Floating on the Ganges

The sun was just rising and I was absolutely sure that it was a corpse I saw next to our little boat. It was with some relief that I noticed that the man moved, he was just praying in a floating position.

Traffic on the river was quite intense, as I suppose it is every morning. People weren’t on their way to something, they were out on the holy water to witness the sun rise over the horizon and to pray.

The light, or rather the whole atmosphere out there on the river, was a unique experience.

Many years ago I used to take singing lessons. One of the first songs I learned was Già il sole dal Gange by Scarlatti. I didn’t particularly like the song at the time, but for some reason I have never forgotten it. Now it rang in my head all morning. Listen to it! (No, it isn’t me singing. And in case your Italian is a bit rusty, the singing is accompanied by an English translation).

Già il sole dal Gange

As dusk fell I was again out in a small boat. The main purpose was to see the suggestive Aarti light ceremony that takes place every evening in Varanasi. At the end people put offerings in the river, a candle on a little tray with marigolds all around. I wanted to do the same, but clumsily failed at my first attempt – the tray immediately took in water and sank. The problem was that I had dropped it in instead of gently putting it down, my guide explained. You had to lean quite far out to reach the water, and I was sillily a little afraid of falling in myself. (How can you be afraid of falling into a holy river, a river people travel thousands of miles to get into?) The second time I was more successful and could see my candle float down the Ganges. It may seem like nothing, but it was a great moment.

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