Assi Ghat is the last pukka ghat that forms the southern frontier of the ghatscape of Banaras. As one looks towards the crescent bay that Gangaji makes in front of Kasi towards one’s left one can see a couple of ghats in the vicinity and Tulsi Ghat is the penultimate one before the huge pump of Pumpwa ghat obstructs a couple of ghats from the view. Its name is very significant. It’s said that Goswami Tulsidasji had written parts of his Ramcharitmanas here. To honour his memory his name was given to the ghat upon which, it is said, he used to live.
The Chunar sandstone building on the ghat has remarkable features. This ghat is between Rewa Kothi and Lolark Kund. The previous one lends its name to a ghat and the second one has a nameless front that has a flight of stairs by its side that leads to Gangaji. The columns, corbels, chajjas, arches over the openings and spandrels are like those in many of the buildings on various ghats in the city.
The columns and the building above are nearly at the centre of the ghat with stairs rising on both the sides. It is these stairs and those on the ghats between Tulsi and Assi ghats, including these two terminal ghats, that formed the site from which originated one of my talks about Banaras being a city of and for the men: a city enjoyed and celebrated by men.
The stairs on these ghats have a unique quality. Women register their presence their. The other ghats of Kasi serve as public recreation space for the menfolk only: their adda. Men of the localities in the neighbourhood visit these ghats regularly in morning and evening. They sit and chat there, play chess or cricket, or simply stare at the horizon where Gangaji meets the sand on the other bank and then they meet the sky. Women come and go. They don’t sit and imbibe the overall atmosphere, enjoying what good life the ghats have to offer, except on the last few ghats on the southern extreme of the ghastcape.
It is on the stairs of ghats beginning at Tulsi Ghat that women start appearing on the ghatscape, and they dot it to the right up to Assi Ghat. I think that these ghats, being on the University side of the long lines of ghats and being easily accessible from the street, attract the crowd of students of not only Banaras Hindu University but also of other universities and colleges. They come to these ghats as couples, or to enjoy their adda time.
I have not been to any of the malls, multiplexes or retail outlets of Vishal etc. in Banaras. So, I don’t speak with any knowledge of what goes on within their walls. There are no such things in the Kasi I knew and have known all my life. So, in the Kasi I know, there’s no space freely available to courting couples and groups of women. The male gaze always intrudes, and encroaches upon the physical and corporal private spaces of women. It’s neither advisable nor a very savory experience if a woman or a group of women transgresses the undeclared yet clearly understood frontier limits.
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