Varanasi, earlier known as Benares, is one of the holiest cities of India and is identified by its numerous temples and ghats. Kashi, as it is traditionally called, is highly revered by Hindus and Jains. The famous ghats of Varanasi are set on the banks of the Ganges, a river held sacred by Hindus. The ghats offer themselves as preferred site for performing a variety of religious rituals. River Ganges, or the Ganga, holds a special significance in Hinduism and devotees look upon it as a goddess or a divine being. It is believed that Ganga was sent to the earth to help civilization flourish and so is considered to be a lifeline for humankind in more ways than one. It is the presence of the Ganga, along with other beliefs, that make Varanasi a holy city.
To facilitate easy access to the river, the city has many ghats, which are basically a series of steps which lead to the water. There are close to a hundred ghats along the river Ganges. Most ghats are associated with legends or mythology while some ghats are privately owned. Morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitor attraction. Most of the ghats are bathing and puja ceremony ghats, while two are exclusively for the purpose of cremation.
Of the 87 well-known ghats of Varanasi Lalita Ghat is one of the prominent ones.
Lalita Ghat is made of red sandstone and is dotted with several temples. This ghat is named after the revered local goddess, Lalita. Goddess Lalita is believed to be one of the incarnations of Goddess Durga. The Ganga Keshav Lingam along with the shrines of Gangatitya, Kashi Devi, Lalita Devi and Bhagirath Tirtha are the major attractions of Lalita Ghat.
It is popularly believed that a glimpse of Lalita Devi bestows blessings on the beholder and the goddess removes all problems and showers prosperity on her devotees. Goddess Lalita is one of the group of ten goddesses of Hindu belief, collectively called Mahavidyas or Dasha-Mahavidyas. She is the foremost and the most important of the Dasha-Mahavidyas. All other Mahavidyas, lead to and conclude in her vidya, i.e. Sri Vidya. Her consort is Maha Kameswara. She is the most exalted form of Goddess Adi Shakti. Parvati is the complete incarnation of Lalita Maha Tripura Sundari.
Between 1800 to 1804, King of Nepal, Rana Bahadur Shah took exile in Varanasi and named himself Swami Nirgunanda. During his exile, he started construction of a replica of the famous Pashupatinath Temple of Kathmandu in Varanasi. However, he had to return to Nepal before the completion of the work.
On 25 April 1806, Rana Bahadur Shah was stabbed to death by his stepbrother, Sher Bahadur Shah. His son Girvan Yuddha Bikram Shah Deva continued the task of construction of the temple (now called Nepali Mandir), a dharamshala and Lalita Ghat. The wooden temple is built in typical Nepali style. The impressive temple houses an image of Pashupatinath, the manifestation of Lord Shiva and is a popular site among painters, photographers and tourists.
Apart from holding profound religious significance, Lalita Ghat has also earned prominence in Varanasi tourism. Varanasi Tourism Department has enlisted Lalita Ghat amongst the seven most important ghats of Varanasi. Local festivals are regularly celebrated at Lalita Ghat.
Vandana R Singh
New Delhi, June 2020