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Friday, April 19, 2013

Spiritual Celebrations In Rishikesh

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Rishikesh, located in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, is known as the "yoga capital of the world". The Beatles set off the surge of Western spiritual seekers in 1968, after their stay in a local ashram, and today the town attracts thousands of visitors each year in search of healing and enlightenment. Parmarth Niketan Ashram, one of India's largest yoga centres, has more than 1,000 rooms dedicated to the practice of yoga and offers daily classes year round. (Peter McBride/National Geographic Stock)


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Rishikesh, along with Haridwar and Varanasi, is one of the three holy Indian cities that perform Ganga Aarti. This devotional ritual takes place every day at sunset, regardless of the weather, when locals and travellers join in song and prayer to give thanks for God's light throughout the day. Here, a woman prepares rose petals for the evening ceremony.


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The Ganga Aarti ritual in Rishikesh takes place at Parmath Niketan on the banks of the Ganges River. Candles are placed in flower-filled bowls before being floated down the river as an offering to Ganga, the goddess of India's most holy river. The ceremony commences with the singing of bhajans (religious songs), prayers and a hawan (a ritual that takes place around a fire)



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The Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan is more intimate and relaxed than the aartis in Haridwar and Varanasi. Instead of being led by pundits, the ceremony is held by the ashram residents, usually the children who are studying Vedas (Hindu sacred texts).


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Ornate oil lamps lined with ghee (clarified butter) are offered to the goddess as they float down the Ganges. After the ritual is complete, people along the river cup their hands over the flame and raise their palms to their forehead in order to receive the goddess' blessing.

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