No stranger to rituals, India was treated on Saturday to the sight of a Prime Minister-designate taking part in an elaborate puja in one of the holiest temples in the country. Narendra Modi reached Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi and took part in Rudra abhishek, a ceremony performed by 11 senior priests. Indira Gandhi was known to visit temples, Rajiv Gandhi had started his 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya and Sonia Gandhi had taken a dip in Allahabad. But rarely has such an elaborate ritual played out before the country a day after a landslide victory in a general election. After receiving prasad, Modi emerged from the temple complex with his forehead smeared with holy ash. He then drove to Dashashwamedh Ghat to perform Ganga poojan. Modi also spent close to an hour watching Ganga aarti, a choreographed ritual performed by students of Sanskrit schools


The Telegraph requested a scholar to explain what the rituals signified as large sections of Indians are unlikely to be familiar with such ceremonies. Jayanta Kushari, the principal of Sarva Bharatiya Prachya Vidya Academy in Calcutta, explains: Of the 12 jyotirlingas, Vishwanath temple is the best choice to perform a Rudra abhishek as He is the lord of the universe. (In comparison, for example, Somnath, another jyotirlinga in Modi’s own state, is the lord of the moon.) And the temple has the added advantage of the Ganga, which originates on earth from Shiva’s matted locks, flowing by it. A Rudra abhishek lasts two-and-a-half dandas or an hour (a danda equals 24 minutes). Within this duration, the mantras have to be chanted 11 times. That is why 11 priests were involved. Lord Shiva resides in eight natural elements and planetary bodies with different names and aspects. In the sun, He is present as Rudra. The fiery aspect of Rudra accounts for the fierceness of the sun, while giving it the ability to control its power too. By performing Rudra abhishek, Modi is worshipping Shiva in this aspect so that this quality flourishes in him since an administrator has to be both tough and gentle. While the first 48 minutes (two dandas) of the abhishek are spent in worship of Shiva, the last 12 minutes are dedicated to Ganga, locked as She is in Shiva’s locks. So it made sense for him to witness a Ganga aarti right after this ritual. The choice of Dashashwamedh Ghat as the venue for the aarti is also significant as ashwamedh (horse sacrifice) yagna is performed by an emperor seeking to establish sovereignty over his land.