The magnificent Ganga aarti

Friday, January 15, 2016

Every evening, after the dusk, a devotional ritual takes place facing the river in Dashashwamedh Ghat. Brass lamps are lit and circled around by the priests, accompanied by prayers, songs and chants in praise of the goddess. This is known as Ganga aarti. It is a 40 minute magnificent event. Hundreds of people gather to seek blessings.

From my hotel room, I started two hours in advance to hunt a place where I can comfortably watch and take photographs. When I reached the place, It was not crowded, so I started talking to volunteers to understand more about the event and the preparations. Came to know that the young priests who perform the aarti were the students learning Vedas and Upanishads under the guidance of a head priest from Gangotri Seva Samiti. A team came with an idol of Ganga, many tiered oil lamps, incense sticks, slices of camphor, conch shells, flowers and heavy brass lamps with snake hood and started making arrangements.

Lamp with a snake hood

Talking to a few volunteers gave a clear picture of what the event might look like and I started thinking about the lens I should be using, the place I should be standing at, ISO, aperture and the shutter speed. I started playing with the camera settings and captured these photographs during the preparations.

Few moments later I realized that the place was already getting crowded. Some people were standing on the ghat-steps, some on the roof top of nearby buildings. Without wasting any time, I went close to a place where priests perform the aarti and did a quick check to confirm that the memory card had enough space and if the basic camera settings were all OK. I had to do this because many times right when there is a great shot in front, the shutter button had thrown a warning "Not enough space!" or some setting ruins the moment and results in a dark or washed out frame. It is by my experience of ruining many photos that I have learned the importance of preparation.

That moment !

All the priests came in a similar attire and meditated for a few minutes. Slowly, noise from the crowd vanished and the Ganga aarti began. Those were some of the best moments in my life.

The whole scene produced happiness, satisfaction and spiritual thoughts in me all together. Cool breeze, full moon on the dark sky, reflections on the river, hundreds of devotees on boats, mantras, chants, prayers, priests, smooth sound from the conch shells, scent from the incense sticks and the warmth from the lamps of fire. I don't have words to describe what I experienced in the course of 45 minutes. It was simply the best feeling.

A scene from Ganga aarti

The next moment.. Syncronized aarti

One more...

Here are few other moments of Ganga aarti

Presence of light, darkness, shadows, curves, people and emotions in the scene makes it interesting to shoot but the fact that you cannot move an inch in the crowd makes it very challenging. If you even try to move just about a meter, you become a hurdle for others and their view of aarti.

Soon after the ritual got over, was walking back and accidently noticed this scene on the ghats.

A foreigner trying her best to get the snap right. What a moment !!

One the way back to my hotel, I recollected everything that just had happend and returned with great satisfaction.

Will be writing one small post on my visit to Manikarnika Ghat and that will be the last one of this series.


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