In my last (or next to last) post, I mentioned Ganga Aarthi and semi-promised a follow up post. This is my attempt at fulfilling that promise, but, since internet connectivity here in Khajuraho is not ideal, I may end up hurling my iPad at the mirror at the end of my bed.
As mentioned in a previous post, our one full day in Varanasi began early in the morning for our first boat ride on the Ganges. It ended with a 6:30 pm embarkation for our evening boat ride. In between the two forays to the river, we wandered narrow lanes, admired the golden temple from atop a short staircase and peering over a high wall having been patted down before entering the alleyway that led to the temple entrance. Lots of military presence as there is a mosque virtually next door and the mosque was built of the remains of a Hindu temple. Plenty of cause for ill will.
But that is not what this post is about. It’s main focus is the purpose of our evening boat ride: Ganga Aarthi, which means, roughly, paying tribute to the Ganges River. Seven priests stand on plaforms above the river and chant, and sing, and blow conch shells, and ring bells, and wave huge, heavy, metal containers containing burning camphor, and wave large, colorful, light, feather fans, and throw stuff in the air and do who knows what else in homage to the holy river.
The ceremony goes on for quite a while, and boats piled up on the river to watch. It was loud (dare I say cacophonous) and colorful and pretty wonderful. One person, who stood behind the middle priest sang many songs, including at least one lively tune to Shiva. And, at one point right after the conch shell chorus, one participant blew a ram’s horn for the longest time imaginable. Maybe Louis Armstrong could toot his trumpet for that long, but it would surprise me. Really, really surprise me seeing as how Louis is no longer with us. In the photo above, you can see some strings coming down from the umbrella area; they went up to bells and down to the hands of people in the audience who pulled them continuously, contributing mightily to the racket. I think they definitely got the gods’ attention.
As a side note: Before we secured our spot to watch the Ganga Aarthi ceremony, our guide had the oarsman take us down to a cremation ghat. There were at least ten fires burning or getting ready to be lit. I felt very uncomfortable being there and wouldn’t recommend it to others. There are some things that non-participants don’t need to witness and, at least for me, this is one of them.