In the summer of 2019, while travelling for work, I had a stop-over at the holiest city of India, Varanasi. It was my maiden trip to the land of Shiva. Thanks to social media, I had vicariously visited it may times. Varanasi Ghats are the epicentre of all the action and a "must visit" for any tourist. Since an evening is all I had, so I decided to head straight to the ghats for Ganga Aarti.
The Aarti starts at 6 PM in winters and 7 PM in summers. It takes place on many ghats but Dashashawamedh ghat (tough to spell IKR) is thronged by most people. So I decided to join the crowd.
Let me tell you I am not much of a believer or worshipper, so I knew what I was signing up for: congregation of frantic devotees, blaring loudspeakers, mendicants etc. and to top it all, the sultry July weather.
Since Shivratri was around the corner, Kanwariyas were flocking the streets. The barricades prohibited vehicle entry so the auto dropped me 2km away from the ghats. Panting and sweating, I made it to the ghats. The first sight of the ancient beige coloured ghats with a backdrop of a full moon, was surreal.
I patted my back for finding a spot close to the pandals where the actual aarti takes place. My happiness was short lived. To my dismay, the ghats started filling up and before I knew it, I couldn’t move an inch. But instead of fretting, I gave in. So it began, the main Aarti.
I was divided between watching the grand spectacle or capturing some memorable photos; the photographer in me decided to pursue the latter.
I kept moving all around the place, even gave up “my spot”, to find a different vantage point. The pujaris were gyrating in a coordinated manner to the delight of the onlookers. There were devotees all over, some even sitting on VIP balconies and motor boats.
Mobile cameras were omnipresent. Some people recording the event, while others video calling their loved ones. The aarti lasted for almost an hour and I must admit, towards the end it is imminent to surrender to the sheer magnificence of the entire experience.
As the crowd dispersed, I decided to walk the 7km stretch of various ghats. On my way back, I noticed umpteen fancy graffiti walls. Many youngsters were playing guitar in the parked boats. I also noticed some fancy hippie cafes.
The ghats are an interesting culmination of the present and the past; modern and the ancient. As if the city was whispering: The new can exist with old. Maybe embracing a new outlook doesn’t require renouncing one's past vision; both can coexist simultaneously. It is not mutually exclusive, but inclusive.
Rightly put by Martin Luther King, Jr. “Sometimes faith is taking the first step even if you don’t see the entire staircase”. May all of us find the will and courage to follow the right direction.