Day 9 Up The Ganges…………………………….
We arrived at the Ghats that evening to view the “Ganga Evening Arti” Cerermony by auto-rickshaw………..and what a hairy-scary ride it was too.
As usual the streets and roads were over-crowded with people and traffic of all descriptions. Ajay said later that in the places we’d visited he’d never experienced such crowds and it was due to the Kumbh Mela. It seemed like the whole of India was following us as we progressed on our journey from place to place down the Ganges. Sitting in that auto-rickshaw, although feeling unsafe and exposed, allowed a great view of life on the Varanasi streets.
We passed row upon row of shops, workplaces, ramshackle houses, and eateries – all a hive of activity…..it seemed as if time had stood still here. All of life was happening for us to view as we weaved through the traffic – nothing was hidden, even toilet activities! We passed a shop with it’s severed goat heads displayed on a table, and another with chickens hanging by their legs, their heads dangling on elastic necks. Men set up shop on the ground, some shaving their customers with cut-throat razors, others offering a shoe-shine service.
All along the street we traversed was an endless queue, which seemed to be miles long, of people waiting patiently for their turn to enter the Kashi Vishwanath temple at this very special, auspicious time. Their happiness was evident on their faces. Many people waved to us as we zoomed past on our rickshaws narrowly avoiding other vehicles, bicycles, people and cows on the road. Some folk with hands in prayer position shouted “Namaste” in friendly greeting. The people of Varanasi are extremely devout and believe that Lord Shiva created their city. Although the infrastructure is problematic there, they don’t want any changes as they wish Varanasi to remain as it has always been.
Many of the people in the queue were barefoot, the women wearing anklets with tiny bells jingle-jangling and toe rings. Every so often the sound of happy devotional singing, often accompanied by clapping, reached our ears as we whizzed past.
Pheeeew!! We arrived at the Ghats to watch the Ganga Evening Aarti Celebration in one piece. We were shown up to our reserved seats, and had a fantastic view of the proceedings.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, boats jostled for position on the river and long red cloths were spread on the ground as thousand of people sat in orderly rows. The air was buzzing with excited expectation as seven gold and burgundy robed priests took to their raised platforms to perform their worship to the Holy River Ganges.
There was a wonderful atmosphere, the priests began ringing hand bells, melodic and mystical chanting filled the air from the loudspeaker “Govinda Jaia, Jaia, Govinda Hari Hari” it went. The strong smell of urine in the air was periodically smothered by the welcome and wonderful aromas of gorgeous smelling incense. Now the priests began blowing the evocative sounding conch shells and everyone in the audience clapped along to the music. There were many happy smiles in the crowd.
The priests waved their oil lamps filled with burning camphor and smoke swirled around them and up into the now dark sky. Other offerings made to the Ganga that night were cow dung, incense, flowers, milk and honey mixed with Ganges water.
I was mesmerised that night by the beautiful, graceful hand movements of the priests as they twirled smoking insense sticks in a floating motion, drawing swirling shapes in the air with the smoke……..another sight that I’ll never forget!!