Dev Deepavali: When the river lights up

| Last Updated: November 24, 2012 at 5:35 PM

Dev Deepavali is the last day of the five-day Ganga Mahotsav Festival

Every year, on full moon night of Karthik Purnima, the banks of River Ganga in Varanasi is lit up with thousands of floating candles or diyas. Popularly known as the “Festival of Lights”, it is the night of Dev Deepavali, when every ghat in the holy city of Varanasi is decked up with lights and devotees float diyas in the Ganga. It is believed, that the Gods come down to earth on this night to take a dip in the Ganges.

Ganga Mahotsav is as much about rituals and traditions as it is about culture and heritage

The Dev Deepavali is the last day of the five-day Ganga Mahotsav Festival which is held to showcase the city’s cultural heritage. The Ganga Mahotsav is celebrated from Prabodhini Ekadasi to Kartik Purnima of the Indian lunar calendar every year. The Dev Deepavali is observed on the last night of Kartik Purnima, 15 days after Diwali. This year, Ganga Mahotsav will be celebrated from November 25 to 29. Dev Deepavali will be on November 29.

Varanasi, one of the most ancient and mystical cities of the world, is located on the banks of the River Ganges in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is regarded as one of the holiest cities by the Hindus and it is believed that a person can attain salvation by breathing his last at Varanasi. The culture and tradition followed in Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. All religious rituals and festivals are commemorated on the banks of the river, known as the Ghats.

Varanasi has at least 84 ghats (ghats are stepped embankments made of stone slabs along the river bank where pilgrims perform ritual ablutions). Many ghats are associated with legends and several are now privately owned. Most of the ghats are for bathing purposes, while others are used as cremation sites. Morning boat ride on the Ganges across the ghats is a popular visitor’s attraction. The miles and miles of ghatsmake for the lovely river front with multitude of shrines, temples and palaces.

Ganga Aarti performed on the ghats is a spectacular event

The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the main and probably the oldest ghat of Varansi located on the Ganges, close to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It is believed that the god Brahma created it to welcome Shiva and he also sacrificed ten horses during the Dasa-Ashwamedhayajna. The Manikarnika Ghat is the primary site for cremation of Hindus in the city. Adjoining the ghat, there are raised platforms that are used for death anniversary rituals. It is said that an ear-ring (Manikarnika) of Shiva’s wife Sati fell here. According to mythology, Shiva, whispers prayer to help cross from this life to the after-life, in the ears of the dead.

The Ganga Mahotsav is as much about rituals and traditions as it is about culture and heritage. The festival attracts crowds from far and wide to listen to classical music on the banks of the Ganges River.

As classical music fills the atmosphere, a mystique seems to envelop the environs creating a mood which is celestial and soulful. Legends of classical music and dance take part in the festival. Exponents of Indian music who have performed at the festival include Ustad Bismillah Khan, Balamurli Krishna, Birju Maharaj and Zakir Hussein.

The classical music rendered by maestros indeed imparts an unforgettable flavor and is an experience of a lifetime. In addition to the classical renditions, there is also a Shilpa Mela that features handicrafts of wide variety. Traditional sporting events such as wrestling, tug of war, boat racing, kite flying, and horse cart racing are also organized.

The Ganga Mahotsav culminates on the day of the Karthik Purnima when more than a million diyas or clay lamps are floated down the river at dusk amidst chanting of Vedic hymns. Every ghat along the river is warmly lit up with rows and rows of candles.  The Ganga Aarti performed on the ghats is also a spectacular event. The view of the ghats on this night is enthralling.

More than a million diyas are floated down the river at dusk amidst chanting of Vedic hymns

First Published: November 24, 2012 at 5:35 PM

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