After spending a good day at Rajaji National Park, I arrived at Haridwar(also called Hardwar) to witness the Ganga Aarti before I returned to Rishikesh.
My bus left me near the railway station and I took a rickshaw to Har-ki-Pauri ghat. It was like a repetition of events that happened a year ago. Almost the same time last year, I found myself at Hardwar on an evening, unplanned and not knowing what to do. And I was here today because I did not get any bus from Chilla to Rishikesh and had to do a broken journey via Haridwar.
Since last year, things had changed a bit on the busy road connecting the railway station to the Ghat. Buildings then looked old enough to shoot a horror movie. Now many of them seemed to be making a vain attempt of resurrection with some fresh paint and patch-work. It was amusing to watch some of these buildings that could well be a hundred year old, recently fitted with a modern air-conditioning unit at the window!
The road became narrower as the rickshaw progressed and was closed for motorized vehicles a kilometer before the ghat. Both sides of this portion of road looked like a devotional super market! They sold every kind of thing that you could use to worship god – many colorful powders, vibhooti, rudraksha, stones of several colors and colorful neck laces, etc.. Almost every other shop sold plastic cans to fill the holy water. Some shops that looked slightly modern, sold devotional audio and video material. The road was busy with a large number of pedestrians and the cycle rickshaws desperately trying to make some way between the ocean of people.
The Ganga Aarti in Hardwar’s Har-ki-Pauri is one of the famous rituals in India. It starts at around 6.30pm after sunset, with large crowds gathered around both the banks of a canal that carries the waters of Ganges. Loud speakers blare songs in praise of Ganga Maiya and Shiva.
The time of Aarti sees a bustle of activity on the ghats. Many babas are seen sitting in corners, hoping to get some donations from the devotees. Men in blue uniform move around with a receipt book, collecting donations that will be used for conducting the Aarti. People keep walking in all direction trying to find a good place to sit or stand. Hawkers sell wick lamps or diyas to float in the Ganges. A friend sms’ed me to float a diya for her and I found myself trying to buy one.
Me, pointing at a diya: Kitne ka hai? – How much?
Hawker: bees rupaia – Twenty
Hearing the price, I walked away from him and heard him shout quickly – Dus rupaia dedo – give me a ten!
A pack of diya comes fully equipped and is self-sufficient! It has a wick lamp surrounded by flowers. There is even a matchbox to light the lamp, so you don’t need to run around looking for one! Two incense sticks also come with it and the whole thing is assembled in a bowl like pack made of stitched leaves. I lighted the diya, floated it down the river like many other pilgrims and continued witnessing the aarti.
It lasted for around 30 minutes. A few people(priests?) standing on the ghat swayed huge lamps backed by the blares of bhajans and instrumental music. Lamps of different sizes light up in the hands of people all along the banks and is a pretty sight to watch in the darkness after sunset. Hardwar’s aarti is an interesting ritual, but it feels too noisy, chaotic and commercialized. I mused of the quite and charming aarti sessions I was attending at Rishikesh for the last few days and could not help comparing it with crowded Hardwar.
It was a long day for me after a trip to Rajaji National Park and then Haridwar. I was pretty tired by the time Aarti was concluded, walked up to the bus stop and quickly headed back to Rishikesh to end my day.