Travel Shot: Durga visarjan in Varanasi

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 :-)

 

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50 thoughts on “Travel Shot: Durga visarjan in Varanasi

    • Thanks, Bhavana. My trip to Varanasai is very very special. I went with a lot of prejudices and inhibitions about this city and came away humbler and with some judgmental attitude shed. This was also my first truly solo trip. You’ve been to Varanasi so you know what I’m talking about, right?

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    • I’m not sure if I have understood you here. Isn’t the perspective always of the writer or the photographer as they have seen it? The theme is woven through that perspective !

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      • A story is always the writer’s perspective? An image is always photographer’s perspective? Whatever happened to hero’s /heroin’s /child’s /servant’s /God’s and even Death’s perspective?????? Similarly, can’t an image be from a wide /zoomed in / fish eyed/ parallel /top /bottom /ant’s /eagle’s perspective???????? I simply meant to say that it shows how you were somehow stuck at a height. I apologize for my comment: I keep forgetting people keep doing it for a “hobby” and post bland, out-of-focus images even though they are “knowing the very basics”.

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        • Thank you for explaining what you meant in your earlier comment. I apologise for being unable to understand what you meant.

          Of course, there are multiple perspectives. And there will always be. All of us look at the same thing in so many different ways based on our background, our experiences and our expertise. But while expressing it, one person’s form of expression becomes another’s jargon. Or a photographer’s abstract image may be out of focus for another.

          While a writer and photographer can and often present multiple perspectives in their work, it is difficult to remain entirely objective while doing so and some amount of subjectivity does creep in in the way they are represented. I may have many photographs of the same setting from different perspectives, but while sharing it in a blog post I may choose one that I think is best suited. So yes, it is my perspective that comes out.

          I have not mentioned anywhere in this post or elsewhere on my blog that photography is a “hobby” for me or that I “know the basics of photography”. So I am a little puzzled about why this has been mentioned here.

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            • 1. But I did not write or those words, Umashankar ! It is the guest writer’s opinion and perspective. How can you assume that I have the same opinion / perspective on photography or anything else for that matter?

              2. And I am neither God nor a mouse. I am only human. :-) And that alone gives me the ability to look at the world in black, white, shades of grey, colours, in focus, auto focus and out of focus as well.

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    • Thank you, Arti. Yes, the visarjan is quite similar to the Ganpati ones in Mumbai with a major difference. I did not hear any pre-recorded music and all music was live and peformed by the people themselves.

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  1. Have you noticed camera batteries always die out at the most opportune moments, like they have a vendetta against being called to action. Utterly baffling, I tell you

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  2. Beautiful images Sudha. We are grappling with visarjan issues in Italy since the law does not allow throwing of statues into water and the authroties ask for certificates that statue colours don’t have harmful chemicals. So actually our Durga stays in the basement, waiting for the visarjan!

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    • Thank you, Sunil.

      I think it is good that the authorities in Italy are so particular about the chemicals used. I wish the Indian authorities were took such care as well !

      So if the Durga does not get immersed, will the idol be used for puja next year?

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  3. Loved the drama that accompanied the visarjan and would have loved to see more photos even if they were out of focus :D Batteries dying out on you is fine, but what do you say when one forgets that one is carrying a camera in one’s handbag? yours truly has done that many times :)

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    • There was a lot of drama all right with the women surrounding the priest and giving him a earful ! I couldn’t hear the priest’s reply, but am pretty sure they they were quite insincere. He looked quite shifty-eyed even viewed even from 3 storeys above the ground. But after the commotion and once the puja began, it was beautiful to hear the prayers and the songs wafting up to my balcony above the river. I can tell you that it was a pretty magical feeling :-)

      As for forgetting that you have a camera in your bag, what do I even say :-P

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  4. This was quite an interesting account of visarjan. And, so sad about the camera batteries. It has happened to me many times. And, there was a time once when we went for a picnic and took our SLR camera along. But when it was time to click pictures, what do you know, hubby had left the camera card at home. That was just great :).

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  5. Enjoyed the narration immensely. Even the way it has been shot and the battery dying out seem to be devices used to add drama to the story. I could really identify with the battery dying out bit. It is easy to reach a philosophical resolution when you are on your own, but when traveling with family, and you are the photographer responsible for capturing those moments that will forever be gloated over with distant aunts and Cinderella sisters, it is nothing less than an existential crisis. As even Rachna says. :)

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    • Thank you, Subhorup. When the battery died down, I was quite disappointed. But in retrospect, perhaps it was a good thing as today I can remember the music, the sounds, the prayers and the beautiful ceremony without the visuals taking over as photographs sometimes do.

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  6. Some very lovely pictures! Even from a distance, you have managed to get the expression of the gesticulating lady and man in the 5th picture.
    Talking about visarjans abroad, my niece was narrating her experience at Singapore. As there is no officially sanctioned place there for immersing the ganpathi idol, her mother has to practically drop the small idol from over a bridge – quite unceremoniously when it is quite dark!
    In spite of the idol being made of environment friendly materials, they were concerned about polluting the water.

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    • Thanks, Neena. That lady was a real tartar and the tongue lashing she gave the priest was to be seen and heard. In mixture of Bangla and Hindi, and angry gestures, she decimated him !

      Singapore has one of the strictest environmental laws in the world, so I am not surprised that they do not support visarjan officially. Perhaps it is time for the Indians living abroad to change their perception and practice of traditions and festivals to keep in tune with the laws of the land they live in !

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  7. Loved this post. Thank you for taking us through a culture tour in Varanasi. If only your camera batteries had not died out, we would have had the benefit of some more lovely pics! Sigh!

    I have noticed that my camera batteries too have the habit of dying just when I need to click a brilliant shot. :(

    Happy Dasera to you, too!

    PS: I don’t remember how I landed on your blog, but am glad I did. Have been reading your posts, and loving them. Blogrolling you. Will be back to read more.

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    • Thanks, NS. Writing this post made me want to go to Varanasi again, NS. It’s a place that cannot be described. Nomatter how many photograpohs, films, and write-ups one sees, till you have visited the city, you will not know Varanasi. And maybe even after. Hope you get to visit Varanasi soon :-)

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  8. nice post, sudha! and that reminds me i have never seen durga visarjan… we used to religiously go for the ganpati visarjan at thane, but that seems like another era…. these days i dont even watch it on tv… and as for our own idols, we either immerse them at home or send them off with the bigger ones in the colony… this makes me want to go for the visarjan next year.. lets see

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