It was the day after Dussera in Varanasi last year. Around 2.00 pm. I had just returned to my hotel at Chausatti Ghat on the banks of the River Ganga after a morning at Sarnath and then wandering and photographing in the alleys near my hotel. As I entered my room, I heard the sounds of drum beats and conch shells. In a place like Varanasi, this really should not have been unusual, and besides it was the festive season. But 2.00 in the afternoon was rather unusual for such sounds.
I grabbed my camera and rushed to the balcony. As I peered over the railing of my 3rd floor balcony, I saw a group of people bringing idols for visarjan (immersion).
I was a little surprised as, traditionally, Durga visarjan should have ended the previous day that is, on Dussera. But as the hotel manager told me later, the ghats along the Ganges get extremely crowded on Dussera day, leading to some visarjans taking place even 2–3 days after Dussera !
This was a small group of about 20 people and they had 6 murtis or idols for the visarjan — Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, Kartikeya and Mahishasur. With a lot of singing and dancing and drum beating and conch blowing, the idols were brought down the steps and laid out in a row.
Once they were all laid out, it was time to conduct the final puja before they were loaded on to the boat to be taken mid stream for the visarjan. That is when it was discovered that the priest was missing and a lot of shouting and gesticulating and beckoning happened…
… while the idols and the people and the boat (not in picture) waited.
And then, suddenly, without warning my camera batteries died on me, which meant I could not record the tongue lashing the priest received when he arrived, or the puja, or the loading of the idols and people into the boat (seen in the second picture), or the actual visarjan itself.
It was a beautiful and simple ceremony, accompanied by soulful music and chanting. And a ceremony that remains so vivid even after so many months.
Happy Dussera, dear reader