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The famous Dashashwamedh Ghat on the Ganges river, Varanasi

As used in many parts of South Asia, the term ghat refers to a series of steps leading down to a body of water, particularly a holy river. The set of stairs can lead down to something as small as a pond or as large as a major river.


The word ghat is explained by numerous Dravidian etymons such as Kannada gatta (mountain range) Tamil kattu (side of a mountain, dam, ridge, causeway) and Telugu katta and gattu (dam, embankment).[1] The word ghat has furthermore the implicit meaning of pass or crossing.

Along the rivers in India[edit]

The numerous significant ghats along the Ganges are the Varanasi ghats (the city of Varanasi has 88 ghats) and generically the "ghats of the Ganges". Most of these were constructed under the patronage of various Maratha rulers such as Ahilyabai Holkar (Queen of the Malwa Kingdom from 1767 to 1795) in the 18th century.[2]

In Madhya Pradesh in central India there are further significant ghats along the Narmada River. People who live on the steps are also called ghats.

Shmashana ghats[edit]

A late 18th century painting of Pune with the Shmashana ghat at the confluence of Mula and Mutha rivers in the foreground

Ghats such as these are useful for both mundane purposes (such as cleaning) and religious rites (i.e. ritual bathing or ablutions); there are also specific "shmashana" or "cremation" ghats where bodies are cremated waterside, allowing ashes to be washed away by rivers; notable ones are Nigambodh Ghat and Raj Ghat in Delhi on the Yamuna, the latter of which was the cremation area for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and numerous political leaders after him, and the Manikarnika Ghat at Varanasi on the Ganges.[3]

Other uses[edit]

Western Ghats

In Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati and Kannada, ghat is a term used to identify a difficult passage over a mountain.[4] One such passage is the Bhor Ghat that connects the towns Khopoli and Khandala, on NH 4 about 80 kilometres (50 mi) north of Mumbai. Charmadi Ghat of Karnataka is also notable.

In many cases, the term is used to refer to a mountain range itself, as in the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats. 'Ghattam' in Malayalam also refers to mountain ranges when used with the name of the ranges being addressed (e.g., paschima ghattam for Western Ghats), while the passage road would be called a 'churam'.

Outside India[edit]

The word is also used in some places outside the Indian subcontinent where there are Indian communities. For example, in George Town, Penang in Malaysia, the label "Ghaut" is used to identify the extensions of those streets which formerly ended in ghats before reclamation of the quayside (e.g., Church St Ghaut - in Malay Gat Lebuh Gereja - is the name of the extension of Church St beyond where the street used to descend to the water via a ghat). In both Penang and Singapore, there are areas named Dhoby Ghaut (dhobi meaning "launderer" or "laundry", depending on whether it refers to a person or a business).

Place name suffix[edit]

"Ghat" and "Ghata" is also a suffix used in several place names across the subcontinent. This is an incomplete list:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jaini, Padmanabh S. (2003). Jainism and Early Buddhism. Jain Publishing Company. pp. 523–538.
  2. ^ Eck, Diana L. (1999). Banaras : city of light (repr. ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 90, 222. ISBN 9780231114479. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  3. ^ "Funeral pyre to be set up in Lahore". Daily Times Pakistan. Archived from the original on 2007-02-13.
  4. ^ Navneet Marathi English Dictionary. Mumbai 400028: Navneet Publications (India) Limited. Archived from the original on 2009-01-24.

External links[edit]