Ghats and Diyas- Dev Diwali
By Ankita Singh
As the month of Karthik (the eighth month of Hindu calendar, i.e. October-November in Gregorian calendar) is approaching, and we are stuck in this dreadful time of corona. I am reminiscent of the flavoursome festivities that this month brings along. The evenings have already started to fill the air with a distinct fragrance oozed by this ‘unknown’ tree around my neighbourhood. Soon, the dusk would be kindled with diyas in the balconies of every household, every evening, throughout Karthik. The sight of tall bamboo scaffoldings holding lit lamps- rising high on house terraces, top of buildings and, along-side the ghats (steep steps alongside the river)- known as Aakashdeep, would not just ignite the nightfall but also your soul. The markets are abuzz with people making new purchases for clothes and sweets as well as new household items, colourful and vibrant items for home décor, shiny new utensils, toys made of earthen clay, and what not! Though festivals are celebrated with similar zeal in most parts of India, Banaras (Benaras or Benares also known as Varanasi or Kashi- yeah! this city is that extra) has a way of doing things that are never in half measures.
If you are not aware, there is a popular local proverb that says, ‘Banaras observes nine festivals in seven days!’ , but this year is unusual. With all of us adjusting and discussing (and discussing while adjusting to) the ‘new normal’, needless to say, it’s going to be different. The markets are dim, the rush seems faded but the spirits are not drained. Festivals are not like what they used to be, however; nothing can dampen the state of divinity in this holy city. Even on a usual day, the rituals are carried out in a fashion that moves an outsider in complete awe. One such awe-inspiring, immensely magnificent and sublime experience is witnessing the Dev Diwali celebration along the ghats of Banaras.
Dev Diwali– those who are familiar with these two words, know that we are discussing not a festival but the celestial manifestation that this festival stands for. Those who are new to this, Dev Diwali is different from the regular Hindu festival of Diwali which is celebrated each year on the night of Amavasya (new moon) whereas, Dev Diwali is celebrated on the night of Poornima (full moon), i.e. exactly 15 days after Diwali. It is a festival peculiar to Banaras and is not known to be celebrated anywhere else, or at least not with as much vigour. Even though both the festivals are essentially the festivals of light, Dev Diwali is known as the Lord’s festival of light, and, it is a spectacle in Banaras.
The folklore is replenished with stimulating tales reasoning the celebrations around the festival; hence, I am not going to delve in there. What captivates my heart is the fact that once you are in Banaras, the affiliate nature of interfaith relationships is sure to budge you. Dev Diwali is indeed essentially a Hindu festival; however, its celebrations know no religious boundaries. The crazy sway of human motions leaves you incapable of spotting a difference between a Hindu, Muslim, Jain or Christian amidst the crowd. It is a mystery how multiple faiths merge into the oneness of being a Banarasi. In my city, before identifying as a Hindu or Muslim, people identify themselves with the city. This perhaps is the reason for mesmerizing opulence with which Banaras observes Dev Diwali. Nevertheless, if you gaze deep within the essence of Banaras, you will not fail to notice the unique warp and weft of the socio-cultural fabric of Banaras. It is not just Dev Diwali, but any festival- be it Holi or Eid or Christmas- all of it is celebrated with tremendous vigour. The city exudes such energy that it seems as if every day is a celebration here, the city is a celebration, its alleyways are a celebration, and its people are a celebration!
A constant reminder of its socio-cultural and traditional richness can be seen in varied living heritages across the city. This can be perceived if one makes the slightest effort to roam around or stroll through the labyrinth of narrow lanes or sit on the ghats of Ganga or take an early morning boat ride or just breathe, casually. There are a number of things that make my Banaras special, viz. food, music, culture but; what makes the city exceptional is its syncretic traditions which are an inseparable part of our way of life. This way of life is too ordinary in Banaras. However, if it is not chronicled enough, we might lose out on an extra-ordinary narrative that needs to go down the generations to come- the promise of pluralism which is still latent in the Indian urban habitats. This narrative is sacred. The age-old practices and multiple festivities along with the closely knitted pattern of society here holds the communities together and it makes Banaras stand strong as a symbol of interfaith peace, even in times of brazen hatred.
Photographs by Herculiez