Ghats of Varanasi
Of the innumerable practices that Hinduism includes, it places great importance on water. The term Hindu itself is derived from Hind, the Persian translation of the river Indus. The infinite cycle of birth and rebirth until one has fulfilled their destiny and karma, is central to this religion. The means to get out of this vicious cycle of being born and reborn based on your deeds is to attain purity and eventually moksha. Thus, water has been integrated into many rituals and practices within Hinduism.
It only makes sense that Varanasi, the city of ghats on the river Ganges is perhaps one of the most sought after places for cremations. It is believed that if dipped in the river at the ghats of Varanasi, one rids oneself from all their sins, thus attaining moksha.
There are almost 100 ghats in Varanasi along the river Ganges that are mainly used for puja rituals and bathing. Of the 100, around 25 are widely popular among tourists. The ghats adorn the edges of the river like an intricate necklace. While the city is flooded with a constant crowd of locals, tourists, foreigners and students, Assi Ghat provides a place of peace and tranquility, away from the heart of the city. It is the southernmost ghat situated at the confluence of river Assi and Ganges. Worshippers of Lord Shiva bathe here and offer their prayers to the lingam erected in His name.
The Manikarnika Ghat, or simply put the burning ghat, is solely for this purpose. Throughout the day a thick black smoke rises from here as bodies are burnt and cremated continuously. Two thirds of the total number of cremations is held here, while the rest are held at the Harishchandra Ghat. A sight of this tradition truly makes one see life coming full circle, and how common an event death is.
Dasaswamedh Ghat is the heart and soul of all ghats. It comes to life every evening when a vibrant crowd makes its way towards the ghat for the daily Ganga aarti. It is believed to be the place where Lord Brahma ‘created’ Lord Shiva and welcomed him. And it is here, as is believed, that Lord Brahma sacrificed horses as part of a yagna to the sacred fire.
However, there is another side to Varanasi beyond its religious significance. The Darbhanga Ghat is the most photogenic of all, and also responsible for the commercialisation of the city. It is one of the most visually appealing and architecturally superior in the fray. The royal family of Bihar got it constructed in the early 1900s, along with a beautiful palace, which has now been converted into a hotel.
Each of these ghats has an interesting history attached to it. One of them is the Chet Singh Ghat. It was the battle ground for the war waged between Maharaja Chet Singh, ruler of Varanasi and the first British governor of India, Warren Hastings. Unfortunately, he was defeated by the British and had to resort to escaping.
Every ghat of Varanasi has a story attached to it, these are only a few. They breathe life into this vibrant and chaotic city; Varanasi wouldn’t be Varanasi without its ghats.