The spiritual city Rishikesh is blessed by the presence of the holy river Ganga. The river is considered as Mother Ganga according to our Vedas and mythologies. Ganga flows from the Himalayas as the giver of life, carrying purity, bliss and liberation in Her waters. The river is denoted as Mother, as the one who gives to all without any discrimination, hesitation or expectation. The Ganga river not only irrigates our farms, but also our hearts, minds and souls. It is believed that merely by taking a dip in the holy water of the river, the person could be free from all his contamination and sins. The river is the purifier of our soul and mind. She is a source of inspiration to all who lay eyes on her ceaseless, boundless, rushing current.
Every evening, the people of the city perform a sacred ritual of the Ganga Aarti on the banks of river Ganga. The ritual of Ganga Aarti is being performed perpetually for over 4000 years. This practice holds a very significant place in the Hindu religion as it is performed to the God directly in any manifestation, in any form or by any name as an act of thanksgiving for His eternal blessings to mankind. This divine light ceremony is filled with religious songs (bhajan), prayer, ritual and a palpable sense of the divine. Aarti is the beautiful ceremony in which diyas (oil lamps) are offered to God. Aarti can be done to a deity in the temple, it can be done on the banks of the Ganges to Mother Ganga.
The unique feature about this ritual is that the ceremony draws between hundreds and thousands of visitors each day from all cultures, all languages, all religions and all walks of life. Regardless of one’s religion or ability to understand Hindi or Sanskrit, the power of the Aarti is universal. Ganga Aarti transcends the borders and boundaries of language and culture, diving straight into one’s heart, carrying one to Heaven. In the Aarti ceremony, the devotee waves the oil lamp burning with ghee and camphor from the eye to the feet, back to the eye and back to the feet of the Divine.
The Ganga Aarti is performed religiously in three cities of India : Varanasi, Haridwar and Rishikesh as the dusk descends. However, the ceremony is very different in each of these places. The most well known Ganga Aarti in Rishikesh is held on the banks of the river at Parmarth Niketan Asham and Triveni Ghat It’s a much more intimate and relaxed affair than the aartis at Haridwar and Varanasi and is devoid of the theatrics as well. Many people prefer it for these reasons. They find it much more spiritual. The Aarti at Parmarth Niketan is organized and performed by the ashram residents, particularly the children who are studying the Vedas there along with the spiritual head of the Ashram and in front of the huge statue of Lord Shiva.
Apart from the religious impact, the ceremony of the Aarti is a reflection of our humility and gratitude towards the Supreme Power which governs our life.
The essence of the Aarti ceremony is that all day long God offers us light – the light of the sun, the light of life, and the light of His (Her) blessings. Aarti is a time when we say, “Thank You,” and we offer back the light of our thanks, the light of our love and the light of our devotion. Ganga Aarti is a time in which we break free from the normal stresses and strains of everyday life and gather together in joy, reverence and peace.