If you have not been to India and just packing your things to visit the beautiful city of Kolkata, you may wonder what a “ghat” means. According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, a ghat is “a broad flight of steps that is situated on an Indian riverbank and that provides access to the water especially for bathing”. India considers a river a holy place, and so it is common to see a ghat in many corners of the country. One of the most well-known of these flight of stairs is the Outram Ghat in Kolkata.
Kolkata is located in the state of West Bengal. In Bengali-speaking regions in India such as Kolkata, any flight of stairs that lead down to a body of water regardless of size (it may be a small pond or wide river) is considered a ghat.
The Outram Ghat was built along the banks of Hooghly River during the period of British India. Built in the late 19th century by the British in honor of Sir James Outram, the ghat served as the main port for ships that came all the way from East Bengal and Burma (Myanmar). Clearly, its original purpose was nautical and commercial, not religious.
However, since the Hooghly River makes up much of life in West Bengal, this British-made ghat took on several other purposes. Through the years, people came to the ghat to bathe, take a ride on the river, hang out to get relief from the scorching summer heat, and perform important religious rituals. This part of the Hooghly River plays an important part during the Durga Puja as idols are immersed in the river.
The city of Calcutta has a rich history as well as a wealth of spirituality. Indians are very religious and this is most pronounced in this important city in West Bengal. The Durga Puja is a religious festival that celebrates the victory of the 10-arm Goddess Durga over evil personified in the demon Mahishasura. This is the most fun, colorful and vibrant festival in the city if not the entire country. Hundreds and thousands of people dance in the streets, celebrating from one pandal to another. A “pandal” is an ornamented scaffolding that serves as temporary temple.
The festival ends with a procession that leads to Hooghly River. Devotees carry the image of Durga and immerse it into the river as they descend through the Outram Ghat. The goddess is immersed as a symbol of her journey back to her husband and family in the Himalayas.
Meanwhile, there are now a number of speedboats and wooden boats that dock at the ghat offering an exciting river cruise for everyone. Added attractions are a floating restaurant, joy-rides for children and road-side restaurants. These all make the area more popular than ever. Outram Ghat is also host to the Explorers Club, a group of marine adventurers.
The Outram Ghat is a quiet, simple and humble reminder of what the entire city stands for. Kolkata is a vibrant, progressive and modern metropolis, yet completely and fully rooted in tradition, mysticism and spirituality. Just like the ghat on the southern direction of Babughat along Hooghly River, the city of Kolkata offers everything – religion, entertainment and Indian culture – to everyone.