Every evening, as dusk descends, the Ganga Aarti is performed at the three holy cities of Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Varanasi in India. It’s a very powerful and uplifting spiritual ritual. But what’s its meaning and how can you see it?
An aarti is a devotional ritual that uses fire as an offering. It’s usually made in the form of a lit lamp, and in the case of the Ganges River, a small diya with a candle and flowers that’s floated down the river. The offering is made to the Goddess Ganga, also affectionately referred to as Maa Ganga, goddess of the holiest river in India. The aarti takes on special significance on the auspicious occasion of Ganga Dussehra (in May or June each year), when Maa Ganga is believed to have descended from heaven to earth.
he aarti is carried out facing the river. The lamps are lit and circled around by the pandits (Hindu priests) in a clockwise manner, accompanied by changing or songs in praise of Mother Ganga. The idea is that the lamps acquire the power of the deity. After the ritual is complete, devotees will cup their hands over the flame and raise their palms to their forehead in order to get the goddess’s purification and blessing.
Each evening as the sun’s last rays reflect off the boundless waters of Mother Ganga, we gather for Ganga Aarti. This divine light ceremony is filled with song, prayer, ritual and a palpable sense of the divine. The “aarti” – an ornate oil lamp, lined with dozens of flames burning in pure ghee – is offered to God. The essence of the aarti ceremony is that all day long God offers us light – the light of the sun, the light of life, the light of His (Her) blessings. Aarti is a time when we say “thank you,” and we offer back the light of our thanks, the light of our love and the light of our devotion.
One of the meanings of Aarti is “remover of pain.” There is nothing inherent in the name of the ceremony that says which form or name of God it should be performed to. It should be performed to the Divine Remover of Pain in our life.
Ganga aarti is a time in which we break free from the normal stresses and strains of everyday life, and gather together in joy, reverence and peace. As the bright yellow sun dips into the water and the reflection of its rays bring tears to our eyes, we are filled a new with a deep sense of bliss, reverence and spiritual connection.