Sri Caitanya's Nectarian River Pastimes, Part 25


Manikarnika and other ghats at Benares
Painting by Seeta Ram, c. 1814
British Library Collection

Nov 12, 2015 — CANADA (SUN) — Sri Caitanya's transcendental pastimes with rivers.

Continuing with our discussion of holy rivers in the northeastern part of India, today we'll cover another famous convergence: the holy Asih and Varuna rivers, which merge at Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. These rivers are mentioned in Caitanya-caritāmrta, Madhya-lila Chapter 17, which narrates the Lord's travels to Vrindavan.

    Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 17.82:

    ei-mata nānā-sukhe prabhu āilā 'kāśī' madhyāhna-snāna kaila maṇikarṇikāya āsi'

    Finally the Lord arrived with great happiness at the holy place called Kāśī. There He took His bath in the bathing ghat known as Maṇikarṇikā.


    Kāśī is another name for Vārāṇasī (Benares). It has been a place of pilgrimage since time immemorial. Two rivers named Asiḥ and Varuṇā merge there. Maṇikarṇikā is famous because, according to the opinion of great personalities, a bejeweled earring fell there from the ear of Lord Viṣṇu. According to some, it fell from the ear of Lord Śiva. The word maṇi means "jewel," and karṇikā means "from the ear."

    According to some, Lord Viśvanātha is the great physician who cures the disease of material existence by delivering a person through the ear, which receives the vibration of the holy name of Lord Rāma. Because of this, this holy place is called Maṇikarṇikā. It is said that there is no better place than where the river Ganges flows, and the bathing ghat known as Maṇikarṇikā is especially sanctified because it is very dear to Lord Viśvanātha.

    In the Kāśī-khaṇḍa it is said:

    saṁsāri-cintāmaṇir atra yasmāt
    tārakaṁ saj-jana-karṇikāyām
    śivo 'bhidhatte saha-sānta-kāle
    tad gīyate 'sau maṇi-karṇiketi
    mukti-lakṣmī mahā-pīṭha-maṇis tac-caraṇābjayoḥ
    karṇikeyaṁ tataḥ prāhur yāṁ janā maṇi-karṇikām

    According to this passage from the Kāśī-khaṇḍa, one who gives up his body at Maṇikarṇikā is liberated simply by remembering Lord Śiva's name.

Varanasi, also known as Kasi in ancient times, and as Benares today, is situated on the banks of the Ganges, about 121 kilometers (75 miles) east of Allahabad. Varanasi is thought to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. This place is holy to all: Vaisnavas, Buddhists and Jains.

The name Varanasi is said to have originated from the names of the two rivers flowing along its northern and southern sides: the Varuna, which is still flowing in Varanasi, and the Asi, now a small stream near a ghat by that name.

Kasi is mentioned in the Rgveda, which describes the "luminous city as an eminent seat of learning". The name Kāśī -- which also incorporates river Asih's name -- is also mentioned in the Skanda Purana. In one verse, Shiva says, "The three worlds form one city of mine, and Kāśī is my royal palace therein."[8] The name Kashi may be translated as "City of Light".[9]

The Assi Ghat, which has undergone major clean-up and improvements in recent years, is today a popular gathering place. It sits at the southern-most end of Varnasi's continuous line of ghats. The ghat is located at the confluence of the Asi River and the Ganges.

Pilgrims come here to bathe before offering worship to a huge Shiva-lingam sitting beneath a peepal tree. Another lingam worshipped here is called the Asisangameshwar lingam. It represents the lord of confluence of the Asi, whose deity is enshrined in a small marble temple near Assi Ghat. It was here that the poet saint, Tulasi Das wrote his Ramcharitmanas.

Assi Ghat is mentioned in the Matsya, Agn, Kurma and Padma Puranas and the Kashi khanda. Goddess Durga is said to have thrown down her sword after slaying the demon, Shumbha-Nishumbha, and from this spot emerged a big stream, known as Assi River.

Assi Ghat is about a 15 minute drive south of the Manikarnika Ghat where Lord Caitanya took bath.

Assi Ghat, Varanasi
[ Photo: Shubh M Singh @ Flikr ]


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