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Discover the myths behind Haridwar’s famous Ganga Aarti

By Dhrubaa Ghosh,

Read on to learn more about the famous Ganga Aarti.

The famous Ganga Aarti ritual is usually held in the evening at Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi and Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar.

Many of us are familiar with the image of priests performing the Ganga aarti with huge lamps while tourists float diyas on the river from the the Har Ki Pauri ghat in Haridwar. Tourists and devotees come from all over the world to witness this ritual of light, backed by the sound of ringing temple bells. Visitors love floating diyas and flowers on the surface of the flowing river that reflects the firelight. But why does this ritual happen? After all, the Ganga flows through a large portion of our country. Why Har ki Pauri is particularly sacred?  

When did the Ganga aarti start?  
The exact historical period when the tradition of the Ganga Aarti was started cannot be fixed. Suffices to say that it has been going on for more than a millennia. While Benaras or Varanasi has a more well-known aarti, and claims to be the oldest city in the world, the quieter and smaller city of Haridwar has had the tradition for just as long. However, the ritual of the Ganga Aarti at the Har Ki Pauri was popularised by Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya in the 1910s. He is said to have started it. But Ganga aarti is a much older tradition, and the pandit drew attention to it.  

What is the myth behind Har ki Pauri?  
Har is another name of Lord Shiva, just like Hari is another name for Lord Vishnu. Pauri means steps. So Har ki Pauri are the stairway of Shiva. The area where the Ganga Aarti is performed is known as the Brahmakund. A fascinating myth tells of a time before cities existed, when the celestial bird Garuda was flying across the heavens carrying amrit or the nectar of immortality. Apparently drops of the nectar fell to form Brahmakund. Both Shiva and Vishnu came to visit Brahmakund. The stone wall at the ghat has a huge, mysterious footprint, supposed to be of Vishnu.  

Why does the Ganga aarti happen at this spot? 
Given the sacred value of the spot, Har ki Pauri at Haridwar is the best place to thank Ganga for blessing us with her life giving waters, and thank both Har and Hari. It is interesting that all three gods of our trinity are associated with this place, and it’s on our holy river.