Pilgrimage


“Would you become a pilgrim on the road of love? The first condition is that you make yourself humble as dust and ashes.”

Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

Char Dham [Siddhesvara Dham]


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Char Dham or Siddhesvara Dham is a unique pilgrimage tourism venture of the Sikkim Government developed as “ Pilgrim cum Cultural Centre” having a 108 ft statue of Lord Shiva and replicas of four Dhams of the country at one place at Solophok hilltop in Namchi. Namchi is the headquarters of the South Sikkim district. Namchi means Sky (Nam) High (Chi) in Bhutia. Namchi is situated at an altitude of 1,675 m (5,500 feet) above mean sea level.

Char Dham are the names of four pilgrimage sites in India that are widely revered by Hindus. It comprises Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. It is considered highly sacred by Hindus to visit Char Dham during one’s lifetime.

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Lord Shiva overseeing the dham

The four most revered Dhams of the Hindus–Jagannath, Dwarika, Rameshawaram, Badrinath have been replicated in this fantastic complex to benefit the devotees and tourists.

 

Char Dham is a popular pilgrimage destination of Sikkim, which also has some interesting history connected to it. The principle deity here is Lord Shiva. It is believed that during the Kurukshetra war between the Kauravas and Pandavas, this place was where Arjuna worshipped Lord Shiva. It is also believed that Lord Shiva, pleased with Arjuna, appeared before him as a hunter and blessed him which helped Pandavas in winning the war.

Badrinath temple

The temple complex is divided into 4 parts – the statue of Lord Shiva along with 12 jyothirlingas, four dhams, a Sai Baba Mandir and the Kirateshwar Statue besides the Nandi bull.

For the consecration of the Dham Shri Jagadguru Sankaryacharya Swami Swarupananda Saraswati did the “Pran Prastisha” of the Dham.

There are replicas of the “Dwadash Jyotirlingas” (the twelve jyothirlinga) of Somnath, Mallikarjuna, Mahakaleswar, Omkareshwar, Kedarnath, Bhimashankar, Viswanath, Triambakeshwar, Vaidyanath, Nageswar, Rameshwar and Grishneshwar surrounding the statue of Lord Shiva and the Char Dhams.

There is a grand statue of Kirateshvar Mahadev and a temple of Shirdi Sai Baba too.

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Lord Kirateshwar

In Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Shiva, after losing Sati in Agnikund, had gone into seclusion and became a hunter in the forests of Sikkim. There is also a famous Kirateshwar Mahadev Temple at Legship, in West Sikkim along the banks of River Rangeet.

There are Tulsi plants (Ocimum tenuiflorum) growing over 6 ft!

Tulsi plants

The Dham has stay facility for the devotees at “Yatri Niwas” which can accommodate more than 90 people at a time.

There’s a restaurant serving thali in the afternoon. We had thalis of food before leaving this place for Rabongla. The food was yummy!

The environment here is serene and divine. It’s a nice place and we felt blessed visiting all the temples.

The Siddhesvara Dham has won the National Tourism Awards 2010-11 under the category of “Most Innovative/Unique Tourism Project” by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.

Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

Chhinnamasta Mandir


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Jaya and I decided to go on pilgrimage to Chhinnamasta temple during this auspicious nine-day period of Navaratri. This is after many years that I am at home during the Vasanta Navratri period this year. Vasanta Navaratri started from March 31 this year. We therefore visited the temple today.

NAVARATRI

Navaratri is a festival dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity Durga. Vasanta Navaratri, is nine days dedicated to the nine forms of Shakti (Mother Goddess) in the month of Chaitra (March–April) and is observed during the Shukla Paksha (waxing phase of moon) of Chaitra. The beginning of this Navratri also marks the start of the new year as per the Hindu mythological lunar calendar (Vikrami Samvat).

The word Navaratri means ‘nine nights’ in Sanskrit – nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped. The tenth day is commonly referred to as Vijayadashami or “Dussehra”. The beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn are considered to be important junctions of climatic and solar influences. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother Durga. Navaratri or Navadurga Parva happens to be the most auspicious and unique period of devotional sadhanas and worship of Shakti (the sublime, ultimate, absolute creative energy) of the Divine conceptualized as the Mother Goddess-Durga, whose worship dates back to prehistoric times before the dawn of the Vedic age.

THE TEMPLE

Chhinnamasta (ছিন্নমস্তা) temple, dedicated to Goddess Chinnamasta (छिन्नमस्ता), is a Hindu pilgrimage. The temple is located at Rajrappa, 28 km away from Ramgarh Cantonment along NH-23 in the Ramgarh district of the State of Jharkhand, India.

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The temple is situated on a hillock at the confluence of rivers Damodar and Bhairavi popularly known as Bhera. Rajrappa is around 80 km from Ranchi. The Bhera River joins the Damodar River from a height of 20 feet creating a waterfall.

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Damodar river
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Confluence of Bhairavi and Damodar rivers

The temple is very old and the place Rajrappa finds mention in the Vedas, Puranas and Hindu scriptures as a “Shakti Peeth” which is flocked by devotees from Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal Assam and Nepal for worship of Goddess Chinnamastika. This shakti peetha is very famous and is considered the second largest (largest being the Kamakhya temple in Assam).

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The main attraction of the Chhinnamasta temple is the headless deity of Goddess Chinnamasta (She whose head is severed), which stands on the body of Kamdev and Rati in the lotus bed. The statue shows the goddess holding her own head in her left hand and her head drinking the blood oozing out of her neck. Chhinnamasta, also called Chhinnamastika and Prachanda Chandika, is one of the Dash Mahavidya (ten Tantric goddesses) and a ferocious aspect of Devi, the Hindu Divine Mother.

THE LEGEND

As per the story from Shakta Maha-Bhagavata Purana, Sati, the daughter of Daksha and the first wife of the god Shiva, feels insulted that she and Shiva are not invited to Daksha’s yagna (“fire sacrifice”) and insists on going there, despite Shiva’s protests. After futile attempts to convince Shiva, the enraged Sati assumes a fierce form, transforming into the Mahavidyas, who surround Shiva from the ten cardinal directions. Chhinnamasta stands to the right of Shiva in the west.

There is another legend: once upon a time, Goddess Bhavani with her two friends Jaya and Vijaya went to take bath in the river Mandakini. After taking bath both Bhavani and her friends got hungry and hence their bodies turned black. When her friends asked for food, Bhavani asked to wait for a while. But when they repeatedly asked for the food, she beheaded herself by her own sword. The three string of blood started flowing. The two strings flown towards her friends and the third string that was flowing upward helped Bhavani to settle down her hunger. Since then she was began to be called as Chhinnmastika.

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The top of the temple

Many smaller temples have been built around the main temple such as the temples of Ashtamatrika and Dakshina Kali. The temples of Mahavidyas built in a series nearby are Tara, Shodashi, Bhubneswari, Bhairavi, Bagla, Kamla, Matangi, Dhumavati. Surrounding the main temple, there are several smaller shrines dedicated deities like Lord Hanuman, Lord Shiva, Lord Surya, etc.

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Chhinnamasta Mandir

The art and architectural design resembles the design of temples of Tantric importance. The temple is considered as notable as the tantric site of Kamakhya Temple of Assam which has a similar architecture. The ancient temple of Goddess was destroyed and later a new temple was constructed and the original idol of Goddess was placed in it. Animal sacrifice is still practiced in the temple.

Various colour of 'Sindoor
Various colour of ‘Sindoor” for Maa Chhinnamasta

We performed our pujas, prayed at the temple and sat there for some time. Then we left for our home in Ranchi in the afternoon after praying at other Dakshina-Kali and Mahavidya temples.

Shringar shop outside the temple

The place attracts devotees from all parts of Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Pilgrims come here throughout the year.

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The place also attracts many foreign tourists due to its natural and religious importance. We returned home after our prayers.

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Our car

Jai Maa Chhinnamasta!

Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

Somnath Mandir & Bhalka Tirth


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We reached Somnath in the afternoon. On the way, we stopped for cold drink in a village. I found a shop opened, which was selling cold drinks. I asked the lady owner of the sop, while purchasing the bottles, about the name of the village. She replied that the village is “Chorwad” and added that it is the native village of the renowned industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani. It’s a village on the coast of Gujarat. Located 30 km from Somnath, the Chorwad beach was once home to the royal palace of the Nawab of Junagadh. Today it remains in a ruined state. So, we didn’t take detour to see the beach.

The small shore town of Somnath in Gujarat is one of the most frequented spots in Gujarat. It is one of the oldest pilgrim centers of India and is said to house one of the twelve jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. Somnath temple is located on the western coast of Gujarat and is one of the oldest and most revered temples of India and finds its reference in the most ancient texts like Shreemad Bhagavat, Skandpuran, Shivpuran and Rig-Veda which signifies the importance of this temple as one of the most celebrated pilgrimage sites or Tirthdham.

According to Hindu mythology this is also the place where Lord Krishna was shot in the leg. As is evident Somnath has many a story associated with it. We reached Somnath yesterday in the afternoon. We checked in to the hotel. After taking our lunch, we went to the Somnath temple.

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The Somnath Temple located in the Prabhas Kshetra near Veraval in Saurashtra, on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of the God Shiva. Somnath means “The Protector of (the) Moon God”. The Somnath Temple is known as “the Shrine Eternal”.  It also has the sacred soil from where Bhagvan Shri Krishna took his last journey to his neejdham.

Somnath temple is one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of Lord Shiva which are considered to be very holy as each of the twelve Jyotrilinga is considered to be the manifestation of the Lord Shiva. It had been desecrated and vandalised repeatedly by Muslim invaders. Every time it was rebuilt at the same site. The modern temple was built over five years – from 1947 to 1951. It was inaugurated by then President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad.

As per Shiv Mahapuran, once Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) and Vishnu (the Hindu God of protection) had an argument in terms of supremacy of creation. To test them, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. Vishnu and Brahma split their ways to downwards and upwards respectively to find the end of the light in either directions. Brahma lied that he found out the end, while Vishnu conceded his defeat. Shiva appeared as a second pillar of light and cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies while Vishnu would be worshiped till the end of eternity.

Ancient Indian traditions maintain a close relationship of Somnath with release of Chandra (Moon God) from the curse of his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati. Moon was married to Twenty-Seven daughters of Daksha. However, he favored Rohini and neglected other queens. The aggrieved Daksha cursed Moon and the Moon lost power of light. With the advice of Brahma, Moon arrived at the Prabhas Teerth and worshiped Bhagwan Shiva. Pleased with the great penance and devotion of Moon, Bhagwan Shiva blessed him and relieved him from the curse of darkness partially, thus causing the periodic waning of moon. Pauranic traditions maintain that Moon had built a golden temple, followed by a silver temple by Ravana, Bhagvan Shree Krishna is believed to have built Somnath temple with Sandalwood. Located as it is, it is widely believed that if one were to sail from here in a straight line, the end of the journey would be at the North Pole, without having to travel over land.

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We reached Somnath temple after visiting Bhalka Tirth – the legendary spot where Lord Krishna was mistakenly hit by the arrow of a hunter. We worshiped at the Krishna temple there.

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No electronic item is allowed inside Somnath temple. We deposited our camera, mobile phones at the locker room and walked into the temple. We worshiped at the temple. Then we went to the famous Triveni Ghat. Triveni Ghat in Somnath is the meeting point of three holy rivers – Kapila, Hiran and a mythical River Saraswati, which are believed to be flowing to their ultimate destination – Arabian Sea. These stages of rivers where they meet and then flow together to the sea symbolizes human birth, life and death. Considered as a sacred location for taking a holy dip to get rid of all curses and diseases, Triveni Ghat holds a significant place in the Hindu Mythology and Puranas and also finds a mention in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. It is believed that Lord Krishna visited this holy spot when he was hurt by an arrow shot by Jara – a hunter.

According to historians, the site of Somnath has been a pilgrimage site from ancient times on account of being a Triveni Sangam. Soma, the Moon god, is believed to have bathed in the river Saraswati at this site to regain his lost lustre. The result is the waxing and waning of the moon or the waxing and waning of the tides at this sea shore location.

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I offered tarpana to my ancestors. Prabhash teertha is a holy place to offer tarpana to ancestors. Also, it’s the pitripaksh. After that, we returned to Somnath temple for Aarti scheduled at 7 PM. We also joined in the Aarti. After that we relaxed for sometime in the lawns and then returned to our hotel.

ॐ नमः शिवाय| (Om Namah Shivaya)

Today, we are leaving for Rajkot via Sasan Gir, Junagarh and Gondal. On the way, we will pay our respect to Jalaram in Veerpur.

Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

Dwaraka


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Jaya was planning for pilgrimage to Dwarka, but it was getting deferred. We planned this time for our visit to Dwarka. Located on the west coast of Gujarat, Dwarka is known as Lord Krishna’s adobe. Dwarka, the holy land surrounded with the legends of Lord Krishna, is a significant pilgrimage site for the Hindus. The city lies in the westernmost part of India. Dwaraka (also known as Dvaravati, both names meaning “the many-gated city” in Sanskrit.

We reached Jamnagar by air via Mumbai by Air India flight. We reached Mumbai from Ranchi last evening by Indigo. We stayed in Hotel Orchid near Mumbai airport.

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Jaya & Baba at Ranchi airport
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Reception at the Orchid Hotel
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Having dinner at Hotel Orchid
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A statue of a man at a corner near the lift

From Jamnagar airport, we drove down to Dwarka. On the route we crossed the famous Reliance Industries Ltd and Essar oil Ltd. We stopped at motel on the way for some tea and snacks.

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We had our stay arrangements at Govardhan Greens. It’s a nice, tiny resort just at the outskirt of Dwarka.

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Dwarka is a relatively flat region at sea level, having an average elevation of 0 metres. It is one of the seven most ancient cities in the country.  it is considered to be one of the holiest cities in Hinduism and one of the Char Dham along with Badrinath, Puri, Rameswaram. The city is especially respected by Vaishnavas. Adi Shankaracharya had visited Dvarakadisha Shrine and had established the Dwaraka Pitha. The others are at Shringeri, Puri and Jyotirmath.

This legendary town is well-visited by religious travellers world-wide for its famous Jagatmandir temple that houses the Dwarkadhish (Lord Krishna) and dates back to 2500 years. The Lord here is dressed in Kalyana Kolam where he appears to be in a Royal Wedding costume. It is one of the 108 Divya desams.

The present temple was built from 6th to 7th century, while the original temple was believed to have been built by Krishna’s great grandson, King Vajra. The 5-storied temple is made of limestone and sand. A flag is hoisted in the temple tower five times each day. There are two gateways – Swarga Dwar, where pilgrims enter, and Moksha Dwar, where pilgrims exit. From the temple one can view the Sangam (confluence) of River Gomati flowing towards the sea.

The temple opens at 5 PM. So, we had some tea after checking in at the resort and then went to the temple. Cameras, phones are not allowed there and therefore we left our mobiles and cameras in the car. It’s a nice temple. We worshiped at the temple. There is divinity at the temple and one can feel the divine vibrations.

We returned home in the night. Next day, we planned to visit Bet Dwarka. This is the place where Krishna used to reside and this is the place where Lord Krishna met his friend Sudama and blessed him, there is a Peetha (seat) where Lord Krishna met Sudama.

The temple also has the main Dwarkadish deity which was believed to have been made by Krishna’s chief Queen Rukmini and in which Meera bai merged and disappeared from the material world.

Bet Dwarka Island, also known as Bet Shankhodhara, is situated in the Gulf of Kutch. Early historic settlement remains have been located on the island which may be dated back to 3rd century BC on the basis of a potsherd inscribed with ‘Nandakasa’ in the Mauryan Brahmi script.

We drove to Okha jetty, which is around 30 km from Dwarka. There are boats available from Okha Jetty from where people are ferried to the Island. It was quite a sunny morning, but when we reached Okha, it was quite cloudy. We boarded a boat to reach Bet Dwarka.

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We then went to Dwarkadheesh temple after reaching the island. We then had bhog there in the temple premises.

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The temple and other coastal sites have ample antiquities, mainly potsherds, suggesting maritime trade and commerce with the Mediterranean countries around the Christian era.

As we walked out of the temple, it started raining. We hired an autorickshaw to take us to Hanuman temple. This is the place where Hanuman fought with his son Makaradhwaja. We worshipped at the Makardhwaja temple and also were offered prasad. From here we rushed to the jetty as it was raining heavily then.

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On reaching the jetty, we found a boat ready to leave. We managed to get Jaya’s father inside the cabin. We were on the deck of the boat. As we returned to Okha jetty, we were completely drenched. I couldn’t do photography because of rain and the camera lens was very much fogged.

We then went on to see Gopi Talav. This is the place where Lord Krishna used to play with his Gopikas. There is a small pond where it is said that Lord Krishna used to play with the Gopika Strees (Gopika Women). From here, we went to Shiva temple — Nageshwara Temple. It is enshrined by one of the 12 swayambhu jyothirlingas in the world, in an underground sanctum. A 25 m tall statue of a sitting Lord Shiva and a large garden with a pond are major attractions of this serene place. Some archaeological excavations claim five earlier cities at the site.

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Nageshwara Temple

We performed Rudrabhishek here. The Pouring of water on shivalinga is called “Abhishek”. The continuous water pouring on shivalinga with chant of great Vedic mantras is called “Rudrabhishek”. As per the temple rules here, a male Hindu can perform Rudrabhishek only wearing a dhoti. There is a change room next to the temple where many dhotis are kept. My father-in-law and I changed into dhotis for performing Rudhabhishek at the Shivalinga.

We returned to Dwarka after visiting Rukmini temple. This temple is situated at 8 Kms from Dwarka. This is in the outskirts of the city and this is a lonely temple and there is an interesting story of Rukmini being cursed by sage Durvasa because of which the temple is situated outside the city and it’s because of this curse only that the water in Dwarka city is salty.

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Rukmini Mandir

We then visited Bhadkeshwar Mahadev Temple. It is set right in the middle of the Arabian sea near Dwarka. After praying at the temple, we sat for some time on the railing to enjoy the sea — Arabian Sea.

Lighthouse at Dwaraka

We then returned back to our resort. Today we spent moving around completely drenched in rain. We relaxed in the resort in evening.

Two Gujarati women in their traditional dress at the resort

ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय|| (Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya)

Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

Triveni Sangam at Prayag


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In Hindu tradition Triveni Sangam is the “confluence” of three rivers. Sangam is the Sanskrit word for confluence. The point of confluence is a sacred place for Hindus. A bath here is said to wash away all of one’s sins and free one from the cycle of rebirth. One such Triveni Sangam, in Prayag (Allahabad) has two physical rivers Ganges, Yamuna, and the invisible or mythic Saraswati River. The site is in Prayag (Allahabad). This is also the place we visited in February 2013 for Maha Kumbh Mela.

The Triveni Sangam is believed to be the same place where drops of Nectar fell from the pitcher, from the hands of the Gods. So it is believed that a bath in the Sangam will wash away all one’s sins and will clear the way to heaven. Devout Hindus from all over India come to this sacred pilgrimage point to offer prayers and take a dip in the holy waters.The three rivers maintain their identity and are visibly different as they merge. While the Yamuna is deep but calm and greenish in colour, the Ganga is shallow, but forceful and clear. The Saraswati remains hidden, but the faithful believe that she makes her presence felt underwater. The distinct colours can be seen at the confluence.

As the monsoon has started, the rivers are in full flow, the confluence of the rivers is seen clearly due to the force of the water, but the same force makes having a dip at the confluence difficult. The river banks are muddy and slippery. Also, it was raining then. We went to Triveni Sangam in the morning for some rituals on the river bank a day before the Shraaddha for Jaya’s mother. Because of the rain, the river bank was muddy and slippery. We found a shack, where Dada and Bapi could perform the ‘shraaddha‘ rituals. In the Hindu religion, Shraaddha is the ritual that one performs to pay homage to one’s ancestors, especially to one’s dead parents. Conceptually, it is a way for people to express heartfelt gratitude and thanks towards their parents and ancestors, for having helped them to be what they are and praying for their peace.

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After that we went to sangam for bath. As the river is around 40 feet deep there, some boats are anchored there and they put a wooden platform tied to the boats to enable the pilgrims to take dip in the river at the sangam.

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It’s a holy experience. This was my second occasion that I took a dip at the sangam.

Event & Festival, Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

In search of the divine-nectar pot


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Every 12 years, millions of Hindu pilgrims travel to the Indian city of Allahabad for the Kumbh Mela, the largest public gathering in the world. The Maha Kumbh Mela is known as the biggest gathering of human beings in the world. This was amply proved by observing a sea of more than 30 million Hindu devotees gathered at the confluence of 3 rivers (Triveni Sangam) at Allahabad (Prayagraj) on 10 February. The tithi (Auspicious day) of Mauni Amavasya began from 3.15 p.m. on 9 February. Since then, a sea of devotees had gathered on the 22 ghats (banks) of river Ganga and confluence to take a Holy bath.

Understandably for a gathering of this size, the event is wrought with real-time problems. Such unique phenomena drew a team from Harvard University to Allahabad this year to study the event. The trove of information would be a boon for researchers in the growing field of big data, who are tackling the challenges of curating, storing, analyzing, and sharing the massive amounts of information generated by companies and governments in the digital age.

MAUNI AMAVASYA

Mauni Amavasya is considered the holiest of the 56-day festival. Millions of Hindu holy men and pilgrims descend at the Kumbh mela site for a bracing plunge in Ganges to what they feel will wash away sins; many of them walked miles before they reached the river bank. According to ancient religious scriptures, Mauni Amavasya is the day on which Manu sage appeared in this world, millions of years ago. It is believed to be the day when the universe was created. On this day, the Moon enters into the Capricorn sign.

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Practising austerities is believed to purify an individual’s existence and observing the vow of silence is apparently the simplest way to do so. The day holds extreme religious importance and taking bath on this day in the holy waters is deemed significant and auspicious. Besides the bath, meeting so many sages and sanyasis in one place is a great experience. There are arrangements of huge bhandaras, where the pilgrims are served food. One can listen to so many satsangs being organized at different camps and akharas.

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AN AUSPICIOUS COINCIDENCE OCCURRING AFTER 147 YEARS

On this Mauni Amavasya, the planets Shani (Saturn) and Rahu have come together. This is a rare occurrence and happened after the lapse of 147 years. During this period, the sun and the moon will travel together in their orbit. It last happened in 1865. Therefore, this period is considered as very beneficial for taking a bath, donation, and shraddha (Special rituals performed for the departed ancestors). This special occasion also caused the rush of devotees in an increased proportion. For the pilgrims, bathing is the climax of the journey.

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I along with my wife, Jaya and son, Babai have come to Allahabad for taking bath in river Ganga on the auspicious occasion of Mauni Amabasya. We reached Allahabad by train via Kolkata on 6 February. It was Kumbh flavor everywhere – from Howrah station to the train journey. There were some women singing kirtans. Jaya also joined them briefly.

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Our Guruji also reached Allahabad on the nights of 8 February from Varanasi for the bath with us. He had to walk around 16 kms to reach our home due to stoppage of traffic in the city. In fact, we were privileged to have bath with our Guruji. We started our journey for the bath from the home of Jaya’s parents at 11.30 a.m. of 9th February. We joined the sea of humanity walking slowly towards the Triveni sangam. We reached the ghat at around 2.30 a.m. of 10th February. At first, Jaya, Boudi, Guttu and I took our dips with Guruji, while Babai & Prasanta was guarding the clothes. Then Guruji and I took them to the ghat for their bath. It was quite a cold night with temperature dropping below 8°C. But the sheer excitement of the event did not make us feel that the night and the water were so cold! We jumped into the river Ganga in search of “Amrit” at the Amrit Muhurt of Mauni Amabasya 10 February 2013.

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We walked back to home with huge mass of people around on every road and corner. The police was doing a good job there and I found them very polite, to my surprise! We reached home at around 5am.

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At Allahabad City station with Guruji–huge crowd at the station
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Big rush at Allahabad City railway station

It was a really out of the world, divine experience. It can just be experienced and not be defined by any logic or knowledge based explanation. Millions of people are coming here in search of the divine nectar. Clearly, the world’s biggest religious gathering happens when faith meets the collective. It’s said that the gathering was so huge that it could be seen from the space!

In the words of John D. Macomber:

We are witnessing back-of-house success in administration that leads to front-of-house success in the experience for more than a hundred million pilgrims. This event is a big deal for the Republic of India and for the state of Uttar Pradesh and for the city of Allahabad. It needs to go well.

Har Har Gangay!! Har Har Mahadev!!

Travel & Leisure

Going for Maha Kumbh


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We have been planning for attending the Maha Kumbh Mela this year. It’s of great religious importance for the Hindus. Tens of millions of people from India and abroad attends this festival. The Maha Kumbh festival is held at Triveni Sangam, in Allahabad. It’s the confluence of three great rivers of India – Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati.

Luckily Babai’s 3rd semester finished on 31 January followed by 2-week holidays before commencement of the 4th semester. I also managed to get his 2-week holidays during the same period. I had planned and booked the journey more than 2 months before, in anticipation. It’s needed as there is a huge rush for the mela. To avoid any travail during travel, I booked the tickets via Kolkata. We left Ranchi for Kolkata on 5 February by air and then for Allahabad by Poorva Express on the morning of 6 February 2013.

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Train stops at Koderma station
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Passengers are standing in queue to board the train at Howrah junction

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 We were booked in AC First class coach. We arrived at Howrah station in the morning at around 7am. There was quite a rush for people boarding the train. Also, there was a huge queue of people for boarding the general compartments as they did not manage to get the reservation. The train left on schedule. We took our break fasts that we carried with us. Also we ordered some light snacks from Railway pantry car. Poorva Express is one of the prestigious trains in India and is hence well served by pantry car. We were getting regular supply of drinks and foods inside the coach. The train was only stopping at important stations on the way. It was running on schedule. Babai bought a small Ludo game at Howrah railway station. We also played a few Ludo games to pass the time on the train.

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In another coach nearby some women were signing kirtans and bhajans. They were also going to Allahabad for Kumbh mela. Jaya also joined them briefly. We were all in holy kumbh mood! The train reached Allahabad station with a small delay. My grandpa and cousin were at the platform to receive us.

Event & Festival, Faith & Belief

Maha Kumbh Mela


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Kumbh Mela is the greatest pilgrimage and festival in the Hindu religion. The event is a religious and cultural spectacle which occurs once in 12 years attracting participants from around the globe to take a dip in the holy waters of Ganga, Yamuna and the mystical Saraswati.

As per the legend, in the mythological times, during a waging war between the demigods and demons for the possession of elixir of eternal life, a few drops of it had fallen on to four places that are today known as Prayag, Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nasik. It is believed that these drops gave mystical powers to these places. It is to make oneself gain on those powers that Kumbh Mela has been celebrated in each of the four places since long as one can remember. The normal Kumbh Mela is held every 3 years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is held every six years at Haridwar and Allahabad (Prayag) while the Purna (complete) Kumbh mela takes place every twelve years, at four places Prayag (Allahabad), Haridwar, Ujjain, and Nashik, based on planetary movements. The Maha Kumbh Mela is celebrated at Prayag after 144 years (after 12 ‘Purna Kumbh Melas’).

Depending on what position the Sun, Moon, and Jupiter hold in that period in different zodiac signs, the venue for Kumbh Mela is decided. The next Maha Kumbh Mela is set to be held in the city of Allahabad (Prayag) in the year 2013. It will commence from 27 January 2013 and will continue till 25 February 2013.

The Kumbh Mela is a life changing experience where a person can fill the spiritual void he or she experiences in the humdrum of busy urban life. Kumbh Mela is a platform where ordinary men can interact with saints and priests and imbibe the knowledge possessed by the latter. It is an opportunity for everyone to dissolve the worldly stresses and flow in the cultural and religious effervescence of the festival. Visiting the Kumbh Mela to take a dip in the holy waters and cleaning the sins committed in a lifetime is, in fact, a very superficial motive to attend the Kumbh Mela.

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Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 is speculated to be one of the biggest congregations in the history of civilization. Last Kumbh Mela witnessed the participation of 70 million people. After visiting Kumbh Mela in 1895, Mark Twain wrote:

It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvelous to our kind of people, the cold whites.

I am also planning to attend the Maha Kumbh Mela with my wife and son this time in February 2013. Also, Jaya’s parents stay in the holy city of Allahabad. So, we can visit them while attending the Maha Kumbh Mela.

Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

Rishikesh and Haridwar


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Jaya and I were planning to go to Rishikesh (Hrishikesh) for sometime. She wanted to see the famous Ganga Aarti there. So, we planned this time to visit Hrishikesh during my holidays. We reached New Delhi from Ranchi on Sunday and checked in at The Metropolitan Hotel, New Delhi. On Monday morning, we left for Hrishikesh from our hotel after taking breakfast.

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I had already booked a cab for the New Delhi-Hrishikesh-New Delhi trip through Carzonrent. It was a Mahindra Xylo and the driver – Mr. Devender Singh is a nice guy. Hrishikesh is about 240km from New Delhi. The morning traffic in New Delhi took some time. Then we rushed towards Hrishikesh.

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It was around 2pm in the afternoon, when we reached Roorkee. We stopped at a road side food joint – Green restaurant for our lunch. After lunch followed by tea, we again started our journey towards Hrishikesh. It is about 100 km from here.

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On the way, we passed by the famous Patanjali Ashram of Ramdev Baba, Kankhal & Haridwar.

Patanjali Yogpeeth

We crossed the holy river Ganga at Haridwar. It was a magnificent site.

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HRISHIKESH

We reached Hrishikesh and then to our hotel – The Great Ganga at around 4.00pm. It is quite a good hotel. Our room had a nice view of the holy river Ganga. We had a small balcony too to have unhindered view.

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Located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, it is known as ‘The Gateway to the Himalayas’. Hrishikesh is a name of Lord Vishnu that means ‘lord of the senses’. Rishikesh has been a part of the legendary ‘Kedarkhand’ (the present day Garhwal).

Legends state that Lord Rama did penance here for killing Ravana, the demon king of Lanka; and Lakshmana, his younger brother, crossed the river Ganga, at a point, where the present ‘Lakshman Jhula’ bridge stands today, using a jute rope bridge.

The sacred river Ganga flows through Rishikesh. It is here that the river leaves the Shivalik mountains in the Himalayas and flows out into the plains of northern India. Rishikesh is a famous place for rafting. Many rafters come here for rafting too.

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After having a hot refreshing tea at the hotel, we decided to go to the river as we could not wait to miss the Ganga Aarti. We walked down towards the Ram Jhoola. It’s about 10 minute walk from our hotel. As it was getting close to the Aarti time, so we decided to cross the river by a boat.

Crossing Ganga river by boat from Muni-ki-reti to Swargashram

GANGA ARATI

After crossing the river, we rushed towards the Parmarth Niketan Ashram Ghat for the aarti. Instead of being performed by pandits, the Ganga Aarti at Parmarth Niketan is organized and performed by ashram residents, particularly the children who are studying the Vedas there. The ceremony commences with the singing of bhajans (devotional songs), prayers, and a havan (a purifying and sacred ritual that takes place around a fire, with the offerings made to Agni, the fire god). The lamps are lit and the aarti occurs as the final part of the ceremony. The children sing along with the spiritual head of the ashram, in sweet, haunting voices. A huge statue of Lord Shiva overlooks the proceedings. It’s a nice divine experience with everybody participating in the bhajans and aarti. Many foreigners were also there joining the Hindu devotees.

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After the aarti, we just walked around the Ashram and Geeta Bhavan.

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Then crossed the river walking over the Ram Jhoola bridge to reach the hotel.

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Ram Jhoola

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Ganga at night

NEELKANTH MAHADEV

Next day, we planned to visit the famous Neelkanth temple. The temple is situated at a height of 1,330m and is located about 32km from Hrishikesh. The Temple is one of the most revered holy shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva and is a prominent Hindu pilgrimage site. It is surrounded by dense forests within Rajaji National Park and is adjacent to the mountain ranges of Nar-Narayan.

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It is enveloped between the valleys of Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot and is located at the confluence of the rivers Pankaja and Madhumati.

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Rishikesh town from distance

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According to Hindu mythology, the place where the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple currently stands is the sacred location where Lord Shiva consumed the poison Halahala that originated from the sea when Devas (Gods) and Asuras (Demons) churned the sea in order to obtain Amrit. The poison emanated during the Samudramanthan (churning of ocean) made his throat blue in color. Thus, Lord Shiva is also known as Neelkanth, literally meaning The Blue Throated One.

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Stairs to Neelkanth Mandir

We worshiped at the temple and then stopped at a food joint for some light refreshments. After foods, we started our journey back through the forests of Rajaji National Park. The water streams on the ways are carrying crystal clear water to the river. These are yet to be touched by the pollutions of the modern life.

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LAKSHMAN JHOOLA

We then stopped near Swargashram. We walked down towards Lakshman Jhoola.

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There is a multi-storied Shiva temple on the bank of the river Ganga just across the Lakshman Jhoola bridge.

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We walked over the bridge to cross the river and then walked back enjoying the pristine beauty of the sacred river Ganga.

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It is quite hot afternoon. We opted for ‘shikanji’ a local made lemonade drink to quench thirst at Swargashram and for some cool respite in the hot afternoon.

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Nothing like a cool shikanji now!

Then, we walked up to the car park. We started our journey towards Haridwar. It is about 25km distance through the Rajaji National Park.

HARIDWAR

We stopped at the Chandi devi temple on the way. It is dedicated to Goddess Chandi Devi in the holy city of Haridwar in the Uttarakhand state of India. The temple is situated atop the Neel Parvat on the Eastern summit of the Sivalik Hills, the southernmost mountain chain of the Himalayas. Chandi Devi Temple is highly revered by devotees as a Siddh Peetha which is a place of worship where desires get fulfilled.

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As we are having short time and it is a hot afternoon, so we preferred to go up the hill by ropeway. The same ropeway company also runs the ropeway for Mansa Devi temple. So, we bought joint ticket for both the temples. We waited for our turn and then went up to the temple. We prayed at the temple and then returned back for going towards Har ki pauri in Haridwar, which is about 5 km from there.

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Ganga Maa

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It is a famous ghat on the banks of the Ganga in Haridwar. This revered place is the major landmark of the holy city of Haridwar. Literally, “Har” means “Lord Shiva” who is the god according to shaivite school of Hindu theology , “ki” means “of” and “pauri” means “steps”. Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu are believed to have visited the Brahmakund in Har ki Paudi in the Vedic times.

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Har ki Pauri

King Vikramaditya is said to have built it in 1st century BC in the memory of his brother, Bhatrihari who had come to meditate here on the bank of the Ganga. An area within Har ki Pauri, where the evening Ganga Aarti takes places and which is considered most sacred is known as Brahamakund. It is considered to be the spot where the drops of Amrit fell over from the sky, while being carried in a pitcher by the celestial bird, Garuda after the Samudramanthan.

Har ki Pauri

We walked on the banks of Ganga at Har Ki Pauri. It was lovely walk with the river passing by from both the sides. Then went to Brahmakund and sprinkled water on our body. Then we went for tea at a nearby joint.

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After tea and samosa, we walked towards the starting point of ropeway to Mansa Devi temple.

The temple is located atop the Bilwa Parvat on the Sivalik range of Himalayas. It is dedicated to Mansa Devi. The temple is known for being the holy abode of Mansa, a form of Shakti and is said to have emerged from the mind of the sage Kashyapa. Mansa is regarded as the sister of the Nāga (serpent) Vasuki. The term Mansa means wish and it is believed that the goddess fulfils all the wishes of a sincere devotee. Mansa Devi Temple is also a Siddh Peetha, which are the places of worship where desires get fulfilled.

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Waiting for the turn to board the ropeway to Mansa Mandir

We reached at the base of the hill – the starting point of the ropeway to carry us up. Ufff, when we reached there, we found a huge crowd of about 500 pilgrims waiting for their turns on the ropeway. We waited at the waiting hall for our turn. On reaching the temple, we prayed at the temple and also performed our evening prayers there as it was already quite dark by then. Then we started for returning back. Also, there was a big queue for getting down the ropeway!

After getting d2012-05-16 10.27.18own, we again headed for tea. Also, we had jalebis and samosas with it. Then we again started walking on the banks of the river in the evening towards the car park, with the waters gurgling down and cool breeze blowing. Lovely, memorable experience!

We reached the car and then straightaway headed for our hotel at Hrishikesh.

Tomorrow morning, we will return back to New Delhi. It is an excellent, but short pilgrimage for us.

We enjoyed every bit of it. Maybe we will return here again!

Faith & Belief, Travel & Leisure

Gangasagar


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Gangasagar is a charming tourist destination, which attracts both pilgrims and adventure lovers. Located on an island in the Sunderbans, Gangasagar offers the charms of an un-spoilt beach on the estuary of the river Ganges. Gangasagar has acres of silver sand and clear blue sky, and the calm sea to spend the time in tranquillity. Gangasagar is about 135 km away from Kolkata.

The island of Gangasagar is one of the most famous Hindu pilgrimage centers in India. Every year on Makar Sankranti (mid-January), pilgrims from all over India, gather at Gangasagar for a holy dip at the confluence of the river Ganga and the Bay of Bengal. On the occasion of Makar Sankranti, Gangasagar Mela is organized in this island, which is one of the biggest fairs in West Bengal. Gangasagar finds mention in many tales of Hindu mythology and in ancient Indian literature like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata.

To avoid the rush, my friend Rina, his son Soumya and I went to Gangasagar in December. We went there in a steamboat after reaching the ferry point by car.

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On reaching Gangasagar, also known as Sagardwip, we went to the estuary where the holy Ganga River meets the sea – Bay of Bengal. We dipped in the water and enjoyed at the beach. Then we went to the temple of Kapil muni.

A holy man, Kardam Muni, made a pact with Vishnu that he would undergo the rigours of marital life, on the condition that Vishnu would incarnate as his son. In due time Kapil Muni was born as an incarnation of Vishnu and became a great saint. Kapil Muni’s ashram was located on the island. Kapil muni was a Vedic sage credited as one of the founders of the Samkhya school of philosophy. He is prominent in the Bhagavata Purana, which features a theistic version of his Samkhya philosophy. He is also believed to be a descendant of Manu, a great-grandson of Brahma. The Bhagavad Gita depicts Kapila as a yogi hermit with highly developed siddhis, or spiritual powers.

After worshiping at the temple we moved to return to our home by ferry and then by our car. It was a lovely trip and we enjoyed it a lot.

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Now, I am planning to visit here again with my husband, Jeet.

সব তীর্থ বারবার, গঙ্গাসাগর একবার! (Sab teertha barbar, Gangasagar ekbar) This means: all pilgrimages again and again but Gangasagar only once. This is a popular Bengali saying about Sagardwip or Gangasagar.