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Varanasi’s Traditions

Varanasi’s Traditions

The dirtiest. The most chaotic. The hottest. The most populous. These are just some of the things I have thought the moment we stepped our feet on Varanasi. Varanasi, or Benares is an old city situated in the banks of the Ganges River. It is one of the holiest sites in Hinduism. This river, although very polluted, is considered sacred by many.

We arrived at exactly noon time and was greeted by the chaotic streets of the bustling city. We rode on a tuktuk which dropped us off at the main street leading to the Dasaswamedh Ghat. We were a bit lost. Marx asked for directions where our hostel was. The inn where we stayed was located in the end of Varanasi’s maze of streets with the godly view of the Ganges River.  

People-watching along the ghats is a recommended activity

After settling in our room and after finally having a normal meal after 24 hours, my friend and I rested for a few hours and didn’t decide to get lost in the narrow, smelly streets of the city until late that afternoon.  

People from all walks of life gather at  Dashashwamedh Ghat

The Dashashwamedh Ghat is the busiest and maybe the oldest ghat in all of Varanasi. Temples surround the ghat and this is where the Evening Aarti Ceremony takes place. We took the liberty of hanging out here and just observed how Indians in this part of the country live. The Ganges, though considered holy, is also considered as one of the most polluted rivers in the world. I saw men and women bathe in the river, wash their clothes, collect water, animals swimming and a man drinking water directly from the river. Yes, they do drink water from the Ganges.  

Video: Evening Aarti Ceremony

The holy Ganges River
To fully understand the Hindi culture, we gave Manikarnika Ghat (great cremation ground) an unintended visit. This is the main site for Hindu cremation in the city, and I believe all over India. It was quite a walk from where we were coming since. The streets we trailed in to were all crooked, noisy, and busy. Cows were bleating everywhere as they try to block the people’s path, trying to get their share of the narrow pathway. After countless right and left turns, we finally reached the famed ghat and we were able to witness the washing and burning of those who passed away.

The guide who greeted us, explained briefly what we were seeing. Unfortunately picture-taking is not allowed unless you pay for an extra fee. According to him, children ten years of age and below and pregnant women are buried directly in the Ganges River and not burned along the ghat as what tradition dictates. Why? Because children are said to be innocent and pure of spirit so no need for them be washed and burned before ascending into the heavens.

Meanwhile, women are also not allowed to carry the bodies of the dead and to witness the rites because women are emotional, women cry.  Crying is not allowed since, he said, only happiness should be witnessed since the departed will go to heaven.  

 Evening Aarti Ceremony  

The next activity we were able to see was the long and colorful Evening Aarti Ceremony.  According to wikipedia, when aarti is performed, the performer faces the deity of God (or divine element, e.g. Ganges river) and concentrates on the form of God by looking into the eyes of the deity (it is said that eyes are the windows to the soul) to get immersed. The flame of the aarti illuminates the various parts of the deity so that the performer and onlookers may better see and concentrate on the form. Aarti is waved in circular fashion, in clockwise manner around the deity. After every circle (or second or third circle), when Aarti has reached the bottom (6–8 o’ clock position), the performer waves it backwards while remaining in the bottom (4–6 o’ clock position) and then continues waving it in clockwise fashion.

The idea here is that aarti represents our daily activities, which revolves around God, a center of our life. Looking at God while performing aarti reminds the performer (and the attendees of the aarti) to keep God at the center of all activities and reinforces the understanding that routine worldly activities are secondary in importance. This understanding would give the believers strength to withstand the unexpected grief and keeps them humble and remindful of God during happy moments. Apart from worldly activities aarti also represents one’s self – thus, aarti signifies that one is peripheral to Godhead or divinity. This would keep one’s ego down and help one remain humble in spite of high social and economic rank. A third commonly held understanding of the ritual is that aarti serves as a reminder to stay vigilant so that the forces of material pleasures and desires cannot overcome the individual. Just as the lighted wick provides light and chases away darkness, the vigilance of an individual can keep away the influence of the material world.

Our cabin-mates: Indian children bound for Varanasi

Our brief stay in Varanasi made me understand more the culture and tradition of the people living in this side of the country. Colorful and wonderful. It was a great culmination of our voyage in the heart of India. 

5 thoughts on “Varanasi’s Traditions”

  • napakayaman ng Kultura nila sacred din ba sa knila ang cow endi ba sila kumakain ng meat cow? jan din ba sa india yung ginagawang domestic pet ang unggoy at rat na pinangdidirian? napanuod ko kc sa tv di lang me sure part nga ng india

    • Cow is holy in their culture. Cows can be found all over India Mina! As in everywhere, No, they do not eat cow meat. Their culture is really vast and very rich talaga. 🙂

  • I know how popular the Ganges River have become through time.. pero one thing's for sure… I won't try bathing in it nor drink water from it. I wonder kung anong nangyari sa tiyan nung person that you saw drank from the river.

  • I know how popular the Ganges River have become through time.. pero one thing's for sure… I won't try bathing in it nor drink water from it. I wonder kung anong nangyari sa tiyan nung person that you saw drank from the river.

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