Festival of the Month: The Ganga Dussehra

Varanasi is at its brilliant best by the ghats.
Image courtesy: CC BY 2.0/flickr/Jai Kapoor

With the political fervour finally simmering down after the elections, life in Varanasi finally seems to be stumbling back to normalcy. This is good news, especially since the city is a hotspot for backpacking and religious travellers, who come here to relax by the breezy ghats or go on temple trails. Another important hook of the city is the many festivals; June is when Ganga Dussehra is in focus. Despite the summer breeze weighing down on the city, it is never bereft of its spiritual zeal to celebrate festivals. This year, Ganga Dussehra will be celebrated on 8th June.

Wake up in the morning and find that the ghats bathed in something more than the muted early morning sun – a splash of colour sprawls on the stepped fringes of the river as thousands of devotees arrive here to pray to the River Ganga. The scene is nothing short of fantastic – a photographer’s dream come true. The colour is not only subjected to the riverside but also spreads to the blue sky, when children come out armed with kites. A fervent kite war erupts in the otherwise peaceful skies on this day.

The festival draws thousands of sadhus and devotees every year.
Image courtesy: Jamie Robinson

Of the entire period of ten days over which Ganga Dussehra is celebrated, the Dashmi (tenth day) is the most important. Devotees travel from far and wide to reach the ghats early to bathe in its water and continue with small processions to temples. The evening aarti by the ghats is celebrated with even more zeal than usual with the aarti pavilions bedecked in flowers. The extra devoutness is apparent, as this is the day when the Ganga River is supposed to have descended on earth. Having a bath in the holy river and praying on this day is supposed to wash away sins.

Tips for Photographers:

1) Arrive early on the ghats to catch the soft morning light falling on the ghats.

2) The ghats are thronging with people and the situation can be pretty overwhelming. Separate yourself from the situation to find narrower details. Compose photographs to eliminate crowds.

3) Follow an interesting subject to catch the rhythm of ritual if you are looking to click details of the puja ceremonies.

4) Arm yourself with a tripod for the evening aarti and find a vantage spot early to get a front view of the aarti; the best ghat to shoot on this day is the Dashashwamedh ghat.

5) Use the movement of the aarti to your advantage by using long shutter speed.

AUTHOR'S BIO: With a penchant for travelling ‘ungoogled’, Supriya has willingly got lost a number of times in the most obscure places of India for the last 8 years. She lives on a healthy diet of anecdotes and tea with auto drivers, co-passengers and locals! Supriya currently runs a Bangalore based travel-photography outfit called Photography Onthemove and writes regular features for India and International travel publications.More on: www.supriyasehgal.com