India 2016: Nightly Pooja in Varanasi – 23 March

After lunch and a much needed nap that I had a hard time getting up from, we walked out of our room down the steep steps between the two floors.

Downstairs we met two other travelers – Yang from Guang Zhou in China and Mark from Winchester, both of whom had just met each other earlier in the day. India is the type of place where you make fast friends. I can’t say that I know why, but possibly – especially among foreigners – it may have something to do with the shared experience of her chaotic loveliness. Cos India is most definitely that – chaotic and lovely, neither to be trifled with.

Pretty soon, DaveRisner, Derek, Mark, Yang and I were led by Ravi, our man to steer the boat we had scheduled for a trip down the River Ganges. For the first hour, the trip was quiet, peaceful and reflective as the sun set behind the Varanasi cityscape before us, and soon the moon rising above the horizon behind us. It was beyond stunningly beautiful. Adding to the scene before us, candles set atop brightly coloured flowers floated on the river while kites flew above. When the sun went down, we arrived at the Dashaswamedh Ghat where the nightly pooja started, this particular prayer service on this day especially meaningful as it was being conducted on Holi.

Though I was well prepared for what was to come, mostly thru YouTube videos, it’s one thing to watch the ceremony and another thing entirely to be there. The time we spent was a stark contrast to the epic madness and joy from earlier in the day walking Varanasi’s streets to the hotel. Soon our boat was joined by hundreds of others congregating on the ghat’s quiet shoreline. With monkeys climbing the walls of the building behind them, the sadhu (i.e. “holy men”) led the couple thousand people lined up at the steps of the ghat and couple hundred in the boats with prayer, chants and songs. With songs singing and lemon scented incense burning and people intently watching, a calm came over all of us. DaveRisner has a slightly different perspective. He would later tell me there was an anticipation be felt throughout the entire ceremony. We didn’t know what was coming next; and because of that, we couldn’t and wouldn’t avert our eyes for fear of missing something.

The sun gave way to the moon, and under her light along with the lights of the city and burning fires and candlelit flowers floating along the Ganges made for a colourful explosion, only adding to the surreal experience around us. Though transfixed before us, I couldn’t help but look back several times to the full moon behind us, large and glorious.

Around 7:30 PM, Ravi started rowing us back to the Scindhia Ghat where we were staying. Along the way, we witnessed funeral pyres of fire and wood cremating the bodies of the dead of the day. That feeling of death accompanied that feeling of life as we rowed on by. Getting out of the boat, we were greeted by children so cute wanting pictures with us as a man in the background burned fire before the river offering his services to his deity.

We closed the night upstairs on the enclosed rooftop restaurant to conversations with our new friends and newer friends, thankful for a perfect day.

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