Let’s define our limits first. We will only cover the unbroken series of stone set ghats from Assi Ghat to Raj Ghat in this blog because the area beyond these two terminals is mostly sand, and no permanent ghats. But then, Adi Keshav Ghat shall be left out. That can’t happen.
Adi Keshav Ghat is at the confluence of Varuna and Gangaji. The point of confluence and the temple are in the images above. It’s a very important ghat and the temple here is one of the very few famous temples dedicated to Vishnu’s various forms in the city of Bhole Baba. There are few more temples viz the Bindu Madhav temple and one of the Ballabh Sect in Pakki Mahal. The temple of Adi Keshav is centuries old, as is etched on the marble slab in the temple. There’s a fair on the confluence every year. The family that takes care of the temple and arranges shringars etc. told me that their income from the temple is not sufficient to cover their expenses. That, alas, is the case of most of the temples, small and big, in Kasi!
Now, to begin at the beginning, Assi Ghat is the first ghat we’ll talk about. The images below were taken at around four-thirty, early in the morning. Ganga Aarti is the latest and most freshly introduced tradition on the ghats of Kasi (As far as the introduction of traditions is concerned, Kasi has seen it for a long time. Back in the eighties of the last century, it was all devoted to Santoshi Mata. Now, in the first two decades of this century, it’s worshipping Sai Ram).
People had started coming for their habitual daily Ganga snan. Within half an hour, the ghat had both light of the dawn and the early bathers. The gentleman sleeping peacefully on the board had not been there all night. He arrived on the ghats and felt like taking a nap before entering the river. That’s all.
Ghats are not bases to touch and run back home. These are socializing public spaces common to all Banarsis living close to the ghats or away form them. One can’t imagine Kasi and life in Kasi sans its ghats.
Assi Ghat is one of the most popular ghats of Kasi: by popular, I mean as an adda for Banarsis belonging to places far and near. As one moves from there towards Raj Ghat, one finds another popular pan-Varanasi adda: Dashashwamedh Ghat. The flavour of life on these two ghats is different from that on other ghats and from that on each other too. Assi Ghat is different in the mornings and evenings. The population that comes here is heterogeneous in constitution. It has a considerable proportion of foreign nationals who live in the neighbourhood.
The evening crowd has a considerable number of BHU students. That’s why during vacations the number of visitors is much less. They come there for the evening tea, but more than that, they come for their habitual adda. It becomes so much an addiction that the regulars will feel physical discomfort if they fail to reach there even one day. These addas on Assi Ghat have many nuclei. The tree in the image below is one such nucleus.
There’s been a tea stall under the tree for as long as I remember. There are a couple of tea stalls towards the front steps of the ghat and a couple more on the adjoining ghat. All these places have their regular visitors, and some who visit them in turns, although they come to Assi every day.