Last updated on November 4th, 2018.
Ganga Aarti is a Hindu religious ritual in India performed every evening as a part of puja (prayer). While you can see Aarti functions in several places around India, there are three Holy cities where you can attend big Aarti ceremonies.
In this post, I’ll tell you more about Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, Haridwar, Rishikesh, how to attend these ceremonies in each city and other useful tips to consider.
About Ganga Aarti
The aarti ritual is performed as a devotion to the holy river in India also called “Maa Ganga”. Irrespective of the size of the ceremony, it includes fire element, chanting, flowers, incense, etc.
The ceremony is usually performed by pandits (priests) dressed in the traditional clothes. Part of Ganga Aarti is held facing a holy river and circling brass lamps or diyas clockwise. It is believed that the lamps gain the deity power during the ceremony.
Ganga Aarti Varanasi
Varanasi is one of the oldest holy cities in the world. It has spectacular architecture, numerous temples and various cultural ceremonies and traditions.
Despite my hard feelings for the city, Ganga Aarti in Varanasi is one of the most impressive ceremonies I’ve ever attended and I recommend not to miss it. It is a well-planned program, where priests perform the rituals during puja (prayer).
How to attend Ganga Aarti in Varanasi?
The ceremony is held at Dashashwamedh ghat every sunset (6 pm in the winter season and 7 pm during summer season). The event itself takes around 45 minutes.
I strongly recommend coming at least half an hour in advance if you want to get a seat and one hour in advance if you are willing to be in front rows.
How to reach: Dashashwamedh ghat is famous. Since the city streets are narrow, only autos and bikes can navigate there. I opted to walk along the Ganges from Assi Ghat. It’s 2.5 km or so which I made in half an hour. You can hail an auto, but ask help from locals if you are a foreigner. Autos do charge arm and leg there.
Tip: if you are planning to photograph the ceremony, don’t choose to stay in a boat. I was clicking from the shore, and even here you can see the light going against the camera. Ideally, try to take spots near the stage, parallel to Ganga flow. Easier said than done, but good luck!
From the spectator point of view, it doesn’t matter where you sit since the priest will be performing the same rituals facing all four parts.
Note: there is a free open entry at the shore, but if you choose to be in the boat, expect a price range of 50 – 150 INR. I haven’t invested time in bargaining, maybe you can get better deals.
Interested in pilgrimage places? Check out Sarnath – one of the key pilgrimage Buddhist places just half an hour away from Varanasi.
Ganga Aarti Haridwar
Haridwar holds also another big Aarti ceremony in India daily. It also has a program, impressive rituals, speakers and overall atmosphere that gets into you. I have a hard time to estimate which one is more crowded: Varanasi or Haridwar.
Note: if you are attending for photography purpose, it is much harder to get an angle of the ceremony itself in Haridwar than other cities, yet you can make some pictures of the crowds.
How to attend Ganga Aarti in Haridwar?
The biggest ceremony is held daily in Har-Ki-Pauri Ghat (which means “Feet of God”). The function takes place at 5 pm or 6 pm depending on the time of the year.
Try to reach at least one hour in advance to get a better spot. Note, there might be people asking you for donations. It is not mandatory and you should give only to the temple and only if you feel like.
Ganga Aarti Rishikesh
In my opinion, Rishikesh has a more relaxed program, thus giving you a more personal experience of Ganga Aarti ceremony. There are two famous Ganga Aarti functions in Rishikesh: one at Triveni Ghat, another at Parmarth Niketan Ashram.
After a grand ceremony in Varanasi, I chose to attend the Parmarth Niketan function. It is a more personal and small ceremony performed by children studying in the temple.
Since there are way fewer people than in Haridwar or Varanasi, everyone can get a chance to hold and rotate the fire to be an active part of the ritual.
How to attend Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh
If you choose to attend the Aarti in Parmarth Niketan Ashram, you need to reach Ram Jhula bridge. I strongly recommend using shared autos or walking (depending on your stay). The private autos have exorbitant rates here.
I recommend reaching half an hour in advance. Since the ceremony is held in the temple, you will have to leave your shoes in the cloakroom or near the entrance and find a good spot to sit.
Alternatively, if you decide to attend a bigger ceremony at Triveni Ghat, it’s close to the main bus stand (~1.5km away).
What I liked about Rishikesh: All the way I was walking from Parmarth Niketan to my home I noticed ten of small temples as well as individuals performing Ganga Aarti ritual by themselves. I’ve stopped to watch a few because they were so personal and quite.
Read also: How to do Rishikesh right?
Other tips for attending the Ganga Aarti ceremony in India
As you can see, you can choose Ganga Aarti experience depending on your goals and interests. Here are a few last thoughts to consider:
- All the cities mentioned above are holy. Though Varanasi and Rishikesh are popular destinations among hippies and everyone interested in yoga/meditation/Ayurveda, I strongly recommend dressing more conservatively there. Read also: How to dress in India on different occasions?
- Behave modestly. Despite all three cities attract crowds of tourists, they are VERY important destinations for Hindu followers. While some people want to see a spectacular function, others come to give prayers to the Gods here. Keep it in mind.
- There will be plenty of people selling you offerings on the plate (candle and flowers usually) to put at the river during the ceremony. It is NOT mandatory to buy them, moreover, I would discourage you to put anything Ganges. As scenic as it may look, these plates with diyas (candles) are polluting the river. Have you seen the number of visitors at the pictures? Every day!
- These are all open events, you are more than welcomed to make donations to the temples after the ceremony, but don’t buy the non-existent tickets (unless you take a spot in a boat/balcony/private arrangement by your own will).
- Turn off the sound of your phone and be present for these 45 minutes. World will keep going. Don’t be that dude answering the call and bothering everyone around with your talk.
I hope this post gave you a good idea what to expect from Ganga Aarti in India. It’s truly one of the most memorable cultural experiences and I strongly recommend to plan it.
If you have been to one of these ceremonies, how was your experience?