Wednesday, September 22, 2010

River pujas, big and small

Varanasi, Hindu's holiest city, is also one of the oldest cities in existence. You can just feel the ancientness - not to mention see and smell it, too. Wealthy Indians come to Varanasi when elderly and ill, in hopes that they are lucky enough to die in the holy city, cremated on one of the burning ghats and sunk into the Ganges, releasing themselves from the cycle of reincarnation. But cremated on the river or not, all Hindus are expected to make a pilgrimage to Varanasi at least once in their lives, plunge into the Ganges to purge their sins and pay homage to Shiva and the other gods.

Every evening the river ghats are packed with believers for the ganga aarti, or ceremony honoring the divinity in the river. Sadhus wander about, give and take blessings, and occasionally try to escape the pursuit of pilgrims:

The main ganga aarti takes place on Dasaswamedh Ghat, where hundreds gather every night on the steps or in river boats to watch the priests conduct the ceremony.

But all along the Ganges you will see smaller ceremonies by the faithful. On our way home from Dasaswamedh Ghat one night, we passed by these boys on a small platform, doing their own modest ceremony, no audience or glamor involved.

The next morning, the platform had been submerged by the river, all signs of holy ceremony erased. Loincloth-clad boys were diving in and around the platform, screeching with glee. India.

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