In Hinduism, Varanasi is hailed as one of the seven holiest cities. Nestled on the banks of the Ganges, the city dates back to ancient times, and has been a place of faith and worship through the ages.
It’s usual for visitors to feel overwhelmed by the chaotic and colourful atmosphere of Varanasi’s narrow lanes and alleyways initially. But once you step out onto the Ghats and witness numerous Hindu rituals first-hand, you would know why Varanasi is so revered and respected.
Ideally, an Agra Varanasi tour is best enjoyed in the winter months. But if you are the festive sort, you would love Varanasi at any time of the year! Festivities are part and parcel of life in Varanasi, and the following festivals draw the most attention in the city.
Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic, is still a huge influence on Hindus across India. The Ram Lila festival witnesses a month long re-enactment of the events of the epic, mostly by children. While Varanasi’s Ram Lila is a spectacular affair and should definitely be on your bucket list, it’s the Ram Lila performed at the nearby town of Ramnagar that really captivates audiences. You must wonder what’s special about the Ramnagar festival. Well, imagine an entire town being used as a stage for the re-enactment; that’s precisely how big it is! Various locations from the epic are designed and set up in different parts of town. Watch in awe as performers and audiences move in tandem from one location to the next.
The Ramnagar Ram Lila attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists. You would think that such large audiences would demand a ton of loudspeakers, microphones and other electric equipment. But to everyone’s amazement, electric equipment is hardly ever used.
Hindus around the world celebrate Holi, the famed festival of colours. And it’s not just about the colours too! Holi is (in)famous for the consumption of bhang, an intoxicating drink made from the leaves of the cannabis plant. While in the USA, cannabis is consumed in many different ways and you can even find people debate niche topics like glass vs plastic bongs, cannabis in this country is mainly brewed into tea or other drinks. And as it so happens, Varanasi is regarded as one of the best places in India to have the ideal bhang experience. Consuming drinks from the cannabis plant is very popular, with many people deciding to learn more about how the plant is grown and the best type of seeds to grow them from. This one-day festival kicks off with a crazy colour fest, as both young and old take to the streets with collared water and pichkaris (water guns) and spray each other to their hearts’ content. The bhang plays its part too, as it sends the city into a carefree daze for almost the entire day!
If it’s your first ever Holi experience, it’s best to observe the festivities from a distance. Several untoward incidents have been reported in Varanasi in recent years, and you certainly don’t want your Holi experience to be unholy in any way!
In some parts of India, Diwali is generally a one-day affair, as people decorate their homes with light and also indulge in some fireworks. But in Varanasi, Diwali is celebrated at a much greater intensity, and it peaks during the fifteenth day of the festival, when Dev Deepavali is celebrated. It is believed that on this day, the Gods themselves make their way down to the Varanasi Ghats to participate in the festivities. But before the Dev Deepavali gets underway, the Ghats play host to the Ganga Mahotsav, a platform that showcases the talents of Varanasi’s most well-known performance artists. Full of dance, music, and wrestling competitions, the multi-day festival is a perfect build up to the Dev Deepavali.
On the evening of Dev Deepavali, the Ghats are decorated with diyas (clay lamps) and rangolis, and it provides for an absolutely stunning environment. Head out into the river on a hired boat, and you are promised some of the most incredible Varanasi views!
In either February or March, for a period of five days, Varanasi’s Tulsi Ghat transforms into a haven for Hindustani classical music. Existent since Vedic times, the popularity of the Dhrupad style of music dates back to the times of Swami Haridas, who used to be the teacher of Indian classical music legend Tansen. Even though the 18th and 19th centuries saw a rapid decline in this particular style of music, the annual Dhrupad Mela in Varanasi has contributed immensely to restore it to its glory days. Over the years, the festival has increasingly found favour with foreign audiences. Today, the Dhrupad Mela is a huge hit with both locals and foreigners, and is renowned for its dawn-to-dusk performances from a wide variety of artists. If you are a music lover, make sure to make the Dhrupad Mela a priority on your Agra Varanasi tour.
While the aforementioned festivals are definitely the highlights of Varanasi when it comes to festivities in the city, you could also give the following festivals a chance:
- Rath Yatra
- Makar Sankranti
- Maha Shivaratri
Here’s to you having a fun festive time in the holy city of Varanasi! Cheers!
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