It is believed that once Brahma weighed the heavens against Kashi, and Kashi being heavier (with the whole cosmos contained within) sank downwards; while the skies rose upwards, despite all the efforts of all the Gods.
The city sits atop Shiva’s trishul removed from the world and unmoved by its rhythms. It is indestructible and incorruptible and lives in a permanent state of purity.
Most of these ghats were built around the 18th century under the Maratha rule patronized by Scindhias, Holkars, Bhonsles, and Peshwas while many are associated with legends or mythologies. The best way to soak it in is to take a boat ride at sunrise when everything is bathed in the heavenly glow of the morning sun and it is like going along the lifeline of Banaras.
It is all-powerful, all sacred, and auspicious. All the essence of Hindu religion is in the ghats because every ghat has a Shivling and 330 million gods reside on this riverfront.
Sunset time has a tranquil ambiance and aroma of religious activities along with the different aartis in praise of River Ganga. There is something enchanting at every corner representing Muslim, Christian, and Hindu influence.
Varanasi, aka Banaras, has 88 ghats but this number has changed with years because of some additions. Each ghat has a name, special architecture, cultural and religious significance, and story related to it making them important.
Most of my Varanasi Ghats explorations have been on the boat rides usually taken on the same boat since 2006. Only once I explored them by walking along the river but that becomes a bit tiring.
This visit we were staying at a hotel on Assi Ghat (previously most of the stays were at BHU guest houses). After the sumptuous mouth-watering breakfast we were back at Assi Ghat.
First and foremost we visited a Shivling under a Peepal tree as well as Asisangameshwar Lingam in a temple on the ghat. A jetty has been recently added to the ghat as I didn’t notice during my previous visits.
Moving northwards first thing that came across were two beautiful heritage palaces. First, was the Ganga Mahal constructed in 1830 by the Narayan dynasty as an extension of Assi Ghat. It was now being used as an educational institute for literacy programs conducted by agencies from Canada and Sweden.
The second palatial house was at the Rewa Ghat, another extension of Assi Ghat. It was built by Lala Misir, priest of Ranjeet Singh King of Punjab in 1879, and was known as Lala Ram Ghat.Maharaja of Rewa bought it later and named it Rewa Ghat and the palace displays the royal insignia.
Tulsi Ghat named after the famous poet Goswami Tulsidas who wrote the famous epic Ramcharitra Manas. It was renovated and cemented by the BD Birla family in 1941.
It also housed a very sacred pond known as Lolarka Kund, dedicated to Sun God and is believed to fulfill the wishes of childless women. This Ghat also was home to the famous Tulsi Pehalwan Akhara. It is believed that the first Ramleela (staging of Lord Ram’s story) was staged here.
Tulsi Das Ji died here and his house has been preserved by the authorities. There was not much to see at the Bhadaini Ghat except for wall graffiti of Hanuman Ji on the pumping station and the water work building.
Next was Janki Ghat, dedicated to Sita (Wife of God Rama) which was earlier known as Girdhara Lal Ghat. It was built in 1860 by Rai Girdhara Lal. Queen of Sitamarhi, Bihar in 1870 made it partly cemented and built a temple in the name of Sita apart from two temples dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu.
Anandmai Ghat named after Ma Anandmai, the 20th-century saint. It housed temples of Goddess Annapurna, Shiva, and a yajna hall. Going further was the Vaccharaja Ghat named after a wealthy merchant who built it in 1790.
After 1931 a portion of this Ghat was named Jain Ghat after the 7th Jain Tirthankar Supashvanatha, who was born here.
Many boatmen families live in the area adjacent to Jain Ghat and Nishad Ghat was carved out of Prabhu Ghat in memory of the boatman who ferried Rama across the river.
Boatmen also built a temple in his memory and named it as Nishad Raj Temple. Panchkota Ghat is on the north side of Prabhu Ghat, built by a Bengal King in the 19th century. Prabhu Ghat was made in reminiscence of the Prabhu Narayan Singh dynasty of Banaras royals.
Darshika Shah and Temsutula of a Varanasi NGO Sakaar Seva Samiti working tirelessly to clean the Banaras Ghats launched Mission Prabhu Ghat and have been applauded by the honorable Prime Minister for their exemplary work.
Chet Singh Ghat had a prominent structure, Chet Singh Fort. It was the place of battle between Raja Chet Singh (ruler of Banaras state) and Warren Hastings in 1781 which was won by British. Locals described as a haunting place where monsters have been seen with musical sounds of several musical instruments which disappear on approaching.
A famous seven days Budhwa Mangal festival is held here every year. This area of river front was earlier known as Khirki Ghat but was later divided in four Chet Singh, Niranjani, Nirvani and Shivala. Naga Sadhu and their sects occupy two of these.
Niranjani Ghat was established with a Naga saint in 1897 for Niranjani Akhara. It is believed that Buddha bathed in Ganga at this ghat. Further north is Mahanirvani Ghat belonging to a different group of Naga Sadhu.
Shivala Ghat is one of the most popular ghats on the riverfront with a Shiva temple built by Nepalese King Sanjay Vikram Singh in the 19th century. It had few temples and monasteries along with a place for music concerts and art celebrations. Dandi Ghat was one of the cleanest ghats.
This ghat was for the followers of Dandi Panth who carry a stick with them. The adjacent portion was described by our guide as the Hanuman Ghat where the famous Krishna Bhakti Cult saint Vallabha once lived. Goswami Tulsi Das Ji is credited to have built a temple here and shrine is believed to radiate positive energy all around it.
In older times it was known as Rameshwaram Ghat believed to have been established by Lord Ram. It is also considered as the site of Juna Akhara of Naga Sadhu and is very popular with wrestlers and bodybuilders. A little further was Karnataka Ghat named because of the presence of Karnataka guest house built by Maharaja of Mysore Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar. On the steps was a small shrine Ruru Bhairava.
Stay Tuned for more such mesmerizing escapades!