The Varanasi Heritage Dossier/Asi Ghat Area
25º 17.334’ North and 83º 00.358’ East (Asi Sangameshvara - 2).
Exact location on a map
At Asi Ghat, southern edge of the City, and till 1979 marked by the confluence of Asi drain; the southern reference point is the Asi Sangameshvara -2 (House No. B 1/ 174). 4.Area (in ha.) of proposed property: 125m X 110m stretch, i.e. ca. 1.375ha.
All the pilgrimage routes pass through the south certainly touch this site. Even in the ancient mythologies (e.g. Matya Purana as in TS 101; VM 177; KKh 97.253), the Asi drain was mentioned as seasonal stream and a dried bed. The temple of Asi Sangameshvara (“Lord of the Confluence of Asi”) marked with a marble plaque establishes the puranic heritage of the site. The plaque reads that “in the Pancakroshi pilgrimage, this site is one of the Pancatirthis”. This ghat was mentioned in the inscriptions of the Gahadavalas (11th-12th century). In Varadaraja’s Giravana-padamanjari (1600-60) this ghat is also described with glory. By the turn of 19th century the long strip of the Ghat got divided into separate ghats. In 1902 the Queen Dulhin Radha Dulari Kunwar of the Sursand Estate (Bihar) had purchased the southern part of ghat and built her small palace (presently Hotel Ganga View) and also the Lakshminarayana Temple.
Description and History
Till 19th century the Asi Ghat was in a natural shape, an open land with green lush of trees. However, its glory was already described in the ancient texts under the name of “Asi Sangmeh Tirtha”. In 1988 the Ghat was made pucca (stone-staired) by the Irrigation Department with the support of the Ganga Directorate project.
Present state of conservation
There is no plan for conservation. In fact, in the name of beautification and change the development and transformation of the ghat area turned to be a big problem. The closing down of Asi confluence (in fact shifted ½ km in the south in 1981-82) and the pucca construction of Asi and nearby ghats resulted to create a crucial problem of silt deposition. According to an estimate about 8200m² of silt in a length of 60m get deposited every year along the Asi and Rivan ghats, and to get it cleaned a good sum of money is spent every year. Moreover, the course and the flow are changing which cause loss of the aesthetic sense and sacramental values of the ghat. The consequences of modern approach of short-term planning are clearly visible here.
Specific measures being taken for conserving the specific property
No specific measures are taken to conserve and preserve the ghat area, except to clean and maintain the area at different degrees, of course not optimal.
--. The Municipal Corporation and VDA, i.e. the government bodies, own the area.
Development plan by VDA suspended by High Court 2013
In July 2013, the Allahabad High Court stalled a pharaonic construction project of the U.P. State Government on making permanent structures in the heritage zone (on and around the Assi Ghat) in Varanasi that was in open contrast with the Government laws and would have permanently disfigured the Varanasi urban landscape and the skyline of the riverfront ghats. Allahabad High Court Order Dated 29 July 2013 These proposed constructions included jetties in the river, toilets, shelters, big bathing platforms, parks, kiosks, parking area, greening, a 9 metre wide and 635 metre long promenade. हाईकोर्ट ने सरकार से वाराणसी के घाटों के सौंदर्यीकरण का प्रस्ताव मांगा नवभारत टाइम्स
In order to comply with the requirement of the citizens of Varanasi before the sanction project be implemented it is required that:
- must be based on a proper scientific report on the river and the river banks as well as their utilisation, prepared by experts in consultation with stakeholders, that study the factors responsible on the one hand for the sustainable existence of the ghats and on the other hand, for weakening the ghat structure and/or eroding the ghats from beneath; on the impact of developmental interventions on the course of the river and its ecological balance, and on the sustainable existence of the riverfront ghats and structures thereon
- in order for interventions/ project activities/ deliverables to positively contribute to the aesthetic value and coherence of the Ganga riverfront ghat structure, use and appearance as well as to maintaining the harmony and uniqueness of their architectural skyline, shapes and material constituting the same, it is important the interventions/projects are not piece meal or stand-alone but part of a wider conservation and management plan that ensures sustainability and minimises negative impacts on the above
- in order for interventions/ project activities/ deliverables to be effective and sustainable, interventions/ project activities/ deliverables will need to be time-bound, have full confirmation of fund sanction, chronologically logical and in consultation with civil society, so that thesame is local needs-based and local people thus take up the O&M responsibilities of the same (for ex. making the STP bewfore the toilets and bathing places). As explicitly stated in GOI expectation “local communities shall be involved in the O&M of non-core schemes” and the State government is finally responsible for O&M (pg 14 of U.P. Jal Nigam Service Unit -24 affidvit of 16 July 2013) and that City level Monitoring Committees must be responsible for community involvement and consultations (pg 13 of Nagar Nigam’s affidavit). This is important because there are “bad practice” examples in the city, for ex. the bridge on River Ganga between Samne Ghat and Ramnagar that started in 2006 and was stalled for the past 5 years because of change in government and that has now re-started again OR the half-built structure on Dashashwamedh ghat, intended for improving the local market space, but never completed because it followed a top-down approach and was not prepared in consultaiton with stakeholders;
- In order to optimally utilise funds and minimise repitions, the interventions will build on and avail of existing reports on the Ganga riverfront ghats, like the DPRs for Dashashwamedh Ghat, Assi Ghat, etc. that were funded by VDA (for approx. Rs. 35 lacs) and prepared by INTACH-Delhi
- A Monitoring mechanism needs to be established in collaboration with local civil society and that quarterly reports be presented to this Hon’ble bench of the Allahabad High Court and that contractors be penalised if they violate timelines and quality of interventions.