Muslims taking a morning chat
Varanasi, also known as Kashi and Benaras, is the cultural capital of India. Varanasi is a melting pot, where both death and life come together. Also commonly known as Banaras or Benaras and Kashi, is a city situated on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is regarded as a holy city by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the oldest in India
The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river's religious importance. The name Varanasi has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi, for the old city lies in the north shores of the Ganges bounded by its two tributaries, the Varuna and the Assi, with the Ganges being to its south. Now the river workshop is mostly done in between the ghats of Varuna Ghat to Assi Ghat.
Varanasi has nearly 100 ghats. Among the famous and the oldest of these are the Dashashwamegha Ghat, the Manikarnika Ghat and the Harishchandra Ghat. Then there are Ghats built by Hindu rulers like Ahilya Bai Holkar of Malwa region, Peshwa's of Gwalior, Man Singh of Amber, Jai Singh of Jaipur etc. Some of the Ghats are named after famous personlities of Benaras. Munshi Ghat is after the renowned Hindi poet Munshi Premchand who was a native of Benaras. The Tulsi ghat is said to be the place where renowned Hidu poer Tulsidas has written Ramcharitmanas a poetic story of Lord Rama. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is located close to Vishwanath Temple, and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu mythologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses in a yajna here. A group of priests daily perform in the evening at this ghat "Agni Pooja" (Worship to Fire) wherein a dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganges, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire), and the whole universe.
Story behind the Ghats:
Two legends are associated with Manikarnika Ghat. According to one, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu dug a pit with his Chakra and filled it with his perspiration while performing various penances. While Lord Shiva was watching Lord Vishnu at that time, the latter's earring ("manikarnika") fell into the pit. According to the second legend, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of the Ganges. Goddess Parvati's idea behind the fib was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings.
According to ancient texts, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought King Harishchandra as a slave and made him work on the Manikarnika at Harishchandra Ghat. Hindu cremations customarily take place here, though a majority of dead bodies are taken for cremation to the Manikarnik Ghat.