The Ghats of Varanasi: Sacred Steps to the Divine

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage


Varanasi, the spiritual heart of India, is renowned for its ghats—stepped embankments leading down to the holy river Ganges. These ghats, numbering over 80, each have their unique history, significance, and charm, contributing to Varanasi’s reputation as a timeless city of spirituality and tradition. Let’s delve into the mesmerizing world of Varanasi’s ghats, exploring their historical, cultural, and religious significance.

A Brief Overview

The ghats of Varanasi are primarily used for bathing, rituals, and cremation. They stretch along the river for several kilometers, with each ghat serving a distinct purpose. The majority of these ghats were built in the 18th century, although some have origins dating back to much earlier periods. The ghats are a major attraction for pilgrims and tourists alike, drawing people from all over the world who seek to experience the city’s unique spiritual ambiance.

Key Ghats and Their Significance

  1. Dashashwamedh Ghat
  • Significance: This is the most prominent and oldest ghat in Varanasi. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma created this ghat to welcome Lord Shiva.
  • Rituals: It is famous for the evening Ganga Aarti, a spectacular ritual involving fire, chants, and music, attracting large crowds daily.
  1. Manikarnika Ghat
  • Significance: Known as the main cremation ghat, it is believed that dying here and being cremated at Manikarnika Ghat breaks the cycle of rebirth and grants moksha (liberation).
  • Mythology: It is said that Goddess Parvati’s earring (Manikarnika) fell here, giving the ghat its name.
  1. Assi Ghat
  • Significance: Situated at the confluence of the Assi and Ganges rivers, Assi Ghat is popular among both locals and tourists. It is particularly significant for its association with the legend of Goddess Durga.
  • Activities: Apart from rituals, it is a favored spot for morning yoga sessions and offers a serene environment compared to the busier ghats.
  1. Harishchandra Ghat
  • Significance: Another important cremation ghat, named after the legendary King Harishchandra, who worked here for a time.
  • Legend: King Harishchandra is celebrated for his truthfulness and integrity, and this ghat symbolizes his unwavering devotion to truth.
  1. Tulsi Ghat
  • Significance: Named after the great poet-saint Tulsidas, who authored the Ramcharitmanas here. It is a hub for cultural activities and events.
  • Historical Note: This ghat is associated with the revival of the tradition of Ram Lila, a dramatic re-enactment of the life of Lord Rama.

Lesser-Known but Intriguing Ghats

  1. Panchganga Ghat
  • Significance: Believed to be the confluence of five sacred rivers, it holds immense religious importance.
  • Historical Structures: It houses the Alamgir Mosque, built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, which stands as a reminder of the city’s diverse cultural history.
  1. Scindia Ghat
  • Significance: Known for its partially submerged Shiva temple, this ghat is both picturesque and steeped in legend.
  • Mystical Aura: The collapsed temple adds a mystical charm, making it a favorite spot for photographers and history enthusiasts.
  1. Darbhanga Ghat
  • Architecture: Famous for its magnificent palatial structures, reflecting the opulence of the erstwhile royal family of Darbhanga.
  • Cultural Importance: It is a hub for cultural and musical events, enhancing Varanasi’s vibrant cultural landscape.

Cultural and Religious Activities

The ghats of Varanasi are not just steps leading to the river; they are vibrant stages for an array of cultural and religious activities. From the crack of dawn to the quiet of night, these ghats witness a constant stream of rituals, prayers, and ceremonies. Morning rituals often include the Brahmin priests offering prayers, people performing Surya Namaskar (sun salutation), and pilgrims taking the holy dip in the Ganges.

The evening Ganga Aarti, particularly at Dashashwamedh Ghat, is a must-experience event. The synchronized performance by priests, with the Ganges flowing serenely in the background, creates a mesmerizing and spiritual atmosphere that leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of the spectators.

The Spiritual Significance

For centuries, the ghats have been considered the epicenter of Varanasi’s spiritual life. They symbolize the journey from life to death, with several ghats dedicated specifically to cremation, reflecting the Hindu belief in the cyclical nature of life and death. The rituals performed here are thought to purify the soul, and the act of bathing in the Ganges is believed to wash away sins, paving the way for spiritual liberation.

List of Ghats

Here is a comprehensive list of the ghats of Varanasi, each with its unique charm and significance:

  1. Adi Keshava Ghat: Located at the confluence of the Varuna and Ganges rivers, it is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu first placed his feet in Varanasi.
  2. Ahilyabai Ghat: Named after the Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar, who renovated this ghat.
  3. Bachraj Ghat: A Jain ghat with three Jain temples.
  4. Bajirao Ghat: Named after the famous Maratha Peshwa Bajirao I.
  5. Bhonsle Ghat: Built by the Bhonsle dynasty of Nagpur, featuring several shrines.
  6. Chet Singh Ghat: Known for the historic battle between the British and Chet Singh.
  7. Dandi Ghat: Associated with the ascetic order of Dandi Swamis.
  8. Ganga Mahal Ghat: Features a palace built by a Maharaja of the Gwalior dynasty.
  9. Hanuman Ghat: Believed to have been built by Lord Hanuman himself.
  10. Jain Ghat: Popular among Jain pilgrims.
  11. Jalasayin Ghat: Known for its underground Shiva temple.
  12. Kedar Ghat: Famous for the Kedareshwar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
  13. Lalita Ghat: Houses the Nepali Mandir, a replica of the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.
  14. Munshi Ghat: Built by Sridhara Narayana Munshi, the finance minister of the Nagpur state.
  15. Narad Ghat: Named after the sage Narada.
  16. Prayag Ghat: Represents the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, emulating the Prayag city.
  17. Raj Ghat: The site of a fort built by the Maharaja of Banaras.
  18. Rana Mahal Ghat: Constructed by the Maharana of Udaipur.
  19. Rewa Ghat: Built by the Maharaja of Rewa.
  20. Shivala Ghat: Known for the Shiva temple and a palace built by the Nepalese King Sanjay Vikram Shah.
  21. Tulsi Ghat: Named after the great poet Tulsidas, who authored the Ramcharitmanas here.
  22. Vijayanagaram Ghat: Built by the Maharaja of Vijayanagaram.

These ghats form a tapestry of sacred sites, each contributing to the spiritual and cultural fabric of Varanasi.


The ghats of Varanasi are more than mere physical structures; they are the soul of the city, embodying its rich cultural heritage, religious fervor, and spiritual essence. Each ghat tells a story, each step leads to a deeper understanding of Varanasi’s timeless allure. Whether you seek spiritual solace, cultural enrichment, or simply a glimpse into the vibrant life along the Ganges, the ghats of Varanasi offer an experience that is both profound and unforgettable.

Spread India's Glorious Cultural & Spiritual Heritage

By Mala Chandrashekhar

Introducing Blogger Mala Chandrashekhar - A specialist academically trained in modern Western sciences, yet deeply enamored with India's timeless ethnic arts, crafts, and textiles. Her heart beats for the rich and glorious cultural and spiritual heritage of India, and she has dedicated her entire blog to spreading the immortal glories of ancient India worldwide. Through her simple yet impactful blog posts, Mala aims to reach every nook and corner of the globe, sharing India's beauty and wisdom with the world.

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