The Ghatscape on Gangaji in Kasi

The morning of Banaras is called special (I can’t say much about the evening of Lucknow). One of the main reasons that makes the morning special in Banaras is definitely the sun rising from behind the right sandy bank of Gangaji. The early (fog free) morning view of the crescent ghatscape, as seen in the first image of the gallery, from somewhere around Pandey Ghat, gives one a fair idea of the way this bank of the river is shaped.

A lot has been said and written about the ghats of Kasi (on my blog too). This post is again about ghats, rather, about ghatscape. Just like the galis and rooftops of Kasi, the ghats too are not just physical spaces. They are cultural and social spaces too. From morning till night, people come to their favourite neighbourhood ghat regularly (here favourite is important because there may be more than one ghat in one’s neighbourhood, both at a convenient distance). There are some who would keep their ghat going routine intact even in the most extreme of seasons, till the end of their life. What do they do there?

The list of common activities on ghats begins with taking bath that can gradually turn into swimming. The first thing one has to do before entering the river is to undress. Then mustard oil is applied on hair and for an incomplete self- massage before one enters Gangaji.

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People believe that the water of Gangaji purifies all sins. To clean their skin, they use soaps of various types and brands. I have seen people cleaning their clothes, hair and body with the same Sikka brand soap that is used to wash clothes. Its popularity is because of its being very economical. After cleaning their body and cleansing their soul, they go to the temple of the deity they have chosen for the purpose. Before they start on their journey to the temple, they fill their small brass pots or kamandalu with gangajal to anoint the deity they want to please or appease. These and many other activities are performed by thousands of people on many ghats in a nearly synchronised manner, although the syncronisation has nothing to do with any kind of conscious planning or decision making. The people and their activities, along with the ghats themselves, go into the making of the ghatscape of Kasi.

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These ghats came into existence because human beings needed them. They bear the traces of their point of origin. One common trait of the ghats is that they perform the crucial function of saving the city from the annual rising of the river after the monsoon rains. In this, they perform the function of an embankment – a dependable and old one. Yet, they are much more than just embankments. They also perform the function of tree-and-plant-less-parks, recreation areas, gymnasium and cricket pitch. They also provide space for tea stalls, washing and drying of clothes, swimming and boating clubs etc.

The ghatscape is incomplete without boats on Gangaji. Nearly all the ghats of Kasi have iron or bamboo pegs. Boats are secured by tying them with ropes to these pegs. These boats are of various sizes and heights. Many of them have diesel motors now, but even a decade ago most of them were rowed with wooden oars reinforced with tin sheets. There are big boats and small ones. The largest and tallest ones have wooden walls that are painted with traditional motifs. They are called bajras. I remember one that I regularly used to spot in front of Kshemeshwar Ghat.

There are many characteristic elements of Kasi ghatscape. One of them is the presence of shrines and temples on many of the ghats.

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