How does a river begin? According to Hindu mythology, if that river is the Ganges, she could be created from the sweat collected by Lord Brahma from Lord Vishnu’s – the creator’s – foot. Another version of the story says that Lord Vishnu brought the river Ganga into existence by poking a hole in the fabric of the universe. This holiest of rivers had the power to absolve sin and release mortals from the Karmic cycle of birth and rebirth. Ganga was content to live out her life in the abode of Lord Brahma, the protector, but it was not meant to be — she was disturbed by the meditation and penance of King Bhagirath who prayed for her to come down to earth. The river goddess was so incensed that there was real danger she’d wipe out the Earth in her descent, so Lord Shiva, the destroyer, was persuaded to intervene. He trapped her in the locks of his hair, slowing down her path, allowing her to gently make her way down the mountains.
And this day of her avtarana, or descent, to Earth is celebrated every year as Ganga Dussehra. All down the ghats that line her banks as she winds across the hills and plains of our country, prayers and offerings are borne to the heavens on the ripples of this mighty river.
The Heart of It
Celebrated on the 10th day or Dashmi of the lunar month of Jyeshtha every year, Ganga Dussehra is a big celebration wherever you may be on the river’s shores. From Rishikesh and Haridwar to Allahabad, Patna and Kolkata, there are aartis and maha aartis.
Devotees head to the ghats believing they, too, will find absolution from their karmic burdens. On the day of Dussehra (meaning the defeat of dus, or 10), a dip in the cool waters could mean the extinguishing of sins for 10 lifetimes. It is also supposed to cure any physical problems and illnesses that have lingered.
In each of the major towns and cities on the banks, Ganga Dussehra is celebrated for nine days, before culminating with great fanfare on day 10. Each observance differs from place to place
In 2017, Haridwar saw 15 lakh pilgrims participating in the evening rituals as priests led the drummers, singers, and musicians in prayer. Thousands of tea lights and clay diyas are also floated down along with rose petals and other flowers, accompanied by the sounds of bhajans and mantras.
In Varanasi, along with the aarti and diyas, priests also organized a Dugdhadaan or milk offering of 108 litres of cow’s milk. If you’re in Bihar, the maha aarti in Patna happens at Gandhi Ghat, but at Adalat Ghat that a 1km long flower garland is offered to the river.
The most lavish celebrations are at the Dasashwamedha Ghat in Varanasi and Har Ki Pauri at Haridwar. While the rituals are not quiet anywhere, they’re a little more low key in smaller places. In Ujjain, head to Ram Ghat or the Kshipra-Ganga temple.
#Protip: As an annual festival, most accommodation is booked out early. We recommend looking into the ashrams for basic but good dormitory style stay and food. If you’re heading to the hills, look into rooms at Banyan By the Ganges and don’t miss the breakfast at the German Bakery.
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