Destinations - India Heritage

Varanasi 4 – Spectacular Ganga Aarti!

Written by Poorna & Brinda

Ganga aarti is one spectacle every visitor to Varanasi should experience. Why not? This is a grand exhibition of a religious ritual worshipping holy Ganga. It has great holy fervour with thousands of pilgrims shouting “Ganga Maiyya ki jai” or “Salutations to Holy Mother, Ganga” throughout the ceremony. These synchronised and well coordinated rituals for close to one hour keeps you spellbound.

After a walk in the Labyrinths of Varanasi and Sunset Cruise in Ganga, we settled down in our boat to watch the Ganga Aarti. The recent flood in the river meant the aarti venue was shifted to a high platform above the ghats. In a way it was good as it is visible to everyone. On the other hand, we could not see the movements from a closer distance. If you are there in summer or winter months the aarti is held on the steps of the ghat giving closer visibility.

Sitting in a boat and watching was an experience in itself. We will take you through the ritual of aarti through these pictures. Please click on the pictures to see them in enlarged size.

The Aarti starts with a Bhajan praising Ganga accompanied by the sound of conch shell.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

The Grand start…..

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

Zoomed picture of boys blowing the conch shell

There are various stages in the Aarti and the first activity is worshipping with incense sticks or “agarbatti”. The practice is to worship the gods and goddesses in all directions and the boys use well-practiced hand movements in each direction before coming to original position and face the river.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

Prayers with incense sticks…..

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

The boys doing the ritual

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

The next is with Dhoop or Frankincense….

The next one is spectacular as the boys lit up big Aarti plate with many small diyas. Each plate would have at least fifty diyas in them. As they perform the Aarti, the crowd below cries “Ganga Maiyya ki Jai”.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

The Aarti of Diyas….

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

Full of concentration….

The Deepa Aarti – Aarti of diyas – is followed by aarti by “Agni Kund” or “Fire Plate” in each hand. Another grand display even as the boys move the plate flawlessly.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

Fire plate ritual!

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

A close up shot…..

The fire Aarti is followed by “Chamara Seve” in the form of peacock feather fan and a fan made of fine animal hair. In between we see blowing of conch shell by the team.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

The fan ritual – with peacock featherd fan

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

One can notice the peacock featherd fan…

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

The last one – Chamara seve or the ritual with the fan made of animal hair

We could not capture a video of the ritual due to the distance. Since we had a zoom lens we were able to capture these lovely moments. Here is a beautiful video of the aarti found on the YouTube. Notice the place where the stage is set for the aarti in this video. Since it was flooded, the ritual had to move to a platform.

For the longer and detailed version please click this. We recommend thisGanga Aarti in Varanasi 

The complete Aarti takes 45 minutes to perform and is a real spectacle. We get down from the boat and move from one boat to another before reaching the steps of ghat. Mukesh suggest if we would like to buy a DVD of Ganga Aarti produced by the temple authorities. He takes us to the platform where the Aarti was done few minutes back. Here the people are selling the DVD and we pick up one.

We come out and walk around the ghat to experience the frenzy of activities. It seemed like an eternal festival here. We see groups engaged in Bhajans, someone performing a ritual, some listening to a discourse. There are many like us who just want to absorb the atmosphere. 

We come out of the ghat and ask Mukesh to take us to a good place for dinner. He takes us to Kesari restaurant which is part of a large group. We order thali and get excellent rotis, subji and Kheer as dessert. It is delicious – especially the Kheer – and we walk out happy. The next stop naturally has to be a paan shop and Mukesh takes us to a well-known paan shop in the area. 

Eating Paan is part of culture in Banaras. There is no specific time for it as you can see people chewing one all the time. Banarasi paan is generally “Saada” or “Plain” paan unless you specifically ask for “meetha” or “sweet”. Even when they make “meetha” no gulkhand is added. The paan leaves are fresh and tasty and “geela” or “wet” supari completes the recipe!! The paan is served on a small leaf with chunks of “Chuna” or lime which Banarasis savour. We don’t think Orthopaedics in Banaras have much business with amount of calcium that goes into Banarasis body in the form of Chuna making their bones stronger!!

We hop into an autorickshaw and return to our hotel. We are looking forward to the next day. The sunrise cruise on Ganga. Having read and heard so much about it, we cant wait any longer!

Travel Tips

a) The venue of Ganga aarti gets crowded during holiday season and religious occasions. Make sure you get a vantage position to watch the show.

b) It is a very well organised show. The best Ganga Aarti in the country. The others in Haridwar and Rishikesh pales in front of it.

c) There is no entrance fee.

d) If you want you can hire and watch the show from a boat.

e) Enjoy and absorb the religious fervour and the great atmosphere.

Glossary 

Aarti – A Hindu ritual of worshipping god. It uses movements of hands in circular motion.

Ghat – The steps to the river where Hindus take ritual bath.

Bhajan – A hindu religious choir

Diya – Small wick lamps.

Thali – An Indian Vegetarian meal

Roti – Bread

Sabji – Spicy vegetables in gravy

Kheer – Indian dessert

Paan – A delicacy of spices and Areca nuts wrapped in betel leaves. Paan in Wiki

Supari – Betel nut

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About the author

Poorna & Brinda

We are Brinda and Poorna from Bengaluru, the “Silicon city” or “Garden city” of India.

We travel together. We caught the travel bug 20 years back. On our honey moon, we traveled over the sea, in the train, by bus and in an aircraft! Our adventures probably started in that year. It continues, ever since.

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