As I marvelled at the exquisite scenery of Rishikesh and the captivating sight of the Ganges, I spotted a group of local Indians swimming, splashing and cleansing in the water.
A local who had noticed me staring at the bathers, informed me that Hindus hold the belief that washing in the river Ganges forgives them of their sins.
I wandered past the energized Indians and noticed one sadhu (holy man), dressed in a striking, marigold sarong cupping and sipping water from the river in his hands. It was this image that crystallized everything I already knew about the Ganges – its role in Hinduism as a cardinal element of religion, life, death, rejuvenation, repentance and spiritual energy.
As I continued my journey through the hustle and bustle of Rishikesh’s charming streets I stumbled across the electric holy ceremony of Aarti, which is held every night at sunset at Parmarth ashram.
Hundreds of vibrantly dressed Indians were gathered around the Ganges chanting, singing, clapping, swaying and playing instruments. I took a seat on a marbled step and admired the lively energy, which skipped its way around the service.
As each member of the ashram flooded towards the glowing flame of the candles, I inhaled the fragrance of the burning sandalwood, which swirled its way around the foot of the Ganges – I felt enlightened, tranquil and at peace.
A kind man taking part in the ceremony explained to me that ‘Aarti’ is a ritual of worship where wicks, which are formally soaked in ghee (purified butter, which most Indians use in their cooking) are lit as an offering to the Gods. I felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a part of this important and personal ritual.
Once the ceremony had come to an end, I caught a glimpse of an assembly of radiant lights bobbing their way along the Ganges. As my eyes focused on the glowing flames I realized that they were what the man had referred to earlier as diyas – tea light candles cradled in small boats made of flower petals. He had explained that each diya is placed on the Ganges as an offering to the Gods or as a wish.
Not only was it fascinating to understand the spiritual and symbolic aspects of diyas, it was also a delight on the eye. As I placed my diya on the river Ganges, I looked out across the cloud of tea lights and thanked any God for such a beautiful sight.
To read more about my time in Rishikesh, India (as you can probably tell, I LOVE Rishikesh) please click here.