Festival of the month: Ganga Dussehra

Ganga is, for all practical and religious purposes, the lifeline of Varanasi.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet/Matt Munro

Amongst the array of festivals that commemorate the gods and goddesses of Varanasi, Ganga Dussehra holds a special place in the hearts of the local community. Ganga is, for all practical and religious purposes, the lifeline of Varanasi. So, when, once a year, a festival commemorates the river, it is celebrated with much aplomb.


28 May

The festival

Even during the hottest of months in India, the festival that’s not to be missed. There are over 85 ghats in Varanasi that stretch from one end of the old city to the other. Wide concrete steps descend into the river and on these steps, the magic unfolds.

Devotees arrive in the wee hours of the morning to take a dip in the holy river and then pray to the Goddess Ganga. The temples along the ghats are rife with activity as devotees flock to the city to pay homage to the goddess. It is said, that on this day Suryavanshi king, King Bhagirath, managed to convince Ganga to flow from heaven on earth.

What to expect

The ghats of Varanasi are mélange of colours on this day. The bustling steps are teeming with devotees. With small prayer ceremonies in motion, this is a great time for photographers to capture the vibrancy of the city.

In the evenings, as the night falls, aartis are sung in unison in different temples, the sounds mixing and rising in the hot evening air. The aarti on Dashashwamedh ghat is held on a grand scale on this day, so it’s best to arrive early and bag a seat on a boat right in front of the stage where it is held.

Five young priests follow a practiced routine with flaming lamps, incense sticks, conches and other holy paraphernalia to a live bhajan sung on the microphone – the synchrony is mesmerising. The evening ends with devotees and visitors offering small leaf baskets with a burning lamp inside and flowers to the river. Possibly one of the most photographed spectacles in Varanasi, you can even witness it from the middle of the river on a boat.

Top tip

Ganga Dusshera is also held in other parts of India like Haridwar, Ujjain and Allahabad, but the exuberance of Varanasi cannot be matched.

For information, grab a copy of Best Escapes North India.

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