Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi is a spectacle to watch. It is a perfect example of the ancient tradition of River worship in India packaged in a way that attracts all kinds of people. Pilgrims come to pray at the holy Ganga. Tourists come to see the visual where the fire comes to worship the water that sustains life.
The moment you say Varanasi, the visuals of the Moon-shaped Ghats of Ganga cross your mind. The steep steps connecting the Ganga with the city are also the venue for much-captured sights and sounds of the Aarti.
Every evening, devotees stand before the Ganga, who is lovingly called Ganga Maiyya or mother Ganga. They pray to Ganga with Aarti and thank her for nurturing them on her banks and for cleansing them with her purifying waters. A lot of devotees, pilgrims, tourists, and travelers gather to watch the spectacle of Ganga Aarti at the famous Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi.
Ganga Aarti At Dashashwamedh Ghat In Varanasi
Over the years the Aarti has become the must-see must-do experience in Varanasi. In my opinion, their expectations added the glamor factor to the event, which should be a solemn affair otherwise.
Young pandits who perform the Aarti wear silk dhotis with rich gold borders, orange kurtas, and stoles across their shoulders – all of them color coordinated. Their hands move in a synchronized rhythm on raised platforms that put them above the rest of the crowd. They are conscious of the fact that while the Aarti is going on, all the tourist’s eyes are on them. It is amusing to see their expressions as they perform the Arti.
Boatmen who would otherwise 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. If you want to witness the spectacle in Varanasi or even photograph it, boats may be a good option. However, if you want to pray to Ganga, stand along the Pujaris doing the Aarti, fold your hands, and pray to Ganga.
Ganga river flows from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal. However, it is only in a few places that it is worshipped. Ganga Aarti is performed in Rishikesh and Haridwar – this is where Ganga enters the plains from the hills. The divide here is also that of land inhabited by the Devas and the land inhabited by humans.
Next, it is worshipped at Varanasi, where it flows northwards. Symbolically it is believed that it is turning back to have one last look at her homeland. Colloquially, they say in ‘Banaras mein Ganga bhi ulti behti hai’ or even the Ganga flows in the reverse direction at Varanasi.
Ganga, as you know, is the holiest of the rivers in India. She is worshipped across several small towns across the flow of the river. Maybe less of an event or spectacle and possibly not every day. Remember the holy river Ganga is prayed in the minds and lives of millions of people across India in their own way across their homes.
Dashashwamedh Ghat is located almost in the center of a long series of ghats in Varanasi. At the northern end is Raj Ghat, where the city once flourished. At the southern end is Assi ghat very popular with bohemian people. Dashashwamedh Ghat is also one of the easiest to reach by road while most others have narrow lanes reaching them.
Situated very close to Kashi Vishwanath Temple, it is believed that Brahma created this Ghat to welcome Shiva into this city, which would always be known by his name. Literally, Dashashwamedh would mean 10 Ashwamedha Yagnas. Ashwamedha Yagna is a ritual done by kings to establish their supremacy over the region.
In the recorded past, Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar of Malwa got the ghat re-constructed in late 18th CE.
Read More – Maheshwar – the city of Ahilya Bai Holkar
Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat
The Aarti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat is the most famous and elaborate one. Lately, Aarti is also performed at other ghats like Assi Ghat.
At Dashashwamedh Ghat, there are two sets of platforms in two different parts of the ghat. Colorful canopies decorated with flowers stand on top of each platform tied to a rod that also has electric lamps. On each platform is another small platform covered with saffron cloth, that has all the Pooja items – flowers, a copper pot with water, a wet cloth to hold the heavy and hot metallic Diyas, and a conch shell. Platforms are also lit up with oil lamps that literally port you to another zone.
The Central platform has a small temple dedicated to Goddess Ganga with her anthropomorphic form decked in beautiful floral garlands.
Video of the Aarti in Varanasi
I managed to capture a glimpse of the grand aarti of the Ganga river at Dashashmedh Ghat during my visit to the holy city of Varanasi. Take a look at the video, best played in HD mode.
There are many more travel videos on my YouTube channel IndiTales, that you may like to watch.
Ganga Maiya ki Aarti
Aarti begins with the blowing of conch shells. It is kind of a declaration of the formal beginning of the Aarti or a prelude if you like. Whatever is done before is a preparation for the Aarti. After the conch shell, it’s the turn of brass bells to ring in the hands of young pandits, followed by incense sticks. Sanskrit Chants provide the perfect backdrop.
The Aarti gets a visual crescendo when the pyramidal oil lamps in brass come up on stage. Even from afar, you can feel their weight and heat. Carrying it, the Pandits rotate in the clockwise direction as they themselves take a slow clockwise turn. They offer the Deep Aradhana or worship using oil lamps in all four directions.
The stack of smaller lamps is followed by the fire in one big lamp. I assume this is a camphor offering. Flowers are offered to Ganga, and fans made of peacock feathers are used to fan the Ma Ganga. Conch shells are blown once again and that declares the completion of Aarti for the day.
Watching the Spectacle of Aarti
If you go there as a devotee, the 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 a 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 seem to be watching and enjoying the event along with devotees and tourists.
The crowd, no matter how large, 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 at the Aarti in Varanasi
Live music plays just behind the platforms. Regular people sit around and sing the Aarti. Those who know the Aarti join in to sing. Others can simply clap their hands and provide the backdrop. For me, this is the best part of Aarti. It is spontaneous and comes from the people present there at that moment. I hope that never changes.
Sadhus sit around and join in their own ways, some of their eyes looking for potential donors.
Aarti at Dashashwamedha Ghat in Varanasi is a very balanced combination of a formal ritual in an entirely informal environment.
- It happens every evening.
- There is no fee to attend. You are not even expected to make an offering. Just join in.
- Timings vary according to the season. It happens just after sunset and it’s dark. In the months of Kartik Purnima or Nov-Dec, the aarti is a grander event and happens around 7 PM. Check the time with locals when you visit.
- Suggest you reach the venue 30 minutes in advance to get a vantage seating/photography location.
- It is about a 45 minutes spectacle.
- Dashashwamedh Ghat is crowded at the time of Aarti. Take care of your belongings.
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