Being at the evening prayer at the Ganges River in Varanasi India is actually pretty stunning! The crowd of people that gather is larger than the world’s largest arena, all for the act of evening prayer. I was shocked that so many people attended but I was also taken by the 5 platforms where the evening prayer was performed. They used fire, brass lamps, and giant incense sticks throughout the prayers which created a visual spectacle that rivaled the currently setting sun (sunset). Of course, Varanasi is full of people who are preparing to die and have their bodies burned along the Ganges River so I could imagine that if we were simply waiting to die, attending a religious ceremony would be attractive.
Who should see evening prayer along the Ganges River? People who are spiritual, people who enjoy cultural activities, people who want to feel closer to the place or the locals that they visit
Who should NOT see the evening prayer along the Ganges River? People who despise big crowds, people who dislike other cultures, people who are easily bored and people who are hungry
Where are the Evening Prayers in Varanasi? The evening prayer takes place daily at 7 pm at or near the Dasaswamedh Ghat
What are the Evening Prayers in Varanasi like? In short, witnessing evening prayer in Varanasi is an experience. You can arrange to sit high up in a chair looking down on the evening prayers or you can join the larger crowd on ground level. The event starts during sunset and runs for about an hour, where you will watch the prayer leaders throw incense over the heads, play with fire and generally do things that mom would not recommend. The crowd is part of the experience, devotees pray with their leaders and there are some additional activities on the ground that you can participate in.
Should you stay to the end of the Evening Prayers in Varanasi? Staying to the end of the ceremony is not recommended because of the sheer number of people there. It is best to leave just a bit early so that you can avoid being trapped in the crowds when trying to get going.
Getting a Seat at Evening Prayers in Varanasi
We walked along the Ganges to get to the optimal Ghat – the Dasaswamedh Ghat. We organized with a local to be brought to a building look out point, where fold-able chairs were prepared for us, they were not very comfortable but I was happy to have a seat with a back to it. As more people arrived they simply had the seats behind us, so come early for a proper view. Without a tour organizing a chair for you, you would be integrated into the crowd below which was quite full by 6:15 pm. The crowd of people was huge and impressive. People did arrive early to get a better seat even though there were 7 different religious leader stations that could be seen by devotees.
What is Evening Prayer like at the Ganges River?
Once the evening prayers began, we watched as the 5 stations priests, clad in traditional attire, conducted what is called the Aarti ceremony. They perform the rituals of the ceremony in sync. Each platform’s priest was performing the same action at the same time, which made it stunning seeing it across the multiple platforms across the Ghats.
Evening Prayer in Varanasi – it begins
The evening prayers at the Ganges River begins begins with the setup of each platform. A person sets up all of the tools needed by the priests on each platform and we get to see it all. Then as the sun starts to set priests arrive on the platforms next to the Ganges River and begins the prayers. The prayers all require some physical activity, there are no prayers at the Ganges River that is simply spoken or sung words. Instead each portion of the prayer is accompanied by various live music and the focus is more on what the priest is doing. At first the priests all light incense at the same time and over an arranged offering table perform certain movements, letting the smoke from the incense rise as a marked sacred ritual. They turn 4 different ways to face the various audiences and perform the same activity, waving the burning incense over their heads in predefined patterns.
Evening Prayer Varanasi – Priest Activities
From there the priests move to other activities including a smoking pot and moving onto a bowl with fire. If this act was in the United States it would have been stopped due to safety concerns, but this is Varanasi! Go with it. The fire portion was the most visually pleasing portion of the evening prayers, and they once again performed similar motions with the pot of fire – swinging it back and forth and it in other patterns, then turning their body 90 degrees, and doing it again facing all 4 groups watching them at least once.
Evening Prayer Varanasi – Reflections
After a while appreciating the spectacle, you start to settle in and realize that it’s just a unique prayer session. One that you have the honor of being at and one where the people who have come to Varanasi to die appreciate every day and one that you can appreciate this one time, while in Varanasi and looking across the Ganges River.
Personally I would go again. Just like a concert, observing the crowd was nearly as much fun as watching the evening prayer and it’s a unique experience that should be appreciated when in a holy place like Varanasi.