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As darkness descends on the Dashwamedha Ghat in Varanasi, there is a palpable ripple of excitement in the hundreds of boats that are lined up in front of the Ghat. On the banks of the river, there are rows and rows of steps, where people sit in anticipation. Jumping nimbly from boat to boat, lamp sellers are doling out little cups made of leaves, with wicks and flowers inside. These are lit and released into the river, floating away to create a carpet of light on the water. More vendors come by with hot, sweet glasses of spiced tea. And then the music begins. In a beautifully synchronized ceremony that involves holding aloft multi-tiered ceremonial brass lamps, blowing conchs and waving incense sticks, the aarti begins with the chanting of sacred prayers dedicated to the river Ganga. According to mythology, the river Ganga once flowed in heaven, and as such is worshipped as a Goddess. The ceremony honours, praises and thanks her for sustaining humankind.
Midway in its long journey from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, the waters of the Ganges flow through the holy city of Varanasi. According to Hindu belief, Benaras, or Varanasi as it is known, is the cosmic center of the universe. Its aura of history, religion, philosophy and tradition, is steeped in Hindu rituals and ideals. Numerous ghats, or steps leading down to the Ganges, present an ever-changing tableau from dawn to dusk. The number of ghats exceeds…