India: Saying good night to Ganga-ji every night

November 30, 2013
Along the Ganges River

Along the Ganges River

Varanasi is a sacred place to Hindus—and the Ganges River is especially revered– like a “mother.”  Hindus worship four mothers: their natural mothers, Mother Cow, Mother India and Mother Ganges.  As a further mark of esteem, Hindus call the river Ganga-ji—the ji suffix is an honorific, denoting respect. As in Mommy-ji. Or Carol-ji. Or Riley-ji.  Ok, maybe not Riley-ji.

Hindu pilgrims flock to the banks of the Ganges to bathe, annually, if they can. Now, this is not something I can even fathom, given that the treatment plant capacity is vastly insufficient for the amount of pollutants and bacteria in the river. But more on that another day.  It’s a holy river and no amount of pollution will change that.

Today I want to show you how the Brahmans put Mother Ganges, Ganga-ji, to bed every single evening in an elaborate religious ritual attended nightly by hundreds if not a thousand of the faithful, who make their way to Varanasi on religious pilgrimage. This ceremony is a big part of their journey. It’s quite a spectacle.

As the sun set, we took a boat out on the Ganges to observe the nightly ritual from offshore.  Here we are on the boat, approaching the ceremony: (video below)


It got dark quickly and by the time we got to the ceremony, the sky was pitch black. But the shore was lit up with colorful sparkling lights and the music got louder.

Good night, Ganga-ji

Good night, Ganga-ji

It was dark, but the color and spectacle of the good night ceremony shone brightly against the dark sky and shore.  We watched from the river as the devout crowded together to help put the river to bed.

Brahman priests, five of them, I think, together went through various motions with objects representing the five elements of the body, thereby ensuring all parts of the river were put to sleep.

 We were pretty far offshore, and it was night time so the videos below are rough, but you can still see how elaborate a ceremony it is. It’s moving and beautiful. And it’s done every single night. Every night.

Here’s a close-up view of part of the ceremony.

And an overview:

One more:

I didn’t know much about Hinduism when I arrived in India, but I came away with great respect for its heritage and surprise at how well it is integrated into the country’s culture.

“Rituals and mythology are very simple to understand,” one of our guides commented, “and people need that simplicity. And their belief in reincarnation allows them to accept the life they’re in now, hoping that the next one will be better.”

I get that some people consider religion no more than superstition. Regardless, it’s fascinating to see how religious beliefs play into culture and help it develop. And it hasn’t escaped me that each of the major religions have many stories (or myths) in common.

There aren’t enough hours in a day to do the kind of deep-dive study of this that I’d like to do.

6 comments on “India: Saying good night to Ganga-ji every night
  1. “There aren’t enough hours in a day to do the kind of deep-dive study of this that I’d like to do.” I’m with you, Carol. (Maybe we both secretly want to be Robert Langdon.)

    Aldous Huxley wrote about the Perennial Philosophy– an idea first articulated in the late middle ages that there is a single, universal truth from which all religious knowledge and doctrine has grown. When I first read about this, I was so excited I couldn’t sit still.

  2. Something to see a few times, but I think I could forego a nightly repeat. However I am open to being called Kymberly-ji on a routine basis!

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