The Ganga Aarti in Varanasi

 

The Ganga Aarti 

 

The city of Varanasi (also Banaras) is situated in the north of India, on the south-eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh. Cutting right through the bustling, colourful, narrow streets of the Varanasi town is the almighty Ganges River.

 

A epic sunset in Varanasi

 

Varanasi is regarded as one of the seven most sacred cities in the Hindu religion. So along the miles of elaborate shrines and palaces that are positioned on the water’s edge, you may or may not be surprised to witness Hindu style cremations taking place, right in front of your eyes.

 

Purple skies in Varanasi, India

 

On my first evening in this holy city, I arranged a boat tour which took me a few kilometres up the River Ganges, to find out a little more about the famous river ritual. I’d heard about the ongoing ceremonies wondering the streets earlier in the day, and I was intrigued to find out more.

 

Boats making their way to the Ganga Aarti

 

We set off around 6:00 pm, which was perfect as we caught a stunning pink sunset. Shortly after as the sun descended further behind the ghats on the riverfront, the sky turned into lavender, creating an awesome reflection off the gloomy brown water. 

 

Locals making their way to Dasaswamedh Ghat

 

As I was making my way up-stream, my guide pointed out the fires burning in the distance. I stared into the distance bewildered, as he proceeded to tell me that these are cremations that take place here in Varanasi.

 

The Manikarnika ghat at night, where 29,000 cremations approximately happen each year

 

Varanasi Cremations & Ghats

 

Families save for years in hope to be cremated, which would typically happen in a ghat. In Varanasi, you’ll find over 80 ghats, they’re all unique temples, decorated in their own style. Manikarnika Ghat is considered one of the holiest cremation grounds along the river Ganges, with approximately 28,000 every year!

 

A cremation taking place outside the Manikarnika ghat in Varanasi

 

Each year, more than a million pilgrims make their way from all over India to Varanasi, which is bounded by a road known as Panchakosi. This road is for devout Hindus, who wish once in their lifetime to visit the city. Many migrate to the city at an elderly age, in hope to pass away and get cremated here.

 

People gathered outside Dashashwamedh Ghat, in preparation for the Ganga Aarti

 

The Ganga Aarti Ceremony

 

 Every evening on the banks of the River Ganges, in the three cities of Rishikesh, Hardwar, and Varanasi, the Ganga Aarti is performed. An aarti is a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering. It’s usually made in the form of a lit brass lamp, and in the case of the Ganges River, a small diya with a candle and flowers that are floated down the river. The offering is made to the Goddess Ganga, also affectionately referred to as Maa Ganga, goddess of the holiest river in India.

 

People on boats, floating outside the Dashashwamedh Ghat

 

Where does the Ganga Aarti take place

 

The Ganga Aarti in Varanasi takes place at every sunset at the holy Dashashwamedh Ghat, one of the oldest and holiest ghats in Varanasi. According to Hindu mythology, the Dashashwamedh Ghat was made by Lord Brahma to welcome Lord Shiva.

 

Many bystanders observing the Ganga Aarti from a boat tour

Bystanders watching the Ganga Aarti Ceremony on boats that are docked by the side of the performance

 

A local lady holding a diya, which she's about to let float down the River Ganges

 

A small diva, floating down the river Ganges in-between boats

A small diya, floating in between boats

 

Hindu Devouts handing out flowers for a small donation

 

The ceremony is performed by Pandit priests, who have heavily studied Hinduism all their lives. The priests all dress in a dhoti, which is traditional Indian cloth that is wrapped around and tightened at the waist. On their body, they wear a kurta – a loose collarless shirt, as well as a gamcha (towel), which is wrapped across their body from shoulder to waist.

 

a priest, rotating a brass lamp over his head for the Ganga Aarti

 

 

Priests performing the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi

 

To signal the commencement of the ceremony, a priest will blow through a conch shell. Shortly after, the priests light up their brass lamps, and in a synchronised manner begin the ceremony.The movement of the lamps, held in the priests‘ hands, is tightly synchronizing to the rhythmic chants of hymns and chimes of cymbals. The heady scent of sandalwood thickly permeates the air as the performance is carried out.

 

The Ganga Aarti performance

 

 

A typical diya, which is made from flowers and a candle

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting a tour to watch the Ganga Aarti

The best way to get a ‘local’ feel to this city full of culture using a tour company is by checking out ToursByLocals. They have a number of different tours available for Varanasi, starting at very good prices!

 

An Indian man sitting outside his house by the River Ganges

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