pilgrimage

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.)

Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra

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Jagannath Rath

Rathe vaamanam drishtva! It is said, those who welcome the Lord Jagannath by seeing him or greeting him, he becomes free from all sins”

The festival of carts or Ratha Yatra is celebrated every year in Jagannath Puri, Odisha whereby the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna manifests his most merciful form for the degraded people of Kaliyuga. Rath Yatra is the chief attraction festival of Jagannath Puri whereby lakhs of devotees come to celebrate the Lord’s festival and get his blessings. It is celebrated every year in the month of Aashadha, the second day of bright fortnight on pushya nakshatra.

The three presiding deities, Sri Baladeva, Sri Subhadra and Sri Jagannath travel from the premises of Sri Mandir and travel to Gundicha Mandir located a few kilometers away at the sea shore, where the Lord made his appearance in the Satyuga of Swayambhu Manu, the first Manu of Lord Brahma’s day.

By Vedic calculations one can determine when the Jagannatha Temple was first built, when the Temple was inaugurated and when the Deities were installed (on their simhasana). According to the authority of Skanda Purana, this period is fifteen crores and thirty-four lakhs (more than 150 million) years ago. From this it is clear that Ratha-yatra began in the time of Svarochisa Manu, the second Manu from the day of Lord Brahma.

The deities of Sri Jagannath, Baladeva and Subhadra were installed by Lord Brahma himself, who is a great devotee of Lord Sri Krishna. The Lordships have very strange form and this accounts to a wonderful story about why the lord has these forms.

Jagannath-Puri-Rath-Yatra

When Lord Krishna was in Dwaraka, he kept on remembering his cowherd friends and the gopis of Vrindavan who had no other means of survival other than Krishna himself. Once the Lord became too anxious to hear about their well-being and went away with Balaram. Meanwhile, the 16,000 queens of Sri Krishna asked Mother Rohini, the mother of Balaram about the anxiety of Krishna. She told them about the Vrindavan past times of the lord and they all became very eager to hear them. But, Rohini devi was afraid, if Krishna hears these past times, he would run to Vrindavan immediately. So, she locked all the doors and windows and asked Krishna’s sister, Subhadra to stand at the door and don’t allow Krishna and Balaram to enter and she started narrating the incidents. Meanwhile, Krishna and Balaram came and asked Subhadra to allow them to enter. When she refused to do so, Krishna by his mystic power opened one of the windows to hear and as soon as he could hear and remember the past times, all three of them manifested the symptoms of eight fold ecstasy. Their hands shrunk, their eyes widened and legs melted. This is the form of Jagannath, Lord Krishna is feeling separation from his dear devotees. When the story was over, Narada Muni came to see the lord’s form but couldn’t see the same. He asked the lord about this peculiar form, to which Sri Krishna replied that this form is especially meant for people of Kaliyuga whereby they can easily attain the supreme perfection of spiritual life.

Thefestival started to mark the pulling of Krishna’s chariot by the Brajwasis from Kurukshetra to take him back to Vrindavan. They let go the horses and themselves pulled the rope of the chariot. The chariots are made from wood without using any iron nail to join pieces together. Three magnificent chariots are prepared which take the lord from Sri Mandir to Gundicha Mandir, where the deity of the lord was prepared i.e. the place where lord appeared. The lord stays there for about a week and then returns back to the temple again. A day before the Rath yatra, the gundicha temple is thoroughly cleaned and washed, which was initiated by Sriman Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. People come in huge numbers, just to pull the carts.

Simply by pulling the carts and dancing before the lord makes the person free from all the sinful reactions and makes them very joyful. Lord, being most merciful personally comes out to see his devotees and the people of the world so as to shower his unprecedented mercy on them.

Here is some of the information about the Rathas of the Lordship

  • Sri Jagannath

Name of Ratha: Nandi Ghosh Ratha

No. of wheels: 16

  • Sri Baladeva

Name of Ratha: Taal Dhvaja Ratha

No. of wheels: 14

  • Sri Subhadra

Name of Ratha: Dev Dalan Ratha

No. of wheels: 12

 

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

 

Sai Baba Tales: Dasganu’s Prayag Bath

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Sai baba Prayag story

At the confluence of rivers Ganga and Yamuna the famous place of pilgrimage Prayag is situated. The Hindus believe that by taking bath in the holy river, all the sins are destroyed. On every festival thousands of devotees go and are profited by bathing there.

Once Dasganu, disciple of Sai baba decided to visit Prayag and take a dip in the sacred river. With positive thought he went to Sai baba to see his blessings and permission. Baba asked him “What is the need of wandering there when our Prayag is right here?” Dasganu was shocked and couldn’t believe on Baba’s words.

Sai baba said, have faith in me. Just then a great miracle happened and as Dasganu bowed down at Sai Baba’s feet a stream of ganga and Yamuna began to flow at His feet. Seeing the miracle the devotion and love of Dasganu over flew. Stream of tears began to flow from his eyes and his faith was completed. He felt an inner inspiration and the strotrarswani of Sai was automatically chanted at the moment.