The ageless city Varanasi is one of the central Hindu religious centre’s - both as a place of pilgrimage and for the performance of various rites and rituals as prescribed in the ancient Hindu Holy Scriptures. Early morning, people start gathering at the various ghats to perform these rituals – some of them meant to appease the various deities while others to provide peace and happiness to the souls of their deceased ancestors. These interesting ritualistic activities revolve around the ghats of the holy river, The Ganga, and start soon after sunrise and continue throughout the day. I consider truly blessed to have got the opportunity to perform all the below listed rituals along with my family during my Kashi Yatra.
Everyday, lakhs of pilgrims swarm the several ghats of the holiest river Ma Ganga, in Varanasi, for performing several rituals, the most fundamental among them being- The Holy Dip. Considered most auspicious during sunrise, it is believed to cleanse all the earthly sins and open the doors to salvation. The Ganga is a living Goddess - Just the sight of this sacred river or even the mere utterance of her name is said to bestow heavenly blessings. Reciting the mantras (chants) from sacred texts and offering prayers to the rising Sun God, while standing knee-deep in the holy waters, all form a part of this basic ritual.
[ People lining up for a Holy Dip ]
After the holy dip in the river Ganga, the devotees offer flowers to the purifying waters, light incense sticks and earthen oil lamps to seek Her blessings. This ritual of lighting oil lamps (Deep) and floating it on the gently flowing waters of Mother Ganga (Daan) is known as ‘Deep Daan’. Performance of this ritual especially in the Hindu month of Karthik is believed to bring health, wealth and prosperity to the entire family.
[ Selling Oil Lamps at one of the Ghats ]
There is also a tradition of collecting the Ganges water in bottles and taking it back home. A few drops of this holy water sprinkled around the house especially ahead of religious ceremonies is said to cleanse it of all the negativities and purifies it. This water is also used while preparing prasads or performing abhisheks of the various Hindu deities. Putting a few drops directly in the mouth of a dying person is said to grant him liberation. Therefore, do not forget to bring yourself a bottle filled with this holy water and distribute some of it among your friends and relatives too!
[ Bottles for collecting the waters of River Ganga ]
Dashashwamedh ghat, being the holiest of all the ghats in Varanasi, people prefer to collect the water from here. However, I believe, the Ganga is the same everywhere, hence, I would advice my readers to take it during the boat ride from somewhere around the center of the river as the water here will be relatively cleaner.
Enlisted as one of the Niyamas (behavioral codes of conduct) in the various Holy Hindu Scriptures, Daan simply means charity or donation done without any motive of self interest. Charity - Monetary or otherwise, done here besides the River Ganga, to the needy and poor without any expectation of a return favor, is said to bring lots of good luck and prosperity.
[ Giving Charity to the poor
- Assi Ghat Varanasi ]
Anna Daan (donation of food) in Kashi has a special significance as it said to please the Goddess Annapurna- the Goddess of Food.
Speaking of daan, I forgot to make a mention of a very interesting ritual, Veni Daan, in my earlier post of Magh Mela in Allahabad. Note that this ritual is performed at the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad and not in Varanasi. In this ritual, Veni (a tuft of hair) is offered by married women to the holy waters of the Triveni Sangam which is said to prolong the life of their husbands.
This ritual, performed only by the head male member of the family, involves offering of water to our deceased ancestors (Pitars) which is said to provide peace and satisfaction to their souls. They, in turn, shower their blessings and grant happiness and well being. Unlike the relatively simple rituals listed above, Tarpan cannot be performed without the presence of a Brahmin priest known as Panda. You can find them sitting under large umbrellas made of palm leaves at Dashashwamedh Ghat.
Dakshina given to these pandas assisting you in the performance of this ritual is also a form of Daan (already described above). In addition to money, any item can be given as Dakshina – clothes, food grains (rice, wheat, jowar, etc.), umbrellas, heaters, coolers to the more expensive ones like land, cow, or gold – according to ones capacity.
Before I conclude this post, I have to add this-
Have Faith and Belief while performing any of the above activities. Because without this power of your focused conviction and pure intentions, no matter whatever you will do, everything will just be counted as a mere formality.