No matter how new you are to India or its culture, there is little chance that you would have not heard of Diwali. In fact, if you are in north India, not only can you see the festivity around, you can feel it; a smoky smell of crackers fills the air, buildings are draped in shiny strings of lights and shopping hubs announce their annual discounts. It’s hard not to get sucked into the celebration from weeks ahead.
Diwali commemorates the victory of Lord Ram over Ravana and his triumphant return to the kingdom after a period of exile. Keen to make Lord Ram’s homecoming as swift and safe as possible, his jubilant subjects illuminated the way with masses of twinkling diyas. It is for this reason the lighting of diyas has become a key component of the Diwali festival.
It also symbolises the replacement of darkness (ignorance) with ‘inner’ light – garnered via the pursuit of knowledge and spiritual practices. Indeed, spirituality lies at the heart of Diwali, with devotees specifically seeking blessings from two prominent Hindu deities: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of good fortune and auspicious beginnings. Worshippers pray for prosperity and well-being for the year that lies ahead, with fireworks and crackers proffering plenty of raucous razzle-dazzle when devotional formalities come to a close.
Dev Deepawali in Varanasi: Fifteen days post Diwali, Dev Deepawali is a unique festival celebrated on the banks of the River Ganga in Varanasi. It is said that on this day, the Gods descend to celebrate Diwali. All 84 ghats are cleaned and decorated with flowers, Rangolis and lamps. The river comes alive with flickering flames as floating offerings are released onto the Ganges. The annual Ganga Mahotsav takes place three days prior to Dev Deepawali. It features cultural performances, craft exhibitions and of course food.
Tips for Dev Deepavali:
- To capture the best of the festival and for a vantage view of the ghats, it is advisable you book a room and a boat in advance.
- Suggested Riverside Stays: Ganpati Guesthouse (ph 0542 2390059), Alka Hotel (ph 0542 2398445), Palace on The Ganges ( ph 0542 2314304) and Hotel Ganges View (ph 0542 3290289)
- The busiest ghats are Dashashvamedh, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Assi.
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.