Exploring the Mystique of Varanasi's Sacred Celebration: Bhasma Holi

After Rangbhari Ekadashi it is believed that Shivji returns to Masaan Ghat and celebrates Holi with Naga Sadhus, Ghostly Attendants or 'Bhooth Ganaas' and Aghoris' on the Manikarnika Ghat.

Aditi Nag
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Holi is celebrated all over India with great pomp and enthusiasm. It is a festival of color and is celebrated as a tribute to Lord Vishnu, symbolizing the victory of good over evil. Apart from the standard Holi played with gulal and flowers, the city of Varanasi, the home of Kashi Vishwanath, is immersed in ashes, which is called Bhasma Holi, and also Masaan Holi.

Nestled in the heart of Kashi, Varanasi, on the day of Ekadashi Tithi of Shukla Paksha in the month of Falguna, before Rang Panchami, Rangbhari Ekadashi is celebrated on the banks of Harishchandra Ghat. This day is very auspicious as it is believed that Shivji and Mata Parvati came to Kashi to celebrate Gauna (a ritual when the bride comes first to her groom's house after marriage) after getting married on 'Shivratri.' On this day, Shivji plays Holi with Mata Parvati and his devotees. People in large numbers keep fast, worship Shivji and Mata Parvati, who offer them gulal, and there is a Shobha Yatra where Shivji and Mata Parvati are carried on a 'Palakhi' and taken to visit the Kaashi.


The next day is a prime attraction and a notable event called 'Bhasma Holi.' Bhasma or ash is considered very holy in the Hindu religion, and it is offered to Mahadev. Bhasma Holi is an unusual way of playing Holi, where Holi is played not with colours but with real dead body ashes. After Rangbhari Ekadashi, it is believed that Shivji returns to Masaan Ghat and celebrates Holi with Naga Sadhus, Ghostly Attendants, or 'Bhooth Ganaas,' and Aghoris on the Manikarnika Ghat. Aghori, the Shaivite sadhu, are the followers of Lord Shiva based in Uttar Pradesh. 'Aghori' derives from the Sanskrit word 'Aghor,' which means 'abhaya' or 'fearless.' Bhasma Holi is also called Masaan Holi; 'Masaan' means Shamshan or Crematorium. As supernatural beings are not part of any auspicious occasion and festivals, this signifies the love and acceptance by Shivji to all beings, visible or invisible. We can also see locals celebrate Bhasma Holi with great enthusiasm on the Ghat.

Significance of Manikarnika Ghat:

Manikarnika Ghat is constantly ablaze with funeral pyres, ensuring that the ghat is never empty; there is always a burning pyre. Not a single day passes without a new pyre being lit at the ghat. In Varanasi, often called the city of Moksha, the acceptance of death as a sacred passage is fostered. Here, the eternal flames flicker on the ghats of the Ganges River. Manikarnika Ghat, Varanasi's primary cremation site, observes this unique custom amidst the solemn rituals of cremation. It is believed that on the day of Bhasma Holi at Manikarnika Ghat, people witnessing Lord Shiva and his bhoot ganas (spiritual entourage) dancing and reveling amidst the cremation ashes may be disconcerting. Yet, the Lord of the cremation ground, draped in tiger skin, adorned with mundmala (a garland of skulls), playing with the symbolic color of life (the hue of ash), and partaking in bhang (cannabis), appears calm amidst his surroundings, fully engrossed in merriment. Similarly, the ritual is performed by the followers, aghoris, and sadhus, and the day is filled with spirituality and piety.




Rangbhari Ekadashi masaan holi Manikarnika ghat Bhasma Holi Harishchandra Ghat masaan varanasi