We walked along the Ganga, a happy bunch, excited at the prospect of meeting more friends, and going for a boat ride on the Ganga after so many years.
‘Most of the ghats were built, or renovated, by the Marathas in the 18th century,’ I told the kids, ‘as was the present Kashi Vishwanath temple. They are, thus, owned by many royal houses of the Maratha clan – the Scindias, the Holkars, the Bhosles.’
From the Assi ghat, we move towards the Tulsi ghat which, for the time being, seemed to be our destination. The Tulsi ghat is the fourth ghat from the south end of the long line of ghats, starting at the Assi ghat, named after the Assi river, which is little more than a drain now. Varanasi has a total of eighty-eight ghats, each with its own temples, its own legends; the last of them, the northernmost, being the Raj ghat. Recent excavations at areas around the Raj ghat have shown that this area has been continuously habited since at least the second millennium BCE, giving credence to the popular belief amongst Hindus, that Varanasi is the oldest ‘living’ city in the world.
The Tulsi ghat is also privately owned. Its owners are one of the oldest families of Varanasi, and are the official priest-owners of the Sankatmochan temple, the temple dedicated to Hanuman, the monkey god in the Hindu pantheon, and one of the leading characters of the Hindu epic Ramayana – the story of the God-Prince Ram. Hanuman is the all-time favourite god of the students, who pray to him for strength, deliverance from troubles, and, more selfishly, for success in exams. The youngest scion of this family, which owns the Hanuman temple, and the Tulsi ghat, was Dr V N Mishra, our senior from BHU, and a leading neurophysician in the city. Dr Mishra, at the time of writing this blog, served as a professor in the Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU, in the department of Neurology.
The ghat, besides being known for its famed owners, is also fabled to have been the place where Tulsidas, the famous sixteenth century saint, wrote the Ramcharitmanas, the modern rendering of Valmiki’s Ramayana. The Ramayana along with the Mahabharata make up the two most ancient epics of the Indian subcontinent. Lyrical in style, and universal in their appeal, these epics have been translated in all languages known to man, and have been sung, enacted, filmed, and told and retold innumerable times all over the world, but especially so in South Asia, and the far east. They have been the source of stories and sub-stories, moral lessons, adages, proverbs, similes and metaphors all over the greater Indian subcontinent since millennia.
But I am losing my way again. Let me come back to the ghat where we were headed, and where some of our hosts waited to receive us and guide us to the boats which will convey us to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, where we will get an opportunity to see the newly renovated Kashi Vishwanath Dham Corridor. It was going to be an exciting day……
To be continued……
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