Dev Diwali: When the Gods Visit Varanasi to Celebrate 

What is it about Dev Diwali that makes Varanasi wait for it so impatiently every year?

4 min read
Hindi Female

At Varanasi’s Assi Ghat, Pradeep Kumar is busy decorating his bajda, a big boat. For the last few years, his bajda has outshone all the others. And Kumar wants to ensure his bajda stands out this year too. It is, after all, Dev Diwali, a night Varanasi eagerly awaits.

On this day, most boatmen earn within a few hours what would otherwise take them months. Pradeep’s boat usually earns him around Rs 3,000-6,000 per ride. But on Dev Diwali, his prized bajda is booked for as much as Rs 1,80,000 for a three-hour period.

Pradeep plans to use this year’s earnings to buy a new engine for his boat. He shares his enthusiasm with the rest of Varanasi, with everything from the ghats and mutths to shops and hotels all decked up for the festival.

But what is the importance of Dev Diwali, and what is it that makes Varanasi impatiently wait for the festival every year?

What is it about Dev Diwali that makes Varanasi wait for it so impatiently every year?
Pradeep Kumar awaits the festival.
(Photo: Vikrant Dubey/ The Quint)

What is Kaashi’s Dev Diwali?

In Varanasi, Dev Diwali is celebrated 15 days after Diwali, on the night of kaartik purnima (the 15th lunar day of Kaartik, ie, November-December).

This year, the festival falls on 22 November.

The Ganga Mahotsav is a five-day long affair. The 87 ghats in Varanasi, spread out over a 7 km radius, are decorated with thousands of diyas. As evening falls, the serene waters of the Ganga reflect the flickering lights, a stunning spectacle that draws tourists from around the world.

Decorating the ghats with diyas is an old tradition, but a shortage of funds resulted in the practice being abandoned for a few years after the whole of panchganga ghat was illuminated all at once in 1989. The tradition was revived in 1993; Gradually, it spread from ghat to ghat, soon becoming an annual event.

What is it about Dev Diwali that makes Varanasi wait for it so impatiently every year?
File photo of a child lighting a lamp in Varanasi during Dev Diwali.
(Photo: Reuters)

What is the Legend of Dev Diwali?

Varanasi is the only place in the world where Diwali is celebrated twice. According to the shastras (an Indian text), this is the day when Lord Shiva defeated the Tripurasurs. To celebrate his triumph, the gods lit diyas. It is believed that on this day, all the gods descend from heaven to Shiv’s town Kaashi on the banks of the Ganges to celebrate Diwali.

On the day, devotees take dips in the Ganga and donate to charity. Huge crowds of pilgrims come down the ghats for Ganga snaan on the morning of kaartik purnima. Millions of diyas light up the night, all the way from Ravidas ghat to the last edge of Rajghat, to pay homage to Maa Ganga.


A Boost to Varanasi's Economy

The tradition of celebrating Dev Diwali is barely 25 years old, but today it is hard to imagine Varanasi without it. The festival plays a huge role in the city’s economy. There are about 600 hotels in Varanasi, of which 90 are five and seven star hotels. Come Dev Diwali, and all the hotels in the area are booked to full capacity on premium rates.

This is only festival in Varansi for which hotels are booked a year in advance. The bajda boats that can be rented out for about Rs 5,000 on usual days, can cost up to Rs 2,00,000 during this time.

What is it about Dev Diwali that makes Varanasi wait for it so impatiently every year?
Varanasi lights up during Dev Diwali.
(Photo: Reuters)

Politics Over Dev Diwali

The occasion of Dev Diwali is exploited by everyone – from businessmen to politicians. Even though PM Narendra Modi, who attended the Ganga aarti after assuming office, hasn’t been able to make it to Dev Diwali as yet, UP CM Yogi Adityanaath is scheduled to attend the celebrations this year. After Ayodhya and Chitrakoot, the CM is scheduled to visit Varanasi solely for the purpose of attending the festivities.

The ghats of Varanasi, adorned with diyas far too many to count, are a stunning sight. The many musical programs that are conducted on various ghats attract large crowds. With boat rides and numerous photo opportunities, there is something for everyone here. It comes as no surprise, then, that during Dev Diwali, the banks of the Ganga sometimes host as many tourists as they do devotees.

(This piece was first published on Quint Hindi and has been translated from the original by Mariam Shaheen. It was originally published in 2017.)

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Topics:  Varanasi   Diwali   Dev Diwali 

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