The sunset Agni Pooja that puts the sacred Ganges River to sleep is hypnotic, cheesy and creepy all at the same time. It is incense overload and my hair smelled like smoke for days!
Varanasi is the Holy of Holy Cities and the “worship of fire” is the famous nightly ritual dedicated to Lord Shiva, the River Ganges, Surya (sun), Agni (fire) and the whole universe. Navigating a jungle of hawkers, beggars and Pseudo Holy Men (the real Holy Men, Sadhus, are busy doing Holy Men stuff, while the fake ones are naked and covered in burnt body ash asking for money to have their pictures taken) we raced to the river’s edge at Dashashwamedh Ghat.
The forty-five minute ceremony was all that and more with music blaring on tin speakers, worshippers in a trance, novice priests flailing flaming oil lamps, ringing bells and wafting lots of incense.
Anita’s Tip: Get a good seat. Pretend to be an important photographer and make your way to the front for VIP access.
Sunrise wakes the Ganges. The Muslim morning prayers floating through the open window woke me. With only four hours of sleep, the mantras, smoke, and creepy Holy Men visuals still raced through my mind as I headed back to the Ghat (temple along the river) for the famous boat ride. The strong current challenged our two rowers heading upstream. Avoiding thirty other tourist boats in the quest to capture authentic shots of bathing rituals was ours. The Ganges is worshipped as a living goddess with the power to clean away sins, but I could not get over the 5,000 years of dead body burnings and garbage in the dark murky water used for brushing teeth.
Varanasi was surrealistic and I learned that my spiritual path is perfect for me.
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Photographs by Chester Simpson at www.Rock-N-RollPhotos.com