Ghats in Varanasi - The Ultimate destination of Pilgrims
(Part - I)
“Varanasi is one of the most ancient cities of learning. This was a place where hundreds of enlightened beings lived at a time. In every street, you had an enlightened being to meet.”
Varanasi or Kashi, which has been standing the tests of time for over 5,000 years is said to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Varanasi, the holy city of India, the city of Moksha for Hindus since centuries, is known for its fine-quality silks, 'paan' and Benares Hindu University.
Varanasi is the most popular pilgrimage point for the Hindus. One of the seven holiest cities, Varanasi city is also one the Shakti Peethas and one of the twelve Jyotir Linga sites in India. In Hinduism it is believed that those who die and are cremated here get an instant gateway to liberation from the cycle of births and re-births.
Considered as the abode of Lord Shiva, Varanasi is situated on the banks of River Ganges, which is believed to have the power of washing away all of one's sins. Varanasi is symbolized by its ‘Ghats’. There are 87 ‘Ghats’ in the Varanasi city. Some of them are related to particular deity while others are simply to bathe. The famous and oldest ghats of all these are the Dashashwamegha, Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghat. Some of the ghats are made there by Hindu rulers such as Ahilya Bai Holkar of Malwa region, Peshwa’s of Gwalior, Man Singh of Amber, Jai Singh of Jaipur etc.
Some of the famous personalities of Benaras have named the ghats on their own name. Munshi Ghat is after Hindi poet the Munshi Premchand, Tulsi ghat is after Hindu poet the Tulsidas who has written Ramcharitmanas. Many ghats are associated with the legends in Varanasi like the former Kashi Naresh owns Shivala or Kali ghat. Another historically important Ghat is Panch-Ganga Ghat. Panch -Ganga Ghat as its name indicates, is where five rivers are supposed to meet.
Following are some famous Ghats in Varanasi according to my view and camera!
Assi is a clay-banked Ghat that stands at the southernmost part of Varanasi where river Assi meets Ganges. This Ghat is the first when one starts walking from South towards the Manikarnika. It is mandatory for the pilgrims to bathe at this Ghat before worshipping of huge ‘Lingam’ under a Peepal tree. Another ‘Lingam’ Asisangameshvara or the "Lord of the Confluence of the Assi River" has been placed in a small marble temple just off the Assi Ghat. It is a must-visit.
The Assi Ghat is also considered one of the five special ghats that pilgrims are supposed to bathe at in sequence during the ritual route called Panch-tirthi Yatra.
Harish Chandra Ghat
Harish Chandra Ghat is one of the oldest Ghats of Varanasi. Harish Chandra Ghat is name after a mythological King Harish Chandra, who once worked at the cremation ground here for the perseverance of truth and charity.
It is believed that the Gods rewarded him for his resolve, charity and truthfulness and restored his lost throne and his dead son to him. Harish Chandra Ghat is one of the two cremation Ghats (the other being Manikarnika Ghat) and is sometimes referred as Adi Manikarnika (the original creation ground).
Hindus from distant places bring the dead bodies of their near and dear ones to the Harish Chandra Ghat for cremation. In Hindu mythology it is believed that if a person is cremated at the Harish Chandra Ghat, that person gets salvation or "moksha". The Harish Chandra Ghat was somewhat modernized in late 1980's, when an electric crematorium was opened here.
Tulsi Ghat is another important Ghat of Varanasi. Tulsi Ghat is named after the great Hindu poet of the 16th century, Tulsidas. This Ghat is important in the Hindu mythology. Tulsi Das composed the great Indian epic, Ramcharitmanas at Varanasi. According to mythology, when the manuscript of Ramcharitmanas fell into the River Ganga it did not sink and kept floating instead.
It is also believed that the Ramlila (story of Lord Rama's life) was staged here for the first time and to memorialize this; a temple of Lord Ram was built on the Tulsi Ghat. Many of the relics of Tulsi Das are preserved at the Tulsi Ghat. The house in which Tulsidas died has been preserved and his samadhi, wooden clogs, pillow and the idol of Hanuman, which Tulsi worshipped, are all still intact here.
Tulsi Ghat is associated with a number of important activities such as bath of Lolarkkunda (to be blessed with sons and their long life) and the sacred bath to get rid of leprosy. Tulsi Ghat is also a center of cultural activities. During Hindu lunar month of Kartika (Oct/Nov), Krishna Lila is staged here with great fanfare and devotion.
Dashashwamedh ghat is one of the oldest, most spectacular and important ghat, located at the bank of the river Gange near to the old Vishwanath Temple in the Kashi. The literal meaning of the Dashashwamedh is the Ghat (river front) of the ten sacrificed horses (dash means 10, ashwa means horse, medh means sacrifice).
There are two mythologies about the ghat is that the Lord Brahma was created the Dashashwamedh ghat in order to welcome the Lord Shiva, and the second one is the Lord Brahma was sacrificed the ten horses in a yajna here. The Dashashwamedh ghat was reconstructed by the Bajirao Pesava I in the year 1740 AD. It was later reconstructed by the Queen of the Indore (the princess Ahilyabai Holkar) in the year 1774. Historically, it is considered as the most favorite and main ghat among the Hindu devotees.
The ghat has retained its beauty with the various Hindu God temples and religious sites. Pilgrims come here to perform a variety of rituals and religious activities. The evening Aarti of the Gange at this ghat attracts huge crowd from every corner of the city. Some of the devotees come here daily in the morning to pay homage to their Lord after having a holy bath in the Gange water.
Man Mandir Ghat
Maharajah Man Singh of Jaipur built Man Mandir Ghat in 1600. Man Mandir Ghat has an Observatory built by Raja Sawai Jai Singh in 1710, the founder of the city of Jaipur. The observatory is made up of stone instruments and is very small compared to the ones in Jaipur or Delhi. It is a little hard to find.
A Siva-linga temple is located near this ghat, where the linga is immersed in water. The house of the Dom Raja, who is in charge of the cremation grounds, is nearby and has tigers painted on it. Dom Raja is a hereditary title.
To be continued..............