Varanasi ghats are the most crowded places and are an integral part of the city. They are the riverfront steps that serve as an embankment and provide access to the river. These ghats are used for bathing, performing puja, and cremating dead bodies. Hundreds of priest and pilgrims are found at each of this embankment indulging in some kind of ritual throughout the day. They are so deeply integrated into the city that no can imagining Varanasi without them is impossible.
There are more than 80 ghats in Varanasi. They occupy 7 km of the area alongside the Ganga river. The credit of building the riverfront steps goes to several imperial families belonging to the Maratha dynasties. Be it Scindias, the Holkars, the Bhonsales, and the Peshwas, each of the clans had a significant contribution. The Jaipur and Amber royal families also contributed in the construction of ghats. The legend says that a few of them have been built by the creator of the universe himself. Some ghats are even attributed to an individual hailing from an affluent family, scholars, and priests. The Munishi Ghat named after the famous Hindi poet Munshi Premchand, and Tulsi Ghat named after Saint Tulsidas are some examples. Even corporate houses like Birla, Tata, and Reliance built a couple of ghats here.
The ghats in Varanasi serve as a passage to the heaven. Hindus have strong conviction that by cremating the bodies here, the soul of the deceased travels to the heaven. However, not all ghats are used for the cremation purpose, besides the Manikarna and Harishchandra Ghats. With the number of deaths occurring in the city and bodies being cremated at these ghats, it has only added to the pollution of the Ganga River. Now as awareness about the causes of pollution among people is increasing, bodies are being cremated at other places ,and the ghats are used only for pouring the ash into the river.
The view that ghats offer when the sun is rising, is worth experiencing. Since it is not possible to visit all the ghats in a single day, one should at least visit a few popular ghats such as Assi Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harish Chandra Ghat, Dasaswamedh Ghat, and Tulsi Ghat. The Ganga aarti during the evening is also performed from one of these ghats that offer a heart-touching spectacle. Seeing thousands of clay-made diyas floating on the Ganges and feeling the reverberation produced from hymns uttered by hundreds of people and priests fill the hearts with emotion.
If one has to witness life and death from close quarters, a visit any one ghat is a must. Since centuries, these ghats have been visited by millions of people. And they will continue to be thronged in the future as well. It is believed that nothing can cleanse a body, mind, and soul better than the Ganga water. For which, the existence of ghats is important for humankind.