The Other Diwali: Varanasi’s Very Own Festival of Lights

Chanting, lamps, and lots of action. | By NGT Staff  
Dev Deepavali in Varanasi
On Dev Deepavali, Varanasi's ghats pulse with glowing diyas and devotees dressed in their festive best. It is believed that even the gods arrive here on this day for a dip in the Ganga. Photo: Christophe Boisvieux/Dinodia Photo Library

While most Hindus celebrate the triumph of good over evil on the new moon night of Diwali, Varanasi waits a whole fortnight to really bust out the fireworks. On the full moon 15 nights after Diwali, the holy city celebrates Dev Deepavali—literally, the Diwali of the Gods—when the gods and goddesses are believed to visit the Earth for a dip in the river. Another myth attributes the festival to the defeat of the demon Tripurasura by the city’s patron deity, Shiva. This year, Dev Deepavali falls on Mon November 14, 2016.

The bustling city is filled with thousands of pilgrims from around the world, who begin the day by immersing themselves in the river and offering diyas to the goddess Ganga. Pujas and feasts are held, and courtyards decorated with rangoli patterns. Thousands of clay lamps glitter on the city’s 84 ghats, with the spectacular daily Ganga aarti performed in full fervour for the river deity. It is an experience that is at once spectacular, overwhelming and unforgettable.

Each year, the Uttar Pradesh government adds to the revelry with the five-day Ganga Mahotsav festival, which culminates on Dev Deepavali. Music and dance shows, craft fairs, food stalls, and sporting activities like boating, kite-flying, and wrestling are all on the cards. It’s a great chance to catch performances by some of India’s finest musicians, including sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan and tabla legend Zakir Husain.

Dev Deepavali will be celebrated at the ghats of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh on Mon November 14, 2016. The Ganga Mahotsav will be held at Ravidas Ghat from Thur November 10-Mon November 14, 2016; entry to shows is free and open to all. See our guide to the city of Varanasi here, and to its famed music schools here.