'See the Ganga aarti in Varanasi at least once in your lifetime'
Writer Sivasankari begins the series, looking back at a spectacular Indian ritual that dates back a thousand years.
One experience that left me dumbfounded was the Ganga aarti at Kashi (Varanasi). This was when I first visited Kashi about 30 years ago. The Ganga aarti at Hardwar is also spectacular.
What I experienced put me in a time capsule and sent me back a thousand years. I am told the same tradition has been followed there for a 1000 years. It is a marvel. I recommend that everyone should go and watch the aarti performed at the Dashashwamedh ghat at least once in their lifetime.
The boatman took us to a point opposite the ghat at a distance of about 100 feet. Seven decorated podiums were put up on the banks of the Ganga and seven priests stood on each stage with various musical instruments being played in the background to hymns and bhajans.
Under the starlit sky with hundreds of lamps floating in the river, I was spellbound watching the aarti. All those Indians who dream of visiting Venice must visit this place and enjoy the beauty of this tradition.
Sivasankari has written 30 novels, 13 travelogues and 150 short stories.
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Image: The aarti on the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi
Photographs: Courtesy: UP Tourism
'The Manikarnika ghat experience will remain with me'
Manikarnika is the foremost among the cremation ghats in Kashi. The guide took us to the Manikarnika ghat just before sunset and left us, saying that he would be back soon.
On the banks of the Ganga, there were bodies lying in queue to be cremated, and I didn't see any family member crying. It gives you a new concept about death.
We spent an hour watching the bodies being cremated. They (the attendants) first picked up two bodies, dipped them in the Ganga, put them on the pyre and set it ablaze. Within a matter of minutes, they moved to another body. The family members watched nonchalantly; the usual wailing, grieving was remarkably absent.
The Manikarnika experience will also remain with me for a lifetime. It made me look at life and death from a different perspective. From that moment, I am not scared of death.
There, death is moksha and there is nothing to be scared of.
Sivasankari spoke to Shobha Warrier in Chennai.
Please click on More for filmmaker Zoya Akhtar's take on the India You Didn't Know.
Image: The Manikarnika ghat in Varanasi
Photographs: Seema Pant/Rediff.com