Manikarnika is the main Burning Ghat situated along the western bank of the Ganges River in the 7th sacred city, called Varanasi. Most ghats are used for bathing and performing 'puja' which is a form of respect to the rising sun, however this one is used for the Hindu people to cremate their loved ones. Depending on a families' wealth, a type of wood is chosen and a burn package is purchased.
The ceremony is very business-like as orderlies set up the pyre, dunk the wrapped body in the Ganges for its last bath and then lifts the body onto the wood pile. Heaps of Sandalwood amoung other types of wood ranging in prices are carried from boats and sectioned into piles so that the wood can be easily brought to the burning location.
Bodies are wrapped in gold and orange sheets after being fed their last meal and given their last drink of water. Here they await being dunked in the holy waters for their last bath before being cremated.
A priest chants and performs the rituals as ghee is poured on the body, and the fire is set. Male relatives are allowed to watch as women are seen to be too sensitive so stay home. Over 200 cremations are performed each day.
Bodies are burned all day and night open for the public to see. After the body is burned, the ashes and pieces of bone are then collected by the eldest son or senior male of the family.
The ashes are then released to the holy waters and the 'untouchables' or very low caste men sieve through the ashes with a wire netting in hopes to salvage a piece of unburned gold jewelry or gold teeth from the deceased.
Children, Sadhus, pregnant women and people with snake bites are not burned. They are offered directly to the Ganges. It is believed that if you are cremated at the Ganges that you are guaranteed release from the birth and rebirth cycle.