Kristian Bertel | Photography
Archive story
In this archive story we are seeing a colorful scene at the Rana Mahal Ghat in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, India.
Read the background story of this archive photo by the photographer.
Devoted Hindus are gathered at the Rana Mahal Ghat in Varanasi, India a late afternoon. This 'Ghat' is located south of Dasaswamedh Ghat, between Darbhanga Ghat and Chousaiti Ghat along the Ganges in Varanasi. As you can see in this photograph 'Ghats' are embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions.
Devoted Hindus are gathered at the Rana Mahal Ghat in Varanasi, India a late afternoon. This 'Ghat' is located south of Dasaswamedh Ghat, between Darbhanga Ghat and Chousaiti Ghat along the Ganges in Varanasi. As you can see in this photograph 'Ghats' are embankments made in steps of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions.
Kristian Bertel, Photographer By Kristian Bertel, Photographer
– Updated on April 2, 2024

Rana Mahal Ghat in Varanasi

'Ghats' in Varanasi are an integral complement to the concept of divinity represented in physical, metaphysical and supernatural elements. Hindus believe in Brahman and will ultimately return to it. Hindus believe that Earthly life is cyclical, you are born again and again and the quality of these rebirths being dependent upon your 'Karma' in previous lives.

What is so special about Varanasi?

It is one of the most sacred sites in India because it is believed to have been the home of Lord Shiva. Some Hindus believe that the River Ganges pays its respects to Lord Shiva by the direction in which it flows. A feature of the landscape at Varanasi is the cremation 'Ghats' that line the banks of the Ganges.

One of the most ancient cities in the world
Varanasi is a city located in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India. It is one of the most ancient cities in the world and is considered to be one of the holiest cities in the Hindu faith. It is also referred to as 'Benares', 'Kashi' and 'Avimukta'. Varanasi is situated on the banks of the Ganges River and is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world and it is renowned for its spiritual atmosphere and its association with Hinduism. The city is home to numerous temples and 'Ghats', which are the steps leading down to the river that are used for religious ceremonies. It is also a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists.

Riverfront steps to the Ganges
'Ghats' in Varanasi are riverfront steps leading to the banks of the Ganges River. The city has 87 'Ghats'. Most of the 'Ghats' are bathing and 'Puja' ceremony 'Ghats', while a few are used exclusively as cremation sites. Most Varanasi 'Ghats' were built after 1700 AD, when the city was part of Maratha Empire. The patrons of current 'Ghats' are 'Marathas', 'Shindes' also spelled 'Scindias', 'Holkars', 'Bhonsles' and 'Peshwes' also spelled 'Peshwas'. Many 'Ghats' are associated with legends or mythologies while many 'Ghats' are privately owned. Morning boat ride on the Ganges across the 'Ghats' is a popular visitors attraction.

In Hindu traditions, cremation is one of the rites of passage and the 'Ghats' of Varanasi are considered one of the auspicious locations for this ritual. At the time of the cremation or last rites, a 'Puja' which is a prayer is performed. Hymns and mantras are recited during cremation to mark the ritual. The 'Manikarnika' and 'Harishchandra Ghats' are dedicated to the cremation ritual. Annually, less than 2 in 1,000 people who die in India or 25,000 to 30,000 bodies are cremated on various Varanasi 'Ghats', about an average of 80 per day and this practice has become controversial for the pollution it causes to the river.

In the 1980s, the government of India funded a clean Ganges initiative, to address cremation and other sources of pollution along the 'Ghats' of Varanasi. In many cases, the cremation is done elsewhere and only the ashes are dispersed into the river near these 'Ghats'.

"The riverbank is characterized by the 'Ghats', stairways leading to the water and the shore. These 'Ghats' are with prayers and bathing, but there are also 'Burning Ghats', where the dead are burnt and the ashes are scattered in the Ganges and they are best explored on foot"

Rana Mahal, once a majestic ghat
The Rana Mahal Ghat is located south of 'Dasaswamedh Ghat', between 'Darbhanga Ghat' and 'Chousaiti Ghat'. It is marked with red stone walls and stepped embankments on the banks of Ganga. The 'Ghat' was reconstructed in 17th century by the ruler of Udaipur named Rana Jagat Singh. The magnificent palace, an excellent example of Rajasthani architecture stands tall on the 'Ghat'.

The 'Ghat' was also included amongst seven prominent 'Ghats' under 'Revitalisation of Varanasi' project launched by regional tourism department for renovation and resurrection. But when the photographed visited the Rana Mahal Ghat he experienced a poor condition of the 'Ghat'. Broken steps, remains of debris and poor sanitary conditions could leave you stunned as he walked from the Dasaswamedh Ghat towards the south in quest of majestic Rajasthani architecture, prominently reflected in the building or palace along the 'Rana Mahal Ghat'. The 'Ghat', depicting the grandeur and glory of Rajasthan rulers, seems to be a shadow of itself, as reflected when it was once built.

Impressions of Varanasi
In Varanasi where the photographer took the portrait of the woman is also known as Benares. A city that has a history of more than 3,000 years, making it one of the oldest permanently inhabited cities in the world. Situated on the holy river Ganges, which crosses an old trading route leading from Bengal, which is today's Bangladesh to the north of India, Varanasi is bordered by two further rivers that flow into the Ganges, Varuna and Assi. The city owes its name to these two rivers. Varanasi is one of the holiest sites of the Hindus. It is the 'City of Shiva', the most important manifestation of the Divine in Hinduism.

Shiva is the god of ecstasy and destruction, but also stands for a new beginning. For more than 2,500 years the pilgrim masses have flown to Varanasi to bathe in the Ganges, because the bath in the sacred river is regarded as purifying. But whoever dies in Varanasi is also blessed, for he breaks through the eternal cycle of birth and rebirth. In the narrow, winding streets of the old town, where you can quickly get lost, the visitor is overwhelmed by a huge amount of impressions as the traders, the homeless, the traffic, corpses carried to the river, between all the cows, which also leave their dung everywhere. The soul of the city is the Ganges, the religious, spiritual, cultural, but also economic life plays along the river.

A boat trip on the Ganges
From the river, the view of the city is impressive. A boat trip on the Ganges counts the absolute "musts", at sunrise or sunset the mood is simply indescribable. However, the water of the Ganges should not come into contact with it because it is completely contaminated. The limit values for colibacteria for bathing water are exceeded by a large number, the concentration of 'Cholera' and 'Typhoid' organisms is more than questionable. In the evenings and at night the hustle and bustle of the 'Ghats' is fascinating. For security reasons, however, you should be careful with such night walks.

In addition, it is advisable to always carry a torch, since in Varanasi quite frequently there are power failures. Also along the Ganga we find most of the other sights of the city, such as the Grand Market and numerous temples, such as the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, the Durga Temple, the Tulsi Manas Temple and the Bharat Mata Temple, also known as the 'Mother-India Temple' and many more. Often, however, non-Hindus are not allowed to enter. Varanasi is also home to a number of attractions, including the historic fortifications and the Ramnagar Fort Palace on the opposite bank of the Ganges or Chunar For

See this video about the Rana Mahal Ghat made by Wilderness Films India.

The photographer's own experience of being in Varanasi
"- One of the most memorable experiences of my time in Varanasi is witnessing the evening 'Aarti ceremony'. As the sounds of chanting fill the air and the smell of incense wafts through the crowd, I raised my Nikon camera to capture the scene unfolding before me. The flickering flames and swirling smoke create a mesmerizing spectacle and I felt privileged to document it through my lens", the Photographer says.

Varanasi, where spirituality permeates every stone, every step, every prayer. The 'Ghats' whispered tales of centuries past, as I boarded a boat at dawn, Nikon poised to immortalize the ethereal mist rising from the Ganges. As the faithful gathered for morning rituals, I observed in awe. Bathing in the holy waters, performing 'Puja' and cremating their loved ones – life and death entwined in a timeless dance. The shutter of my Nikon clicked endlessly, freezing moments that seemed to transcend the boundaries of time. Though, the devout and visitors frequently throng the 'Ghat' due to its historical significance and location of temples, a dip at the 'Ghat' becomes a troublesome experience due to rupturing of stepped embankments. A place wehere youngsters and children are learning to swim from the broken steps in the evening," the Photographer says again.

"- You should also visit Sarnath, about 10 kilometers north of Varanasi. Sarnath is quieter and more tranquil than Varanasi and here, in the Hirschgarten, Buddha is said to be 560 BC, His first sermon. Sarnath is therefore one of the 4 most important pilgrimage destinations of the Buddhists", the Photographer says again.

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More archive stories

India is a land full of stories. On every street, on every corner and in the many places in India, life is rushing by you as a photographer with millions of stories to be told. In the archive story above, you hopefully had a readable insight in the story that was behind the photo of a ghat in Varanasi. On this website of Kristian Bertel | Photography you can find numerous travel pictures from the photographer. Stories and moments that tell the travel stories of how the photographer captured the specific scene that you see in the picture. The photographer's images have a story behind them, images that all are taken from around India throughout his photo journeys. The archive stories delve into Kristian's personal archive to reveal never-before-seen, including portraits and landscapes beautifully produced snapshots from various travel assignments. The archive is so-far organized into photo stories, this one included, each brought to life by narrative text and full-color photos. Together, these fascinating stories tell a story about the life in India. India, the motherland to many people around the world, a land of unforgetable travel moments. The archive takes viewers on a spectacular visual journey through some of the most stunning photographs to be found in the photographer's archive collection. The photographer culled the images to reflect the many variations on the universal theme of beauty and everyday life in India. By adding these back stories the photographer's work might immensely enhanced the understanding of the photographs.