Sunday, 22 February 2015

Afloat on the Ganges - Varanasi

On a cold damp Sunday evening in February - time to revisit the warmth of autumn in India. Well I say warmth; it was actually pretty cold on the Ganges!

Varanasi is one of the most holy cities of India. It's where the devout come to be cremated and their ashes cast into the holy river. At all times there are bodies being cremated on the pyres along the riverside. Day and Night. Those who cannot afford to be cremated ( or can't be under Hindu doctrine) are wrapped and the bodies themselves cast into the water. Yes we did see them floating past and no I did not take pictures of them.

Having arrived by overnight sleeper in Varanasi ( an experience in itself....) we spent the evening on the river to witness the regular evening worshipping rituals for the holy river.

The side of the river is covered with "ghats" which are riverside steps leading down to the river. This one belongs to the Jain temple.  Jainism is an ancient religionthat teaches that the way to liberation and bliss is to live a life of harmlessness and renunciation. 

We were just waiting for it to get dark so that the ceremonies could begin.

 The locals are expert at extracting the tourist $$ and everywhere these little floating candles were available to be bought. Made of dried leaves and little pats of clarified butter and decorated with dried flowers these diya were for sale in their hundreds. 

We were far from the only boat on the water and the river was lit - if only for a few minutes at a time - by dozens of these little lights. 

The crowds were starting to gather on the ghats for the worship of the Ganges by the holy men. 

Lots of drumming and chanting and the raising and circling of lights. Whilst this was a big celebration, there were lots of smaller  versions happening along the riverside, some with just one or two participants.

The worship of the river is carried out at both dawn and dusk - so we were of course up at the crack of dawn to get back on our boats....

Sudden large flocks of birds descended from apparently nowhere - it took me a moment to realise that food was being flung overboard from some boats for them. Feeding birds brings good Karma and I guess feeding birds on a holy river brings very good Karma. 

It was pretty cold though - so much for India being hot. Still it was well worth it to have been able to see the sun rise over the Ganges.

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