The moment you say Varanasi, the visuals that cross your mind are that of Moon shaped Ghats of Ganga. With their steep steps and the much-captured sights and sounds of the evening Aarti. This is the time when the devotees stand before the Ganga. And offer her prayers, thanking her for nurturing them on her banks and for cleansing them with her purifying waters.
Aarti on the ghats of Ganga
Over the years tourists and travelers have started visiting to witness the Aarti. In my opinion, their expectations added the glamor factor to the event, which should be a solemn affair otherwise. Young boys who perform the Aarti wear silk dhotis with rich gold borders, orange kurtas, and Stoles across their shoulders – all in the same color. They move their hands in sync with each other on raised platforms that put them above the rest of the Junta. They are conscious of the fact that while the Aarti is going on, all the tourist eyes are on them. And not on the Ganga, and it was amusing to read those expressions on their faces.
Boatmen who would have little business after the sun goes down, have found a new revenue stream. They park their boats right in front of Aarti benches in the Ganga that they let tourists use for a hefty charge.
Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat is the most famous and elaborate one. There are two sets of platforms here on two parts of the ghat. Colorful canopies stand on top of each platform tied through a rod that also has electric lamps. Assi ghat also has a similar Aarti every evening. On each platform is another small platform that has all the Pooja items – flowers, copper pot with water, wet cloth to hold the heavy and hot metallic diyas and a conch shell. The Central platform has a small temple dedicated to Goddess Ganga with her anthropomorphic form decked in beautiful floral garlands.
Devotee & Tourist
If you go there as a devotee, evening Aarti feels like a put up show. If you go as a tourist, it is a spectacle – a heady mix of music, color, fire and water. It is quite a sight when few heavy metallic lamps with many layers of multiple burning wicks move in synchronization. The smoke coming out creates patterns against the dark sky. The quiet waters of Ganga seems to be watching and enjoying the event along with devotees and the tourists.
The crowd somehow fits around these raised platforms, behind them, on steps in front of them and on boats parked in Ganga in front of them. Live music plays just behind the platforms. Those who know the Aarti join into sing. Sadhus sit around and join in their own ways, their eyes looking for the potential donors.
It is a very balanced combination of a formal ritual in an entirely informal environment.
Recommend you read following travel blog posts on places to visit in Varanasi.