Shivala Ghat

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Sivala Ghat is between Hanuman and Niranjani Akhada Ghats. The temple in the image is a prototypical temple the likes of which can be found on and around many other ghats in Banaras. There’s a narrow gali to the right as one climbs the stairs behind the temple. That gali leads to Hanuman Temple. On the way one passes the Akhada of Hanuman Ghat. There’s a very narrow passage by the tree in the image below that takes one to Hanuman Ghat.

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The small area with traditional stone construction between the cemented base of the tree and the red painted temple has many uses. It’s used by daily ghat bathers, by occasional pilgrims and by sadhus. It’s also used for certain rituals that are spread over a span of few hours on one day or many days in a row. Mornings are busy on the ghat facing this section. The area in the image below also receives the post-cremation bathers from the group of people who accompany dead bodies to Harishchandra Ghat.

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The very small open air Shiv temple is a very common sight in Varanasi. It only needs either a formally planned and sculpted lingam or just an accidental oval stone to start a holy spot. With time the number of regular worshippers increases and a Nandi may appear facing his Lord: Shivji. People taking bath on the ghat generally pour some gangajal from their lota or kamandal over the lingam. An occasional devotee may bring garlands, petals of assorted flowers and leaves of Bael tree.

As one walks towards Shivala Ghat one has to be carerful. For more than 25 metres, the stone steps are slippery because of the dirty water flowing in small streamlets towards Gangaji.

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I remember Shivala Ghat for one special reason: my grandmother chacha and bua used to take me there when I was a little boy. I didn’t know how to swim and was mortally afraid of the possibility of drowning (I learned floating later. I can only dog paddle now. That too in a swimming pool). I still am. They were all strong swimmers and used to carry me on their back to deeper sections. Otherwise, I used to enjoy splashing and staying in water in the long and safe gradual sandy slope of Shivala Ghat.

Now Kedar Ghat was another story. My grandmother used to take me there and only she could convince me, that too, on very few occasions, to enter the water holding her tight. The steps were (and are) impossible to walk on steadily because of two reasons: the current of Gangaji, and the relative absence of friction due to the growth of algae and erosion of the stone that made it impossible to walk on. Later on, I even tried Chowki Ghat to learn swimming, but fear was there too, because after just a few metres of a gradual sandy slope, the floor of the river suddenly and without any kind of warning signals drops into some kind of (in the frightened learner’s imagination) bottomless abyss filled with water.

When I think more of it, there was another very strange thing about the popular Shivala Ghat. An open nullah used to unload all the residential waste material of the whole region into the river right at this ghat, especially during the peak hours. So, the water around the ghat used to be particularly dirtier than the adjoining ones. The little me used to look at the flow of the dirty water falling over the huge stone slabs as some kind of waterfall. It appeared incredibly beautiful, then and even now when the flow is conspicuous in the morning when people take bath nearly in the same time slab by some unwritten and un-discussed  consensus

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