The word ‘Dashashwamegha‘ means ‘ten horse sacrifice’ or ‘ten horse ceremony’. The Dashashwamegha yagya, or ceremony, was an elaborate ritual undertaken by Kings of yore towards various ends – begetting an heir, establishing their supremacy over minor kings, pleasing the Gods, among other things. The ghat must have been the site of this ceremony in times past, and hence the name.
In the present times, however, the ghat was known more for the ritual of Ganga Aarti, rather than the horse sacrifice. People from all over the country, nay, all over the world, came to watch this ritual fire worship of the river deity. This ritual, though performed at almost every ghat of Varanasi along the Ganga, was best witnessed at the Dashashwamegha ghat. The ghat was more spacious, and the ceremony more elaborate for the benefit of the tourists. It was towards this ghat that we were now headed in our boats after having had our dinner at the Guleria Kothi.
Even from a distance it was easy to see that the ghat was crowded by people sitting or standing on the ghat, waiting for the ceremony to begin. Even the waters of the river adjoining the ghat were crowded by boats, of varying shapes and sizes, which had docked near the ghat, or simply stopped in the water, and lay there idling with their travellers on board, to help them get a better view of the whole process. I say better view since the priests offered the prayer, the fire worship to the river, standing on the ghats, near the water, and facing the river deity herself. Hence it made sense to actually watch the ceremony from a vantage point over the river herself.
Ours were one of the larger boats which inserted themselves in the melee of boats adjoining the Dashashwamegha ghat. As the twin barges moved closer to the stone steps of the ghat, to get a better view, they pushed some of the smaller boats aside, making way for themselves. After a few minutes of jostling for space, the boatmen finally found a suitable space for their boats, floated into it, and killed the engine. And then we waited….
On our right side, in an enclosed area of the ghat, a sound and light show was going on; the sound from its loudspeakers floating out to us across the space, over the water, the words incomprehensible…
The large part of the ghat, however, was taken up by a host of priests, dressed in varying hues of yellow, saffron and red. They carried brass lamps with cotton wicks dipped in ghee, or clarified butter. To a casual observer, their movements may have seemed chaotic, to the astute observer, however, there was order in their chaos, a preparatory Brownian motion, a prelude to what was to come.
The sound from the Laser show died down slowly, the crowd stared unblinking towards the ghat; some sat in their boats, some stood in them, some stood on the stone steps, some stood by the water, some crowded the balconies of the buildings and temples surrounding the area, others peered through their digital cameras……everyone was ready……
To be continued…….
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