VARANASI, (BENARES), INDIA
The Ganga Aarti is an Aarti offering prayer to the Ganges river, Mother Ganga. One is held every night at dusk at several ghats in Varanasi (Benares). (The ghats in Benares are a series of stone steps lining a bank of the Ganges for several miles.) Several young Hindu priests, pandits,perform this religious ritual or puja,raising or lowering incense sticks, scepters blowing smoke, ringing bells and blowing on conch shells, all in coordinated movements. The culmination of the Ganga Aarti involves the movement of special oil lamps, deepam, in lieu of the Aarti plate, with dozens of multi-tiered ghee lamps aflame. The young priest-pandits move these lit lamps up and down in a rhythmic fashion while chanting hymns to the river God, a fantastic and highly photogenic display of light, as seen here. See my blog and India gallery on my website, here, for more photos from my recent trip to India and from the Ganga Aarti and Benares, in particular.
An Aarti is a Hindu ceremony or ritual involving the use of a flame or light, flowers, ghee or oil lamps, often a peacock fan, incense, maybe conch shells. It is performed during most Hindu religious ceremonies sometimes communally, often privately in homes. It involves the circulation of an ‘Aarti plate’ or ‘Aarti lamp’ around a person or deity usually representing the power of the deity. The main element is the waving of a flame before the deity (ies) in a spirit of humility and gratitude, wherein the faithful seek to be immersed in what they see as God’s divine form. Persons performing the ritual seek good fortune and the blessing of the deity, as they cup their hands over the flame and raise their palms to their forehead. Observant Hindus perform thisaarti ritual or brief prayer rituals, puja, seeking the blessing of the diety. Once performed, the forehead is marked with colorful paste.
The Ganga Aarti, essentially is an Aarti or prayer service, devoted to and directed at the River itself, seen by Hindus as not only sacred, but a God in and of itself.