Shivratri in Varanasi

Girls playing Goddesses

Shivratri is the wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva and is the biggest festival of Varanasi. It was celebrated on the 30th of March this year. Actually the date is decided by the Hindu calendar therefore it changes every year as the Hindu calender is a lunar calendar. As per the Hindu calendar Mahashivaratri falls on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of Phalguna (February/March).  I had always wanted to document this festival and I got this great opportunity this year. There are several temples in Varanasi which organize a wedding parade of Lord Shiva on the Shivratri day. I went to the a very big temple named Mahamrityunjay Temple which is famous for its parade.

The ghosts

I tried to contact the mahant of the temple who is supposed to be the organizer of the parade or at least a very important person of the organizing committee for sure but he told me straight that he did not know anything about who was organizing it. I was surprised to hear this. Anyways, I contacted several other people at the temple but nobody seemed interested enough to just tell me who was organizing the event and whom should I contact to get the permission for filming. Very strange people. I talked with at least 20 people but same response that they did not know who was organizing the event.

Goddess Shitla

Finally I gave up with this temple and went to other one called Tilbhandeshwar Temple which is also one of the biggest temples of Shiva in Varanasi. People at this temple were very helping. They provided me all the information I needed and permitted me to come on the festival day and film inside the temple. I was really happy to have the permission. I showed up on the festival day around 8 am and was really surprised to see that preparation had already started way before I arrived there. There were already hundreds of people at the temple dressing up and preparing for the parade.

baby Shiva

Since this festival is very important to the people of Varanasi and everybody wanted to participate in it, there was a committee formed to chose the right characters for the parade. There were all kinds of characters participating in the event such as all the gods, goddesses, demons and ghosts also. There were characters playing ghosts and demons also because it is said that Shiva had all kinds of followers even ghosts and demons and they had also participated in his wedding. It was really an amazing atmosphere there. People seemed so excited for the parade.


There were four makeup people who were doing making of the characters continuously and there always people in the line waiting for their turn. My friend Lane from Seattle who came to with me just to watch the parade finally ended up playing Parshuram. The people at the organizing committee were so happy to see a foreigner and they asked him if would also like to become part the parade and as usual Lane was up for it. I interviewed a few characters and the best interview was with the person playing Shiva. He was really interesting person. He said that he had playing Shiva for the past eight years and when I asked why only he, he said said that he takes this character very seriously and calls the Lord Shiva inside his body hence people respect him and want him to play Shiva.

Lord Shiva on his horse

There was something else interesting about him that not only he but his whole family was actively involved in the parade. His real son was playing baby Shiva. After the makeup, the person playing Lord Shiva went to the temple to get blessing and this is time when he is supposed to call the God in his body. The parade started right after this. All the characters had sat on different animals horses and started the parade. The parade went to many different neighborhoods. I don’t know how but thousands of people showed up in the parade. There was loud music, people were dancing, snake charmers were showing snakes and people were firing crackers to celebrate the event.

free Bhang

There were free bhang stalls also. Bhang was distributed because it is offered at Shiva temples and is considered as the blessing. The parade was on road for more than four hours. The parade ended back at the Tilbhandeshwar Temple around 6 PM. After the parade arrived at the temple, the person playing Shiva did a symbolic marriage with his real wife which symbolizes marriage of Lord Shiva with Parvati. After this marriage rituals were performed and finally the event ended. It was really interesting to see how people were treating the characters like the God himself. They were touching the feet of the characters. I was able to document the event, actually I filmed it also:) So happy to have done it.

Please click here to see more pics of the event:


Shivratri 2010

Shiva and Parvati

Shiva and Parvati

It was Shivratri on the 12th and I was super excited for it. Shivratri is the biggest festival of Benares. Actually it is celebrated because it is wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva. There are more than six thousand temples in Varanasi but 11 out of them organize a wedding parade of Lord Shiva. The parade starts from different temples and end near Vishwanath temple (golden temple). The most popular and biggest parade starts with Mahamrityunjay temple and is the last parade of the day. I also went to see the parade with my friends and it was just awesome.

a character sitting on a horse

a character sitting on a horse

Since Bhang is associated with Lord Shiva and is part of Benares culture, most of the people of Benares consume a little bit of Bhang for the festival as blessing of Lord Shiva. They take a bath in the river Ganges, do some rituals at Shiva temples, offer bhang and later consume it as blessing of the temple. The whole city is decorated with lights, free bhang drinks are served everywhere, people come out…its so fun. I love this festival. It is said that all kinds of characters had participated in Lord Shiva’s wedding like Gods, Goddesses, ghosts, demons, devils, headless, crazy, lepers, one legged, one eyed, animals… so the wedding parade also had all kinds of characters.

Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva

There were people wearing masks of ghosts, someone was dressed as a God, someone was a Goddess, there were snake charmers, hijras, cows, bulls, goats, dogs, horses, elephants, people were smoking ganja…it was crazy. There was one guy dressed as Lord Shiva and was leading the parade. He was too high in bhang, actually he was almost sleeping while walking. I had seen the same guy at last year wedding parade also and I think they intentionally make him consume a lot of bhang because he was sleeping last year also. He was not able to walk, would get fainted sometimes. He either walking so slowly with his closed eyes, or was dancing or would get fainted. I am sure Lord Shiva did not get fainted when he was going to marry, but Benares makes people fainted by its bhang:)

Lord Shiva fainted

Lord Shiva fainted

He was carrying a trident and a Damru and was wearing a Dhatura garland. He would do Tandav dance for like a minute or a few seconds and then get fainted. People would start shouting Har Har Mahadev (chant of Lord Shiva) and Jago Baba (wake up baba, baba is another name of Lord Shiva in Benares) as he would get fainted or would fell asleep and again this guy would wake up and would start dancing. There were thousands of people shouting Har Har Mahadev, it was so loud and I was just loving it. I don’t really know he can someone be alive after consuming that much of bhang as he had consumed.

Bhang Thandai

Bhang Thandai

There was loud music, people were playing drums but the I loved the Nagada drum most. Nagada is also very Benares intrument and is used for wedding and cremation parade both. We are the champions of Nagada. Josh wanted to consume bhang and he did not ask me before buying it. He just went to a shop and bought a glass of bhang lassi and drank it. He thought that it would make him high immediately as alcohol does but in fact bhang takes sometime to react. After a while he asked me again to drink more bhang lassi and I took him to a good shop but I did not know that he already had consumed bhang before.



After finishing more than half glass of bhang lassi he said that bhang doesn’t make him high and I said that it would take some time. He asked me how much time and I said that at least 2 hours and then he told me that he had already drank a glass of bhang lassi about an hour ago. I told him not to drink his second glass but he said he could deal with it. I knew that two glasses of bhag was too much but he thought it would be okay for him. It has been more than 48 hours since he drank his second glass and he is still in his room sleeping. I asked him if he would like to drink another glass of bhang and he said never in his life again.

elephants were also there

elephants were also there

Many people have made several documentaries about Benares and its festivals but nobody has ever made any documentary about this festival. I was planning to film the festival but could not because I was busy with Josh’s project and I could not collect enough resources but now Josh wants to help me in making a documentary about this festival and I am really looking forward to it. I will try my best to make a movie about this festival and I know it will be super fun. The festival is over now and now I am excited for next year one. Har Har Mahadev.

Shivratri video

Nagada video

Bhang and the train thief

It is month of Savan according to Hindi calender now. A lot of people from different states come Varanasi

Government authorised bhang shop in Varanasi

Government authorized bhang shop in Varanasi

to make a pilgrimage during this month. Most of them wear a orange dress and carry a stick that has two pots filled with Ganges water. These people are called Kavariya. I see a lot Kavariyas nowadays and it made me remember about a incident which happened about 7-8 years ago when a 10 years old Kavariya took bhang and started driving a train at Maduadeeh railway station in Benares.

It was 4’o clock morning time now and he was at railway station. The train was supposed to start at 6’o clock morning time so he had two hours. Train drivers had started the engine but they were taking a chai at railway platform. After a while Kavariya decided that he will not wait any more, he got in the drivers car and started the train in back gear. Nobody understood what was going on. Even the drivers and railway officers were wondering who was this new driver.

He started running the train in opposite direction, the train was supposed to go to Gorakhpur and but this 10 years old driver was driving it into Allahabad which is just in opposite direction of Gorakhpur. Immediately all the trains were stopped on the Allahabad route and this guy was running the train at its full speed in back gear. There were few places were railway tracks were damaged and drivers don’t exceed the limit of 30 Kms per hour but this train was running at the speed of 120 Kms per hour all the time.

This news spread like a fire in jungle, all the people and media came near the railway track. I also saw the

Bhang balls

Bhang balls

live show on TV, I remember he was standing near the entrance gate, smiling and telling Hi to everyone watching him near the railway track. It had been more than 30 minutes since he was driving the train but nobody knew how to stop the train. Everybody near the railway track were telling him to stop the train but he was just smiling. Finally Railway decided to make the train fall. They put lots of bag of sand and poured lots of sand near the railway track. And when the train was passing from that place they used track brakes to stop the train.

The train stopped and fell down but fortunately nothing happened to Kavariya boy. He was arrested and both drivers of train were terminated from their jobs. When police asked him why he decided to drive the train he said he just got into the train and started driving it. He didn’t know what was going on, he was just enjoying his time. When police asked him if he had done some drugs or something he admitted that he had taken some Bhang last night but the feeling was still high when he was driving the train.

Government said that he was crazy, mentally retired but I know and everybody else knows that he was not crazy, it was only and only Bhang that made him drive the train. I think it was driver’s fault who were taking chai outside their car after starting the engine.