A burning ghat on the Ganges, at Benares, India
Photographer: Ricalton, James
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic photograph of Manikarnika Ghat at Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, taken by James Ricalton in c. 1903, from The Underwood Travel Library: Stereoscopic Views of India. This image is taken from a small craft on the sacred Ganges River, facing the left bank. This is the main cremation ghat of Varanasi, presided over by the Doms, a caste who historically and till now hold exclusive rights over the cremation ghats. In the middle of the Ghat is the Manikarnika kund (tank) which was said to have been dug by Vishnu with his discus and filled with his perspiration from the exertion of creating the world. There are footprints of Vishnu set in a circular marble slab on the ghats. According to legend, Shiva's mani (crest jewel) and his consort Parvati's Karnika (earring) fell into the kund while bathing thus came the name of the ghat. This site is known as a tirtha or ‘crossing place’ where devotees can gain access to the divine and where gods and goddesses can come down to earth. Those who die at Varanasi are considered extremely fortunate and blessed for they attain release from samsara, the unceasing cycle of death and rebirth, and are assured of moksha or enlightenment. This is one of a series of 100 photographs, designed to be viewed through a special binocular viewer, producing a 3D effect, which were sold together with a book of descriptions and a map
. Stereoscopic cameras, those with two lenses and the ability to take two photographs at the same time, were introduced in the mid 19th century and revolutionised photography. They cut down exposure time and thus allowed for some movement in the image without blurring as subjects were not required to sit for long periods to produce sharp results.