Dev Deepavali, which literally means ‘Deepavali of the Gods’ is celebrated 15 days after Deepavali (Diwali) in Varanasi (Benaras) in Uttar Pradesh. The 5-day festival is marked by the lighting of clay oil lamps along the banks of the Ganges in honour of the river. The festival is on a full moon day (Poornima), and taking a dip in the Ganges on this day is said to be of special significance, as the Gods themselves are said to come down to bathe in the holy river on this day.
The festival attracts thousands of people – both devotees and tourists – from neighbouring cities, other states and countries. The biggest draw for this festival is the sight of a nearly million lamps that light up the banks and the river itself, as well the grand Ganga aarti or prayers for the rivers. The aarti is performed by 21 young male priests and 24 young women, and is a spectacular sight given the massive brass camphor lamps that are used in the prayers. Boat rides are especially popular in the evening, when the lamps are lit and the aarti is taking place.
Besides its religious significance, Dev Deepavali is an occasion when men and women who have given up their lives for our country are honoured. Wreaths are placed at Amar Jawan Jyoti at the Dashashwamedh Ghat and the adjoining Rajendra Prasad Ghat. The traditional last post is performed by all the three armed forces (Army, Navy and Air Force), which is followed by a closing ceremony, the singing of patriotic songs and hymns, and the presentation of the Bhagirath Shourya Samman awards (for exemplary members of the police force).