Feb 152013
 

Since childhood, I have seen Ganga Aarti many times from the paved steps of Dashaswamedh Ghat near famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi and watching this event was one of the my favourite pass-time during my stay in Varanasi. Varanasi is just 30 kms away from my village and I already visited this place many times.  But, it was the first time when I wanted to explore my own city as a backpacker. Exploring Banaras (Varansi) as a backpacker…I looked crazy to everyone.  But, I knew that it was going to be a thrilling experience for me.

With a sheer joy and unknown excitement, I boarded an evening flight of Spice Jet from New Delhi to Varanasi. The flight took-off on scheduled time and reached Varanasi Airport in 50 minutes. Varanasi Airport is situated at the distance of 22 kms from the City Center on Varanasi-Lucknow National Highway 56.  It is served by  major domestic airlines like Air India, Jet Airways etc. There are direct flights from Varanasi to Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Kathmandu.

I wanted to watch the Ganga Aarti on that evening itself. So, I walked down to the highway (500 mtrs) and boarded a Uttar Pradesh Roadways bus to Varanasi.  Ganga Aarti starts around 6 PM in the winter and 7 PM in the summer, say right after the sunset.  But,  people start arriving very early in order to get a good place for watching this spectacular ceremony.

The roadways bus left me at the Varanasi Main Bus Station outside the railway junction. Location of Ganga Aarti, Dashashwamedh Ghat, is still 5 kms from there. So, I walked ahead towards the auto stand for 1 km and got a shared auto to Godaulia, the last place where we could reach by an auto. From there, Dashashwamedh Ghat is just 800 mtrs away.  I walked though a over-crowded market and reached at the ghat before the scheduled time of Aarti Ceremony.

There was already a huge crowd gathered to watch the Ganga Aarti. Some were standing on the ghat-steps, some got places on the roof-tops of nearby shops and some were negotiating with the boat owners on the riverbank. There is no particular place for the best view of Ganga Aarti. You can enjoy it from the steps, from the boats, from the roof-top of nearby shops or from the roof-top of the Ganga Sewa Nidhi office, which is the organizer of this ceremony.

boats

People waiting for the start of Ganga Aarti ceremony

I stood on the steps, from where the view was pretty good. The Aarti was about to begin in next 10 minutes and preparation was going on. The Aarti ceremony takes place on seven wooden platforms placed on the edge of the steps of the ghat. On each wooden platform, there are small tables covered with saffron colour silk clothes with Pooja (prayer) items, that include a conch shell, incense sticks, praying bells, handkerchiefs,  large brass lamps with snake hood, flowers, water pot, yak-tail fan, peacock’s feather etc.  Each of these item is considered  very sacred in Hindu Mythology.

Platforms for Priests to perform Ganga Aarti

Wooden platforms to perform the Ganga Aarti

platform things

Sacred items on the table

As this preparation was going on, everybody was eagerly watching and waiting on their seats from the ghat-steps or from the boats.  A huge assembly was gathered by the beginning of Ganga Aarti.  It included different people from diverse backgrounds..Some were from Southern India, some were from the streets of Varanasi,  Some flew down to all the way from Americas and Europe,  some were from Bengal and Bihar..different states, different countries, different religions, different castes, different colours…from Sarees to Jeans, from Dhoti to Suit. It was a confluence of faith, cultures and traditions with attention-cum-curiosity…spectacular, mesmerizing and wonderful.

gathering

Assembly to watch the Aarti Ceremony

As wait came to an end, seven young priests appeared in similar silken cream colour clothes, that also used to be saffron colour sometimes..These young, good looking priests are the students of Vedas and Upanishads and they perform the whole Aarti ritual in a well choreographed manner with a great synchronization. The priests need not to be same everyday. They keep changing, but at a particular day, they all wear the identical clothes, mainly dhotis and kurtas of cream colour or saffron colour with dark-red sweaters in the winter.

The Aarti starts with the chanting of hymns and prayers in the praise of the Holy River. The Ganges is considered as a goddess in Hindu mythology and people call it Mother Ganges. It is the most sacred river of Hindu religion.

gourp

Group of Young Priests

After that, they blow a conch shell at their respective platforms and everybody folds his hands in devotion.

Shnak aur Priest

Blowing a conch shell

Next step is the burning of incense sticks and waving them in an elaborate synchronized manner in all the directions with their right hand, while ringing the prayer bell with the left hand.

Incense aur Priest

A priest waving incense sticks

After this, some people appear with the big multi-tiered lamps containing hundreds of small lamps and keep them near the priests. They wave these burning lamps in clockwise directions, to and fro in a synchronized manner, while  facing themselves in all the directions. These big brass lamps weigh around four and half kilos and small flames look amazing under the night sky.

Lamp

A big multi-tiered lamp

bade lamp ke sath

Waving the big lamp

bada lamp aur priests

Synchronization of the big lamps

It is followed by the waving of large brass lamps with snake hood, full of  camphor or kapoor. The burning of kapoor generates big flames out from the lamps and when the priests wave and circle them identically, it mesmerizes everyone.

aag ke sath

Waving of Kapoor lamp

aag ke sath

Lamp with snake hood

grand view

Grand View of the Aarti Ceremony

After that they wave the Peacock’s feather and Yak-tail fan in similar choreographed manner and the ceremony approaches towards an end.

jhrne ke sath

Waving the Yak-tail fan

As the Aarti ceremony approaches towards the end, a person appears with a big plate full of flowers to collect the donations and offerings from the crowd.

chadhawa

Collecting the donations

Another person appears with a big lamp, so that people can wave their hands on the flame to seek the blessings.

aarti

People waving their hands over the lamp

At the end of the ceremony these priests go to the riverbank and pour the water in the river while chanting the ritual hymns. This mark the end of the closing ceremony.

badi me doodh

Pouring water in the river while chanting the hymns

There were many small flower pots and small lamps lies on the bank of the river, which is offered by people to seek the blessings of the Mother Ganga. This crazy devotional offering makes this river very polluted each day and whole scene looks very dirty. I understand that the religion and devotion is an integral part of our life in India, but can’t we think of that river a little bit, which we call The Mother?

gandagi

The dirty look of the riverbank

And when the Aarti ceremony finishes in nearly 45 minutes after the start, everyone starts dispersing. Pandas and their assistants collect the items from the wooden platforms and bring them back to the office. People walk towards the market, photographers pack their kits and boatmen return to the riverbank.

end

End of the Aarti Ceremony

It always remain an extraordinary experience for me. This is not the devotion, but a visual beauty that always drives me towards this ceremony. I just visited this Aarti ceremony again two days ago, while I was in Banaras and hope to visit it  very soon.  Banaras is a place, where I wanted to be again and again.  For me, there is no better place in the world to celebrate my life with the multitude of people, colours and cultures.

  17 Responses to “Ganga Aarti in Varanasi”

  1. Fabulous pics… This is one of the places I sooooo want to go!

  2. Every photo represents the beauty of the ritual. I can feel the cultural and spiritual moments in the photos, lovely. I loved the photo captioned as “Lamp with snake hood” the most.

  3. You wrote very nice. Can you give your phone? I will talk you

  4. Thanks for sharing the info …I will be visiting Varanasi in November …please let me know some details about Vishwanath temple evening Arti ..what will be the crowd like and what time to reach for the Arti…

    • Hi, Evening Aarti timing of Kashi Vishwanath Temple is 07.00 PM to 08.15 PM, known as Sandhya Aarti. After that, Shringar Aarti timing is 09.00 PM to 10.15 PM. Better to reach at least 30 minutes before the aarti and arrange it with any local priest/panda. You can check about it a day before also.

  5. Yes, it is an extraordinary experience and I watched arti also from steps. Thanks for writing in details specially you visit to venue from Airport. It is very helpful. Thanks again.

  6. Lovely post. I am back from my seven day trip to Varanasi and I witnessed this arti every evening. Though people have different thoughts about this everyday event, it is simply grand!

  7. Amazing the way you shared. I am visiting in a month’s time. Thanks a lot.

  8. Thanks a lot sir….
    In next few days I m wishing to visit bsb for my business. ..so m collecting some information abt ganga ghat to attend aarti.. You have provided sufficient information abt how / where / when to reach ..is very valuable. .
    Thanks again..
    Regard..
    Sanjeev nassa

  9. What a rubbish place to visit?

    • Hi, I don’t know why do you call it rubbish? Have you visited this place? I don’t think so. And if you really visited, then also you didn’t understand the essence of Varanasi. Its a city of contrast. You can like it or you can hate it, but try to feel Banaras, you will surely love it. I am not playing with the words, I am just saying what I feel in Varanasi. It surely deserve another chance from you.

  10. I feel at a loss of words to comment on such a beautiful post. Thank you very much for taking me to a city after my heart… Benaras.

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