‘Banaras me toh Ganga bhi ulti behti hai‘, a colloquial adage meaning here in Banaras, even the mighty Ganges flows in reverse. In Banaras or Varanasi, as it is presently called, river Ganga takes a crescent-shaped turn towards the north, an aberration in the southward flow of the river which originates in the laps of the mighty Himalayas and traverses the Gangetic plain before flowing into Bangladesh and eventually into the Bay of Bengal. Long ago, on the banks of this turn, a legendary city was established; a city that epitomized spirituality and survived long enough to be regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Along the banks, there are 88 ghats starting with the Raj Ghat in one end and the Assi Ghat in the other, each with its own spiritual significance and sperate identity in the history of this holy land. Among these ghats, the most prominent, colourful, and venerable is the Dashaswamedha Ghat. Mythology mentions this ghat to be the place where Brahma, the creator of the universe, sacrificed ten horses in a yajna (fire ritual). The spectacular ghat was built by the legendary Hindu warrior queen of Indore, Maharani Ahilyabahi Holkar.
Every day, during sunrise and sunset, a splendid aarti of the holy river Ganga is held at the Dashaswamedha Ghat. It’s a spectacular ceremony witnessed by thousands daily and is among the famous attractions of Varanasi. About an hour before the ceremony, the aarti podium is decked up with flowers and lights while the visitors start pouring in. Everyone strives to find a vantage point where they can have a complete view of the aarti. Although there are seating arrangements, they often prove inadequate for the huge crowd, and people stand around the podium and on the balconies of the nearby buildings to witness the aarti. There are boats docked in front of the podium and people can view the ceremony from these boats as well by negotiating a fee with the boatman.
The ceremony starts around 7 PM in the evening during the winter months. An anthropomorphic idol of the holy Ganges (worshiped as Mata Gange) adorned with colourful flowers is brought to the podium. Before the aarti, an oath is administered to the visitors to keep the river clean and maintain its sanctity at all times. The ceremony begins with the traditional blowing of the conch and is followed by various offerings made to the holy river. During the aarti, seven priests, holding huge oil lamps, synchronously revolve the lamps to the beats of the Sanskrit mantras, bells, and the rhythmic clapping of the devotees. The divine ambiance, the holy fire, the light and colour, the mellifluous mantras, and the clinging of the bells, all set against a gigantic, dark river creates a spectacular experience; one that would fondly remain etched in the memories forever. During the Varanasi trip, I booked my accommodation close to the Dashaswamedha Ghat, and every evening I went to the ghat during the aarti time to soak the energy and positivity that the place exuded. I never had enough of it!
Here are a few pictures and a video of the aarti ceremony. Hope you like them!
A short video:
- The best place to stay in the area near the Dashaswamedha Ghat. It’s close to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, the Manikarnika Ghat, and every other place you may like to explore. Since I visited during the new year’s time, online I could not find decent accommodation in that area in a reasonable price range. I directly booked a room on spot after enquiring in a few lodges and I must say it turned out to be a good decision.
- Check with your hotel about the aarti timings. These timings often change with the season.
- The best view of the aarti is from the boats. However, if you want to witness it from close quarters, reach a little early and sit in the area below the podium. That’s from where I took all the portrait pictures.
I hope you liked this post. There are so many facets of Varanasi and its celebrated ghats. There is a legend to be told, a spiritual reference, an anecdote in every ghat – some dark, gloomy and mystic like the Manikarnika and some colourful and spectacular like the Dashaswamedha. If you happen to visit Varanasi, enjoy them all, there is no other place like this. Travel, Learn and spread Love!