Varanasi doesn’t do devotion by half measures. Here, divinity is invoked with a fervour that can leave even a casual onlooker moved. Like most of India, Dussehra celebrations in Varanasi necessitate the customary staging of Ram Leela where crowds gather to watch the burning of Ravana effigies. What sets the spiritual city apart, though, is its grand and elaborate reenactment of Bharat Milap. Held a day after Vijaya Dashami in Nati Imli, in the central part of old Varanasi, Bharat Milap marks the reunion of Lord Rama with his brother Bharat after his 14-year exile from Ayodhya.
The festival typically involves locals dressing up to play the main cast of characters in Bharat Milap—Ram, Sita, Lakshman and Bharat. Anticipation runs high on the day. The actors, chosen to enact the milaap, are carried onto the streets of Nati Imli in a procession that begins around 4.30 p.m. and runs for two hours. Watched by thousands of ardent devotees, it is a glorious collision of religion and spectacle that never disappoints.
To read about other Dussehra traditions, go here.
Abhishek Hajela is the recipient of the prestigious International Nikon Award. He curates and leads experiential photography workshops globally, and also works closely with the semi-nomadic tribes of Rajasthan.