For any individual, not native to the Indian language and its terminology, the word Ghat is bound to be a riddler, a definite tough nut. Well, without intending to extend the gloom of uncertainity, ghats are nothing but riverfront steps on the banks of the Ganges, that lead upto the riverfront. The ghats are also an amazing seat of interest by virtue of the purpose they are involved in. While most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony (religious prayer offering) ghats, some are also used as cremation sites. The ghats were built after 1700 AD when Varanasi was a part of the Maratha dynasty. There are 87 ghats in total in Varanasi, each with its own name, arising from a particular bit of history, lore and legend and having individual significance in religion and culture.
Some of the popular ghats and the legend behind the origin of their names will be discussed in bried to capture your attention and generate interest.
Dashashwamedha Ghat which literally translates to 10 horses sacrificed. Lore and legend, both have it that Lord Bramha performed a ritualistic sacrifice of the intellect of 10 horses during a yajna or complex practice of worshipping. The present day significance of Dashashwamedha ghat is its evening aarti, or oblation rituals performed by priests on banks of the Ganges. It is an intricate and detailed performance that usually lasts upto 30 minutes of offering prayers and obeisance to the founding deities and the Gods that prevail harmony in the city and in the world in general.
Manikarnika Ghat which literally translates to Ear ring, or a precious stone or a gem used as ornamentation for the ear in the form of jewellery. Of the many legends that are associated with the origin of the name of Manikarnika Ghat, one has it that, in order to keep Lord Shiva from moving around with his devotees, his consort Goddess Parvati hid her earrings, and asked him to find them, saying that they had been lost on the banks of the Ganges. Goddess Parvati’s idea behind the fabrication was that Lord Shiva would then stay around, searching forever for the lost earrings. In this legend, whenever a body gets cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, Lord Shiva asks the soul whether it has seen the earrings. Interesting, eh?
Most of the buzz of activities and people are at Assi ghat which is at the end of the long line of continuous ghats. It is a hub for photographers and painters, as well. The ghats become very resplendent at the crack of sunset , in the evening, when in the absence of daylight, the whole place is lit up with earthen lamps offering prayers or aarti to the forces that prevail. The aarti is accompanied by chanting of religious hymns in Sanskrit.
That apart visiting tourists can take a boat ride in the Ganges, during daytime and feel the cool of the breeze in the middle of the Ganges despite the sun being above. And in the evening a boat ride to the middle of the river, can provide an amazing view of the Ganges and its banks resonating by the chorus of voices chanting hymns in perfect tuning while the lamps light up the sky in the background. As feeling of blending in with Varanasi sinks in, the evening cannot be surmised without a trip to the narrow bylane traditional bazaars of merchants displaying and selling their wares while vociferously drawing your attention. The variety of articles on display for sale are as diverse from glass bangles to earthen statuettes of Gods and Goddesses. Also highly recommended are the local delicacies and much famed bhang thandai, which is a sherbet blended in nuts and dry fruits, saffron and a generous helping of bhang, which synchronizes one to the vibe of Varanasi almost immediately. No evening is complete without generous helping from the different street food vendors that titillate your taste buds and spoil them for taste. Walk the streets and narrow lanes as you avoid a stray cow squatted in the middle of the road. And people finding their way around it.