holy places

Dev Prayag

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Dev Prayag

Dev Prayag is the confluence of the two holy rivers, the Bhagirathi and the Alaknanda to evolve as the mighty Ganges, the holiest river for Hindus. It is the last prayag (confluence) on the way from Badrinath. Beyond this confluence, the river is known as Ganges till it meets the sea in the Bay of Bengal.

 At Devprayag the colour of the water from Alakananda is blue and crystal clear, while the colour of the water in Bhagirathi is pale yellow and muddy, evidencing the territory the two have traversed before reaching Dev Prayag.

The confluence of the Bhagirathi, and Alaknanda has been vividly described by a British Army Officer, Captain Raper as:

The contrast between the two rivers joining here is striking. The Bhaghirathi runs down a steep declivity with rapid force, roaring and foaming flowing over large fragments placed in its bed, while the placid, Alakananda, flowing, with a smooth, unruffled surface, gently winds round the point till, meeting with her turbulent consort, she is forcibly hurried down, and unites her clamours with the blustering current“.

Alaknanda before entering Dev Prayag
The confluence got the name tag ‘Dev’ from a poor Brahmin called Deva Sharma who performed “rigorous religious austerities” here.

The legendary king Rama did penance here were, to atone for his sin of killing the demon-king Ravana, a Brahmin. A famous temple dedicated to Rama called the Raghunath Math is located above the confluence (seen in the upper left portion of the picture). It is believed to be installed in the temple about 1250 years ago, though ancient stone inscriptions traced here, dates the temple’s existence to the first century AD. Vaishnavites consider it as one of the 108 Divya Desams (sacred abodes of Vishnu) for undertaking a pilgrimage during their lifetime.

The holiness of this place is considered equal to the famous Triveni Sangam confluence at Allahabad where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers merge. For Hindus who wish to offer “pindas” to their forefathers, offering them at Devprayag is considered holier than Gaya.

Contributed By: Dr. Amitava Mukharjee

(He is the most renowned world economist on poverty alleviation and empowerment today. He has long association with United Nations for launching their initiatives on fight against hunger and providing micro assistance to most marginalised societies. He is a great scholar and has been teaching in University of London and Stanford University. He has travelled over 130 Countries and written numerous books. Deeply religious he has visited various holy shrines. We bring you glimpses of his travelogue.)

The ancient holy Haridwar

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Ganga Aarti Har Ki Pawri in the evening

The Ancient City of Haridwar (Hardwar) is the gateway to the Holy Shrines on the mighty Himalayas in Garhwal  and Kumaon. The River Ganges, after flowing for 253 kilometers from its source at Gaumukh at the edge of the Gangotri Glacier for the first time enters the Indo-Gangetic Plains at Haridwar (to begin its     march to the Bay of Bengal), which gave the Haridwar its ancient name, Gangadwára. It is one of the oldest living cities in the World.

Ganga Aarti Har Ki Pauri in the eveningHar Ki Pawri in the afternoon

Haridwar finds mention in the ancient Hindu scriptures and is held as one of the seven holiest places (Sapta Puri) to Hindus. Samudra manthan mentions Haridwar,Ujjain, Nashik and Prayag (Allahabad) are the four places where Amrit, (elixir of immortality), spilled over accidentally from the pitcher while being carried by “Garuda”. Thus the Kumbha Mela, is celebrated every 12 years in Haridwar.

Archaeological findings show that terra cotta culture between 1700 BCE and 1200 BCE existed in Haridwar region. Haridwar came under the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE) and later under the Kushan Empire (1st–3rd centuries AD). Haridwar is mentioned by the Chinese traveler, Huan Tsang in his writings, who visited India in 629 AD, during the reign of Harshavardhan (590–647). Haridwar fell to the Uzbek conqueror Timur Lang (1336–1405) in January 1399.

During his visit to Haridwar, Guru Nanak (1469–1539) bathed at ‘Kushawart Ghat’, where the famous, ‘watering the crops’ episode took place. Ain-e-Akbari, of Abul Fazal written in 16th century during Akbar’s reign, refers to Haridwar as Maya (Mayapur), known as “Hardwar on the Ganges”.

Ganga Aarti at Har Ki Pawri in the evening with priests Chanting Vedic Mantra before evening Aarati

Hindus believe that there are within Haridwar, the ‘Panch Tirth (Five Pilgrimages) within Haridwar, are “Gangadwar” (Har ki Pauri, the fulcrum of religious activities in Haridwar), Kushawart (Ghat in Kankhal), Bilwa Tirtha (Mansa Devi Temple) and Neel Parvat (Chandi Devi Temple), apart from several other temples and ashrams located in and around the city. Also, alcohol and non-vegetarian food is not permitted in Haridwar.

Contributed By: Dr. Amitava Mukharjee

(He is the most renowned world economist on poverty alleviation and empowerment today. He has long association with United Nations for launching their initiatives on fight against hunger and providing micro assistance to most marginalised societies. He is a great scholar and has been teaching in University of London and Stanford University. He has travelled over 130 Countries and written numerous books. Deeply religious he has visited various holy shrines. We bring you glimpses of his travelogue.)

The Holy Shrine of Amarnath

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The Shiva Linga of Ice

The Holy Shrine of Amarnath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is located in a cave on the most challenging of mountainous in Kashmir, India, at an altitude of 12,756 ft, about 141 km from Srinagar. It is situated at the farther end of the Lidder Valley. It can be reached either through Pahalgam, Chandanwari, Sheshnag Panchatarani Route or the Baltal Route, via Sonmarg (the latter being more arduous and difficult but shorter).

The Amarnath Yatra, normally begins on Ashadha Purnima (day of the Full moon in the Month of Ashadha of the Indian Calendar) and ends on Shravana Purnima (day of the full moon in the month of Shravan of the Indian Calendar).

The Shrine of Amarnath Ji is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. The ice stalagmite formed inside the cave, is the image of Lord Shiva and is surrounded by and covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of about 45 days in summer when it is open for pilgrims. Thousands of devotees (of all religions) who make an annual pilgrimage to the Cave braving icy winds, rain and climbing forbidding terrain to see the ice stalagmite formed inside the cave. The experience is both breath taking and humbling.

The holy cave a close up view.._

The temple is reported to be about 5,000 years old and was mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The exact manner of discovery of the cave in modern times is not known. Folklore has it that discovery of this Holy Cave was by a Gujjar (shepherd) Buta Malik, in the 15th Century after it was out of public gaze since the middle ages, may be to avoid the wrath of intolerant rulers/Kings/Emperors of the period.

Contributed By: Dr. Amitava Mukharjee

(He is the most renowned world economist on poverty alleviation and empowerment today. He has long association with United Nations for launching their initiatives on fight against hunger and providing micro assistance to most marginalised societies. He is a great scholar and has been teaching in University of London and Stanford University. He has travelled over 130 Countries and written numerous books. Deeply religious he has visited various holy shrines. We bring you glimpses of his travelogue.)

 

 

Lord Venkateshwara Tirupati

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Govindarajasawmi Temple Tirupati Hills.._

Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple is a landmark vaishnavite temple dedicated to Lord Venkateswara, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Mythology has it that Lord Venkateswara appeared here to save mankind from trials and troubles of Kali Yuga. Hence the place has also got the name Kaliyuga Vaikuntham and Lord Venkateshwara is also referred to as Kaliyuga Prathyaksha Daivam apart from many other names: Balaji, Govinda, and Srinivasa.

Tirupati Temple lies on the seventh peak of the Tirumala Hills -Venkatadri, on the southern banks of Sri Swami Pushkarini, a holy water tank. Hence the temple is also referred to as “Temple of Seven Hills”.The temple is also known by other names like Tirumala Temple, Tirupati Temple, Tirupati Balaji Temple.

The Temple is constructed in Dravidian architecture and is believed to be constructed over a period of time starting from 300 AD. The Garbagriha (Sanctum Sanctorum) is called Ananda Nilayam. The preciding deity, Venkateswara, is in standing posture and faces east in Garbhgriha. The temple follows Vaikhanasa Agama tradition of worship. The Temple is one of the eight Vishnu Swayambhu Kshetras and is listed as 106th and the last earthly Divya Desam.

It is estimated that Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple is the richest temple in the world in terms of donations received and wealth.Visited by about 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims daily (30 to 40 million people annually on an average), which on special occasions like the annual Brahmotsavam, shoots up to 500,000 per day, makes it the most-visited holy place in the world.

Tirupati Temple an ariel view

On the Tirupati Hill there are other notable temples and rocks too including a Hanuman Temple.  There is one rock arch believed to be 1500 million years old.

Contributed By: Dr. Amitava Mukharjee

(He is the most renowned world economist on poverty alleviation and empowerment today. He has long association with United Nations for launching their initiatives on fight against hunger and providing micro assistance to most marginalised societies. He is a great scholar and has been teaching in University of London and Stanford University. He has travelled over 130 Countries and written numerous books. Deeply religious he has visited various holy shrines. We bring you glimpses of his travelogue.)

 

Sacred shrine of Badrinath

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badrinath

The holy shrine of Badrinath is located in Garhwal, along the banks of the legendary Alaknanda River on the mighty Himalayas located at 10,279 ft above the mean sea level. The Nar Parbat Mountain is located opposite to the temple, while the Narayana Parbat is located behind the Neelakanta Peak.

In the main shrine is the 1 m Shaligram (black stone) image of Badrinarayan, which is housed in a gold canopy under a Badri Tree also made of gold. The image is said to hold a Shankha (conch) and a Chakra (wheel) in two of its arms in a lifted posture (which I could not figure out in my many visits) and two arms are rested on its lap in a Yogamudra (Padmasana) posture which I clearly saw. Legend has it, that Badrinath ji is swambhu.

The Tapt Kund, a group of hot sulphur springs just below the temple, are considered to be of medicinal value and many pilgrims bathe in the springs before visiting the temple and praying before the Lord. (Neela bathed here every year we visited). The springs have a year-round temperature of 55 °C (131 °F).

There is no historical record about the temple, but there is a mention of the presiding deity Badrinath in Vedic scriptures, (ca.1750–500 BCE). As per some accounts, the temple was a Buddhist shrine till the 8th century and Adi Shankara converted it to a Hindu temple. A traditional story asserts that Shankara expelled all the Buddhists in the region with the help of the Parmar ruler king Kanak Pal. The architecture of the temple resembles that of a Buddhist Vihara (temple) and the brightly painted facade is typical of Buddhist temples. As per other accounts, it was originally established as a pilgrimage site by Adi Shankaracharya in the 9th century. Hindu followers assert that he discovered the image of Badrinath Ji in the Alaknanda River and initially enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs.

The holy Shrine

The Holy Shrine of Badrinath Ji opens on Akhaya Tritiya (early May) and is closed on Diwali, when the Lord’s abode is shifted to Josthimath.

 

Contributed By: Amitava Mukherjee

 

Sacred places for Shradh rituals

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Pitru Paksha is a special time period during the Hindu year when Hindus pay homage to the departed souls of their ancestors by performing Shradh rituals at holy locations. Few of such sacred locations are as follows:

Varanasi: Varanasi is one of the seven sacred spots for Hindus and is widely known as the ‘Religious capital of India’. Pindan puja or Shanti Paath in Varanasi helps the soul attain salvation through fulfilment.

Allahabad: Situated at the confluence of three holy rivers: Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati; the city of Allahabad is piously sacred and important. To perform Pind Daan Kriya ceremony at the sangam ghat is considered highly auspicious for the departed souls; especially during Pitru Paksha Mela.

Ayodhya: Ayodhya is the birth place of Hindu God Shri Ram, said to be located above the Sudarshan Chakra of Lord Vishnu. Bharata Kund is a sacred place for offering Pind Daan kriya. It is believed that the departed souls attain salvation if the Shradh rituals are performed here.

Ujjain: One of the religious destinations of India, the city has wide range of religious and spiritual interest. By performing Pind daan kriya in Ujjain, the unfulfilled desires and services can be provided to the departed souls.

Haridwar: Haridwar as a place is known for its importance in conducting puja towards all deities as well as towards our deceased ancestors. The pujas including Pind Daan and yearly shraddha ritual can be performed here and have high religious importance.

Mathura: The city of majestic temples and huge religious history is believed to be the sacred place for performing pujan and tarpan to the pitras.

Kurukshetra: The historic and religious importance is widely known by all. Performing shradh ceremonies on the bank of river Saraswati frees the departed soul from the cycle of birth and death.

Gaya: The ancient city in Bihar on the banks of the river Phagu is quite important in Hinduism and is eternally blessed by the power of Lord Vishnu. It is one of the holiest locations for performing Shradh rituals.

Jagannath Puri: Situated on sea shore of Bay of Bengal in State of Orissa, the city caters to the religious needs of lakhs of devotees. It is widely known for conducting shradh rituals for the departed souls.

Dwarka: Being one of the 4 dhams, the place is one of the known moksh-daayi cities. The city is highly auspicious for performing shradh rites, as it is the city of Lord Krishna himself.

Chiming Bells of Positivity: Why there are Bells in Temples?

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shubhpuja.comThe Hindu worship and temples are incomplete without the ringing of bells. Bell is usually the first thing present at the entrance of the holy shrine or temple rung by the devotees. The bell is composed of a special metal that includes cadmium, bronze, lead, copper, zinc, nickel, chromium and manganese. The speciality of ringing the bell is that it creates a harmony between both the sides of brain. The vibrations produced after ringing the bell lasts for almost 7 seconds that reaches the seven healing chakras of our body and is very beneficial. The loud sound of the bell awakens the busy mind and our mind becomes free from all thoughts.

Other Significance of Bell:

  • The sound of the bell is believed to replicate the fundamental sound of Universe ‘AUM’.
  • It is supposed to symbolize and remind every devotee that the reality (prakriti) has three stages of evolution, “srishti“, “sthiti” and “laya” meaning creation, preservation and destruction.
  • The sound spreads the waves of positivity all around and relieves stress and tensions of the devotees.
  • Raising the hand to ring the bell makes all the senses awake and vibrations enter the heart and mind.
  • The ringing bell distracts us from the disturbances and focus attention on God.
  • In olden days temples were without doors and were often located on hills and in forest areas so animals, birds used to stay in temples for shelter, so first bells were rang to make the creatures go away from there.

 

||Ghantaayam tadayeth kim prayochanam, yaksha rakshasa paisasa tanava brahmarakshasah gacchanthi mani sapthah||

Meaning – “I am ringing this this bell to invoke god and to let the noble forces enter my heart and keep evil spirits away”
Contributed By: Meenakshi Ahuja