When Dev Deepawali Illuminates The Soul of Varanasi

The full moon and devotees descend to the Ganga and ghats for the holy dip, making this festival of lights the most special celebration in the ancient city.

Rajesh Singh

The day dims into darkness. People in thousands, swell to more than a lakh, making their way to the ghats lining the ancient town of Varanasi, along the banks of the sacred Ganga. Two weeks after they celebrate their Deepawali, the festival of lights, people of Varanasi embrace the warmth of Dev Deepawali, the Deepawali of the Gods. Assi Ghat and Dashashwamedh Ghat become the sacred dais in this glittering celebration of light and lamps that spreads across the city.

The full moon of Karthik. The pale and silver bindu, the full moon of Karthik descends with mankind, on the ghats of Varanasi and over the calming Ganga. It is said that the Gods descend to bathe in Ganga on this day.

Mahadev and Ganga — the intoxicating combination. Men, women and children, young and old, surge ahead. The numbers grow. The jostling increases. Patience dips. Sometimes, you don’t even have to make an effort to move. The people of Varanasi rub shoulders with visitors from across the country and the world. Foreigners visiting the city are in awe of the crowds and the power of faith. Lord Shiva becomes the presiding deity.

From Ravidas Ghat to Raj Ghat, more than a million diyas are lit in nearly a week-long event, beginning with Prabodhini Ekadashi and concluding on Karthik Poornima. Devotees perform the Karthik snan (holy dip), which also marks Lord Shiva’s victory on demon Tripurasur.

Varanasi walks gracefully, from one festivity to another, round the year, but Dev Deepawali is special. Incidentally, this year, the full moon was closer than it has been since 1948.

Har har Mahadev” and “Bhole baba ki jai”, the expression of love for Lord Shiva becomes louder. The sight of tiny earthen lamps, twinkling like stars in the skies, is beautiful. The Gods deserve no less. Soon it would be time for the Ganga Aarti and the chanting of Vedic mantras, when the flames of the sacred fire leap into the air, with sprouts of burning orange. Boats on the Ganga give the ghats an audience and many dimensions. People get a panoramic view of the celebrations from the waters.

Today, Varanasi is grappling with the need to balance its cultural-religious legacy and modernity. There are ugly high-rise buildings and malls, designed to be aesthetically offensive, coming up in the city of ghats and ancient religious sites. The chants and Ganga Aarti drown this commotion. The mantras connect you with Varanasi’s soul, and dharma. Culture reclaims its space.

This year, Ganga Mahotsava, the three-day cultural festival preceding Dev Deepavali, at Assi ghat, featured well-known artistes of Benaras, including stalwarts of the Benaras gharana Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra, whose musical legacy is synonymous with the Kabir Chauramuth, the historical hub of music and culture. The ragas blend into darkness and light. Varanasi dims into ripples, reflections and silence. Dev Deepawali will arrive next year, and the year after, until eternity. Without Dev Deepawali, there is no light in the idea of Varanasi.

— The writer is Opinion Editor, The Pioneer.