Benaras is older than history

Older than tradition

Older even than legend

And looks twice as old as

All of them put together – Mark Twain


Is there anything new that I can write in this blogpost?

What should I say which has not been said earlier about the Varanasi Ganga Aarti which happens in evening?

In Varanasi, if you are a travel blogger, if you are a traveler, if you are a devotee, if you are a photographer or if you are none of the above, the evening Ganga Aarti at Dasashwamedh ghat is too irresistible to miss.  I experienced this when the cab driver who took me from Varanasi Airport to my hostel confirmed the timing of the aarti. Perhaps the entire city knows the timings. From the minute you set foot in the city and you talk to anyone, they will definitely suggest this mandatory visit along with the necessary information.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 3

Varanasi Ganga Aarti is the ritual of offering puja to Ganga or Ganges.

Thousands of people assemble here and the place is brimming with crowd. People sit on the ghats as well as hire boats to watch the Ganga aarti from front. The entire process of Ganga Aarti is a synchronized act which involves 6 to 7 dedicated devotee from the trust body of the Ghats carrying out an act of worship or offering Puja.

I have attempted to see the Ganga Aarti thrice but seen twice at different stages of completion. The first one was a failed attempt on the day I landed in Varanasi and we ended up discovering the ghats at midnight.

While the first one was from one of the boats far away from the centre of attraction and although the boat man promised to take us to the premium seats on house, he kind of failed miserably in the process of detangling in a network of crisscross boats. The second attempt was the best possible at a distance of 2 ft away from the one of the performers.  For that I had to reach the venue at 4. 30 PM while the Ganga aarti was scheduled to start at 6.45 PM. I must say that it was nothing short of painful to sit and wait for the arti to start, especially since it was peak summers in May. Had I not come across two fellow experienced photographers from Kolkata by my side, I probably would have given up early on. The wait was definitely worth as other than the dev deepavali, when a special aarti session is held at the ghats, this was the other day when a special aarti was being arranged. The special occasion being believed that after this particular prayer (the day and time was based on planetary positions based on Hindu astrology and calendar), the water level of the Ganges would begin and then continue to rise.

There is a preparatory phase and as they say in the corporate world, there are silent back office workers who form the backbone of the show. If you able to reach way ahead of time when the aarti starts, then you will see how the stage is slowly prepared and where each items for the Puja are sequentially laid. One can find conch shell, incense sticks, multilayered brass lamps with little lights on it, brass lamps with a snake hood, prayer bells, yak tail fan, peacock feather etc. They are placed on a small table covered with a saffron cloth on the make shift wooden platforms on the banks. The platforms are covered with white silk sheets.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 4

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 5

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Varanasi Ganga Aarti 6

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 10

There are several phases of the Varanasi Ganga aarti which include blowing conch shells, performing the aarti with incense sticks or dhoop, dhuno, multilayered brass lamps, yak tail fan and many others. The city seems to freeze as everyone in the city almost flocks to this place to be part of this grandeur.

Once the aarti ends, the priests are seen to move around with pious flame and everyone seeks blessings by waving their hands on top of the flame.  One can see many people floating candles on Ganga after the aarti with some wishes and more and more flowers are left behind on the banks and the river as well. Leaves a very important question in mind about who will take care of the pollution thereby?

The magnanimous event definitely doesn’t have touch of a puja carried out at home as this is too picturesque and synchronized, but these 45 mins definitely leave you spellbound and in a backdrop like this, with the sound of chanting of the mantras, the smell of incense sticks and camphor and dhuno, is a magnificent spectacle, one that is a must experience.

Some learning for me as a photographer

  1. The boatmen will promise the best place in the house to take pictures but that’s a hoax. Unless you have a tele lens, this won’t be worth the try
  2. Ideal will be to book a place near one of the performers so that one can get a close up shot and catch the poetry of the light in motion. In order to grab the best place in the house reach the venue earlier.
  3. The golden rule of evening photography of motion is to be followed which is increasing the ISO to get a high shutter speed as blurred images won’t do you any good.
  4. If you are with a group then you might take the risk of changing the lens, otherwise prefer not to change the lens.

I had clicked a lot of pictures for this, however here I try to share the best 15 almost all the pictures. Let me know how you like the pics.

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 8

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 9

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 17

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 11

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 12

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 13

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 14

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Varanasi Ganga Aarti 19

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Varanasi Ganga Aarti 21

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 15

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Varanasi Ganga Aarti 28

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 24

Varanasi Ganga Aarti 25