Oldest living city in the world, holiest city of India, and a mystical, mysterious town, Benaras is without doubt one of the most important tourist destinations of India. Its mighty presence by the banks of sacred River Ganges is boosted by the legend which describes it as the abode of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Such is the pious nature of the city that it is believed that someone who takes his last breath here is bound to achieve salvation or moksha.
Apart from that, Benaras is India’s answer to the renaissance movement through rich culture, esoteric knowledge, devotion, art and philosophy. Around 100 ghats border the Ganges in Varanasi, places thronged with devotees looking to wash their sins by taking a holy dip. 25 of them constitute the main group that extends from Assi Ghat north to Raj Ghat. Let’s take a brief look at the cultural and religious importance of some of the pivotal ghats:
Background for the film ‘Mohalla Assi,’ it’s the confluence of Ganges and Assi. It is at the extreme southern end of the main ghats, a reason it is comparatively less crowded and chaotic compared to the others. Although, its importance is immense in Hinduism. Pilgrims take a dip before worshipping Lord Shiva, who is slated to be present in the form of a massive lingam under a pipal tree nearby. A variety of shops and cafes surround the ghat.
Chet Singh Ghat
A ghat with rich historical importance, it is a memoir to the 18th century battle between Maharaja Chet Singh and the British army. A fort stands there, marking the ferocious battle.
It stands among the favourite ghats. Imperialism oozes through it because of visually stunning and architecturally amazing features in the vicinity. The royal family of Bihar built the astonishing palace in the early 1900s that stands as a testament of opulence. Next to it is the Munshi Ghat which was constructed by Sridhara Narayana Munshi in 1912, finance minister of the State of Darbhanga.
Famous for the iconic Ganga aarti that takes place every evening; this ghat receives the highest footfall. It is among the oldest and holiest of Varanasi ghats. There is always a carnival going on here with crowds of pilgrims, priests, hawkers and beggars. You can find the vibrant atmosphere anytime from dawn till dusk. You can sit for hours and enjoy the frolic. The marketplace here is also hectic all the time.
Man Mandir Ghat
Another one of the really old Benaras ghats, Man Mandir has a visible Rajput impact on its architecture. Rajput’s Maharajah Man Singh of Jaipur got his palace built here in 1600s. Sawai Jai Singh II followed suit in 1730s by building an observatory. Centuries have passed but the astronomical instruments are still in excellent condition. The open terraces give amazing views of the banks as well as Ganges.
The most picturesque and peaceful ghat, it’s ironic that it lies close to the Manikarnika Ghat (the burning ghat). The Shiva Temple that is partially submerged is a famous attraction. A narrow maze of alleyways above the ghat hides a number of crucial temples. Referred to as the Sidha Kshetra, pilgrims visit the place frequently.
The Maratha influence on Benaras, this ghat was built by the ruling family of Nagpur, part of the Bhosale family. It’s small, but artistic with distinctive windows and remains popular with the tourists.