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©2018 by Dwivedi Hotels, Varanasi.

Dec 19, 2018

Ahilyabai Ghat

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The old name of the ghat was Kevalagiri Ghat, but in 1778-1785 the ghat was extended and was completely re-built by the patronage of queen Maharani Ahilyabai Holkar of Madhya Pradesh. In honour and memory the ghat is named after her. James Prinsep (1831) has mentioned the name Kevalgiri Ghat, which indicated that the ghat was known by this name till then. Later, Sherring (1868) mentioned the name Ahilyabai Ghat, reflecting upon the change of the name.

Built by Ahilyabai, it is one of the many edifices built under the sovereign patronage who, from her residence of Maheshwar, was the builder of several temples in the city, among which included are the Vishvanatha temple and the Manikarnika Ghat. There is a palace and residential district inside the compound. The service court is situated in front of the palace, which continues down towards the ghat built on the Ganga river. There is also a group of religious buildings including temples and servants’ quarters, some of which are used as akhara (wrestling site). Next to the palace, a Brahmapuri made up of ten houses is built along a street running parallel to the river and protected at both ends by gates. These houses were all built at the same time, which explains the regular and symmetrical appearances of their facades. Towards the old part of the city, a gateway crowned with a noubat (kettledrum) protected the compound.

By its ascendancy and the diversity of its composite elements, the Indore Estate Palace forms a significant example of those principalities making the riverfront unique an excellent and confers on it a particular localisation. The view of the Indore Estate, seen from the river or the ghat, has two perspectives:

Downstream, a group of three temples: the main one with a dome and two small sanctuaries. In the same enclosure, there is a ground floor building, where the instruments used in akhara are stored; (2) Upstream from the palace, adjoining a building with three floors; they are, in fact, the upper floors of the Brahmapuri. Traditionally the Brahmapuri , “city of Brahmins”, is the place of residence of the Brahmins and the pujari (the priest serving the temples of the Queen) and their families. Two entrances of different status regulate the interior alley of the Brahmapuri. One, upstream, opens by a perpendicular lane onto the river, and is not part of the complex but is used in the monsoon season, when passing from one quarter to another by means of the ghat is impossible.

The other is the main access and opens by a straight flight of steps onto a lateral façade of the palace, in the heart of the Indore Estate. The Brahmapuri is composed of two lines of houses, coming from a two-metre-wide alley parallel to the course of the Ganga. The framework of the fragment is about six metres wide on the façade. The constructions having a façade opening onto the river are of a nobler workmanship than those at the rear.

In addition to the palace, there is a huge residential compound (No. D 18/ 16), and a Hanuman temple (No. D 17/ 18), and also the two temples at the ghat. In the open porch and the veranda of the Hanuman temple there are many divine images. The Shiva temple (No. D 18/ 21), in the upper part, is built on the raised roof. Built in the Dorika style, the pavilion is based on the twelve pillars, and consists of pavilion, inner sanctum and open porch. The main entrance faces the east, and the upper part of the gateway contains image of the Ganesha. In the inner sanctum, the niches contain images of Surya, Ganesha, Annapurna (goddess) and Vishnu. There also exists an image of Hanuman, which results to call it Hanuman temple by local people. The spire of the temple is an example of the Nagara style. The upper part of the pavilion converges into a dome.

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  • All the pilgrimage routes pass through the south certainly touch this site. Even in the ancient mythologies (e.g. Matya Purana as in TS 101; VM 177; KKh 97.253), the Assi drain was mentioned as seasonal stream and a dried bed. The temple of Asi Sangameshvara (“Lord of the Confluence of Assi”) marked with a marble plaque establishes the puranic heritage of the site. The plaque reads that “in the Pancakroshi pilgrimage, this site is one of the Pancatirthis”. This ghat was mentioned in the inscriptions of the Gahadavalas (11th-12th century). In Varadaraja’s Giravana-padamanjari (1600-60) this ghat is also described with glory. By the turn of 19th century the long strip of the Ghat got divided into separate ghats. In 1902 the Queen Dulhin Radha Dulari Kunwar of the Sursand Estate (Bihar) had purchased the southern part of ghat and built her small palace (presently Hotel Ganga View) and also the Lakshminarayana Temple. Till 19th century the Assi Ghat was in a natural shape, an open land with green lush of trees. However, its glory was already described in the ancient texts under the name of “Assi Sangmeh Tirtha”. In 1988 the Ghat was made pucca (stone-staired) by the Irrigation Department with the support of the Ganga Directorate project. There is no plan for conservation. In fact, in the name of beautification and change the development and transformation of the ghat area turned to be a big problem. The closing down of Assi confluence (in fact shifted ½ km in the south in 1981-82) and the pucca construction of Assi and nearby ghats resulted to create a crucial problem of silt deposition. According to an estimate about 8200m of silt in a length of 60m get deposited every year along the Assi and Rivan ghats, and to get it cleaned a good sum of money is spent every year. Moreover, the course and the flow are changing which cause loss of the aesthetic sense and sacramental values of the ghat. The consequences of modern approach of short-term planning are clearly visible here.
  • In the Mauryan inscription this ghat is described as sacred spot and a ferry point. Archaeological evidences support the settlement life in the nearby areas during 8th century BCE. Its importance as ferry ghat was maintained till 1 January 1887 when Lord Duffrin Bridge (road-cum-rail) was built. In 1948 the bridge’s name changed to Malaviya Bridge. In the Gahadavala inscriptions too this ghat is described as a sacred spot and also as ferry point. Till 12th century this was a very active ghat for religious festivities and transport, however since then the city spreads southwards and in span of time the other ghats became more prominent. Close to this ghat lie the remains of the Gahadavala fort where shrines of Rajaputa Vinayaka and Bhainsasura are present. The northern part of this ghat was referred in earlier puranic mythologies as Vedeshvara ghat, where now are many tress and a wrestling site, and the scene is dominated by water buffaloes owned by milkmen. Till 1988 the ghat was of open natural clay, but in the same year the government of Uttar Pradesh has made it pucca. Even today, the northern part is as such. At the top a grand temple of cobbler-saint Ravidasa (CE 1388-1518), who was born in the southern edge of the city in a village Sir Karahia, is made in 1986; at this place his birth day is celebrated on the full moon day of Magha (January-February). There are four water-tirthas affiliated to this ghat, viz. Sankha, Uddalaka, Hayagriva and Nilagriva. In the northern part of the ghat are two monasteries and a temple of Badri Narayana. Close to the present Ravidas temple is a small shrine of Mahisasura, “a buffalo-demon” killed by goddess and soon transformed into a divine associate. According to folk legend, later the demon’s spirit worshipped Shiva and goddess, that is how the tradition is to worship him.
  • Its reference is mentioned in the 17th century text, Giravana-padamanjari. Near Rama Ghat at the bank is the water-front puranic tirtha named Rama Tirtha, and there is a temple of Rama Pancayatana (the five images together). The name of the ghat is derived in this reference. There are three other water-front sacred spots, viz. Kala Ganga, Tamra Varaha and Indradhyumna. In 1665 the French traveller Jean Baptiste Tavernier paid visit to Varanasi and has described this ghat. It is obvious from this account that the ghat and Rama temple were built in the nearby past and were prominent in the scene. The Rama temple and the attached ghat both built by king of Jaipur (Rajasthan), Raja Savai Jaisingh. During the period of mass destruction of temples by the order of Mughal emperor Aurangazeb in late 1660s, this temple was also demolished. The present temple was built up in late 18th century. Other notable temples at this ghat are of Badri Narayana and Kala Vinayaka. Nearby to the latter one is a temple of Khandoba, a regional deity of Maharashtra, whose annual celebration takes place during 5th-8th light-half of Margashirsha (November/ December). This area is dominated by Maharashtrian people. -- In the mid 19th century the finance secretary of Gwalior Estate, Balaji Cimadaji Jatar has built this ghat with the support of the king Jiyajirao Shinde. After his name this is called Jatar Ghat. He has also built a multi-storeyed building (no. CK 24/ 33), in a portion of which exists the temple of Lakshminarayana. This temple is an example of the local craftsmanship, consisting of mosaic of colourful glasses in the large windows and light areas. At the gate there is an inscription, which reads the names of the finance secretary and the king, and their portraits are also shown there. Prinsep (1822) mentions this ghat as Chor Ghat. The name “Chor” (thief) reminds a fable about this ghat, which narrates the story that this ghat was defamed in the past for theft of the cloths of pilgrims and bathers. Greaves (1909) has mentioned this ghat as Jadau Ghat. The architectural beauty of the Lakshiminarayan temple is at the verge of danger limit; in lack of proper and immediate care this temple can be lost at any time. -- Till mid 19th century Gwalior ghat was part of Jatar Ghat. When Jatar Ghat was under construction the king of Gwalior Maharaja Jiyajirao Shinde has built this ghat; and after his name this is known as Gwalior Ghat. According to another tale one of the Peshava kings had also repaired and partly made the ghat pucca. There are three shrines containing Shiva lingas. The ghat is not important for cultural and religious activities.