One should witness Varanasi’s most important festival at least once
“Varanasi is a city older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together,” said Mark Twain. Varanasi, India’s oldest city, is the world’s most inhabited city. Originally, it was named Kashi — a word derived from ‘Kasha’, which means brightness. The name Varanasi is derived from the two tributaries of the Ganga – Varuna and Assi.
The city is important not only for Hindus; it was chosen by Lord Buddha, who delivered his first sermon at Sarnath after being enlightened at Gaya. It’s the city of Kabir and Tulsi. The Jains’ 23rd Tirthankar, Bhagwan Parasnath, was born in Varanasi. The epic Ramcharitmanas was written by Goswami Tulsidas in the city.
Varanasi is a lively city, with something or the other happening all the time. One can feel a deep sense of serenity and spirituality all around. Annie Besant worked in Varanasi and promoted theosophy as well as established the Central Hindu College, which was later developed as Asia’s largest university. It is now known as Banaras Hindu University.
The ghats of Varanasi are the most beautiful and attractive part of the city. The ghats stretch from Assi to Raj Ghat. All the ghats are connected, so one can easily walk from one ghat to another. They are lined with temples and shrines. The most important ghats are Dasashwamedh, Harishchandra, Manikarnika, Panchganga and Assi. The ghats reverberate with an endless cycle of Hindu rituals — from daily rituals to profound rituals of passage.
The city is home to religious festivals like Mahashivratri, Ganga festival and Dev Deepawali. Dev Deepawali — after-Diwali celebrations — is one of the main highlights of the city.
The festival is known as the Diwali of Gods. It is believed that gods descend from heaven to the ghats to celebrate their part of the festival. Dev Deepawali is celebrated on Kartik Purnima, 15 days after Diwali. It is celebrated in the honour of Lord Shiva, who defeated the demons Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha and Viryavana (together known as ‘Tripurasaura’). It is believed that gods come to celebrate the victory in the land of Lord Shiva every year in the month of Kartik.
The day of Dev Deepawali starts with ‘Kartik Snan’, a holy dip in the Ganga. Then comes Deep Daan, which means pouring oil into earthen diyas. This ceremony is performed in honour of Goddess Ganga. Then Vedic mantras are performed along with Ganga Arti. The festival concludes with the lighting of lamps on the steps of the banks of the Ganga. They are lit as a gesture to welcome the gods as they arrive on earth. It is a sight to behold. The ghats also host performances by artistes.
My personal experience of Dev Deepawali was a surreal one. The ghats are packed with people during the day, with no inch of space left. I witnessed the festival in my graduation years. I seated myself on the steps of Tulsi Ghat with my friends and watched a performance by Sivamani, the famous drummer. I navigated my way through the crowd to reach my hostel.
The beauty of the ghats is enhanced when earthen diyas are lit. It is beyond impossible to explain the grandeur in words. One should definitely witness the festival at least once in their lifetime as it’s a treat to the eyes.