“Older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together” - this is all about Varanasi as perceived by Mark Twain, America's the most famous literary icon.
Situated at the confluence of the rivers 'Varuna' and 'Assi' (Varuna flows into the Ganges on the north and the Assi joins the Ganges on the south); Varanasi, the most sacred city among Hindus, is also one of the oldest living cities of the world in all true sense. The history of Varanasi dates back to more than 1000BC; the city is older than Rome and it had already established as a prominent center for trade when Lord Buddha came to Sarnath, just ten kms away, to preach his first homily. Regarded as the city of Lord Shiva, from time immemorial Varanasi has been attracting hundreds and thousands of people every year to its ancient precincts with an eerie magnetism - be they pilgrims and devotees or sadhus and pundits, NRIs or nirvana seeking hippies, corporate honchos or normal tourists. The best way to soak up the cosmopolitan flavour is to take a boat ride or slouch around at the ghats or be the witness of the famous 'Ganga Aarti' during sunset.
'Ganga Aarti' at 'Dasaswamedha Ghat' is of the prominent features of Varanasi. As per Hindu Mythology, the creator of universe Lord Brahma himself created Dashashwamedha Ghat to welcome Lord Shiva and sacrificed ten horses in a Yagna, hence the name Dasaswamedha Ghat ( Dasha: Ten, Ashwa: Horses, Medha: Sacrifice). It is the best way to witness the diversity of people, religions, colours and cultures. Located near the famous 'Kashi Vishwanath Temple', the ghat turns into nothing short of a spectacle every sunset. Even though it is scheduled for sunset (6:00PM in winters and 7:00PM in summers), spectators start arriving very early (as early as 5:00PM) in order to get a good spot to view the ritual being performed.
During my two days short stay in Varanasi I have attended this event once. Since I already had been forewarned about the huge assembly who turned up to witness the Aarti, I reached the venue almost an hour early. I managed a decent seat at the cost of Rs. 50.00. To my surprise, I found hundreds of others with the same idea as mine had arrived before I did.