- Religion and Philosophy
India Photos-Aarti 'Fire' Ceremony
Playing With Fire
Every evening at sunset, on the banks of the river Ganges, the devotional ceremony of Aarti is performed. Thousands of Hindus and tourists flock to the ghats, particularly in the pilgrimage towns of Rishikesh, Haridwar and Varanasi, to watch this fiery ritual.
The clanging of bells and beating of drums heralds the beginning of Aarti. Priests emerge carrying large lamps filled with ghee (clarified butter) or camphor. The lamps are ceremoniously set alight and then swung in a clockwise direction. More and more ghee/camphor is poured over the lamps during the 1-2 hour ritual until the flames become intense. The priests move in unison with one another, sometimes performing choreographed dances. Chanting and devotional singing also takes place depending on which ghat you attend.During the ceremony attendants move through the crowd and offer smaller lamps to the people so that they may purify themselves with the light of wisdom. Everywhere you turn there is fire and prayer. To finish the ritual, offerings of flowers and candles are set afloat on the waters of the Ganges. Witnessing the thousands of little candles and handmade ‘flower boats’ bobbing out of sight is an extraordinary experience.
Fire is a representation of the spiritual light within. It is a connection to the Divine and a symbol of knowledge. For Hindus Aarti is a chance to give back the love and light that God bestows upon them everyday. It is an offering that is given to a Deity, a Saint or to the sacred Mother Ganga.
The Ganges, according to Hindu beliefs, is not a river but an emanation of the Divine itself. She flows directly from heaven onto earth and has the power to purify all beings. Even the most sinful person can be blessed in her compassionate waters. It is for this reason that offerings are presented to her.
No matter where you choose to attend Aarti make sure you arrive early. The crowds quickly become overwhelming as sunset nears.If you’re in Varanasi consider hiring a boat and watching the ceremony from the river herself. The view is stunning.Anyone can participate just purchase your offering beforehand. During your travels through India be sure to experience Aarti in a couple of different spots. Every town and every ghat offers a unique experience that showcases the complexity of this tradition.