October 01, 2017

India: Varanasi and the Ganga Aarti

Perhaps the most enchanting and the most soul fulfilling trip in our Northern India Adventure – Varanasi cannot be forgotten when you plan your visit in India. Its mind boggling, confusing to the point of questioning the culture and tradition of the Indian people, specifically the Hindus. But you will be awed and rest your case at the principle that what you see are sacred tradition handed down for hundreds of years.  



The plane landed in Varanasi while the sun was at its peak. Since it was just a domestic flight, we didn’t had a problem when we exit the immigration. I could already picture the Ganges River, the Ghats, the narrow streets with cows, street foods and the people of Varanasi. 



Here we are Varanasi! 
The ancient city where the Indian civilization started. My high school readings will now come to life. I can now feel and see the culture and our lessons about Asian history. Although Asian history bored me compared to Philippine and World history, I’m still eager to see the places where great civilization started. Ganges River in Varanasi is one of those area I wanted to visit in India to fulfill this dream. It’s a must for first time visitor in India. It’s in the river, in the ghats and the narrow alley that you will see and feel what is India. Go further when you ride a non-motorize boat in Ganges River to feel it and to have a great vantage point of the Ghats and the Palaces along the river. 

We arrive in downtown Varanasi at noon. We haven’t had a proper meal since we left Kolkata. Although eating is no big deal whenever we do backpacking, a decent meal that time was necessary, but Claire did not want to explore Varanasi and find some food under the intense heat of the sun. I wanted to drag my feet out but the comfy bed of the hostel kept me within the four sides of my bed. Fortunately, we bought a loaf of bread in Kolkata Airport. That saved my day. 

Streets of Varanasi
At four o'clock in the afternoon the sun was still mad to death. But our eagerness to see the Ganges was overflowing like the river. We went out not knowing exactly where to go. Instead of the sweet flow of the river, a mighty and loud honk from the rickshaw and motorcycles finally welcomed us in Varanasi. We walked on the street, because there is no pedestrian lane, with caution, a lot of it.  







We braved the road of Varanasi like pro backpacker eager to commune with the people and experience the spirit of the place. The poop infested street that we first walk on wasn't the one I pictured or imagine when the plane landed. Its a wide street with lots of ruined buildings, crazy traffic and lots of cow. One thing I like are the antique shops, boutiques and street food stalls.



Before we reached Assi Ghat, we decided to have our very much late lunch at Green Ganga Café overlooking the Ganges River. We had a feast in our table while watching the sun sets over the river that illuminates a golden color to our afternoon. 





Ganga Aarti 
The only scheduled activity for us that night was to watch the Ganga Aarti in Assi Ghat – the southernmost ghat in Varanasi. Ganga refers to Ganges River while Aarti is a ritual of worship. Ganga Aarti took place in the major ghats in Varanasi. Ganga Aarti is held every day in the morning at 4:30 AM and in the evening at 7PM, usually. Most likely, you will see Hindus and travelers before dark to witness the stunning sunset over Ganges River. 



Since we arrive early we had the time to explore the ghat and Ganges River. We had the time to watch the sunset, eat street foods and most of all make new friends.  



We were not sure if the Aarti will take place in the Ghat where we assume it will take place. Being the friendly backpacker, I asked a group of men who seemed looking at us, two folks from Southeast Asia, if the Aarti will take place in the Ghat where we are standing. They affirm our assumption in full smile ready for long talks over sunset and friendship via social media. 


While we were talking about history, culture, education and travels a boy approached us selling his flower candles which will be offered to Ganga after the aarti. He was like selling it for 20 or 30 Rupees. I looked at one of our new friends and they smiled at me and the boy. The next thing I saw was he took his wallet and gave the boy 20 Rupees for two flower candles. 



After that one of their colleague came with a mix mix nuts in both hand and gave us a few. That was the first time I tasted it and I was like, Oh! Heavenly! After that we did not stop buying mix mix in India.

One thing I notice about Indian in general is their generosity and openness to us. They wouldn’t mind paying for your meal if they feel good about you. They generously give their time to talk about their country and religion. During our trip I felt the goodness in humanity through them specially in the outskirt where people are still genuine and still do not have all the evils of the world.    

When I asked our new friends, what is the significance of Ganga Aarti I saw a glow in their face. The meaning of Aarti is pure worship. It a total surrender of everything to God – if I translate it into Christian perspective. The ceremony is mesmerizing and soul fulfilling. I felt the devotion of the people while the fire, gongs, bells, drums and the sweet devotion of the Hindus do its own to worship God. 




Ganga Aarti is a unique experience. I was documenting the experience, but my heart pumps and my soul was uplifted when I heard the people cry their adoration, praise and disappointments to God. No language can stop a heart to understand the longing of the soul. The good spirit transcended all over Assi Ghat to the heart of the people.  













The night ended with offering to Ganga or Ganges river. People lit their flower candles and floats it to the river with their prayers and letting go of negativity. 


The final act of Ganga Aarti is to release the flower candle to Ganges River.
I had a prayer that night. I prayed that I’ll be more open to the differences of humanity and that respect will transcend within me. Understand people from their point of view and allow love to dictate my judgment of people around me. My prayer is still my prayer and I’m settled to the fact that I am a work in progress.