I will not digress here. I do think Ganga Aarti is one of the most visually appealing spectacles that I have seen. Varanasi Ganga Aarti and Subah-e-Banaras at Assi Ghat definitely tops the list, though I have also witnessed the splendour of Gagna Aarti in Haridwar and Rishikesh as well.
About this blog: In this blog, we are going to share our experience of watching the Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat and Rajendra Prasad Ghat (both are adjacent) and the soul-stirring Subah-e-Banaras at Assi Ghat. We decided to do a visual story-telling this time and so there will be lots of pictures of Varanasi Ganga Aarti. And of course, we will provide you with all the relevant information needed for witnessing the evening Ganga Aarti and Subah-e-Banaras as well.
We have always faced a peculiar dichotomy whenever we think of visiting Varanasi. At one point, we think that we have been to that city for before as well. We have been there and done that! So, why again go there? At the same time, we are reminded of the beautiful Varanasi ghats that always spring a new story before us. We are reminded of the alleys and the chats and thandai and we are again set to visit the ancient spiritual city of India.
They say that the way to the heart of a man is through the stomach. But in our case, the way to the heart of us travellers is through the stomach. There are so many places where we have visited only to have good food! (Hiding my face now, don’t judge!)
The Varanasi Ganga Aarti is another reason of our love for Varanasi. No matter how tired we are, we do not miss the Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat. And for that matter, we also never miss the Subah-e-Banaras at Assi Ghat. Though we personally feel and enjoy the Subah-e-Banaras more, but both are equally spectacular. We think Subah-e-Banaras is a complete package with the morning aarti, classical song and the entire programme.
Varanasi Ganga Aarti – A Visual Spectacle
Varanasi is located at the banks of River Ganga. The spiritual capital of India has found mention in a number of ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts. In Rig Veda, the ancient Hindu text, Varanasi has been called Kasi which has been derived from the word Kas (meaning to shine). So, Kashi is also known as the city of lights.
Kashi is also believed to be the original ground created by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. There are so many legends and mythological stories attached to the ghats in Varanasi, each one as interesting and bewildering as the other. Varanasi is the microcosm of Hinduism and quite naturally, one of the holiest pilgrimages of Hinduism.
River Ganga, the holiest river in India flows by Varanasi. Devotees believe that a dip in Ganga at Kashi will cleanse then of their sins and fondly refer to the river as the mother. Ganga Maaiya is what the river is called by her devotees. To be honest, the Ganga is one of the most important rivers of Northern India and is the source of livelihood for many Indians.
Quite naturally, the river is revered in Varanasi. The people pray to Ganga Maaiya for nurturing them with her waters. The devotion and reverence to the river is reflected in the Ganga Aarti is performed in the ghats of Varanasi.
The Ganga Aarti is being performed in Varanasi for long. These days, it has become quite popular among the tourists as well. In the evening, locals, tourists, pilgrims, photographers and a huge crowd gather at the Dashashwamedh Ghat to watch the Varanasi Ganga Aarti.
Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat
Dashashwamedh Ghat is one of the most important ghats in Varanasi. It is also located close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Every evening, Ganga aarti is performed at this ghat, which has now become a must-see experience in Varanasi.
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So, what is an aarti?
Aarti is a Hindu ritual of worship in which light usually in the form of flame is offered to the deities. Along with it, sometimes, songs are also sung. The word Aarti has been derived from the Sanskrit word ārātrika which means the thing that removes the darkness. In Varanasi Ganga Aarti, fire is used to worship water, the giver of life.
The Ganga Aarti is performed by a group of priests. They wear the same coloured silk dhotis with golden borders. In the summer, you can see them wearing saffron kurtas and in the winters, they wear maroon sweaters. They have stoles across their shoulders. Together they look like a team and all their movements are totally synchronized.
Though the Varanasi Ganga Aarti takes place at a number of ghats, the Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is the most popular and attracts a huge crowd. Interestingly, the adjacent Rajendra Prasad Ghat also holds another Ganga Aarti and that is equally a crowd puller.
The aarti usually starts just after the sunset. There are a set of raised platform where there are wooden tables. The tables are covered with saffron coloured clothes. Various Puja items like flowers, conch shells, incense sticks, prayer bells, water pot made of copper, huge brass lamps are kept on the platform. These are used while performing the Ganga Aarti.
There are usually 7 platforms. The central platform is dedicated to Goddess Ganga. A statue of River Ganga in her Goddess form is kept at the platform.
Before sunset, preparation starts at the Dashashwamedh ghat for the Varanasi Ganga aarti. Gradually, people start gathering at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. The crowd includes people from different backgrounds. A number of foreign tourists also come to witness the Ganga Aarti at Varanasi.
Finally, the priests arrive and take their places in front of the platforms. The Ganga Aarti starts with the blowing of conch cell. Then they venerate Goddess Ganga by holding burning incense sticks in one hand and prayer bells on their left hand.
Next, multi-layered prayer lamps are brought in. The priests pick them up and move these lamps in a synchronized manner. This is when the ceremony reaches its crescendo and we absolutely love to watch this. The small flames of the lamps look like specks of light on the dark ambience. The priests move the heavy lamps in the clockwise direction and they themselves move in the same direction.
Later, the priests take another type of prayer lamp that has a snake-like hood and move them in the same manner. We always look at these movements in utter amaze. Sometimes I think, what if the lamp falls. After all, they are quite heavy. But I guess, years of practice and devotion had made them perfect.
After the veneration with prayer lamps are over, the priests wave fans made of peacock feather and another white coloured one. These are also a part of the entire Ganga Aarti in Varanasi.
Finally, the priests take flowers in their hands and offer it to Goddess Ganga. All these time, songs veneration Ganga Maaiya is being played in the background.
At the end of the Varanasi Ganga Aarti, a person appears with a plate to collect donations. You can give any amount if you feel like giving. It is not compulsory.
After the Ganga Aarti ceremony is over, the priests goes to the river bank and pour water in the river while chanting hymns. This marks the end of the Varanasi Ganga Aarti ceremony.
By the time, the entire atmosphere is charged up. You can see the smoke from thelamps creating patterns in the night sky. The senses go on an overdrive as you watch the aarti and listen to the hymns. You will totally not realize how the 45 minutes passed by watching this grand spectacle of light and sound.
As the ceremony is over, several women will approach you with flowers and small Diyas (lamps). Apparently, you can take the diyas and flowers and float it on the river.
READ SOME QUOTES ON VARANASI THAT TRULY DESCRIBES ITS SPIRITUALITY AND CHARM.
This is where we have a bit reservation. I can totally understand the devotion of the people, but they do not understand that this devotion is also making the river polluted. There are so flowers, papers and other flotsam found in the river and it looks really dirty.
However, when we visited Varanasi this year, we saw that the authorities are quite strict with the cleanliness of the ghats. The garbage are being picked up and cleared. The dirt that we used to see earlier was considerably lesser. I guess the authorities have realized the importance of a clean Ganga and doing their best.
Watching the Varanasi Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat
- The Ganga Aarti goes on for 45 minutes.
- Starting Time: 6:45 PM
There are platforms where you can sit and watch the aarti. You can even sit of the stairs and watch the Ganga Aarti. The crowd can be as large as it can, but somehow they manage to fit in the ghat and watch the aarti.
These days, the boatmen park their boats in front of the ghat and at a certain fees, you can sit on the boat and watch the Ganga aarti. If you happen to get on the boat to watch the Ganga Aarti, make sure you bargain with the boatmen for the price. They usually ask an exorbitant sum and gradually accept at almost 50% of the amount quoted.
Subah-e-Banaras – Morning Aarti at Assi Ghat
While Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedh Ghat is a bustling affair, Subah-e-Banaras or morning Ganga Aarti at Assi Ghat is a much calmer event. It is a collective event before dawn where you not only experience the Ganga Aarti, but also enjoy Vedic chanting, morning raga and yoga. The early hours of the day is also said to be the purest. During this time, Subah-e-Banaras actually makes you realize the communion between the Almighty and Mother Nature. You can totally feel the spiritual essence of Varanasi at this event.
Subah-e-Banaras occurs every morning at Assi Ghat. The Ghat is cleared for the Ganga Aarti and a number of chairs are arranged for the spectators. Since it takes place before dawn, I think the crowd is much lesser. You can see the entire Aarti at peace and also listen to the morning ragas.
Subah-e-Banaras was started on November 2014 as an initiative of the State Government. The ceremony begins with the chanting of Vedic verses. It isthen followed by the Ganga Aarti. A tribute is offered to the five basic elements of earth, water, fire, sky and fire.
The aarti ceremony follows the same ritual as that of the one at Dashashwamedh Ghat. After the Aarti is over, there is a rendition of classical music by young artists and sometimes by veterans. Benaras Gharana is one of the branches of Hindustani classical music. Songs and ragas from Benaras Gharana are usually sung.
The programme usually ends with a Yoga session at 7.30 AM.
Subah-e-Banaras is one of our favourite things to attend in Varanasi. Even if we have to wake up at an ungodly hour, we usually do not miss this one. There are lesser people, so taking photographs become easier. Also the combination of classical music with Ganga Aarti is totally worth all the pains of getting up in the morning. And yes, the morning clears our mind and purifies our soul. There is always such a wonderful feeling after watching Subah-e-Banaras at Assi Ghat.
Video of Subah-e-Banaras at Assi Ghat
You have to reach really early to watch Subah-e-Banaras. The programme usually starts by 5 AM in summer.
- Subah-e-Banaras Ganga Aarti Timings:
- During summer: 5.00 AM to 7.00 AM
- During winter: 5-40 AM to 7.30 AM
- Total Duration: Two hours approx. for the entire programme
Ganga Aarti at other ghats in Varanasi
Dashashwamedh Ghat and Assi Ghat are not the only ghats where Ganga Aarti takes place. It occurs at a few other ghats also but in a much smaller scale. We saw Ganga Aarti at Vijaynagar Ghat and Gai Ghat. But I think aarti at these ghats are not a regular affair and definitely much subdued. However, if you wish to see Aarti at other ghats in Varanasi, ask the locals,.
Some Tips for watching the Varanasi Ganga Aarti
- Ganga Aarti and Subah-e-Banaras occurs every day in the evening and at dawn respectively.
- There are no entry fees for the aarti. You can just join. For the Varanasi Ganga Aarti in the evening, you are, however, expected to make an offering.
- Arrive at least an hour before the Ganga Aarti commences in the evening to get a good seat. It gets really crowded.
- For the Subah-e-Banaras, there is no such rush, so you can arrive just before the ceremony starts. However, I would suggest that you not miss the Vedic chantings.
- The timing of Ganga Aarti varies according to season. The evening one happens just after the sunset. During Kartik Purnima, the Ganga Aarti takes a different look. The celebration is grander during Dev Deepavali at Kartick Purnima.
- Dashashwamedh Ghat, in general is a crowded place. It gets more crowded during the Ganga Aarti. So take care of your belongings.
- Be respectful, but don’t get pushed around.
- Make friends in crowd.
Photography Tips for Varanasi Ganga Aarti
- For photographers, if you are arriving late, no need to fret. Let everyone take their place and then find your vantage point. We had arrived late for the Aarti last time we visited Varanasi. We took our places after everyone was seated and got a good point to take some awesome clicks.
- There are no perfect positions for photographers. Be ready to run around a bit. You will get good angles if you adjust yourself a bit and be ready to move around.
- Pack a prime lens and a fast telephoto lens. Also, carry your wide-angle lens.
- Work on your timings. There are a lot of movements during the Ganga Aarti. The priests perform their rituals in a synchronizing manner. Observe them and click at the correct moment. If you are not sure, it is better to go and observe on the first day. The rituals are the same every day. So once you get a hold of what happens after what, you can work on your timings.
Varanasi Ganga Aarti in Photographs
So that was all about Varanasi Ganga Aarti and Subah-e-Banaras. Have you seen the Ganga Aarti at Varanasi or Haridwar? Do let us know in comments below.
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