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There is something mesmerising about Haridwar. And no, it is not the idea of washing away my sins in the holy water of Ganges (more about it later!) or to explore the several ancient temples which the place is famous for. It is the enchanting atmosphere created by the Ganga Aarti, a ritual amongst Hindus for worshipping Ma Ganga or Mother Ganga as she is known, which attracts me to this Gateway to the Gods or Haridwar as it is known.
As a child, I had visited Haridwar with my parents. The only defining memory which I had of the trip was of the beautifully lit earthen lamps or diyas floating in the Holy Ganga river, creating a stunning visual image which remained with me. I went back many times thereafter just to watch the enthralling spectacle of the Ganga Aarti in Haridwar.
Significance of Haridwar
Hari means “Lord Vishnu”, and dwar means “gateway” so the name Haridwar translates to “The Gateway to Lord Vishnu” or “The Gateway to God”. Haridwar is the place from where the devotees start their journey to visit the four famous pilgrimages in Uttarakhand, which are Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. It is also the first major city in the plains through which the river Ganga passes.
Story behind Kumbha
The city is steeped in ancient culture and tradition and according to the Samudra manthan, Haridwar along with Ujjain, Nashik and Prayagraj is one of four sites where drops of Amrit, the elixir of immortality, accidentally spilled over from the pitcher or ‘Kumbha’ while being carried by the celestial bird Garuda.
This is the reason why the Kumbha Mela is celebrated every 12 years in Haridwar. Millions of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists get together in Haridwar during this time. They perform ritualistic bathing on the banks of the river Ganges to wash away their sins to attain Moksha or liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
Ganga Aarti at Har ki Pauri
It is a beautiful evening, the sky bathed in a pink hue. While I take my place on one of the stairs on the Ghat at Har Ki Pauri, I can feel the excitement in the crowd. Mind you, this is Covid time but it amazes me to no end as to what faith and religion can make one do.
The place is brimming with people who have come from far and near to watch the spectacular Ganga Aarti. I do maintain the social distancing norms and thus lose out on a really good vantage point to see the Aarti. Nevetheless, it is still a great experience even if viewed from afar.
The atmosphere is electric with the sun slowly fading away. As the dusk settles down, the lights come on. I am very quiet. The chaos around does not register. It is as if time has stopped still even though the waters of Ganga make me feel otherwise. There is stillness in the way the water flows. Making me think. Making me feel like a part of the Universe, and for a brief while, I forget everything.
The visual spectacle which connects you to divinity
I wait for the Aarti to begin. Brahmakund is the area within Har Ki Pauri where the Ganga Aarti is performed. This is the place where drops of the elixir of immortality fell and hence it is considered to be one of the most sacred ghats in India.
It is said that one can wash away one’s karmic sins by taking a dip in the pious waters here. Also, many Hindus believe in immersing the ashes of the deceased in the holy waters of Ganga since it is said that the waters carry the soul straight to Hari or God.
The Priests of the Ganga Sabha light up the lamps and begin the Aarti which is performed while facing the river Ganga. They start chanting the mantras, praying to Mother Ganga. As the chants reverberate, the ringing of the temple bells and the reflection of the lamps in the Ganga, lend an air of sanctitude to the atmosphere.
It is a moving experience to see the Aarti and just for a little while, I get the feeling of having connected to divinity. Every once in a while, there are loud chants of ‘Har Har Gange’ and it seems as if even the air around us is getting purged of its impurities, such is the atmosphere.
The visual extravaganza lasts for around half an hour. The flowing water of the Ganges looks like it has been lighted up with lamps which are floating in the water, giving it a sublime glow. The intoxicating smell of the sandal, the flowers and the burning of incense give me a heady feeling and I know I will be back again.
The Aarti is also held in the early hours of morning. However, I would say that if you really want to experience the atmosphere, attend the evening Aarti in all its glory.
Read my post on Varanasi to know about how Ganga Aarti is performed in Varanasi.
A bit about Har ki Pauri
Legend has it that Bharthari came to Haridwar and meditated on the banks of Ganga. When he died, his brother King Vikramaditya (1st Century BC) constructed a Ghat in his name, which later came to be known as Har Ki Pauri or Steps to Lord Shiva (Har).
It is also believed that Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu had visited the Brahmakund in Har Ki Pauri in the Vedic times. Well, I would rather like to believe the story!
Schedule for the Aarti
The Ganga Aarti at Haridwar is held two times a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
During March to October, the morning Aarti begins anytime between 5:00 AM and 6:50 AM, while the evening Aarti starts between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM. During the winter months, the evening Aarti is held early. The commencement of the Aarti depends on the time of sunrise and sunset.
It is advisable to reach at least an hour before in the evening to get a good place to sit and view the Aarti. It can get very very crowded and sometimes 3000-4000 people attend the Aarti in the evenings.
Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun, 36 Kilometres away, is the nearest airport to Haridwar. One can fly directly to Dehradun from some cities or take a connecting flight via New Delhi to Dehradun.
Haridwar has a railway station which links to the major cities of India.
Travelling within Haridwar is easy. You can use the autos or the rickshaws which ply inside the city.
Being a part of the Ganga Aarti in Haridwar is a deeply moving visual and spiritual experience. If one can, one should definitely have this experience. I have visited Haridwar so many times just to see the Aarti. And I have always gone back. So will you.