Ganga is believed to have descended to the earthly realm after rigorous penance by King Bhagirath of the Ikshvaku dynasty, who wanted to liberate the souls of his ancestors. She first descended into the coils of Lord Shiva’s matted hair to break her fall and then commenced her flow as a river on earth. Ganga Dussehramarks this event and there are grand celebrations especially in the ancient city of Kashi, which is famous for its 84 ghats.
Kashi is believed to be Lord Shiva’s abode. Its imperceptible dimension is believed to be balanced carefully on his Trident. Here he resides as Vishwanath, the Lord of the Universe, in the form of one of the most ancient jyotirlingas, an infinite column of light. No surprise then, that the Ganga flows through this most ancient and holy of cities, punctuated by the colourful ghats, each of which have a story to tell.
The Dashashvamedh Ghat is the most famous and the closest to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. As a result of the recent corridor development, access to the ghat from the temple has been made very convenient. Every evening, the world-famous Ganga Aarti is performed here, attracting people in the thousands. The Aarti on the occasion of Ganga Dussehra is very special, with offerings made to Mother Ganga, she who washes away our sins.
Assi Ghat, which is located at the confluence of the River Assi with the Ganga, is also very popular. This is believed to be where Goddess Durga had thrown her sword into the river after slaying the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. Subah-e-Banaras, which celebrates the divine mornings in this holy city, has become a very popular phenomenon, which sees a pre-sunrise Ganga Aarti, bhajans and devotional music. Ganga Dussehra will also see devotees taking a dip at this auspicious ghat.
Being associated with Shiva, this eternal city also has a very physical reminder of our mortality, the Manikarnika ghat, which sees funeral pyres burning pretty much all day every day of the year. It is believed that one achieves liberation if they are cremated at this ghat, where Lord Shiva is supposed to be in constant search of Goddess Parvati’s lost earring. The visual and sensory impact can be too much to take in, but serves as a strong reminder of how limited our time on earth is.
Mother Ganga threads together all of these sacred locations, which serve as the theatre for so many of our stories and legends. Almost every part of India is represented in Kashi through these ghats, which were built by a variety of ancient kingdoms, from the glorious Vijaynagar empire to the valorous Marathas. And on this most auspicious of days, this is one place to add to your bucket-list, if you aren’t already taking a dip this Ganga Dussehra!
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