN GHAT / NIMTAL SHAMSHAN GHAT are two of the VIP Burning Ghats here in Kolkata.

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