Ghats in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the River Ganges. The city has 87 ghats. Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats, while a few are used as cremation sites. Most Varanasi ghats were built after 1700 AD, when the city was part of Maratha Empire. Many ghats are associated with legends or mythologies while many ghats are privately owned. This is the list of important and interesting ghats in Varanasi with photo and description.
In 1778-1785 Kevalagiri Ghat was extended and was completely re-built by the patronage of Queen Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Madhya Pradesh. In honour and memory the ghat is named after her. There is a palace and residential district inside the compound. The service court is situated in front of the palace, which continues down towards the ghat built on the Ganga River. In addition to the palace, there is a huge residential compound and a Hanuman temple and also the two temples at the ghat. In the open porch and the veranda of the Hanuman temple there are many divine images. The Shiva temple in the upper part, is built on the raised roof. There is also servants’ quarters, some of which are used as akhara – wrestling site.
Assi Ghat is known for being a place where long-term foreign students, researchers or tourists live. It is one of ghats often visited for recreation and during festivals. About 300 people visit Assi Ghat every hour in the mornings on typical days and on festival around 2500 people arrive per hour. The ghat accommodates about 22,500 people at once during festivals like Shivratri. Accorking to a belief, goddess Durga after slaining demon Shumbha- Nishumbha had thrown her sword. The place, where sword had fallen resulted in flowing of big stream known as asi river. The on confluence place of river Ganga and Asi known as Assi ghat.
Sridhara Narayana Munshi, a finance minister in the estate of Nagpur had built this ghat and partly the palatial building. It was called Munshi ghat after his name. In 1915 the Brahmin king of Darbhanga bought this ghat and developed in the form of Darbhanga Ghat. The palatial building is made of sandstone with a beautiful porches and Greek pillars. In 1994 the Darbhanga palace was bought by the Clarks Hotel Group, who named it as Brajrama Palace, and planned to transform it into five star hotel. They have already demolished almost half of the structure from the back. Thanks to some activist organization which with the support of local people and judiciary presently stopped the demolishing and conversion process into hotel.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is known as the main ghat in Varanasi. It is located close to Vishwanath Temple and is probably the most spectacular ghat. Two Hindu theologies are associated with it: According to one, Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva. According to another legend, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses during Dasa – Ashwamedha yajna performed here. Jantar Mantar lies close to the ghat. It is an observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh. At this ghat group of priests perform “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire) daily in the evening. Dedication is made to Lord Shiva, River Ganga, Surya (Sun), Agni (Fire) and the whole universe. Special artist are held on Tuesdays and on religious festivals.
The lower portion of Causatthi Ghat was built in 1830 by the king of Digapatiya that is how this is known as Digpatia Ghat. A beautiful and architecturally designed palace was built by the king at the ghat is an example of Bengali art and style. There are porches on both sides of the palace. This ghat had privilege to provide shelter to a great Sanskrit scholar, Madhusudan Sarasvati. In the temple compound there are old images of Kali, folk goddesses, Shiva, Ganesha and Kartikeya. Among the 64 Yogini images, that are considered to be the most ancient group of goddesses, only 16 presently exist in Varanasi. Two of them are on the steps of the ghat. On 12th dark-half of Caitra (March-April) many pilgrims pay visit to the Yogini temple and take ritual bath at this ghat. Another important occasion is the evening on the day of Holi when homage ritual is performed at the ghat.
Ganga Mahal ghat
Ganga Mahal Ghat is one of the main ghats in Varanasi. It was constructed in 1830 CE by the Narayan dynasty and was originally constructed as an extension to Assi Ghat. The palace was called “Ganga Mahal”. Since the Mahal was housed on the ghat, the ghat was named “Ganga Mahal Ghat”. There are stone steps between Assi Ghat and Ganga Mahal Ghat which separates them. This palace is now used by the educational institutions. The first floor is used by the “World Literacy program of Canada” and the upper floors are used by the “Indo-Swedish Study Centre” organized by Karlstad University.
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 and is some times referred as Adi Manikarnika, which means the original creation ground. 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.
Chet Singh ghat
Chet Singh Ghat is a historical fortified Ghat. The place has witnessed a battle between the troops of Warren Hastings and Chet Singh in 1781. The fort and Ghat were taken from British by Maharaja Prabhu Narayan Singh in the later half of 19th century. Originally this Ghat was known at Khirki Ghat. Now it has four parts known as Cheta Singh Ghat, Niranjani Ghat, Nirvani Ghat and Shivala Ghat. It has three Shiva temples. Till first half of 20th century it was culturally quite important. The famous Budhwa Mangal festival which is celebrated for seven days is organised here. Due to sharp current of Ganga people avoid bathing here.
Jain Ghat was named after the 7th Jain Tirthankara Suparshvanatha who was believed to be born in the neighbourhood. In memory a temple of Surapshvanath was built in the upper part in 1885. Prior to 1931 this was part of Vaccharaja Ghat, but when Babu Shekhar Chanda has built this part separately and given the name with the support of Jain monks, that is how it is called Jain Ghat. The ghat renovated and re-constructed in 1988 by the irrigation department of the government of Uttar Pradesh. The nearby area is inhabited by boatmen who were responsible for polluting the area, but in the recent past mass awakening have prevailed in better way to improve the situation. There is huge red swastika painted on the stairs of the ghat.
When Mata Sati sacrificed her life and set her body ablaze after Raja Daksh Prajapati tried to humiliate Lord shiva in a Yagya practiced by Daksh. Lord Shiva took her burning body to the Himalaya. While going to the Himalaya Mata Sati’s parts of body started falling on earth. Lord Shiva established Shakti Peeth wherever Sati’s body had fallen. At Manikarnika ghat, Mata Sati’s Ear’s ornament had fallen. It is one of the most famous, sacred and oldest ghat in the Varanasi. Manikarnika is the main burning ghat and one of most auspicious places that a Hindu can be cremated. The cremation process is crucial in achieving nirvana, and the ritual’s many stages must be completed correctly or the soul will not transition to the afterlife.
Man Mandir Ghat was built in 1600 by Raja Man Singh, but was poorly restored in the 19th century. Huge brown ghat is known primarily for its magnificent eighteenth-century observatory, equipped with ornate window casings, and built for the Maharaja of Jaipur. It has a fine balcony at the north end of the Ghat. Famous temples such as Sthuladanta Vinayaka, Rameshwara and Someshwara temples are located near this ghat.
Like Manmandir Ghat, Mansarovar Ghat was built by Raja Man Singh of Amber in 1585. The king also added a pool nearby called Mansarovar Kund. It was believed that the water in the pool gave equal merit as the sacred Lake Mansarovar in Tibet. Thus the nearby ghat was also given the name Mansarovar. The ghat was rebuilt multiple times by the king’s descendants and by the government of Uttar Pradesh. While the ghat became pucca, the pool became smaller due to lack of space and turned into a well called Mansarovar Kupa. In 1962, the upper part of the ghat was purchased by the Kumaraswamy Matt. The Matt has now constructed a building with shrines and rest houses for pilgrims.
The old name of this Ghat is Kuvai Ghat. This was constructed by a monastery chief Dattatreya Swami in 1788. The four important idols on Narad ghat are Naradeshvara, Atrishvara, Vasukishvara and Dattatreyeshvara. The legend says that anybody bathing along with spouse in Narad Ghat is not advised because of the myth of contention between the couple in future!
Ghat was made pucca in late 19th century by Kavindra Narayan singh. There is a magnificent view at the top a compound of five-temples. Presently this ghat is the neglected one with respect to religious and cultural festivities. Even for daily sacred bath this ghat is not preferred by the visitors. In its vicinity lies the old water-front site of Prabhasa Tirtha, but presently the rituals on the name of Prabhasa Turth are performed near the Raja Ghat. The scene of this ghat has been dominated prominently by the Dhobis (washermen) so much that it was usually described as Dhobi Ghat. The wrestling place opened by Babua Pande is the landmark at this ghat. There is also a guesthouse for pilgrims. There a temple of Someshvara in the vicinity. The ghat was reconstructed in 1965 by the government of Uttar Pradesh.
The ghat was built by Rajirao Balaji in 1720. Now, the northern side is the palace and the southern part is the Annapurna Math. These two sections are divided by the stairway. Till 1980 there was a tradition to feed Brahmins, Sanskrit students and ascetics but when the INTACH started its programe and the Clarks Hotel use it for promoting a special group of tourists, the earlier traditions vanished. In 1965 the Government of Uttar Pradesh has renovated this ghat and built the steps made of red stones. A refectory is built for the Brahmins at the main entrance area. It is a two-storied building with a terrace roof. On each floor are a kitchen, a storeroom and a large hall in the centre of square courtyard. Presently the Clarks Hotel organizes various cultural evenings like Ganga Arati Ritual. It is oil lamp celebration in honour of the Ganga. There are three temples in the building compound, on the terraces: of Annapurna, Lashminarayana and Shiva.
Earlier this was part of the Dashashvamedha Ghat. In 1979 in memory and honor of Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India, this was named after him and made pucca by the Municipal Corporation of Varanasi. According to Kashiprasad Jaiswal, in the 3rd century CE the Bharshiva Naga kings had performed horse sacrifice ritual. Servants and the main horse took bath at this site, thus the name “Ghoda” (horse) ghat. Till 1958 at the bank there was a huge image of the horse. It is believed that this horse-image is shifted to Sankatamocan temple from where it is vanished, and yet no trace has been found. It is also notable that during 7th-19th century this was a known site for the marketing of horses; for transporting horses boats were used. Till early 1980s this ghat was also used as the ferry station dealing with the business of wood, sand and stone plates. The renovation and restructuring were done in 1984 by the government of Uttar Pradesh. Pilgrims take bath here too but their number is negligible. On the upper portion in the vicinity, there are three shrines of Durga, Rama Pancayatana and Shiva. The newly built stage for cultural performance there no way fits to the heritage tradition, but to shift or demolish such structure is rather impossible in the present political set up. On the name of promoting tourism it turned to the loss of heritage. It is expected that by the support of active people participation, awareness to save the age-old rich heritage, and development under the Master Plan the ghat heritage will be protected and conserved for the better befit to the society.
Ghat borderds Manikarnika to the north with its Shiva temple lying partially submerged in the Ganges River as a result of excessive weight of the ghats’ construction, about 150 years ago. The ghat is named after the Scindias, who built it. Above the ghat, several of Kashi’s most influential shrines are located within the tight maze of alleys of Siddha Kshetra – Field of Fulfillment. According to mythology, Agni, the Hindu God of Fire was born here.
In the historical past Shivala Ghat was wide spread over the nearby ghats, and by the mid 19th century this area got divided into five ghats. First of all the king of Banaras, Balwant Singh had made this ghat pucca in 1767. For the well being of the pilgrims from south India the king of Banaras has built a monastery named Brahmendra Math. In the upper part neighbourhood there are shrine of Hayagriva Keshava, and temple of Svapaneshvari, Svapaneshvara and Hanuman. Till mid 20th century this ghat was part of the great celebration of Budhva Mangal (“the old Tuesday”), on which occasion the area between Chet Singh Ghat and Shival Ghat was full of decorated boats where different parties of musical concerts performing their art. This tradition is now no more.
Tripura Bhairavi ghat
Tripura Bhairavi Ghat is a sacred spot for South Indian pilgrims particularly for those coming from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. It derives its name from Tripura Bhairavi, the fifth great cosmic power of the Hindu pantheon, whose shrine is located on the Ghat. Shrine of Varahi, who is one of the nine mother-goddesses, is also located here.
Vijayanagaram Ghat was named after the erstwhile Vijayanagaram princely state of South India. The Maharaja of Vijayanagaram provided the funds for the construction of this ghat in 1890. This is the only ghat that represents Andhra Pradesh. There are the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Nishpapeshvara. The two specific properties along the ghat are owned by the respective trusts – the houses and other properties by the inhabitants and the ghat area is owned by the Municipal Corporation.