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Dasaswamedh Ghat - Varanasi

Varanasi Tourism

The pilgrims now reach the second of the five tirthas, Dashashvamedha, the most popular ghat along the Ganges, drawing large crowds of bathers each morning at dawn. It is the bustling hub of the pilgrim business along the riverfront. Rows of pilgrim-priests, variously called pandas, ghatias, or tirtha purohitas, sit on their low wooden chaukis under bamboo umbrellas, eager to minister to the priestly and practical needs of pilgrims. They tend to clothing and effect of the bathers, utter the words of the sankalpa, accept the ritual gifts (dana) of the pilgrims, as well as the traditional fee (dakshina) for their sanctioning services as Brahmins. Pilgrims still offer the traditional “gift of a cow” (godana) to Brahmins. But today the cow has become a reasonable two or three rupees. When all is completed, these pilgrim-priests daub the bather’s forehead with a bright spot of tilaka. Here at Dashashvamedha the panchtirthi pilgrims will bathe in the Ganges for a second time.

Lord brahma performed the “ten ashvamedha” sacrifices, the requisites for which were flawlessly supplied by king divodasa. The historian jayaswal suggests, however that the name Dasaswamedh refers, rather to the “ten ashwamedha” sacrifices said to have been performed here by the revivalist Hindu dynasty of the second century, the bhara shiva nagas. Whatever the source of its name, the ghat has long been said to confer the lavish benefits of ten ashvamedhas upon all who bathe here.

There are two adjacent ghats that today bear the name Dashashvamedha. The main road leading from Godhaulia crossing to the river forks to either side of the Dashashvamedha market, one of the city’s largest produce markets. The two forks reach the river a short distance apart and turn into long stairways, broadening out as the steps descend into the river. The road that approaches the river from Godaulia is a recent improvement, little more than a century old. The easy access it affords to Dashashvamedha Ghat is unquestionably an important reason for the ghat’s popularity today. The pilgrimage buses, which have become a conmen way for pilgrims to travel, may park with ease near the Dashashvamedha market. Pilgrims may conveniently walk the short distance to the river and then make a circuit into the city for the darshana of vishvanatha before returning to their buses. The prestige of Dashashvamedha has grown accordingly.

Before the road was built, however, its course from Godaulia crossing and around the south side of the Dashashvamedha market was actually the course of a stream, which provided the drainage for one of Varanasi’s inland lakes, the Benia Talab. The stream exited all year round, but it was in full flood during the rainy season. Its former course is still very vulnerable to floods, and during a flood year one may still see boats plying the street along the old stream bed. It was called the Godaulia nala, and it appears as such on Prinsep’s map of 1822. According to the learned traditions of the city, however, Godaulia was simply the scrambled corruption of the stream’s real name the Godavari, named after the sacred river of central India. Thus, Dashashvamedha was at one time the confluence of the Ganges and the Godavari Rivers, an auspicious place indeed!

The old Dashashvamedha, known once by the ancient names Rudrasara, “Nectar of Rudra” or Rudrasarovara, “Lake of Rudra”, the northern sector of Dashashvamedha Ghat, about two hundred feet north of Rudrasarovara, was formerly called prayaga ghat, Prayaga is the proper name of the modern Allahabad at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and saraswati rivers, it is called Tirtharaja “the king of tirthas.” At Dashashvamedha there are three Puranic Lingas that the panchatirthi pilgrims are advised to visit. First is that Sultankeshvara “Shiva of the spear and Hatchet”, second is Brameshwara, said to have been established by Lord Brahma during his sojourn here. The third is Dashashvamedheshwara, located in the compound of the famous Shitala temple. Devotees must not miss the opportunity of visiting the Dasaswamedh Ghat in the evening when after Aarti, thousands of earthen lamps are immersed in the waters of the holy Ganges and the floating lamps give a divine look to the river at dusk.

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