In Pictures : When night engulfs the ghats of Benaras

Only a few days after the full moon of Guru Purnima, I had the opportunity of visiting the ancient city of Benaras. Although I was here to conduct workshops for children at the Varanasi Children Literature Festival, but during those three days of my stay here, I visited the ghats every night. Even during my previous visit to the holy city a few years ago, the ghats had a certain calling I could not escape. But this time, I was more familiar with the landscape.

Strolling along the 3.5 kilometer-long stretch from the Assi Ghat to the Manikarnika Ghat and back, and listening to the river Ganga quietly lapping against the never-ending steps of the ghats; I scribbled in my pocket diary, and clicked pictures which feel highly inadequate when compared to the visceral experience of actually being there in the middle of November, with the air slightly chilly.

However, we have selected and showcased below, some of the pictures which translate the experience of the ghats of Benaras during night-time, where the nurturing river and its people never sleep.

Manikarnika Ghat is among the holiest cremation grounds where the dead are brought on their last journey. The funeral pyre here is considered to be burning for ages, as dead bodies are brought here all night long. Scores of elderly men and women from across the country visit the city during their last days, with the wish of being cremated by the holy river.

Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main ghat in Varanasi on the Ganga River. It is located close to the Vishwanath Temple. According to legend, Lord Brahma sacrificed ten horses during Dasa-Ashwamedha yajna performed here. The present ghat was built by Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao in the year 1748. A few decades later, Ahilyabahi Holkar, the Queen of Indore rebuilt the ghat in the year 1774. Close to the ghat, overlooking the Ganga lies the Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur in the year 1737.

Harish Chandra Ghat is one of the oldest ghats of Varanasi, and the second cremation ground by the banks of river Ganges. Named after a mythological King Harish Chandra, who is believed to have worked at the cremation ground here, whose resolve, charity and truthfulness led to the Gods restoring his lost throne and resurrecting his dead son back to life. Often referred as Adi Manikarnika (the original creation ground). Hindus from distant places bring the dead bodies of their near and dear ones to the Harish Chandra Ghat for cremation. During the late 1980’s, an electric crematorium was also opened here to avoid polluting the river and air around with traditional burning practices.

Tulsi Ghat is named after Goswami Tulsidas, who lived here while he wrote the Ramcharitmanas, under the patronage of Raja Todar Mal, who was the Finance Minister and one of the Navaratnas of the Mughal emperor Akbar.

Assi Ghat is the southernmost ghat in Varanasi. Close to the BHU campus, the ghat is known for being a place where long-term foreign students, researchers, and tourists live.

Sourav Roy is a Bengaluru-based journalist, poet, and translator. He is the Founding Editor of the Bengaluru Review magazine.

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