- Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Benaras, India: Bells, Drums, Lamps & Flash Lights at 1900 hrs.

First thing first. Yes i like to call it Benaras and not Varanasi. Its just sounds and feels so much more close... (like Bombay? ).

It was earlier this month that decided to go to Benaras & watch the much talked about Ganga Arti. Rewind two years, i would have only dreaded it considering the number of people pushing & shoving around. But this year, things are different, everything has changed. Or better still to say, there has been a quicker evolution of me, than ever. Its feels good. I was excited about this evening because me and my dad were going together ( just two of us were going together, anywhere, after a million of years). Surprisingly at 67, it was his first too.

The aarti is conducted at dashashwamegh ghat at about 7 pm every evening. People start collecting at the ghat at about 5 pm onwards. And so do many people start halting their boats on the river, right in front of the ghat. People keep struggling for best possible view, but due to several staircases leading to ghat, the space is ample and one can choose to experience aarti from boat, staircase, just anywhere. When me and my dad reached, the Aarti had already begun, but still there was much to go. Vehicles are banned about 1 km ahead of the ghat, so one is supposed to walk till the ghat. After struggling to pace up to my dad's superfast footsteps, we reached the ghat. There were atleast 5000 people, no pushing, no shoving, everyone clearly immersed in the sound & lights of the Aarti. There were young, old, pandits, tourists, locals, junkies, babas, chillum smoking hippies, just very many people.

There are 7 priests who preside the whole event. They stand next to each other on separate wooden planks. There is chanting of sanskrit mantras, hymns, devotional songs, amidst sounds of drums & cymbals. To my surprise, the sounds, inspite of being so lound, do not hurt my ears. In fact the whole environment  with lights & sound is relieving. Almost half of the people are busy trying to catch the moment on their phone cameras. One can say the flash lights from phones and other cameras and distracting, but to me, they just looked like twinkling stars ! :)  The aarti lamps are raised high and then arched back to the water, the dark river reflecting the golden flames. There is such a perfect choreography amongst the priests be it there foot steps or hand movements. My dad tells me, the priests are appointed by government and therefore are on government payrolls. Their job also includes to keep the ghat neat and perform the necessary rituals in the morning and evning everyday.

See some pictures below.

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