Riverside ghats on Ganges in India

Added On May 22, 2014

India's holy town of Varanasi and its mystical charm has been catching the eyes of the world since ancient times. Of various other things, the Ghats or the "stone-steps" leading to the river attract visitors from around the globe to have a taste of the mythical stories behind them.
Lifestyles takes you there.
The sun rises in the east and basks the golden rays in the pristine water of the river Ganges flowing from south to north, that's how dawn breaks in the holy town of Varanasi in north India. 
They take a dip in the holy waters, offer prayer to the Sun God and perform various religious rituals prescribed in Hindu mythology. And for all these rites, there are Ghats or the "stone-steps" leading to the river Ganges. Located on the western side of the river Ganges, the Ghats of Varanasi are unmatched. 
"India's holiest river - the Ganges... The river has different connotations, different mystiques around it in various parts of India it passes through. When it comes down to the city of Varanasi, there are numerous cars on the river bank here in Varanasi to welcome everyone."
There are as many as 84 bathing Ghats built alongside the Ganges in Varanasi during various historical periods. From ancient times when Hindu culture was predominant in the region to the recent history, the Ghats were built by the erstwhile royal families, various caste-based communities and even by the government of late. Many of them were meant to be exclusive to royal families or a particular community. But today all Ghats are open to the public and are full of life, all around the year. Many visit these Ghats as a tourist-spot while others come here to take a purifying dip in the holy river. 
Nidhi Mishra is one of millions of Hindu devotees who are ardent believer of the healing power of the water of the Ganges. She along with her family brought her first child to get the blessings of the mother Ganges.
"This is my first child. I came here to get the blessings of mother Ganges for my child. Many come here for the same."
"We have been following this ritual for generations in our family. Traditionally, we bring our child here first, then the child and mother are free to move anywhere." 
On one hand, people celebrate the birth of child on one Ghat while on the other, Manikarnika Ghat or the Ghat for cremation gives a gruesome reality of life - the death. One can see the cremation of human bodies being performed alongside the river Ganges in Varanasi, the city believed to be founded by the Hindu God of death Lord Shiva.
Hindus perform the last rites of the departed on the Ghats alongside the holy river as they believe that it frees them from the cycle of birth and re-birth. 
"The significance of various Ghats according the Hindu mythology is varied. People used to throng the Ghats as per their wish and their faith to attain inner-peace for their soul. There are arrangements made on various Ghats as per the rituals being performed there."
Among all the Ghats, Dashaswamedh Ghat is the most popular one attracting tourists and locals alike. The Ghat is believed to be the oldest of them all as per the Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma is said to have sacrificed ten-horses to please Lord Shiva here at the Ghat. Since then Lord Shiva has made this Ghat as his abode. The mystic story appeals to many in India.
"There are about 84 Ghats alongside the river Ganges in Varanasi but this one called Dashaswamedh Ghat holds a special significance according to the Hindu mythology as master of this Ghat is believed to be the Hindu Lord Shiva. People come and take bath in the holy river Ganges and that too they think are doing with the company of Lord Shiva."
Come evening and mystique charm of watching the spectacle of the "Aarti" or the fire ritual dedicated to the river goddess brings tourists in large numbers to the river-side where they board the boats floating in the waters. 
Here, seven Brahmins or Hindu priests start the Aarti dedicated to mother Ganges by blowing a conch followed by the offering of incense sticks and then starts the fire ritual. Hundreds of lamps made of silver, bronze or copper are lit-up to appease the mother Ganges. This one and a half-hour long extravaganza pose a spectacular wonder, indeed.