Hinduism has a plethora of rituals, but water is one that is highly valued. This religion’s basic tenet is the endless cycle of births and rebirths until one has atoned for all of one’s past actions and fate. Purity and ultimately moksha are the ways to escape the endless cycle of birth and rebirth determined by your actions. Water has thus been incorporated into numerous Hindu rites and customs.
It only makes fitting that one of the most sought-after locations for cremations would be Varanasi, the city of ghats on the Ganges. It is thought that by dipping oneself in the river, one rids oneself of all their sins thus attaining Moksha. The city of Varanasi has close to 100 ghats.
The Dashashwamegha, Manikarnika, and Harishchandra Ghats are the most well-known and historic of all of them. Hindu kings including Ahilya Bai Holkar of the Malwa region, the Peshwas of Gwalior, Man Singh of Amber, and Jai Singh of Jaipur, among others, built some of the ghats there. Some of Benaras’ well-known figures have given their own names to the ghats. Tulsi Ghat is named after Hindu poet Tulsidas, who wrote the Ramcharitmanas, and Munshi Ghat is named after the Hindi poet Munshi Premchand. In Varanasi, many ghats have a tale attached to them, such as the Kali ghat or the erstwhile Kashi Naresh-owned Shivala ghat. Under Maratha’s patronage, the majority of Varanasi’s ghats were restored in the 18th century. The Marathas, Shindes (Scindias), Holkars, Bhonsles, Peshwes (Peshwas), and Maharajas of Benares are the current patrons of the ghats. While some ghats have private histories and users, others are connected to myths or legends. A common tourist attraction is a morning boat trip along the ghats on the Ganges.
It is regarded as one of the ideal settings for this practice in Hindu culture, where cremation is one of the rites of passage. A “Puja” (prayer) is carried out during the cremation or “final rites.” To mark the ritual, hymns and mantras are chanted during cremation. The cremation ceremony is performed at the Manikarnika and Harishchandra Ghats. Less than 2 out of every 1000 deaths occur in India each year, and 25,000 to 30,000 bodies—or an average of 80 per day—are burned in several Varanasi Ghats. The river’s contamination as a result of this practice has gained controversy. The Clean Ganges effort was supported by the Indian government in the 1980s to address cremation and other sources of pollution along Varanasi’s Ghats. The cremation is frequently performed elsewhere, and only the ashes are scattered in the river close to these Ghats.
It is an incredible experience to see the Ghats from a boat on the Ganges, especially around daybreak. They provide a bird’s eye view of the varied early-morning activities carried out by a large number of individuals, for whom the river is the centre of the universe. It’s also enjoyable to stroll the full length of the Ganges Ghats. People can visit astrologers here while shaded by palm leaves, purchase offerings for rituals, shop for silk clothing and brassware, or simply gaze out at the distant horizon where the great river meets the heavens.
The Varanasi Ghats offer a special touch to the numerous Hindu festivities that are observed in this revered city. The best time to visit Varanasi is during festivals (often from September to December), when the bustling Ghats are at their most breathtaking. The Ganga Festival, Kartik Purnima, Bharat Milap, Ram Lila, Hanuman Jayanti, Mahashivratri, Rath Yatra, Dussehra, and Diwali are some of the important holidays that are uniquely observed in this holy city. The centuries-old cities of Varanasi and Kashi must be the face of Indian heritage. The village, which was built many millennia ago on the banks of the sacred Ganges, serves as a living record of India’s history over the ages. Tulsidas wrote the Ramcharitmanas right here on the banks of the great Ganges!
Varanasi’s temples and Ghats, which have been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are what set the city apart. Around the sacred river Ganges, the city currently has 84 ghats. The Ghats see a surge in visitors from all over the world because of its distinctive atmosphere and tranquilly. These are only a few of the legends that surround Varanasi’s ghats; there are many more. Without the ghats, Varanasi wouldn’t be the bustling, chaotic city that it is today. This innately holy city is renowned for its weaving customs. The sarees from Banaras are highly prized worldwide. Do not forget to sample the renowned Banarasi paans when you are in Varanasi.