The Paintings of Sita Ram, Part 9

BY: SUN STAFF - 27.5 2023

The ghats at Benares: Dasasvamedh Ghat and the temples just downstream
Painting by Seeta Ram, c. 1814
British Library Collection

A serial presentation of the extraordinary collection of Sita Ram's early 1800's watercolors depicting Indian temples and landscapes.

Today we feature one of the most striking watercolors Sita Rama painted of the holy bathing ghats of Benares. Entitled 'The ghats at Benares: Dasasvamedh Ghat and the temples just downstream', this painting is included in the artist's folio, 'Views by Seeta Ram from Patna to Benares, Vol. II'. The scene was painted as Sita Ram accompanied Governor Hastings on the journey from Calcutta to Delhi in 1814-15.

As described by British Library staff, "Dashashvamedha Ghat, on the River Ganges at Varanasi (Benares), is one of the busiest of the cities many ghats, where residents and pilgrims perform their ablutions, Brahmin priests sit on wooden platforms under bamboo umbrellas to offer prayers for their clients, masseurs ply their trade and boatmen jostle for custom.

The name of the Ghat is derived from the legend that this was the site where Lord Brahma performed the "Das ashvamedha" (10 horse) sacrifice for King Divodasa. This ghat is regarded as one of the world's most celebrated tirthas, or 'crossing places' where the devotee can gain access to the divine and gods and goddesses can come down to earth."

Sita Ram added an inscription to this painting, saying: 'Temple of Rajah Dusserrauth at Benares with the House he lived in to the left.'

The Caitanya-caritamrta and Caitanya Bhagavat relate the various pastimes enjoyed by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Varnasi. In "A short life sketch and teachings of Lord Chaitanya, the Preacher of Srimad Bhagwatam" from Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes:

"While the Lord was camping at Varanasi, Sanatana Gosvami also arrived after retiring from office. He was formerly one of the state ministers in the government of Bengal, then under the regime of Nawab Hussain Shah. He had some difficulty in getting relief from the state service, for the Nawab was reluctant to let him leave. Nonetheless he came to Varanasi, and the Lord taught him the principles of devotional service."

Shortly after this passage he mentions the Dasasvamedha-ghata:

"On the bank of the Dasasvamedha-ghata at Prayaga for ten days continually the Lord instructed Rupa Gosvami in the science of devotional service to the Lord. He taught the Gosvami the divisions of the living creatures in the 8,400,000 species of life. Then He taught him about the human species. Out of them He discussed the followers of the Vedic principles, out of them the fruitive workers, out of them the empiric philosophers, and out of them the liberated souls. He said that there are only a few who are actually pure devotees of Lord Sri Krsna."

The Dasasvamedha-ghata where Lord Chaitanya instructed Srila Rupa Gosvami is sometimes confused with the ghat by the same name in Varnasi, which Sita Ram painted. The reason for this is that in Varnasi (modern Benaras), there is a ghat called Dasasvamedha-ghata which is right beside the very famous Prayag-ghat. These two well known ghats in Varnasi are often mentioned together. However, the Dasasvamedha-ghat where Lord Chaitanya preached is actually at Prayag, Allahabad, the triveni-sangam, or confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers. Prayag is about two hours due west of the Prayag and Dasasvamedha ghats at Varnasi.