Every stair is decorated with Diyas, the full moon is literally shining in the sky, graceful mother Ganges is looking gorgeous, thousands of people are sparkling with tremendous joy, and it is an evening of Deepavali (Diwali) at Varanasi. But it is not the common Deepavali of mortals, it is the Deepavali of Devas or Gods; it is Dev Deepavali.
Probably Deepavali is India’s biggest festival. Not only Indians, but millions of people across the world also celebrate the festival of lights. Every year on a new moon of Hindu Month of ‘Kartik’ is celebrated as Deepavali. But India’s one of the oldest city Varanasi celebrates Deepavali twice. On the auspicious day of ‘Kartik Purnima’ (full moon) people of Varanasi celebrates Dev Deepavali. Among Hindus, Jains and Sikhs ‘Kartik Purnima, has immense importance, but as per legends, it is believed that on this day Lord Shiva destroyed ‘Tripura’ and saved the universe. Thus this day is celebrated as Deepavali of Devas.
Long ago there were three demons; namely Vidyunmali, Tarakaksha and Viryavana. Together they have known as Tripurasura. After the death of their father Tarakasura; all three started a thousand years old very hard penance. They were looking for the boon of immortality from Lord Brambha. However, after discussion they requested for a tricky boon that was all three brothers will be gifted three forts in different locations (i.e. earth, sky and heaven) and they will live there. Nobody can destroy these forts unless all three forts aligned in a straight line and pierced by a single arrow. Lord Brahma granted that unique boon and asked Mayasura to build three forts. One was made of Gold, another was made of Silver and the last one was made of Iron; together they are known as ‘Tripura.’
(Note: This is a mythological story; readers should not be confused with Indian state Tripura)
Three demon brothers started living in those forts. Time passed and slowly they became irreligious and started bothering other Devas and Rishis. Devas attacked ‘Tripura’, but due to the unique boon, all three brothers were undefeated. All deities started pleading to Lord Shiva as the final resort. Lord Shiva waited for that ‘brahma muhurta’ when all three forts aligned in a straight line. Lord Shiva with the help of a divine arrow pierced all three forts together and destroyed them. That day was an auspicious day of ‘Kartik Purnima’.
The tradition of celebrating Dev Deepavali is very old; however, from 1985, it was converted to a festival. In modern times it is celebrated in a grand way. Now it is celebrated as five days long festival, in which the last day of the festival is Dev Deepavali. Every corner around ghats decorated with earthen lamps, the cultural programme like dance, songs etc performed, Mantras chanted and Maa Ganga Aarti performed in a majestic way. To witness this grand celebration lakhs of people across the world visit Varanasi during this time.
Varanasi or Benaras is popular as the second home of Bengalis. And being a Bengali, I have visited Varanasi a couple of times. But last year finally I got an opportunity to understand the real beauty of Dev Deepavali. Last year after completion of an important assignment, I arrived at Varanasi on the last day of Ganga Mahotsav, means the day of Dev Deepavali. I was supposed to reach at Varanasi at 10 am in the morning but due to some ‘routine’ maintenance of railway track, I was only eight hours late. Thus, I arrived at Varanasi Junction around 6 in the evening. Once I stepped out of the railway station, I noticed huge crowds are moving here and there. I had done an advance booking of a hotel close to Dashaswamedh Ghat (I generally don’t pre-book my hotels but one kind man had advised me to book a hotel during Dev Deepavali and trust me, his advice was 200% genuine).
Those who have visited Varasani before, they know Dasaswamedh Ghat is only a few kilometers away from the station. But it took around 45 minutes to reach Godowlia by a Tuk-Tuk. But the real surprise started from the starting point of Godowlia crossing to Dashaswamedh Ghat Road. The entire street was filled with waves of human crowd. I felt like entire India was moving together. UP Police had blocked the main road, they were not allowing people to enter the street as it was overcrowded. So I looked for a shortcut to enter.
After jumbling for some time, finally, I found the main road and arrived at my hotel. After checking in to my room I just dropped my rucksack, grabbed my camera and rushed to the street.
Every street was compacted with the crowd. In the meantime, the loudspeaker had started announcing that the initiation of Maha Aarti of Maa Ganga had begun. I thought, ‘Oh my lord! People across the world come to witness this Ganga Arrti and today being present in Varasani, I have to miss it. Ganga aarti in Dev Deepavali is different than normal days Aarti; this 45minutes long Ganga Prayer is celebrated with special chanting, ritual and amazing decoration.
After straggling for half an hour when I discovered that I had moved only a few meters, then I gave up the hope. I took a shelter at a nearby tea shop. I was disappointed, for some stupid ‘routine maintenance’ I missed this golden opportunity. With a broken heart, I was sipping tea. An old lady was seating behind me. She asked me “Beta, aarti dekhne nehi gaye” (Didn’t you go for Aarti?). I responded, “Nehi Dadi, bohot vir hain, main ghat thak nehi ja paya” (No grandma, all streets are crowded, I missed Maha Aarti”). She smiled and replied, “Chinta mat kar, aarti khatam hote hi, bhir kam ho jayega. Tab chale jana our ma ko dekhlena”. (Don’t worry, after completion of aarti, you can go to the ghat and witness the mother Ganges”). I replied to her with a smile. She was right, after ending of Aarti, the crowd started coming back and I finally managed to step in at ghat.
Dev Deepvali at Varanasi
I was spellbound, entire Dashashwamedh Ghat was decorated with diyas (earthen lamp). A temporary stage was built on the Ganges, where one singer was performing classical music. End numbers of overcrowded boats were floating in the Ganges. And wherever vision can travel, it was only human heads.
During Dev Deepvali, more than 100 ghats are decorated with diyas; among them Dashashwamedh Ghat is the most popular. It is believed that Lord Brahma created this ghat to welcome lord Siva. I started walking to other ghats to enjoy the beauty. Why only ghat, even all surrounding houses, temples, shops and hotels all were flooded with light. After roaming many ghats finally I decided to take some rest at famous stairs of a ghat.
It was 10:30 in the evening. But people are still in celebration mood; there is no sign of any tiredness. Few hours back I was sad; as I had missed Maha Aarti, but now my heart was filled with tremendous joy. I was thinking in my mind that ‘may be I have missed the main attraction but this explosion of the celebration can be never forgotten in my life time’.
Next day morning
Previous night when I returned to my hotel around 11:30; electrifying crowd was still enjoying the Deepavali of Gods. Next day morning I wanted to wake up early but I was very tired to do that. Around 8:30 am I came back to the Assi ghat. Assi ghat is another important ghats of Varanasi. There is a fascinating story behind the origination of Assi ghatl; long ago mother Durga was fighting battle with two demons Shumbha and Nishumbha. Mother’s sword stuck the ground at the time of killing them. As a result a stream originated named Assi. The confluence of Assi and Ganges river know as Assi Ghat.
I was peacefully seating in a stair of the ghat. It seemed like a normal daily life. Now there was no resemblance between today’s normal morning with previous evening. In fact there was not a single evidence of the grand celebration of Dev Deepavali. I found a beautiful correlation with our life; same thing also happens with our life as well, after celebrating any festival, we had to resume our normal lifestyle. But we strongly procrastinate to do that. Change is the nature of our life. Long ago Lord Buddha taught us; everything is impermanent in this universe. Yesterday Varanasi was illuminated, but today it was all the same…