Having found little information on what to expect in Varanasi during Dussehra, the last day of the 10 day festival period (Oct 24 in 2012), we start our walk at about 5pm along the Ghats from our hotel at Assisi Ghat to Dasawamedh Ghat where the evening ganga aarti ceremony is held.
As we descend the steps of the hotel we are alerted by chiming bells and beating drums that the festivities have already begun. A small group of locals carry an effigy to the shores of the Ganges, load her in a boat and then ceremoniously dump her into the river. We were to see this same scene repeated over and over throughout the evening and into the night with the biggest effigies and most fanfare at Dasawamedh Ghat.
Shortly before 6pm at Dasawamedh Ghat the festivities are ramping up. Large effigies are carried down the steps from the old city and into the Ghat. It’s a precarious undertaking bringing such a heavy load down the steps in the middle of the crowd. Once on the flat surface again, locals chant, dance and take up-close pictures of her face before she is loaded on a small wooden barge and after more dancing and chanting she is immersed, really dumped, in the river.
As the evening progresses more and more effigies, some bigger and some smaller, are brought down the steps. More people gather, the chanting gets louder and the dancing more enthusiastic.
Shortly after 6pm the ganga aarti ceremony starts. The previous evening it began at around 6:30pm. The daily ceremony runs simultaneously with the Dussehra festivities, with the procession of effigies continuing long after the ganga aarti ceremony has finished.
Around 7pm we walk up the steps towards the old city. By this time the streets are crammed with people moving in both directions with more effigies being brought to the Ghat. There is hardly room to breathe let alone walk, we therefore retrace our steps and head back down towards the main Ghat and continue south along the river, the crowds quickly thinning as we leave Dasawamedh Ghat.
We reach the Lotus Lounge at Mansarovar Ghat at around 8pm. A tranquil setting away from the chaos of the festivities. Around 9pm we continue south to Kedar Ghat where the party is in full swing, music booming, fireworks straight overhead, people dancing and more effigies sent to their watery end. A short distance further south at Harishchandra Ghat, where cremations are held all is quiet. An eerie feeling watching one last smoldering pyre against a backdrop of fireworks and music from Kedar Ghat.
October 24, 2012
For links to all the posts in this series see the Northern India page.