"Ganga aarti" – the word has become synonymous with Varanasi and to some extant Haridwar.
How many of you know that Ganga aarti happens in Kolkata as well?
It is not as elaborate nor as popular as the aartis performed in Dashaswamedh Ghat(Varanasi) or Har-ki-Pauri(Haridwar) but nevertheless the aarti is performed with utmost devotion, humility and gratitude to Maa Ganga.
After spending more than 23 years of my life in the southern part of the city I admit I am still not aware of many of the secrets that the city holds. And now that I no longer stay in the city, when I visit the place I see it with new eyes and it never fails to surprise me. During one of my visits recently thanks to a friend I came to know of Ganga aarti in our own backyard.
While we walked through the lanes and by-lanes of the north I saw the immense charm that north Kolkata holds even to this day.
As we reached Bagbazar Ghat there were very few people and we settled comfortably on the stairs of the ghat amidst the preparations for the aarti while the dusk slowly descended.
Contrary to the rich arrangements that is made in Dashaswamedh Ghat, Varanasi and the throng of people gathered around to see the puja, here it was a small gathering of people with simple arrangements for the puja - 2 wooden platforms, the puja mats and the various articles for puja that includes a conch shell, praying bell, incense sticks, some flowers, a handkerchief, large brass lamps, a water pot, yak-tail fan, peacock’s feather etc.
In Sanskrit “aa” means “complete” and “rati” means “love”. So aarti stands for “complete love” for the divine. In the simple preparation and the fervor of the small crowd of people gathered around for the evening aarti I could only see “bhakti”, without which it would only appear a small gathering of people showing their respect to a river which is counted among the most polluted rivers of the world.
As the priests blew the conch shells all the hustle bustle of the city left us and we got immersed in silence of our souls. The recorded song of Anuradha Paudwal “ Jai Ambe Gauri” started playing and the sandhya - aarti began for the most sacred river of Hindu religion.
As the aarti progressed people with complete devotion and folded hands started singing along the recording and the few photographers who have assembled wait to get that one perfect shot.
The approaching darkness, the holy river flowing from time eternal, the cool breeze, the scent of the incense sticks, the sound of the sacred bells, changed the entire atmosphere and we cannot help but experience divinity all around.
The aarti ended with the priests pouring the water from the small conch shell to the river.
The crowd of devotees slowly started descending the flight of stairs to take their blessings from the small lamp, still alight.
As the crowd slowly dispersed, the ghat which until now was alight with the lamps and sounds of the prayer bells, now looked empty, dark and forlorn.
We also left but with an experience to cherish forever.