“Kashi Ke Kankar Mein Shiva Shankar” the literal meaning is Lord Shiva is in every pebble of Kashi. Yes, to some extent it is true. But as you walk you will find important Mosques and Sufi Shrines there, these are also significant parts of Varanasi or Benaras, making it an important Islamic city as well even it is known as a Hindu City. I have been there for only 2/3 days and it was impossible for me to explore the authentic colours of the city. Although, I have tried so much, at least to touch those important places. Among everything, the most important are Ghats (Embankment of on the riverfront) on the river bank of Varanasi. It is truly a fascinating and charming city. The city is special for all, but I feel like, especially for Bengalis and there are numerous reasons for that but among them, one reason is a connection of Satyajit Ray‘s Film “Joi Baba Felunath” and Varanasi. The film had been shot extensively in Varanasi and the impressions are so deep into the minds of Bengalis. When I was there, I was in search of those shooting locations. Happily, I found one shooting location of the film over there. One very important sequence of the film “Joi Baba Felunath” was filmed there.
The majority of the Ghats of Varanasi are associated with legends or Mythologies and many ghats are also associated with Empires like Marathas, Peshwa, Holkars, Bhonsles and Scindias. Most of the Ghats were Built around 1700 AD, although in 800 BCE, the main city was located near the northern bank of RajGhat, where river Varana flowed into the Ganges. The dock was also important for the trade route from Bengal to northern regions.
1. Darbhanga Ghat – This Ghat is located next to south of Dashashwamedh Ghat next to Rana Mahal Ghat. This ghat is an extension of Munshi Ghat, as it has been purchased by the King of Darbhanga. The extension part became Darbhanga Ghat. Beautiful Darbhanga Palace is over there, an intricate and outstanding structure. It was erected in 1915 by King of Darbhanga, Bihar but it has been sold and now it is converted into a luxury hotel. When I was there, It was under renovation and I have tried so much to enter into the palace but security didn’t allow me. An important sequence of Satyajit Ray’s Film “Joi Baba Felunath” was filmed there, as I am very fond of Ray’s Films, that’s the reason behind this that I have tried many times to convince the security guards to let me allow to sawing the palace but felt heartbroken.
2. Assi Ghat – This is the city’s most popular and spiritually important Ghat. According to Mythology or if we refer ancient texts, Assi was a rivulet that flowed to the river Ganges. Assi river and Gange’s presence made this place auspicious for bathing. There is an another faith of Hindus is associated with Assi Ghat that is, Tulsidas left this place for heavenly abode. There is Shiva Linga and a Hanuman Shrine in the Ghat under a Peepal Tree (Ficus Religiosa) has Puranic significance. Apart from everything this Ghat is very spacious and the huge staircases that are made it more popular and due to these tourists and even Varanasi like the place very much. It’s viewed northward to Malviya Bridge and Pontoon Bridge is just superb, especially at dusk. Every day at dusk a festive atmosphere, thousands of people arrive on a daily basis to chat on the steps, also take boat rides.
3. Manikarnika Ghat – This is one of the two cremations ghats of the city. According to Hindu mythology, this ghat is especially sacred and if anyone cremated here receives Moksha after the death. There is a myth that mentioned, Shiva gives Taraka Mantra in the ear of the dead so that they can cross the river called Boitarani. Hindus believe that bathing here is very sacred. Actually, the ghat is divided into two sections, one section is used as a cremation ground and another for sacred baths. There is Kund or Pond called Manikarnika Kund and according to Hinduism, this pond was built by Lord Vishu for the bath of the couple (Shiva and his wife Parvati).
4. Dashashwamedh Ghat – It is referred as a “Main Ghat” of Varanasi by the tourists and the guides. This is the 35th ghat of Varanasi. Most important temple Vishwanath Temple is located near to this ghat. You can see famous Bamboo Umbrellas all along the Dashashwamedh Ghat. Under the bamboo umbrellas, sit priests known as Pandas, Ghatis and Tirtha Purohit, those who assists pilgrims conducting various Hindu rites and rituals. Two Hindu legends is associated with the name Dashashwamedh. According to one , Brahma sacrificed ten horses during Dasaashwamedha Yagya performed here. Another one is, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Shiva. Anyway, this ghat look magnificent during sunset, because an organization called Ganga Seva Nidhi conducts Ganga Arti at sunset on a daily basis.
5. Anandamayi Ghat – This is the one of the famous ghats in Varanasi and it is named after a famous woman saint, Anandamayi Maa (Born as Nirmala Sundari on 30 April 1896 to Bipin Bihari Bhattacharya and Mokshada Sundari Devi). She was known for his ability to heal all kinds of mental and physical ailments by her aura of calm. Many famous persons like Former Prime minister of India Indira Gandhi, famous French filmmaker, Arnaud Desjardan and famous dancer Uday Shankar were her followers. Many scholars were attracted towards her spiritual teaching, specially mentioned Mahamahopadhyay Gopinath Kaviraj and Triguna Sen were among her early follower. Her Ashram for girls stands just above the ghat.
6. Raj Ghat – This ghat was an important dock for trade along the northern road called Grand Trunk road and this road continues over the Malviya bridge all the way to Kolkata. Malviya Bridge was built in 1887 and at that time, it was known as Lord Dufferin Bridge. There is a huge white temple dedicated to Raidas on the ghat and Raidas (1418 – 1547) was poet-saint, who preached personal devotion without idols.
7. Tulsi Ghat – This is one of the sacred ghats of Varanasi, as it named after poet-saint Tulsidas and he lived there while he wrote Ramcharitmanas (Ramcharitmanas is the translation of Sanskrit epic, Ramayana into the accessible version in vernacular ). It is believed that he built this ghat by the 16th century and also established a monastery, a Hanuman Temple and an Akhara, just above the Ghat. Every year, during Ramlila in the season of Ashwin (September – October) Ram’s fascinating story is enacted over many nights. During Ramlila, Tulsi Ghat is converted to one of the stage areas used for the performances.
8. Harishchandra Ghat – This ghat is named after Maharaja Harishchandra, his name is associated with “Truth” or Satya. Once Rishi Viswamitra asked for Dakshina (Ritual fee) from Harishchandra and he generously gave his entire kingdom to Viswamitra. Viswamitra accepted the kingdom but was not happy with the fee. To be true to his word, Harishchandra sold his wife and son into slavery and he traveled to Kashi. In Kashi, he devoted himself as a worker in a crematorium. One day his wife arrived at Kashi with the dead body of their son. His wife could not afford the crematorium fee but Harishchandra turned them away. Gods were watching Harishchandra carefully and were pleased with strengths of his character. Finally God returned his kingdom and family. Harishchandra Ghat is the oldest ghat and one of the two cremations ghats of the city. This ghat is even older than Manikarnika Ghat and because of this sometimes it is call as “Adi Manikarnika” or “Original Manikarnika”.
9. Ahilyabai Ghat – This Ghat is named after Queen or Rani Ahilyabai of Indore in 19th Century. Rani Ahilyabai built many temples in Banaras or Varanasi including famous temple Vishwanath Temple and Amethy Temple on Manikarnika Ghat.
10. Munshi Ghat – This Ghat is named after Sridhar Narayan Munshi, a financial minister of Nagpur Estate. It was established in 1912 and in the year of 1915, it has been purchased by the king of Darbhanga. Later on, it has been extended and the extended part is called Darbhanga Ghat.
11. Dr. Rajendra Prasad Ghat – Dr. Rajendra Prasad was the First President of the Republic of India (1950- 1962). To honor, this Ghat is named after him.
12. Bajirao Ghat – This ghat was built by Bajirao Peshva in 1735 AD, and also built a palace there. This ghat is named after him. During the construction of the ghat, due to some fault in the construction, the entire ghat was abandoned. Queen of Gwalior Rani Baijabai gets it repaired and rebuilt the entire ghat in the year of 1830.
13. Raja Ghat – This Ghat was built by First Maratha King Bajirao Balaji in 1720 AD and old name of the ghat was Amrita Rao Ghat
14. Manasarovara Ghat – Manassarvar is a Himalayan Lake and this ghat is named after the lake. This ghat was built by Maharaja Man Singh of Amber (Presently, Rajasthan).
15. Narada Ghat – This ghat is named after Narada, a very important character from Mahabharata. Earlier, this ghat was known as Kuvai Ghat and built by Dattatreya Swami in 1788.
16. Man Mandir Ghat – Rajput King of Amber Raja Savai Man Singh built a palace and this ghat is named after him in the year 1585. The palace is very elegant and there is an astronomical observatory on its roof built by Man Singh’s successor, Jai Singh during the period of 1710-1737. The old name of the ghat Somesvara ghat.
17. Bhonsale Ghat – The Maratha rulers of Nagpur (Maharastra) built a palace and the ghat in the 19th century. The palace is made of sandstone and the height of the palace is breathtaking. The roof the palace has two temples of Shiva and Vishnu.
18. Prayag Ghat – This ghat represents Prayag or Allahabad. Prayag is considered as a holiest city in Hinduism as it’s location on the Triveni Sangam or confluence of Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati.
19. Dandi Ghat – This ghat is named after saints, who are known carrying Dandi (Dandi or Danda mean Stick) and they have their own monasteries nearby.
20. Hanuman Ghat – Very easily understood that this ghat is named after God Hanuman. According to Ramayana, Hanuman is Ram’s devotee and under his supervision monkey brigade built a bridge across to Lanka. A temple of Ruru (Dog Form of Bhairav) is there on the ghat and it is a very famous temple.
21. Shivala Ghat – Above the staircase of the ghat there is a Shiva Temple and this ghat is named after the Shiva temple. Shivala is also a neighborhood, extended part of the of the ghat and populated by South Indians community that migrated over last two centuries in Varanasi. Apart from their homes, there are many Monasteries, Temples, and Ashramas
22. Vachcharaj Ghat – This ghat is very special for Jains and Jainism began to blossom there around 6th century BCE along with Buddhism. Vachcharaj was a Jain banker and he contributed so much to established Banaras (Varanasi) as a center for trade. He built this Ghat in the 19th century and this named after him. Above the stairs, there is a narrow place is the birth place for Suparshvanth, who was the Seventh (The 24th Tirthankar was Mahavira, who lived in 6th Century BCE and a contemporary of Lord Buddha)Tirthankar (Tirthankars were Jain’s Spiritual Leaders, also called Jinas or Victorious once) for the Jains. Just above the wall there is a Golden spire which indicates a Jain Temple and a Jain Ghat.
23. Nishadraj Ghat – Nisshadraj is the deity of boatmen and fisherman and a mythical character from Ramayana. According to Ramayana, he was the chief of the boatmen, who helped God Ram, Sita and Laxman to cross the river Sarayu. A small temple of Nishadraj is siting little high above the ghat.
24. Panchakota Ghat – Panchakota or Panchkota Ghat was built by the King of Panchkota, Bengal in the 19th century. Although, It has some historical relevance but spiritually has lesser relevance. King also constructed a palatial building on the top of the ghat and there are two Shiva temples adjacent to the building.
25. Prabhu Ghat – Maharaja Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh saheb Bahadur from Narayan dynasty who ruled Banaras 1822 to1889. During Indian mutiny in 1857, he remained loyal to the British and he was awarded Maharaja title. Prabhu Narayan Singh was the nephew and adopted son of Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh, who ruled in the period of 1889 to 1931. This ghat is named after Maharaja Prabhu Narayan Singh.
26. Chet Singh Ghat – First Maharaj of Banaras was Balwant Singh and his illegitimate son was Chet Singh. Chet Singh became Maharaja by bribing the Nawab of Awadh and secured his legacy over Balwant Singh’s nephew Mahip Narayan Singh. Chet Singh’s legacy followed by political squabbles with Governor General Warren Hastings. In the year of 1781, Warren Hastings sent his army to Chet Singh’s fort and Chet Singh managed to escape, while Hastings’s army was fighting outside the fort. Anyway, this Ghat with a magnificent fort like palace is named after him.
27. Pande Ghat – This Ghat is named in 1807 after a legendary wrestler Babua Pande. He established an Akhara above the steps of the ghat. Presently, only dhobies and boats are to be seen here.
28. Digpatia Ghat – This Ghat and along with stately palace were built by the King of Digpatia in Bengal in the year of 1830.
29. Chauki Ghat – This ghat is very popular among locals of Varanasi. The temple of Hanuman and Nag Devta under a Peepal (Ficus Religiosa) tree is very famous. This ghat is the entry point for the Kedar temple. But the ghat is famous for Chess games and nap among the locales. On the lane above the ghat, there are several authentic south Indian Restaurants.
30. Chausathi Ghat – Chausathi meaning in Hindi is sixty-four and at the top of the ghat there is the temple of 64 Goddess. The temple enshrines 64 statues of Yoginis (Yoginis is lady mates of Goddess Kali).
31. Rana Mahal Ghat – The king of Udaipur (Rajasthan) Rana Jagat Singh built a palace along with this Ghat in the year of 1670 AD. The architecture of the palace is a perfect example of Rajasthani style of architecture. Rana Mahal Udaipur Estate trust is taking care of the Ghat and the palace.
32. Adi Keshav Ghat – Further north beyond the Malviya bridge is Adi Keshav Ghat and there is a Adi Keshav temple with Shiva linga and an image of Vishnu.
33. Naya Ghat – Naya mean New and this ghat was built by Peshwa Amrit Rao and dedicated to Lord Ganesha. The ghat is one of the main docks of Varanasi. The stairs led up to a wide lane called Gola Gali. At the bottom of the stairs of the ghat stands Vachcharaj Ji’s haveli or mansion.
34. Ram Ghat – This is one of the popular ghat among bathers and there is a small temple, specially dedicated to Lord Ram. According to epic Ramayana Ram is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. There are many deities in the temple but Ram stands on the higher row with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman.
35. Lakshmanbala Ghat – This ghat is named after Lord Ram’s brother Lakshman. Lakshman is worshiped and loved for his loyalty to his brother Ram. A temple stands there called Lakshmanbala Temple is dedicated to Lakshman and the present condition of the temple is too poor,as it is collapsed partially.
36. Badri Narayan Ghat – This ghat was built by the state of Gwalior and there is a temple of Badri Narayan in the Himalayas, is named after the temple. Ghat was also known as Mahatha/ Matha or Balabai Ghat, as Balabai of Gwalior had patronised to build this ghat.
37. Riva Ghat – This Ghat built by King of Riva and also his palace called Riva Kothi. The palace has two magnificent gateway flanking a central doorway. Presently, it’s converted to students hostel of Banaras Hindu University for students studying music.
39. Mir Ghat – In the year 1735 this ghat named after Mir Rustam Ali, who was a popular tax collector. Even his name appears in Holi and Chaiti ( Two forms of seasonal folk singing).
40. Nepali Ghat – Nepali Ghat is famous for Nepalese Temple on the ghat. Nepalese King of the Gorkha Dynasty built this temple in the 19th century, during that time Varanasi was popular with Nepalese. The architecture of the temple follows the architecture of Pashupatinath temple, which is situated in Nepal, Kathmandu. This temple is built on a square platform and the pillars are decorated with erotic images. An idol of Pashupatinath (Pashupatinath is a manifestation of Shiva) is installed in the inner sanctum of the temple. The temple is required a ticket to enter.
41. Karnataka State Ghat – This ghat is built by the state of Mysore or Karnataka. A glorious building extending over the ghat is a guest house and run by Karnataka State Government.
Dance and Music Festivals on Ghats
Bhurba Mangal Concerts – This festival is held on the first Tuesday after the festival of Holi. Where – Dashashwamedh Ghat and all ghats of Varanasi.
Sankat Mochan Music Festival – Every year during the month of Chaitra (March-April) this festival is held at Sankat Mochan Temple near Durga Kund with local and national artists performing on the stage. Where – Sankat Mochan Temple near Durga Kund.
Ganga Mahotsav Music Festival – On the last night of the fortnight in the month of Kartik (November – December). Where – Dr. Rajendra Prasad Ghat.
Dhrupad Mela Music Festival – Every year after the festival of Maha Shivratri a free public music festival is held for three night and it celebrates Indian Classical Music. Where – Tulsi Ghat
Durga Mandir Music Festival – Every year during the month of Bhadra (August – September) Durga Temple hosts three nights classical music and dance festival with local and national artists performing on the stage. Where – Durga Mandir, Durga Kund.
How to reach
Varanasi is well connected to all major cities of India by Air. There are many domestic flights to and from Varanasi to all major cities. The nearest airport is Varanasi airport known as Lal Bahadur Shastri International Airport. It is located at Babatpur, about 18 km north-west of the city, Varanasi.
Main railway station is Varanasi Cant.
Special Thanks to Samrat Dey Sarkar, Without his help it couldn’t be possible for me to explore those Ghats.
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