Update as of 12 January 2010
Peter walked briskly towards the Ghat, the grand steps that lead to the river and the place was already swarming with life. The fading light of a north Indian winter and the rising fog added to the chilly atmosphere. His steps hastened as he reached the opening at the end of the narrow lane and in front of him lay the cascading pink steps, leading down to the gently flowing waters. In the twilight, he could not fathom whether it was brown, green or blue, but the rippling reflections indicated some flow. He had to elbow his way down the slope as he brushed past sadhus, Indian holy men in their ochre robes, old women wearing shawls and woollen scarves, accompanied by their men (some were husbands, some were sons). The average age of the populace at the banks was at least twice Peter’s age, but that did not deter him. He was here to partake in a ritual that not many people from his country would even be aware of – the great Ganga Aarti (evening prayer to River Ganges). The priests were already there with their paraphernalia, their brass lamps of various sizes, their large brass bells in hand. At any other time of the day, the banks would be full of bathers in varied levels of undress dunking their heads into the holy waters, or squeezing their dhoti or saree ends, before drying themselves on the ghat steps, but at this hour, there was no-one in the river, except for a few boatmen, who helped bring some pilgrims from across, the opposite bank. Some of the women had already started the evening prayers, by lighting their little lamps placed in a leafboats adorned with some flowers and letting them afloat on the river. It was a scenic sight with little lamps floating in the river, with their reflections flickering in the wavy waters, as the bank was already lit with the numerous large brass lamps that the priests had lit and were already circumbulating in the air chanting their prayers. The priests’ assistants and other sundry folk joined in the prayers with their unison claps and cymbal beats. The audio-visual on the banks of the river was mesmerizing, and Peter was wide-eyed. He tried to assimilate as much as he could. He could not imagine how he had missed out on this in the 3 month’s stay at this pilgrim town.
Another set of banks were the centre of action today on D Street. Although the morning was spent in dull trade, with some D Boyz going ecstatic over Information Systems and thereby using it to their advantage to pull up the SENSEX; after lunch time, everyone headed to the Banks for their “evening” prayers and climbing down steps, they huddled close to their respective banks and stayed there mesmerized by the sight which did not permit them to climb back. So they stayed there – all 104 steps (or points down) at 17422.
Peter was nudged out of his stupor by his benefactor, Mausiji, the aunty whom he assisted everyday in her vermillion powder and other sundry items sales. Without a word, she urged him to pay obeisance to the river and the flaming lamps that the priests held aloft for all pilgrims to see, as they brought their chants to a crescendo before concluding their evening duty.