Kashi! An Experience to Cherish.

Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat

It's been more than a year and a half since my visit to Kashi, and yet the memory remains as fresh as ever. The gullies, the roadside shacks selling samosas, pakodas and rich dairy products, the flavor of the city that hangs about, Maa Ganga's presence, and simply the mad rush of people. 
This post would describe the one event that has come to become the face of Kashi, the Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedha Ghat. Well, various people have various views about the Aarti. Some find it too noisy and colorful. Some find the crowds to be too overwhelming. But then isn't that what is the very essence of our country? People everywhere! We are after all a bunch of colorful and noisy people! People in all colors, sizes and shapes!
Well, coming back to my trip, I was lucky enough to experience the Aarti on four evenings at Dashashwamedha Ghat, each time from a vantage point - I couldn't have hoped for a better seat. And the best part is, except for a prime seat on the boat opposite the Aarti area, sitting anywhere else is free. You just have to be there early enough to grab the best seat.

Here goes my experience of those four evenings...

On my first day there, I reach early at around five in the evening, not very sure of where to sit. I end up sitting right next to the corner Aarti area, best suited for some mean shots. Young men in jeans hover around arranging Pooja paraphernalia. I later realise it is the same men who would be performing the Aarti too - they are students of the Banaras Hindu University. There are seven raised platforms, adorned with marigold petals, which gels perfectly into the golden evening. As the Sun slowly sets and sky is lit with hues of gold, the small diyas are lit by the women assembled in the crowd. (Here I make a mental note, the next time I'm here, I should dress up in a saree at-least on one evening, just to get a chance to light those lamps!)
As it darkens, the blinding lights and the blaring speakers both come to life (the volume could be reduced a bit). By now, the crowd is immense. There are people just about everywhere. I'm glad for having come early, else getting a good seat would've been difficult. And despite the mad rush, not once do I feel unsafe (my dad is at the adjoining ghat, enjoying a concert by Anand Bhate and Ronu Majumdar - something straight out of his dream). Announcements are made for everyone to settle down and stop moving about, and the Aarti starts.
The seven young men, now smartly dressed in traditional robes of golden (or sometimes saffron or maroon on special occasions), assemble at the center platform. The evening begins with the Ganesh Shlok Vakrathunda Mahakaya, invoking the blessings of Lord Ganesh, the remover of all obstacles, followed by a rendition of the popular and pleasant bhajan, Achyutham Keshavam, invoking the blessings of Lord Vishnu. Next invoked is Lord Krishna, with the bhajan Govind Bolo Hari, followed by few other shlokas
They then take position at each platform, to conduct the main Aarti. It begins with blowing a conch, and the incense sticks in all four directions. The Aarti is conducted in multiple phases, each time a different Aarti is used for different shlokas and stotrams. The brass lamps are exquisite, and would weigh quite a bit - watching them perform the Aarti at times with just one hand with bulging muscles is just wow!
Jai Jai bhagiratha nandini comes first, performed only with vibhooti, no fire being used. The feel of this phase is quite mystic, and I manage to get some nice shots with my phone too.
Om Jai Gange Mata is the main chant to Maa Ganga, and the lamps used this time are the multi-layered brass ones. This is truly a sight to behold. Again, I wonder how much these lamps would weigh! The Aarti is performed in all four directions. I could simply get lost in this moment!

(Tip: It is worth paying a small amount to sit on one of the boats in the ghats to get best shots of this part of the evening)
Next sung is the Shiva Thandava Stotra composed by Ravan, and the Aarti used this time is shaped like a snake (naga aarti). This stotra has been incorporated into many movies, either in part or wholly. If I were to be asked, this is the most favorite part of the evening for me. The fast pace leaves you quite energetic.
Following this, the Ganga Stotram is sung, to which an Aarti with dhoop and incense sticks is performed. Flowers are strewn. Once more, the conch is blown to mark the end of the session. On one of the days, there was this guy who blew it for an insanely long time, which made me feel breathless!
A thali is passed around for any donations, strictly a personal choice. Finally comes the Ganga pledge, and ends with roars of "Har Har Mahadev"!

I will put up many other picture posts probably later as I have simply too many pictures!
This post is a description of the entire event, for people who haven't visited Kashi, and would like to do so. I have experienced the Aarti at Haridwar (that was my first post!), and the Aarti at Rishikesh. Each is unique, but for me personally, the Aarti at Kashi is a giant leap ahead. The very feel in the air is electric, like there's some unexplained energy surrounding you!
P.S: On one of the days, there were visiting guests to Kashi, and just before the aarti, a small ritual was held and they were then seated at an adjoining raised platform, where VIPs are usually seated. (Remember the PM on any visit?)

I leave you with one more picture (if you're still reading that is!) of that beautiful evening:

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