Raja Harishchandra Ghat
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.
Raja Harishchandra Ghat is one of the 87 well-known ghats of Varanasi.
One of the most frequented ghats of Varanasi, Harishchandra Ghat is one of the two main cremation ghats, the other being Manikarnika Ghat. Hindus from far and wide bring dead bodies of their loved ones here for the last rites as it is believed that if a person is cremated at the Harishchandra Ghat, he attains moksha or salvation, thus being relieved of the tedious cycle of rebirth.
Named after the eminent King Harishchandra it is also one of the oldest ghats.
It is said that after a long series of adverse events in the life of King Harishchandra, the owner of Manikarnika Ghat bought him as a slave and made him work on this site. The ghat eventually came to be known as Raja Harishchandra Ghat. King Harishchandra was known for being truthful, honourable and a man of rare integrity. But misfortune befell him and he and his family were stripped of all wealth and royal comforts.
As the story goes, those who work at the ghats and assist with cremations have to be necessarily paid as part of the ritual. And so during his days of hardship, when Harishchandra’s son died and his wife brought his body for cremation to the ghat and had no money to pay Harishcandra with, the duty-bound Raja did not allow the rites to be performed for his own son.
It is believed that the gods rewarded him for his resolve and self-righteousness, and later restored his lost throne and his dead son to him.
Not only is the Ghat considered auspicious for cremations it is also reminiscent of an upright king who even through the most difficult and challenging times of his life, stood for truth and unwavering honour.