Saturday, October 07, 2006


This ancient city is breathtaking at two specific moments: dawn and dusk. We took a boat out into the middle of the Ganges to see each one.

At the end of the day, every day of the year (including monsoon), there is an enormous ceremony called aarti, which involves prayers and incense, music, light, and clapping. The Ganges is honored, the mother of all, and is put to sleep. The Vedic hymns that are sung are among the very first songs each Hindu child learns.

We were incredibly lucky: the moon was full and the Ganges was mysterious and quiet and beautiful. Really, click each picture to see it full-size, they're really beautiful.

The ceremony involves a great deal of light

and fire

The men on the stage holding the fire are Brahman, and they perform this ritual every evening.

The river was full of boats heavy with tourists, including nearly as many Indian tourists as non-Indian. Our guide explained everything which made it much more interesting, considering neither of us speak Hindi or are very familiar with the rituals. When I get home I will write more about this; for now I just want to get something up here. It was very moving.

Then, this morning we got up at 4:45 and headed to the river at 5:15am for the morning prayers. It was an absolutely incredible dawn:

We saw people coming to the river to bathe and pray, much more to come when I get home.

Last night we went to the main cremation ghat but of course didn't take pictures of the 5 cremations that were taking place. This morning we returned to that ghat -- see all the wood piled up on boats and on the ghats, ready for today's cremations. Our guide took us up to the platform where last night's ashes were still smoking; we saw an untouchable lift a chunk of bone and drop it into the river where it hissed and steamed. We saw bits of bone in the ash too, and learned that the untouchables who clean the ashes go through them to find any gold (fillings, or jewelry) that they keep for themselves before dropping the ashes into the river.

The ghats are a riot of color and busy-ness and tourists and daily routine. And a little advertising here and there.

These experiences in Varanasi were the very best moments for me and Marc in India. I have much more to say, more reflection, but time is short. We're packing to leave for Delhi, where we'll hang around for 6 hours and then get on the plane tonight around 11 to fly for 15 hours. Home Sunday morning at 4:30am.

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