Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chausatti Ghat and Digpatiya Ghat, Varanasi

The Chausatti Ghat at Varanasi is named after the Chausat Yoginis, the 64 sacred feminine beings who are representations of Shakti, the primordial cosmic energy. The word chausatt means 64 in Hindi. According to popular legend, the Chausatt Yoginis were sent by Shiva to reside in Varanasi. 

 The fourth canto of the Skanda Purana, called Kashi Khanda (which is dated to the 14th Century), mentions the 64 yoginis in Chaussati Ghat. Thus we know that at least since the 14th century, the worship of these goddesses has been practiced in Varanasi. Yogini worship was very popular in India in the 10th and 11th centuries; so it is possible that these goddesses existed in Varanasi even earlier.

In the 16th century, the great Sanskrit philosopher Madhusudana Sarasvati (1540 – 1640) lived at Chausatti Ghat. He is famous for his treatises on advaita philosophy. Madhusudana initiated many sanyasins into the Dashanami orders, in order to form large groups of martially trained ascetics.

King Pratapaditya of Jessore, Bangladesh (1561 - 1611) changed the ghat into a 'pucca' structure in the 16th century. In 1670, the Mewar king Rana Jagat Singh I built the Rana Mahal near the Chausatti Ghat, and the goddess idols were kept there. In 1690, the Udaipur rulers further improved the Chaussati Ghat.

The lower portion of Chausatthi Ghat was re-built in 1830 by the Raja of Digpatia; so that part is now called Digpatia Ghat. You can still see the beautiful architecture of the palace built by the Digpatiya king.

The stone steps lead up to a temple. In the temple compound there are old images of Kali, folk goddesses, Shiva, Ganesha and Kartikeya. Among the 64 Yogini images, only 16 are presently existing in Varanasi. Out of these, only two are in the vicinity of the Chausatti Ghat, i.e. Gajanana, “the elephant-headed” (House: D 21/ 22) and Mayuri, “the peacock-headed”, on the steps of the ghat.

Currently the Sitaramdas Omkarnath Kashi Ashram is located on this ghat. This sect has its headquarters in Calcutta. They welcome people of all faiths and castes. The founder, Sitaramdas Omkarnath, believed that religion is fundamentally the relationship between one's soul and God. Through chanting the Name of God, the mind can be oriented towards god. Thus, the ashram’s activities are designed towards promoting the chant of Hare Ram, Hare Ram, Rama Rama Hare Hare; Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare. You can hear the chant in Sitaramdas Omkarnath’s own voice here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/1008-Sri-Sri-Thakur-Sita-Ram-Das-Omkarnath/284717055452
Chausatti Ghat is also the location of "Satyalok", the home of Lahiri Mayasaya, who is mentioned in the famous book Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. You can read more about Lahiri Mahayasa here: http://www.kriyayogalahiri.com/ His grandson continues to live in Satyalok and teach Kriya Yoga

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