The Hooghly, this iconic river which is an offshoot of the mighty and sacred Ganges, has been eternally linked to the city of Joy – Kolkata. The Hooghly is as sacred as the Ganges herself. Worshipped by generations of residents who live in the state of West Bengal. The Ganga River in Kolkata, also known as the Hooghly, has always been important in commercial and military terms. The Mughal, Portuguese and the British realising and exploiting her importance. The trade which flourished on account of the Hooghly made Kolkata the capital of India at one time in history. The existence of the various Ghats of Kolkata is the underlying theme of this post.
Spiritual and physical, the Hooghly has been so vital to the existence of Kolkata through decades and centuries. However, as the wheels of time moved ahead and modernity crept in, the Hooghly, too, has changed. At one point, it was lined with ghats vital to ensure passage across the river. However, slowly, these ghats of Kolkata have lost their relevance and degenerated steadily. The river was accessed through these Ghats, with a series of steps leading down safely to the river.
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For decades, this Ganga Ghat of Kolkata fading into oblivion has been part of the lives of the Kolkata. Their cultural and religious significance cannot be stressed enough. These connections must be made more robust. Hence we all to work towards uplifting the legacy of these ghats and reviving them once again.
Drawn to the Ghats of Kolkata
I was not born in Kolkata and hence have not had the opportunity to be exposed to the influence of the Ghats of Kolkata and the Hooghly River since childhood. But in my short time here, I have been drawn to the Ghats of Kolkata. The Ganga Ghat near me has been a source of peace and strength. These ghats near me stand in stoic silence. There is an immediate shift in the vibe one experiences as one comes to them and relapses into silence to feel their presence. There is so much of a story that I can sense in the air at these ghats.
A kind of a strange comfort when one walks down their dilapidated steps covered in the clay of the Hooghly and other material that washes ashore. When thoughts torment one, I guess these Ghats that are broken down always offer a soft shoulder to lean on. It’s a feeling that I can only experience but cannot describe. No consolation by any human can replace the silent, soothing touch of the Kolkata Ganga Ghats.
I become a part of the humanity on these ghats; some are crowded while others are deserted. Out here, there are no more curious stares, for all those who come here or live here have accepted the pain and pleasure of life. There are senses of giving space to the one who seeks these ghats by those who stay out here. They understand the reasons, that sad look in the eyes.
Heritage ghats of Kolkata
These heritage Ghats of Kolkata are also where many go to carry out the rituals of religion. Be it Life or death; both are celebrated and solemnised at these ghats. What more can one say about the stature of these ghats other than the above sentence. Many of these ghats also serve as a lifeline to cross the Hooghly connecting the everyday lives on both banks. These Ghats also reflect the grandeur that once man decided to build on their banks, which now lie dilapidated.
I have this strong urge to go through the list of Ganga Ghats in Kolkata on the river Hooghly, walk across them, try to learn the background history of these ghats and get a feel of the past linked to each of these ghats.
What is my blog all about ?
My blog focuses quite a bit on the ancient history, the art of India, among other places of travel that I keep doing. In addition to travel and exploring offbeat places, I am also interested in visiting and increasing my awareness of Historical institutions and places within India.
Read through the posts on the Kerala folklore Museum in Kochi which showcases the cultural heritage of Kerala. Then we have the reclusive Panch Kedar Trek into the Himalayas to see a slice of timeless History and legends. I am sure a visit to them would be fascinating to just about anyone purely from a visitor’s inquisitive magnificence prism of view, to say the least. In case interested, read about the lonely vigil of St Augustine’s Tower in Old Goa.
Read here if it appeals to you my experiences on Kolkata titled Amar Kolkata. Then there was my visit to the unique international book fair of 2020 before the pandemic hit us all. I will always look at early 2020 as a great time for I came across so many events in Kolkata. One such beautiful example was by Art Rickshaw in Hindustan Park. The theme of Old Currency building presently is in line with acknowledging the cosmopolitan transformation of Kolkata through the links to the past two centuries of art. Before I forget how about seeing something simple yet unique, visit the Train Museum in Kolkata.
Ghats of Kolkata
Jagannath Ghat stands on the eastern banks of the Hooghly River near Strand Road, opposite the Burra Bazaar area. The ghat was made by Sobharam Basak, a devout devotee of Lord Jagannath. He, a prosperous trader, constructed the ghat and the Jagannath temple at No 1, Nabob Lane.
The Ghat was constructed between 1758 – 1773 and was initially made in lines of the Jagannath temple with massive iron pillars converging into the center to form an umbrella roof. However, over decades all that has been chiefly destroyed.
One can now access the Ghat through a lane filled with daily fresh produce sold by wholesale vendors and a list of warehouses next to it. This is one of my famous ghats to visit for its sense of serenity. One can see the Howrah bridge just alongside, imposing in its presence. Watching a sunset in Kolkata from the Ganga Ghat is a sublime experience.
Ahiritola Ghat derived its name from the practice of Milkmen using the ghat to bathe their cows and buffaloes. Presently this Ghat is a significant launch terminal of Kolkata and is also used for immersion activities during religious festivals.
Being one of the essential ferry terminals, I, too, decided to check out the ferry ride across the Ganges. An INR 8 ticket, and I was off in one of the regular ferries that proclaimed its departure with a mechanical buzzer. The ropes cast off, the old engine growled, and with the regular commuters taking their places and visitors like me gawking on the experience, we were off to cross the mighty Hooghly with panache and flourish.
One Babu Raj Chandra established the ghat out here.
Nimtala Burning Ghat, located on Beadon Street, was constructed in 1827. In 2010 it was upgraded to make the cremation procedure more suitable. There is a beautiful memorial to tribute to Rabindranath Tagore, who was also cremated here. Among the list of burning ghats in Kolkata, Nimtala is the most relevant.
Nimtala ghat is considered one of the holiest ghats in the country and a place to attain Moksha, thereby breaking the cycle of life and death. I think after Manikarnika Ghat, Nimtala occupies an air of relevance. It is said that the first cremation happened in 1717, but legends speak about cremation happening even 2000 years before.
I visited Nimtala Ghat twice as I felt the pull to come here again. On my second visit, I could soak in the raw vibes of this place much better as I sat on the steps of the Ghat, watching fellow strangers offer their prayers to their Gods while the departure of yet more strangers from their worldly journey happened just a few meters away.
The Adi Bhootnath temple is also located adjacent to Nimtala ghat. This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. A visit to this temple imparts a lot of peaceful vibes and aura.
My next visit was to the Zenana Ghat. This ghat, located next to the Mullick Ghat and flush with Armenian Ghat, was once considered the most beautiful ghat for bathing on the Hooghly.
Built-in the 1890s by Ramchandra Goenka, the ghat was adorned with a beautiful dome structure and four minarets. Sadly, today everything is camouflaged with random hoardings and unauthorised occupants.
As I wandered through the entrance to the ghat, I could see some ornamental tiles adorned the walls leading to the Ghat, indicating the beauty that once existed out here.
This ghat has been there for quite some time. The Armenians were among the early people to come to visit Kolkata. Hence this Ghat was constructed by them. The Ghat has the prominent Maulick flower market, an open-air wrestling ring, and a famous temple all alongside it.
Armenian Ghat is one of the most visited by people who would like to spend a quiet evening looking at the Ganges flowing by and the Howrah Station across the Hooghly River. The Ghat was said to have been built in 1734 by an Armenian Trader known as Manvel Hazaar Malayan.
Mallick Ghat is located near the Howrah Bridge, connected by Strand Road, beside the Brabourne Flyover. Probably one of the top 5 famous Ghats of Kolkata to be visited. Ram Mohan Mallick constructed the Ghat in 1855.
The colourful flower market along the Ghat is the greatest attraction for many as there is a bevvy of flowers sold here daily. The Ghat was a bathing Ghat and is said to have European-styled structures; however, the Mallick Flower Market has taken over entirely, and I could not see anything beyond that.
I saw many Pigeons flocking to drink water from the shallow Water pools especially built for them. This Ghat comes to life every day at dawn as people prepare themselves for another morning of wholesale selling and buying flowers. The Ghat thrives every morning in this activity.
Mutty Lal Seal Ghat
Towards the end of the 19th century, one Babu Moti Lal Seal, the founding father of the Bank of India, founded the Mutty Lal Seal Ghat. The entrance of the ghat has grand access built on large pillars with intricate carvings and a flat-roofed structure. I somehow found this structure similar to the James Princep Memorial.
The ghat on its own is very compact and hidden among rows of warehouses and dilapidated structures that have come up. The entrance structure is inhabited by the homeless who stay here. But even with all these hindrances, one can quickly notice the beauty of the Mutty Lal Seal Ghat.
By the way, Babu Moti Lal seal was a philanthropist, prosperous merchant trader, social reformer, and enthusiastic about higher education for the Indian common public.
Those who stayed here when they saw me interested in learning more about this ghat were more than welcome to make me feel at ease as they tried to explain the significance of the Ghat and their daily lives, which revolved around the Ghat.
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My thoughts on the existence of the Ghats of Kolkata
The Ghats of Kolkata, towards which many have turned a blind eye, unlike the Ghats of Varanasi, are calling for out for being recognised. Built by the Zamindars and many others for various purposes, including socio and cultural, these Ghats are one of the most integral parts of the city of Kolkata right from its inception.
For me, the Ghats are a source of mystery, a passage into history, mystical and above all, a source of being soothed from all the chaos by the waters of the eternal Hooghly flowing past, gently watching me as I yet again come near to her using these Ghats, in the knowledge that I need her silence to comfort the silence with me.
I will be exploring more of the various Kolkata ghats and writing about them in the following posts, as I feel I must visit the silent ghats of Kolkata.