Manikarnika Kunda: No Hindu pilgrim passes through Benares without paying a visit to Manikarnika Ghat and Manikarnika Kunda, the famous well of Hindu mythology. It is the first place sought after by the thousands of pilgrims flocking yearly to the holy city, who are drawn towards it by a mysterious and irresistible fascination. Its water is regarded as a healing balm, which will, infallibly, wash away all the sins of the soul, and make it pure and holy. There is no sin so heinous or abominable, but, in popular estimation, it is here instantly effaced. No wonder, therefore, that conscience-stricken sinners rush to this well from all quarters, and, deluding themselves by its reputed sanctity, should, by the easy process of washing in it, seek to atone, in one minute, for the crimes and sins of a life-time. Of all places of pilgrimage throughout India, this well is held, by many, to be the most, efficacious for bestowing salvation.
Several stories are connected with Manikarnika Kunda. As per a popular legend, Lord Vishnu dug this well with his ‘chakra’ or discus, and, in lieu of water, filled it with the perspiration from his own body, and gave it the name of Chakra-Pushkarini. He then proceeded to its north side, and began to practice asceticism. In the meantime, Lord Shiva arrived, and, looking into the well, beheld in it the beauty of a hundred millions of suns, with which he was so enraptured, that he at once broke out into loud praises of Vishnu, and, in his joy, declared that whatever gift he might ask of him he would grant. Gratified at the offer, Vishnu replied that his request was that Mahadeva should always reside with him. Mahadeva, hearing this, felt greatly flattered by it, and his body shook with delight. From the violence of the motion, an ear-ring called Manikarnaka fell from his ear into the well. From this circumstance, Mahadeva gave the well the name of Manikarnika. Among the epithets applied to it are those of Muktikshetra, ' seat of -liberation,' and Purnasubhakaran, 'complete source of felicity’. Mahadeva further decreed that it should be the chief and the most efficacious among places of pilgrimages. Such is the tale as found in the Kasi-khanda ; but there is another version current among the people. It is reported that Mahadeva and his consort Parvati were one day seated by the well, when, accidentally, a jewel fell from the ear of Parvati into the water, on account of this Mahadeva named the well Manikarnika.
A series of stone steps on each of the four sides of the well leads down to the water. The seven lowermost steps are said to be without a joining, and to belong to the original well as built by divine hands. Upon the stairs, in a niche on the north side, is a figure of Lord Vishnu; and, at the mouth of the well, on the west side, is a row of sixteen altars, on which pilgrims present offerings to their ancestors. The worshipper, descending into the water, laves his head and body with the liquid, and, at the same time, utters certain verses from religious scriptures appointed for the ceremony.
Tarakeshwar Temple: Directly in front of Manikarnika Kunda, and between it and the Ganges, is the temple of Tarakeshwar, or "the Lord Taraka”. When a Hindu dies, and Lord Tarakeshwar is propitiated, he breathes into his ear a charm or mantra of such efficacy that it delivers him from the misery of the cycle of re-birth and secures for him happiness and joy. The idol is in a kind of small pond which is kept filled with water offered in sacrifice and, consequently, the deity is invisible. In the rainy season, the swollen Ganga flows beyond this temple, which, for several days, stands immersed in the stream. Its foundations are thereby undermined, and the blocks of stone of which it is composed incline to separate from one another. The upper part of the tower has been entirely removed, in order to lessen the weight resting upon the base of the building.
Vishnu’s Charan-Paduka: Upon the Manikarnika ghat or stairs, on higher ground than that occupied by the Tarakeswar temple, is a large round slab, called Charan-Paduka, projecting slightly from the pavement; and in the middle of it stands a stone pedestal, the top of which is inlaid with marble. In the centre of the marble are two small flat objects, representing the two feet of Lord Vishnu. The tradition is that Lord Vishnu selected this precise spot for the performance of ascetic rites and the worship of Lord Shiva. It is, consequently, held in great veneration by the Hindus, and receives divine honours. In the month of Kartik, multitudes of people flock to Vishnu's feet, imagining that all who worship them are guaranteed a sure introduction into heaven.
Siddha Vinayak Temple: Ascending the second flight of stairs, one comes to a temple of ancient reputation, but probably of modern construction, occupied by Siddha-Vinaya, or Lord Ganesh. At the feet of the god is the figure of a rat, the vehicle of Lord Ganesh, and also a miniature fountain. On either side of the inner shrine is a statue of a woman, one being called Siddhi, and the other, Riddhi. In its neighbourhood there is an imposing temple of the Lord Shiva and Goddess Durga which was built around 1850 by the Maharaja of the Awadh.
The Manikarnika ghat, while the most sacred of all the ghats in Benares, is also the intermediate point of them all, so that, were the city divided into two portions at this place, they would be nearly equal in extent.