• Jules

Varanasi - an emotional journey

Updated: May 19, 2019

Aarti Ceremony watched by thousands from the Ganges and ghats.

The emotional side of Varanasi caught me unawares; its overwhelming and an assault on the senses.

Within an hour of arriving at the hotel, we were on our way to the Ganges for the evening ceremony. Varanasi is known by some as the City of Death which caused some angst as to why it was on the itinerary but, as it turned out, the experience was poignant and moving; something I will never forgot.

Overwhelming from the get go with cars, mopeds, rickshaws, people and cows all surging towards the river. Horns blast in frustration, but to little effect as there is simply no escape. Eventually abandoning the car to make our way on foot, the throngs of people intensified and we were swept along in a sea of saris and devotion. The Ganges was a frenzy of activity with literally thousands seated on the ghats awaiting the Aarti ceremony or observing from the river.

This ceremony takes place every evening to honour the gods, deities and the holy river, and those attending believe they will be purified and blessed. Sadly the last time I witnessed any such devotion in the UK was at a football stadium! No where near the profound experience before me.

Conch shells are blown, lamps are glowing, incense wafts and chanting fills the air; the senses challenged to even attempt to absorb the spectacle taking place. We board the boat and despite a seemingly impenetrable wall of boats, we barge through and find space to observe. Lighting a candle in memory of a loved one forces a tear to escape as it gently bobs downriver to mingle with the other departed soles.

Three cremations were taking on the river bank and the guide explained that on death the body is wrapped in cloth and the mouth washed out with water from the Ganges. To die in Varanasi is believed to release that person from the cycle of reincarnation and enable them to enter Shiva's version of heaven.

No sleep in this City! Up and out before sunrise for the morning bathing ritual. The Ganges is one of the most polluted rivers in the World for obvious reasons, but despite that hundreds are bathing, and joyfully dipping under the water to purify themselves. Whilst I admired their devotion, the voice in head screamed WHY?

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