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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 

Things to do in India

Experience an aarti ceremony in the moonlight

Aarti, in a few words, is an act in the Hindu religion that helps remove any evil and brings one closer to God …

By Bhanu Pratap Singh Bhati
Tour Guide in Varanasi

Aarti, in a few words, is a prayer of gratitude to God, an act in the Hindu religion that helps remove any evil and brings one closer to God. The belief is that light from an oil lamp, burning incense and chanting mantras will dispel any negative energy. The ritual is mostly done in temples or at home in front of several idols. Varanasi’s aarti though is special as we pray to the River Ganges on the beautiful moonlit water.

We leave in the late afternoon in a vehicle heading towards the ghats (steps leading down to the water) and then usually hop on a cycle rickshaw to weave through the chattering crowds, bicycles and stray cows. It’s a fantastic experience seeing the streets and bazaars full of local life.

After a short walk, we meet our boatmen who will be waiting to take you out onto the river before the crowds arrive. They then paddle for 15 minutes to try to get a good spot in front of the most important ghat, Dashashwamedh, where the aarti ceremony is held. Many people come to Varanasi when they’re ready to leave the material world behind and finally achieve true inner peace or nirvana. It’s a very spiritual place.

Just before the performance begins, a group of priests arrive to decorate the platform with garlands, incense and large oil lamps called deepams. Then slowly and in unison they move the lamps up, down and clockwise, and chant and ring bells amid the bright flames. Meanwhile, the thousands of people that have congregated join in the mantras and prayers. The whole thing lasts for around 25 minutes and is completely out of this world.

It’s difficult to describe in words, the feeling you get when you’re among this many people all praying together. You get goosebumps, it’s very impactful. Varanasi is a truly special place full of infectious energy, where every aarti is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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Alfred & Bhanu Pratap Singh Bhati

Bhanu has worked as a freelance tour guide since 2009 and has assisted the BBC on wildlife documentaries in India. He lives in the blue city of Jodhpur, Rajasthan with his entire family; his parents, his wife, Anuradha, daughter Harshnandani, two older brothers and their families.