The Ghats in Varanasi are one of the most frequented places to visit in all of Varanasi – they are as much an attraction for visiting tourists and devotees as for the city’s residents, sadhus and holy men, who begin their day with holy dip at the river.
As the Holy River Ganges runs through the city and is its lifeline, you will find that the riverfront is lined with one ghat after the other – some are dedicated as the holy bathing sites, some are renowned for their poojas, while some others are dedicated as cremation grounds.
Here is a list of the most frequently visited ghats of Varanasi:
The cleanest and most peaceful of all the ghats in Varanasi, the Assi Ghat is revered by locals as well as seasoned tourists seeking a more immersive experience of this holy city. Located at the southernmost point of the city, it is one of the last ghats of Varanasi and is famed to be the site where Tulsi Das penned most of the Epic Ramayana.
Experiences at the Assi Ghat begin early in the morning, at sunrise with the Early Morning Aarti. Group Yoga Sessions by the locals, Lemon Masala Tea / chai, and musical concerts by folk musicians in winter enhance the experience. Combine it with a Varanasi Boat Ride experience.
Many of the Varanasi boat ride experiences – be it boat rides at sunrise, sunset or through the day – begin here at Assi Ghat.
The most important ghat in Varanasi, Dashashwamedh Ghat grabs the attention of all devotees and visitors to this holy city. Every evening, throughout all the seasons, this ghat becomes a setting of the famous Evening Ganga Aarti of Varanasi, a ceremony that draws visitors, devotees and photographers from across the world.
It is a spectacular ceremony with stunning visuals and musical chants that reverberate in the air. The fragrance of the incense sticks, the aarti and the floral offerings is thick in the air and enhances the soul-enriching experience.
Lines of priests dressed in their sanctified dresses of saffron and red perform the aarti in unison, with multi-tiered lamps, flowers and milk. See them in action from the ghats or hire a boat for a boat ride in the evening with a perfect unobstructed view of the aarti.
The ceremony culminates with the floating of tiny earthen lamps set afloat in the rumbling waters of the Ganges. Join the devotees and set your own lamp afloat – they say it will fulfil your wish.
The Evening Ganga Aarti begins at around 7 pm in Summers and an hour earlier (at 6 pm) in Winters.
The Dashashwamedh Ghat is named after the legend of Brahma’s sacrifice of ten / das Ashwamedh horses for a Ashwamedh yagya.
Smaller than the rest, but the most important of all ghats, the Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi holds a powerful hold over the beliefs of ageing senior citizens of Varanasi. It is believed that anyone who dies in Varanasi and has their last rites done at Manikarnika Ghat is sure to attain Moksha or salvation from the cycle of birth and death.
This belief is so strong and widespread that dying people come from across North India to spend their last days in Varanasi. They are housed generally in hostels or ashrams specially constructed for this purpose, often spending months together in the dingy rooms, until death claims them and they finally get their wish of being cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat fulfilled.
Bizarre as it seems, the ghat holds a lure for foreign tourists unaccustomed to the faiths and beliefs of Hinduism and it is not uncommon to see them visiting the Manikarnika ghat for a view of the cremations or gliding past on a boat at the River Ganges just beyond.
As many as 200 cremations are handled at the Manikarnika Ghat on any day.
This being Varanasi, the Manikarnika ghat also has many temples – the most famous of them being the Leaning temple of Varanasi – the Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple. As with other ghats of Varanasi, the Manikarnika Ghat also has many legends associated with it.
As per one belief, the ghat was named manikarnika and became one of the major Shakti Peeths after the ear ornament of Sati fell here. Sati, Lord Shiva’s consort, self-immolated herself after her father insulted her husband by not inviting him to a yagya to which all other devas had been invited. Lord Shiva grieved for her and carried her body all over the world and the places where her body parts fell, later went on to be known as Shakti Peeths. There are 51 Shakti Peeths in all.
According to another legend, the Manikarnika Well on the Manikarnika Ghat was formed by Lord Vishnu for the bath of Lord Shiva and his consort Goddess Parvati, when they descended to earth to grant Lord Vishnu his wish of preserving Varanasi from the wrath of Lord Shiva and subsequent destruction.
Lord Vishnu’s footprints can be found on a slab at this ghat – this slab is revered as the Charanpaduka.
Note: Many touts accost visiting foreign tourists and trick them into giving money for the funeral piers of those who are waiting to die and cannot afford wood for the cremation. It is a scam and little if anything reaches those poor folks.
Just say no and move on.
Revered by the followers of the Jainism faith in India, the Jain Ghat in Varanasi dates back to the early 20th Century. Cleaner than most of the ghats, this Jain Ghat is easily discernible from the distance by the presence of two flights of stairs separated by a wide slope leading to a Jain temple with a golden spire. It is believed that the 7th Jain Tirthankara Suparshvanatha of Shvetambara Sect was born in this neighbourhood.