Varanasi is one the oldest living city in the world and it is believed to be 4,000-4,500 year old. It is a city with which you either fall in love or you hate it. There is so much to experience here, I am not using the word see because Varanasi is more about feel. I have been to Pushkar fair on “Karthik Purnima” and I wanted to experience the Dev Diwali of Varanasi. It is one of the most celebrated festivals in Varanasi. Dev Diwali of Varanasi is equally popular among locals and tourists. The ghats of Varanasi are decorated with millions of Diyas (Earthan lamps) and it’s a spectacular sight.
Also read about 20 Must experience festivals of India
When is Dev Diwali Celebrated
Dev Diwali or Dev Deepawali is different from “Diwali” celebrated all over India. While Diwali is celebrated on “Amavasya”, Dev Diwali is celebrated on Karthik Purnima (Full moon night) of Hindu calendar which comes 14-15 days after the Diwali. It falls in the month of November.
Why is Dev Diwali Celebrated
According to Hindu mythology on this day Gods descend to the ghats of Varanasi to bathe in Ganga river. Due to this the festival of Dev Diwali is celebrated in this form only in Varanasi and the city is charged up with activities during this time. People decorate their houses, make rangoli in front of houses, with earthen lamps at night, and burn fire creakers at night to celebrate the festival.
This is a 5 days festival, which starts on Prabodhini Ekadashi and ends on Kartik Purnima with much fanfare. The last day is the main and most important day of the festival. The highlight of the Dev Diwali or Dev Deepawali is millions of earthen lamps. These Diyas (Earthan lamps) lit from Ravidas Ghat to Rajghat on the Karthik Purnima. The sight of the million lamps burning on the ghats attracts thousands of tourists from across the globe because there is nothing comparable to this. It is simply breathtaking and everything looks so mesmerizing.
I traveled from Delhi to Varanasi by overnight train and reached on the morning of the 3rd day of the festival. I have explored the city and visited temples in Varanasi. On the day of Dev Diwali, I did a morning tour of ghats of Varanasi, which was a good experience.
Read more about Ghats of Varanasi and Ganga River
On the day of Dev Diwali
I have advance booked the evening boat ride for the evening of Dev Diwali. It seems everyone wanted to do a boat ride to see the ghats and that’s why I had a bit difficulty booking the boat ride but I managed it. The price for the boat was a few times higher than the other days because according to the boatman this is the day which compensates them for low season.
I booked my boat ride by paying extra because I don’t want to look for a boat at Ghat at last minute wasting time. Secondly, I didn’t want to get stuck in a crowded boat. I preferred to pay a little extra for the comfort and it was worth every penny when I saw the overcrowded boats in the Ganga that evening.
During the day I decided to take a boat ride on Ganga and called up the boatman with who I went for the morning boat ride. I met him on the road leading to Harishchander Ghat.
While I was going to Ghat, I noticed that roads of Varanasi were jam-packed with people who came from different parts of India to celebrate the Dev Diwali. Some of the roads near Kashi Vishwanath temple area were closed for vehicles to accommodate the people, everyone was walking on the road. There was a sea of people near Kashi Vishwanath (Golden Temple) temple and there were long queues to enter the temple. I came to know that the waiting time of “Darshan” in the temple is 4-5 hours.
When I reached the Harishchand Ghat, my boatman informed me that his father painted all boats for the evening and now only a small boat is available. I thought ok no problem, I am alone so what is the big deal. But that boat was a very small boat, it was like a small version Canoe which can accommodate only two people.
I did boating in small boats but this one looked very unstable still I decided to take a ride in it. Initially, it was nerve-wracking but decided to ignore it and start looking around. I saw there were lots of people taking bath in Ganga and floating lamps in the river to pay respect. Ghats of Ganga were bustling with devotees and tourists.
I noticed that on the stairs of Ghats of Ganga everyone was busy fixing or placing Diyas on ghat for the evening festival. There were young & old man and children running up down to help them. My boatman told me that the process of placing the lamps starts from early morning because it’s a very time-consuming task to place millions of lamps and then pour oil into them. It is all manual work and nothing can be done by machine.
From the boat, I saw that all Ghats have locals to the tourists busy in festival mode except on the Manikarnika Ghat where the process of burning pyres was going on as a daily routine.
After the boat tour, I went to the Blue Lassi shop for fruit lassi. But I have been told that it is popular among Indian and foreign tourists for it’s “Special Lassi”. This lassi is basically a “Bhang” lassi. The Bhang is produced from the cannabis plant but it is not Cannabis and it is added in lassi to give high.
The evening of Dev Diwali Festival
So finally I got prepared with my camera to capture the Dev Diwali or Dev Deepawali that was the main reason for my this Varanasi trip. I reached Harishchander Ghat with other travelers from hostel before sunset. We noticed that everyone on the ghats was in high spirit and festive mode.
We spent some time on the Ghats before boarded our boat. It was getting dark and as the sunset, people started lighting the lamps on ghats. There were volunteers everywhere and everything came alive very fast. Our boat tour started from the northern Ravidass Ghat and I noticed that there were way too many boats in the Ganga as compared to the day before.
Some of the Ghats looked spectacular and it was an amazing sight. Our boat went from north to south and I noticed that some of the ghats were decorated better than other ghats.
On two Ghats they were bursting crackers and it was a well-synchronized show. I usually don’t like crackers due to the noise and air pollution but I noticed all most everyone on boat enjoyed the show. They put up a good show if you forget about the pollution for some time.
Our boat reached the Dashashwamedh Ghat, where the famous evening Ganga aarti takes place. There were hundreds of boats near the Ghat to watch the Aarti, the river was jam-packed with boats. The boats were parked next to each other and anyone can easily climb from one boat to another as there was practically no space between boats.
Our boatman parked the boat at a good place and we watched the Aarti from distance. Our boat didn’t get stuck in between the boats and after aarti, we moved from the Dashashwamedh Ghat.
There were some cultural performances also after the Aarti on the temporary stage set on river Ganga. Our boat didn’t have a good view of the stage and moreover, the stage was facing the ghat so no point of staying there.
There was so much energy in the environment and there was something happening on every ghat. It was a sort of competition that who have decorated their ghat best and where the best program happening because the Dashashwamedh Ghat can’t accommodate everyone.
I spent around 3 hours on the boat before coming back to ghats. The lamps at some places were quenching now. I spent some time walking around on ghats admiring the spirit of the city before returning to my hostel.
It was a great experience and I felt so happy that I was able to become part of such a festival like Dev Diwali. There are many spiritual and pilgrimage sites in India, which are worth visiting for a unique experience in India.
P.S. Dev Deepawali or Dev Diwali is a traditional festival and celebrated on Karthik Purnima every year in same manner. In 2018 was on 23rd November. In 2020 it’s falling on 29th November.
Sarnath is 14 Km from Varanasi, check Sarnath from Varanasi