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Harish Chandra Ghat

Varanasi Tourism

Harishchandra Ghat, named for a legendary king, the truthful Harishchandra, who once worked the cremation grounds in Kashi. Every one of the pilgrims on the Panchtirthi pilgrimage knows the story of how the Brahmin Visheamitra asked King Harishchandra for a ritual fee called the Rajsuya Dakshina. Harishchandra, in his generosity, gave Vishwamitra his entire Kingdom and all he owned. Having accepted, Vishwamitra still pressed the king for the token Rajsuya Dakshina, But Harishchandra had nothing left to give. Rather than break his promise, the king came destitute to Kashi, where he sold his wife and son into slavery and sold himself into bondage to work the cremation grounds in order to pay the fee. He did not see his loved ones again until the day his wife, worn with hardship, came to the cremation ground carrying her son’s body. He had died of snake bite, and she had not even a blanket to cover his corpse. The testing of Harishchandra, like that of the biblical job, proved the strength of his character, even in the worst of times. In the end, the god rewarded him and restored his throne and his son to him.

Harishchandra Ghat is one of the two burning Ghat of Banaras, the other being Manikarnika. People in this part of the city believe that Harishchandra is the oldest Kashi cremation ground, surpassing even Manikarnika in its sanctity. It is sometimes referred to as Adi Manikarnika, the “Original Manikarnika” the Brahmins of Tulsi Ghat and the pandits of Asi will definetly choose to be cremated here.

The next major ghat is kedara, the anchor of Kedara Khanda and the home of the Kedareshvara linga. Like Asi, this is the busy ghat, but the panchtirthi pilgrims do not stop here to bathe. Continuing down the river, they pass Chauki Ghat, famous for the huge tree at the top of the steps which shelters a great array of stone nagas, the equatic serpent deities foe which ancient Kashi, with its stream and pools, must have been famous. Along with naga Kupa, today called nag Kaun, in northern Kashi, this is place where the nagas are still honored, especially on the festival day of naga panchmi in the rainy season month of shravana (July/August).

Next the pilgrims walk a quiet section of the river front, given over to the laundry work of the dhobis, rhythmically slapping wet clothes on their stone wash slabs. The part of the city they are skirting now is called Bengali Tola, settled by Bengalis, many of whom have come here for Kashivasa, living out one’s days in kashi until death. Along the river front here are mansarovara Ghat, named after the holy lake Manasa in the Himalayas; Narada Ghat, name for the divine sage; Amareshvara Temple, named for lord Amarnath in the Kashmir Himalayas; and, finally, Chaumsathi Ghat, named for the Sixty-Four Goddesses whose temple is in the city above the ghat. It is believed that if a person is cremated at the Harish Chandra Ghat, that person gets salvation or "moksha". The Harish Chandra Ghat was somewhat modernized in late 1980's, when an electric crematorium was opened here.

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