My last night in Varanasi was spent at the highly anticipated Aarti ceremony, along the banks of the Ganges River. The ceremony is held each night at dusk, with many people renting a boat to watch from the water. A mixture of prayer, incense, fire, and sound, the ceremony is a treat for the senses. I could not understand what was being chanted, but the energy along the river was one of peace and clarity.
Taking a boat ride down the famed Ganges River is to learn the saying “waste not, want not.” The river serves many purposes for the residents of Varanasi, some that seem a bit conflicting to the foreign eye. Along the banks of the river you can find families washing their clothes, cooling off from the midday heat by taking a dip in the waters, or fishing for dinner from small, wooden boats. The river is a source of life and hope, and so I found it interesting that it is also used as a burial place. In the same water that is used to cleanse and feed, the funeral homes pour the cremated ashes of the newly deceased. It took me a while to comprehend how water that was viewed as holy and pure, could contain these bodily remains. Yet once I saw the circle of life there on the banks, children laughing and playing not 20 feet away from a funeral service, I saw the larger picture.