The Raj Ghat, the most famous ghat in Delhi, is possibly the most visited ghat in India, and arguably the most popular site of Hindu interest in the capital. Although the current ghat stands on an an ancient site, it is not for its ancient history that it has achieved great importance; but rather for its association with Mohandas Ghandi, the father of modern India. It was here in 1948 that the body of the Mahatma was cremated the day after his assassination. It is now home to a host of memorials honoring members of the Gandhi and Nehru families as well as other prominent political leaders of the modern era.
The Yamuna River, one of the most important waterways in north-central India, runs through some of the Subcontinent’s largest cities, including Agra and Delhi. It has been closely associated with several Hindu deities in its long history, including Yami and Krishna, and traditional Hindu ghats have stood along its banks since before the Middle Ages. One of these, the Raj Ghat, was one of the earliest major Hindu sacred places in the area around Delhi.
On January 30, 1948, less than one year after India had achieved independence from the British Empire, Mohandas Gandhi was walking through the garden of the Birla House on his way to a prayer meeting. Swarmed by followers and well-wishers, he was not aware that an assassin awaited him in the crowd. The assassin moved close to Gandhi and shot him at point blank range. The Mahatma died shortly thereafter.
The next day, the body of Mohandas Gandhi was brought to the great open plaza on the east side of the city between Old Delhi and New Delhi, and there, before a crowd of hundreds of thousands of mourners, he was cremated. The site of the cremation became an overnight pilgrimage destination. In the years following Gandhi’s death, millions of Indians of every religion and creed came to pay homage at the site.
The site of the cremation was later transformed into a national memorial, both to Gandhi as well as many others of modern India’s founders and leaders. Thanks to its prominent location in the national capital, it is regularly visited by many foreign leaders, ambassadors and dignitaries. The site was later renamed the Raj Ghat in honor of the city’s ancient famous ghat.
The Raj Ghat memorial area is a large open-air park and square in the middle of Delhi. The single most important and popular destination at the memorial, not surprisingly, is a platform marking the spot where Gandhi was cremated. This black marble monument, topped with a carpet of flowers, is crowned with an eternal flame burning in a glass case.
Many others are memorialized here, including several other important luminaries of Indian history. There are a number of members of the Gandhi family, including Sanjay Gandhi, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Also here is a memorial to Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s close friend and the first prime minister of modern India.
The Raj Ghat Memorial is located in the very heart of Delhi, close to the Yamuna River where Old Delhi meets New Delhi. Many locals believe that the site of the memorial is the city’s heart. It is open year round (daily hours vary). There is no cost of admission. Web: www.delhitourism.gov.in (official tourism website of Delhi).
There are many places in Delhi associated with the life of Gandhi, but other than the Raj Ghat, the most popular has to be the Birla House. This house, where Gandhi lived the last half year of his life, is where he was assassinated (a memorial marks the spot). The house is now home to a museum of Gandhi’s life.