Haridwar: Swarga dwarena tattulyam Gangadwaram na samshayah, Tartaabhishekam kurvita kotitirthe samahitah/ Labhate Pundarikamcha kulam chaiva samudbhavet, Tatraika ratri vasena gosahasraphalam labhet/ Saptagange trigange cha shakraavate cha tarpayan,Devaan pitruscha vidhivat punye lokey maheeyate/ Tatah kankhale snatwaa triratro poshito narah, Ashwamedhaapnoti Swarga lokam cha gacchati/ –Padma Purana, Adikhanda, Tirtha Yatra Parva (Haridwara is undoubtedly akin to Swarga Dwara. Those who bathe at the Ganga there are as good as taking bath at Crores of Tirthas, reaping the fruits of performing Pundarika Yagjna and bringing to repute one’s own Vamsha. Stayintg at Haridwar over night bestows the return of charities of Sahsra Godaana. Performing Sacred Snanas at the banks of Sapta Ganga, Tri Ganga and Shakravarta and offering Deva Pitru Tarpanas would establish themselves with name and fame in these Lokas; thereafter performing sacred baths at Kankhala and observe fasting for three successive nights shall indeed reap the benefit of Ashwamedha Yagna and after the termination of life shall take to the path of Swarga)

Haridwar is also called Haradwar, Ganga Dwaar and Mayapuri. It is stated to be a combine of Five ‘Puris’ viz.Mayapuri, Haridwar, Kankhal, Jwalapur and Bhimgoda. It was at this Place that Brahmarshi Narada was enlightened by Sapta Rishis by way of a Maha Bhagavata Saptaah in a large gathering of Munis and Vishnu Bhaktas. The most significant spot in Haridwar is Brahma Kunda or what is popularly known as ‘Hari ki Pairi’. Besides Ganga Dwar or Brahma kund or Hari ki paidi are situated in Haridwar another four Tirthas viz. Kushavarta, Bilwakesara, Nila Parvata and Kankhal- Gangadware Kushavarte Bilwake Nilaparvate, Snaatwa Kankhale Tirthe punarjanma na vidyate/ (Vidhi poorvaka Snaana and Darshana of Bhagawan Vishnu would certainly qualify for no rebirth and Vaikuntha Prapti at each of these.) These Five Sacred Places represent Pouranic Significance as follows:

Brahma Kunda or Hari ki Pairi or Vishnu’s foot steps: Chakravarti Bhagirath had the outstanding reputation of bringing down Ganga from Vishnu’s feet in Vaikuntha down to Kailasha as absorbed in the ‘Jata jootas’ or Maha Deva’s course head-hair pleats. As Bhagirath further did Tapsya to Maha Deva, the Holy Ganga flowed down to Earth and another King Sweta prayed to Brahma Deva to let parts of the River to flow to his Kingdom and the flows came upto Brahma Kunda. Since Bhartruhari the brother of King Vikramaditya performed penances to Maha Deva on the banks of Brahma Kund and achieved Salvation, Vikramaditya constructed steps of the Kunda famed subsequently as Hari ki Paidi. This has come down as the legend of the yore. Gavu ghat: The southern side of Brahma Kund has come to acquire the popularity of redeeming Go hatyhadi patakas by the Sacred Bathings at the Gavu ghat. Kushavarta ghat: Once Dattatreya performed severe ‘Tapas’on the banks of Ganga not far from Gavu ghat as he kept his belongings viz. Kusha or the mat of Kusha grass, clothing and kamandalu or the water vessel on the banks of Ganga; one fierce wind blew away these items on the banks in circular fashions and since then the Ghat was then christened as Kushavarta. ‘Pitru Karyas’ and ‘Pinda Danas’especially on Mesha Samkranti days are stated to go a long way resulting in ‘Punar janma naasti’ or no rebirth again. It is at this Ghat there is the Mandir of Shravana nath. Vishnu Ghat, Maya Devi Mandir, Ganesh ghat, Narayani Shila, Niladhara and Nileshwar, Kalimandir, Chandi Mandir, Anjani Mandir being that of Hanuman’s mother, and Gouri shankar Mandir are all lined up there. Bilwakeshwar: Not far from ‘Hari ki Paidi’ the Bilwakeshwara Mandir is stated to the erstwhile abode of Maha Ashwatara Naga of Patala who frequented it for Maha Deva darshan and ‘snaanas’ at this Tirtha is stated to bestow the Shiva Tulya status. Kankhal: This is the Sacred Tirtha which is the joint flow of Niladhara and Kankhal where nomad Munis used to necessarily halt and wash off all traces of ‘Khal’or wickedness. Daksheshwar Maha Deva Mandir assumes outstanding significance in view of its Pouranic background of Daksha Prajapatis’s Brihaspati Yagna to which his daughter Sati Devi’s non invitation due to his hatred to his son- in- law Parama Shiva but still she attended theYagna and was extremely offended by her father and as such resorted to the extreme step of self immolation in ‘Yogaagni’ when Maha Deva went berserk with fury, totally destroyed the yagna and beheaded Daksha Prajapati. With a view to mitigate the unusual fury of Maha Deva, Vishnu had to use his Chakra and quietly sliced off Sati Devi’s mortal remains and threw away into fifty one pieces which eventually came to be famed as so many Shakti Peethaas signifying Devi Sati’s body parts as are venerated till date with awe and wonder. As Devas prayed to Maha Deva in torrential ‘Stutis’, He gradually cooled down and being a known embodiment of mercy and forgiveness, relented to the Prayers of Devas and allowed to the beheaded Daksha to replace the latter’s head with that of the goat meant for sacrifice at the ruined yagna and revived the Prajapati back to life! That is why this Holy Place is of unsual Mahatmya and yatris to Haridwara and is stated that their yatra would be futile without worship at Daksheshwara Maha Deva! This Holy Tirtha attracts uprecedented yatris on Shiva Ratris for its legendary background! Besides the aboveTirthas, Haridwar has other Tirthas too like Sati Kund, Kapila Sthaana, Bhima Gouda, Sapta Dhara, Satya Narayana Mandir and Veerabhadreshwar each of which has their own background! From Haridwar to approx. forty miles is situated Shuka taal where Vyasa Maharshi’s son Shuka Deva taught Maha Bhagavata Purana within a week’s time to Panadava’s descendant King Parikshit on the banks of Ganga. Devaband or Devivan some 8 km near Mujaffarnagar off Shaharanpur is known for Durga Mandir where Durga Saptashati was recited first as believed by ‘Vidwamsas’of erudition.

Shakambhari Devi: is some 15 km. from Shahranpur and is famed for ‘Shaaka Ahara’ or of the Goddess of Vegetarian Food and of Vegetables! Shakambhariti vikhyaataa trishulokeshu vishrutaa, Divyam varsha sahasram hi shaakena kila Bharata/( Maha Bharata). The Murti of Shakambari Devi is stated to be ‘Swayambhu’ or self generated and Jajad Guru Shankaracharya installed three more Idols viz. Bhima, Bhramari and Shakshi at the Mandir. During ‘Nava Ratra Celebrations’ in Ashwiyuja Month there is normally heavy rush of devotees for even glimpses of darshan during an on going ‘Mela’ also.

Rishikesh: Hrishik-isha or Vishnu is the Supreme Lord of senses or alrernatively Rishik-isha the Over-Lord of Rishis who controls senses. One view about the origin of this Holy Tirtha is that Rishi Raibhya’s severe tapasya culminated in Maha Vishnu’s darshan at Kubjamrika or Mango Tree (Skanda Purana) while another legend refers to the Tapasya of Brahmana Devadutta to Maha Vishnu as he had staunch faith in the identiy of Vishnu as distinct from Shiva. Meanwhile, Indra commissioned Apsarasa named Pramlocha to test the Brahmana’s ability to control his senses but failed and the result was their daughter named Ruru who on realising the background of her birth pursued Tapasya to ‘Shiva Keshava’ and Vishnu appeared and blessed. Varaha Purana thus states: Maamevaavehi Vishnum swam maa pashya- swaantaram mama, Awaamekena bhaavena pashyastvam siddhimaapyasi/ Purvamantara bhavena drishtavaanasi yanmama, Tena vighnobhavad yena galitam swattapo maha/( Do realise that Vishnu and Ishwara are just the same and in order to attain siddhi or Salvation soon, this basic identity be underlined. In the past the severe tapsya performed failed and ended up in obstacles) Another legend about the origin of Rishikesha signifies that once Maha Deva was annoyed about Agni Deva’s indiscretions and there were severe flames that destroyed the area; Agni atoned for his sins at this Tirtha and thus resulted in the Agni Tirtha. Popularly known as Muni Reta or the Sands of Rishis, this highly Sacred Land was also the Place where Lord Shri Rama performed penance to achieve the abilities to terminate Ravanaasura and the land marks which enabled Rama Lakshmana to cross the Holy Ganga into deep forests are still existent as hanging concrete bridges converted from jute rope bridges-popularly named as Lashman and Ram jhoolas. This Sacred Kshetra is also acclaimed as the Universal Capital of Yoga.

Gangotri: Several and detailed references have been made in Brihaddhama Purana, Maha Bhatata Vana Parva, Padma Purana, Skanda Purana, Brahma Purana, Vishnu Purana, Devi Bhagavata, BrahmaVaivarta Purana, Agni Purana, Matsya Purana, Brahmanda Purana, Vayu Purana, Skanda Purana and so on. In fact, Skanda Purana has also provided Ganga Sahasra Naama highlighting Devi Ganga Mahatmya. Na Ganga sadrusham tirtham na Devah Keshavaatparah/ says Padma Purana. Maha Bhagavata describes as follows: Dhatuh kamandalujalam tadurukamasya paadaavanejana pavitrayaa Narendra, Swadhurnyana –bhasi saa patati nimaarshi Lokatrayam Bhagavatovishdeva keertih/(Bhagavati Ganga which originated from the left thumb of the Holy feet of Vishnu’s three legs spread over the total universe occupying Earth-Higher and Lower Lokas got materialised to wash off the sins of all beings). From Brahama Loka to Himalayas it appeared in streams called Sita, Alaknanda, Chakshu and Bhadra flowing in four directions; the grand and gigantic flow of Alaknanda jumped down the heights of Hemakuta and other mountains towards the southern direction and finally merges into the Great Oceans.The specific Place where Ganga is originated that is Gangotri, is the ideal Place where tarpanas and upavasas are performed and by observing these duties human beings there stated to have accrued the Vajapeya Yagna phala and acquire Brahmatwa: Gangodbhedam samaasadya triraatroposhito Narah, Vajapeyamaapnoti Brahma bhuto bhavet sadaa/ While Ganga is stated to be pure and hallowed, the three Maha Tirthas are stated to be Gangotri, Prayaga and Ganga Sagara or the exit point of merger with the Seas: Trishu snaaeshu durlabha, Gangodbabhe de Prayage Ganga Saagra sangame/ Talking about the dos and dont’s of Ganga Snana, Brahmanda Purana emphasises as follows: Achamana, Shoucha, nirmalya-mala visarjana, gatra samvahana, kreeda, pratigraha, rati, anya titrha bhaava, anya tirtha prashamsha, samtaara or swimming, malotsarga are the twelve tasks to be avoided in Ganga. But most desirable tasks in Ganga are Pitru tarpana with tila mixed water, dahana samskara, tata nivasa or residing at the banks of Ganga Pravaha, Ganga keertana, darshana-sparsha-jala paana, mantra yukta snaana, upavaasa, Veda pathana, Purana shravana, nitya Ganga Smarana, Ganga Sahasra naama stotra, Ganga Vrataacharana, Indira nigraha, Dana prakriya, homaacharana, Sandhya Vandana, Dharmaacharana, and Bhakti bhava in general. Snaana- Tarpana-Pitru Karyaacharana on Solar and Lunar eclipse timings, janma dina worships, parva dina snaana-daana-homa kriyas are all stated to have far reaching phalas. Conducting Yajnas would fetch outstanding results.

Yamunotri: Tapanasa sutaa Devi Tripulokeshu vishrutaa,Samaagataa Mahabhaga Yamunaa tatra nimnagaa/ Yenaiva nih suruta Gangaa tenaiva Yamunaa gataa, Yojanaanaam sahasreshu keertanaat papanashani/Tatra snaatwaa cha peetwaa cha yamunaa yatra nisrutaa, Sarva paapaani nirmuktah punaattyaa saptamam kulam, Praanaamstyajati yastatra sa yati paramaam gatim/ Kurma Purana- Brahmi Samhita (Devi Yamuna the beloved daughter of Surya Bhagavan is renowned all over the Trilokas. She crosses the same path as that of Devi Ganga too. By taking her name even thousand yojanas away would bestow the devotees with destroy their blemishes. Once a person is fortunate to take bath or even drink her Sacred water would not only purify their minds and thoughts but even their entire vamsha for seven generations past would redeem their past births and souls. In case her devotees lose their lives, they would not be subjected to rebirths but would attain Salvation). Towards River Yamuna’s southern banks is situated the famed Agni Tirtha and to its western side is the sin destroying ‘ A-naraka’ Tirtha dedicated to Yama Dharma Raja her own elder brother and the progeny of Devi Chhaya the alter ego or shadow of Sandhya Devi the wife of Surya Deva. A-naraka Snana ensures Swarga Nivasa and certain avoidance of Naraka after Mrityu which any way is a certainty. Those who perform Yama Tarpana on any Krishna Paksha Chaturdashi day after vidhi purvaka snaana shall indeed bestow Maha Paataka Mukti. While human beings irrespective of their varnas or gunas shall reap the Phala of snaanas at Prayaga Tirtha by ten thousand times more of snanas at other Tirthas, those at the A-naraka would fetch thirty crore such snanas at the other ordinary Kshetras.

Badarika Dhaam: Narayanah prabhu Vishnuh shaswatah Purushottamah, Tyasyaatishasah Punyaam vishaalaam Badarimanu, Ashramah khyaayate punyastrishu lokeshu vishrutah, Anyatra maranaan muktih sadharma vidhipurvakaat, Badari darshanaadeva muktih pumsaam kare khyaatam/( Maha Bharata) ( Bhagavan Narayana who is eternal and all pervasive Purushottama and is stated to get concentrated in Badari without exaggeration as its Ashramas are stated to be seats of Maha Punya of universal renown; deaths in all other Punya Kshetras are known for bestowing mukti to any human being especially on practice of one’s own Varna dharma but Badari Darshana in itself would suffice to achieve the goal.) There is a detailed chapter on Badarikaashrama Mahatmya in Skanda Purana of Vaikuntha khanda. Harati hridaya bandham karma paashaadimtaanaam virati padamucchairalpa janmaika bhaajaam/ Janana marana karma shranta vishraanta hetu trijagati manujnaanaam durlabhah satprasangah/ ( In all the Trilokas ‘Satsanga’ or Ideal Company of persons of virtue is rare to secure, but once they are fortunate then their KarmaPaasha or shackles of Samsara would free their hard knots of heart get loosened and facilitate the hard screws of the ever rotational wheel of births and deaths get released) This being so, the Parama Tirtha Badari is replete with Maha Sadhus as that indeed is the Seat of Narayana and their ‘sahavasa’is certain to get the process of snapping the shackles referred above. Maha Bharata also describes similarly: Yatra Narayano Devah Paramatmaa sanatanah, Tatra kurustram jagat sarvam tirthonyaayatanaani cha/ Tat punyam paramam Brahma tat Teertham tat tapovanam, Tat param pramam Devam bhutaanaam Parameshwaram/ Shaswatam paramam chaiva dhaataaram paramam padam, Yam viditatwaa na shochanti vidwamsah shastra drushtyah/ ( Where Narayana Himself is, that indeed is the Parama Tirtha or the Outstanding Place in the entire Universe and Tapovana where Parabrahma-Paratpara-Parameshwara who is the Ultimate Spot totally devoid of anguish, anxiety, and everlasing bliss as strongly believed with conviction by Shastra Vettas). Varaha Purana states: Shri Badarashramam punyam yatra yatra sthitah smaret, Sa yaati Vaishnavam snaanam puraraavritta varjitah/ (From any where any person merely thinks of Badari Kshetra which is the unique Vaishnava sthaana would be redeemed of punarjanma) Reveting back to Badari khanada of Skaanda Purana, Skanda Kumara was enlightened by Maha Deva himself that Agni Deva’s curse that he would be sarva bhakshaka as the latter performed intense Tapasya after purifying himself in Ganga snana and on obtaining Vishnu darshana extolled him in a trance and Narayana replied that even on a stay for a while at Badari Kshetra would suffice to demolish patakas and due to his benevolence for sure Agni’s curse as Sarva bhakshaka would be negated and further more the Tirtha to be henceforth would qualify human beings taking bath in the Agni Tirtha would also be qualified to demolish his or her patakas too. Bhavagan Narayana further asuured that the Pancha Maha Patakas that normally humun beings are subjected to-not to mention of minor blemishes- would be washed off by snanas at Five Shila Swarupas of Narayana himself viz. Naradi-Naara simhi-Vaaahi-Gaarudi and Markandeyi; he awarded three boons to humanity viz. to those who who stay put at any one of these Shilas; or who reside there for long; or who would perform darshana- sparsha- snaana and achamana. Besides the afore mentioned Shilas are also famed for performing snana- Narayana puja are Kapala Tirtha, Brahma Tirtha, Vasudhara Titrha, Pancha Tirtha, Soma Tirtha, Dwasashaaditya Tirtha, Bramha kunda, Meru Tirtha, Dandapushkarini Tirtha, Ganga sangama, Dharma Kshetra and so on. Besides these Sciptures descriptions on Badari Maha Kshetra are given in Devi Bhagavata, Varahokta and so on. Hardly a few steps down the Main Entrance of Badarinath Mandir is the Adi Shankara Temple in which Linga Murti Shiva is situated and futher down is Adi Kedara Mandir; in fact, it is stated that these two be first visited before Badari Narayana beneath which is situated the Tapta Kunda or the Agni Tirtha; right nearby are the famed Pancha Shilas viz. Garuda Shila, Narada Shila, Markandeya Shila, Nara Simha Shila and Varaahi Shila. From Tapta Kunda where Yatris enjoy a refreshing bath in hot water of about 45 degree heat and then reach the most renowned Brahma Kapala a fairly large platform signifying Lord Brahma’s skull of one of his heads relieved by Lord Shiva as he was annoyed with Brahma as the latter got attracted to the beauty of his own creation Saraswati fit to be his own daughter. It is at this Kapala Vimochana Tirtha where Brahma performed severe Tapasya for atonement of his sin that yatris profer Pitru Shraddhas. From Brahma Kunda as Ganga flows and Alaknanda takes a turn from the mountains alongside Brahma Kapala.Then there are Atri-Anasuya Tirtha, Indrapada Tirtha, Mata Mandir, Nara Narayana Parvata, Chakra Tirtha, Satpatha and so on. From Satpatha upward the mountainous terrain is extremely difficuld to ascend and once one could do so would find a circular shaped Soma Tirtha might be visible but probably as a sheet of ice and its vicinity one might find if fortunate the Nara Narayana Mountain. On way from Satpatha to Badarinath occurs Alaknanda’s another bank and Vasudhara which is about five miles from Badarinath is the Sangam Place of Sarastati leads to Keshava Prayag and Manaagram where Veda Vyas cave is accessible inside which Vyas scripted Eighteen Maha Puranas; a few meters away is situated Ganesh Guha /cave. The Legendary background states that while Veda Vyasa was mentally scripting the Puranas, Ganesha agreed to write with his trunk on Taala Patras on the mutual agreement that Vyasa should pronounce in a non stop flow while Ganesha should write down in a non stop manner too simultaneously with no slips or interruptions on either side! There is also the Muchukunda Guha or cave: here again a legendary background is attributed to it: Muchukunda of Iskshvaku Dynasty helped Devas in a tough battle with Daityas under the commandership of Lord Kartikeya; being pleased with the help, Kartikeya asked Muchukunda for a boon and the latter desired to have long rest. Kartikeya granted long rest which lasted from the then Treta Yuga end to Dwapara Yuga and blessed that Lord Vishnu would assume the Avatara as Krishna and till when he would enjoy uniterrupted sleep and would find Krishna but on opening his eyes a Daitya called Kala Yavana would be burnt to death. Exactly on these lines, Krishna, when faced with a battle with Kala Yavana and Jarasandha, misled Kalayanana to chase Krishna and led into the same mountain Cave near Dwaraka where Muchukunda was sleeping and in darkness of the cave made Kalayavana trample Muchukunda who was disturbed and with vision Kalayavana was burnt to death. On recognising Krishna Muchukunda prayed to him profusely and Krishna instructed Muchukunda to stay at the Cave near Managram near Badari Tirtha!

Deva Prayaga: From Rishikesh to Devaprayag is 28 km. approx. possible by motor cars etc. where River Bhagirathi the Ganga flow from Gangottari and Alaknanda from Badarinath merge together and is just less than a km. ascent away from Lakshmana Jhoola at Rishikesh adjoining three mountains known as Gruddrachal, Narasimhachal and Dashyaradachal. This is also called Sudarshana Kshetra popular for offering Pitru shraaddha and Pitru pinda dana. This is the straight run to Badarinath.

Kedarnath: Vamana Purana explained the Origin of Kedara Kshetra vividly: Maha Deva performed deep and extensive tapasya on the top of Himalayas to refresh himself as also for Loka Kalyan or to ensure propitiousness to the entire Universe. During the Tapasya, there were fiery sparks from his ‘jatajutas’or the thick layers of his hair and fell as huge and heavy boulders on Earth. From the boulders that fell, Kedara Tirtha got materialised and Rishis commenced to reside there and by the grace of Mahadeva a Shiva Linga got materialised. Yatris visited the Kshetra atleast for six months a year since it was difficult and unworthy of stay due to heavy snow and cold. Mahadeva blessed and granted fulfillment of devotees who observed fastings, snana, daana, homa, japa and pitru shraddhas and worship and their acts resulted in multiplier returns. In fact Devas came to worship the Shiva Lingan aftertaking holy dips in Kalindi River (Yamuna) the daughter of Surya Deva. There after Maha Deva disappeared deep inside the depths of the River for a very long time and various Lokas and Samudras got disturbed and even Nakshatras dropped down from the Sky. Devas approached Maha Vishnu in Yoga Nidra on Ksheera Sagara. Meanwhile a Danava named Mura, who was the son of Kashyapa Muni and Danu the daughter of Daksha Prajapati, performed such unusual Tapasya to Brahma and secured a peculiar boon that whosoever would touch would die. Deva and all other Celestial Beings like Gandharva, Yakshaadis got rattled and Mura challenged Yama Dharma Raja who in turn directed him to challenge Jagannadha Chatur Murti resting on the Ocean of Milk. Danava Mura reached Jagannadha who asked Mura to enter into a duel. Mura never expected this defiant reply and got confused with Vishnu Maya and muttered: ‘how, where and who’. Swifly enough, Sudarshana Chakra sliced off the neck of Mura thus earning the encomium of Murari. It was at that juncture that Devas arrived at Ksheera Sagara stating that Maha Deva’s whereabouts were unknown. Vishnu along Devas enquired of Devi Parvati, Ganesha, Kumara, Nandi and so on. Then he instructed Devas to observe Tapta Kruccha Vrata for three days each by consuming hot water, hot milk, hot ghee and on the last three days only Vahu bhakshana followed each day by Abhishakas to Maha Linga at KedaraTirtha with sixty five pitchers of curd, thirtytwo pitchers of ghee, sixteen full of pitchers of Pancha gavya, eight ghadas of honey, two hundred pichers of Kalindi’s sacred water, one hundred eight pitchers of Gorochana, Kumkuma, chandana, butter as also puja of Mandara, Harashringara, Agaru, dhupa, naivedyas with the recitation of Rigvedantargata pada krama of Shata Rudreeya. At the end of such severe penances, Indra and Devas visioned a Unified Shiva-Vishnu Swarupa!! Having realised their folly that Shiva and Vishnu were one and the same, Devas and even Brahma moved back to Kurukeshetra and discovered Parama Shiva inside the water and hailed the Sthaanu Maha Deva and postrated before him to withdraw from the Tapasya and bless them all and the Lokas!

Most of the Yatris do not invariably halt over at the intermediate places like Gangotri, Yamunotri, Deva Prayag, etc. and after Haridwar and Rishikesh proceed to Badari/Kedar. This is particularly so since there is a motorable road from Jyoshimutt. It is in respect of those Yatris intending to visit Badrinath that halt at Jyoshimutt while those going to Kedar first prefer halting at Rudra Prayag and trek up to Kedar generally. Of course the context differs in respect of trekking from Rishikesh to either of the destinations first. From Deva Prayag to Srinagar-different from Srinagar of Kashmir-there is a Kamaleshwar Maha Deva Mandir and the legend states that Devi Durga terminated a cruel Kolasura with her ‘Dhanush’(Bow and arrow) and there still is a bow shaped Dhanush Tirtha; Lord Rama worshipped Devi Durga here with Sahasra Kamalas or thousand lotuses but Shankara hid the thousandth lotus but Rama replaced it with his right eye in the worship unhesitatingly! From Srinagar to Rudra Prayag just away by a mile is the famed and picturesque Sangam of Alaknanda and Mandakini Rivers.It is at this point, that the ways to Badari and Kedar depart from each other where Sage Narada is stated to have eulogised Parama Shiva with his prowess in ‘Sangeeta’ where a Shiva Mandir is in place. From Rudra Prayag to Kedarnath the path along Mandakini are the places named Chatouli / Suryaprayag or Surya Deva’s meditation point- Agastya Muni Mandir-Chhota Narayana mandir with Rudraksha trees- Chandrapuri with Chandrashekhara-Durga Mandir-Bhiri with Bhim Mandir-Gupta Kashi where King Banasura the son of Bali Chakravarti of Vamanavatara fame and Banasura’s daughter Usha signified by Ushimutt nearby and Usha’s husband was Aniruddha the son of Lord Krishna and Devi Rukmini. Gupta Kashi is also the abode of Ardha-Naareshwara Shiva seated on Nandi Deva and there is a flow of Kunda or pond nearby stated to be a mix of Ganga and Yamuna. In Nala, Lalitha Devi Mandir is popular and this Devi was worshipped by King Nala. Narayana koti just away by a mile from Nala on the banks of Saraswai River are Narayana Mandir and Kalimutt the latter as worshipped by Kalidas the Scripter of Abhijnana Shakuntala, Kumara Sambhava, Megha sandesa and such immortal classics in Sanskrit. Maikhanda which is two miles from Narayana koti is known for Mahishasura Mardini Mandir. Rampur is the next halt three miles away to the trekkers good for night rest with woollen blankets etc even to carry and return basis to Kedarnath. Up the mountain top at Rampur by a four mile difficult terrain is situated the Mandir of Triyugi Narayana with his two consorts Bhu Devi and Lakshmi Devi; this is right along with River Saraswati with its four Maha Kundas called Brahma Kund, Rudra Kund, Vishnu Kund and Saraswati kund. It is stated that Achamana, Snaana, Marjana, Tarpana be performed at the respective Kundas. At the Triyugi Narayana there is an Akhanda Dhuni or Uninterrupted Fire Place where Homa Prakriyas are continuously performed and twigs are fed in the Agni Kunda. Despite the high significance of this Triguni Narayana Mandir which is very tiring to reach, yatris of normal stamina excuse themselves and avoid the peak height, and proceed further to Soma Prayag and reach Gouri Kund. The major halt before the eight and odd mile ascent up to Kedarnath is Gauri Kunda where there is a natural hot water Kund to refresh the yatris, in which, as stated, Devi Parvati who was born here had her baths.

Kedarnath is one of the Dwadasha Shiva Maha Linga Abodes as these are as follows: Kedaro Himavat prushthe Dakinyaam Bhimashankarah, Vaaranaasyaamcha Vishwesraambako Gautami tatey/ Saurashtre Somanathaswa Shrishaile Mallikarjunah, Ujjainaam Maha kaalaa Omkarecha Amareshwarah/ Vaidyanadhascha Bhumo Nagesho Daarukaananey, Setubandhe cha Ramesho Ghrushneshwara Shiva Lingovtara Dwadashashakametcchambo Paramatmana/ (Nandishwara described in Shiva Purana the Most Celebrated Twelve Jyotirlingas of Maha Deva as follows: Kadarnath in Himalayas (Uttaranchal), Bhima Shankar in Dakinya (Near Pune in Maharashtra), Vishwaswara inVaranasi (Uttar Pradesh), Triambika on the banks of River Gautami (Maharashtra), Somanath (Saurashtra / Gujarat), Mallikarjuna in Srishaila,(Andhra Pradesh), Mahakala, Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), Amareshwara at Omkara (Madhya Pradesh), Vaidyanatha at Deogarah (Bihar)/ Parli (Maharashtra); Nagesha near Dwaraka (Gujarat) or Naganadh (Aoudhya, Maharashtra)/ Jageshwara near Almora, (Uttaraakhanda); Rameshwara (Tamilmadu) and Ghrishneshwara, Aurangabad, Maharashtra). References to the Dwadasha Lingas shall be notified in the following pages ahead at respective Tirthas as relevant). Kedar Linga is known from times immemorial: In Krita or Satya Yuga, Maharshi Upamanyu is stated to have worshipped Kedara Linga and attained salvation; in Dwapara Yuga Pandavas are stated to have performed Tapasya. Bhagavan MahaDeva assumed the form of Mahisha or a Buffalo and confused Pancha Pandavas at the same time as they were engrossed in Tapasya at different locations of Kedar now reputed as Pancha Kedar by displaying different body parts of the Mahisha viz. at Tunganath displaying hands, Rudranath the face of Mahisha, Mada Maheshwara displaying naabhi or middle portion, and Kalpeshwar his ‘jataajuta’or the coarse head hair; the Prishtha bhaga or the hind body part is stated to have displayed at Kedar nadha proper. One legendary account states that Bhima of Pandavas in the course of his Tapasya got disturbed by the appearance of the hind part of the Buffalo, chased it and tried to forcibly hold its tail but the ever potent Maha Deva eluded him and succumbed with severe injuries. Pashupati Nath Temple in Khatmandu in Nepal is stated to have displayed the Maha Mahisha’s head portion. In Kedar there is no built up Murti swarupa as such but a raised and reclining dome basically a trikona mountain black stone is worshipped with ‘Abhishekas’or oblations with Milk, flowers, fruits, honey, agarbattis or perfumed sticks and so on. Kedar Mandir appears very oriental and typically mountainous with imposing locale surrounded by places like Bhrigupantha (Maghna ganga), Ksheera ganga called Chora thadi thaal, Vasuki thaal, Gugukund, Bhairava Shila.The Mandir displays Pancha Pandava Murtis, Bhima cave and Bhimashila. The half broken exit gate is fabled as the Sacred Gate from which Adi Shankara baled out and flew up to Kailasa. Beatuful white stone life size idols of Shankaraacharya addressing his disciples in the rear portion hall of the Kedar Mandir is in place. Apart from the Murtis of Pandavas, those of Usha and Aniruddha, Lord Krishna, Shiva Parvati and so on too. Around the Mandir in a Parikrama are noticed Amrita Kund, Ishana Kund, Hamsa kund, Retasa Kund, and such other Tirthas.

Most unfortunate havoc of torrential rains, floods, mountain quakes caused thousands of Pilgrims to perish from all over Bharata Desha recently. Indian Air Force deserves kudos for their endless helicopter sorties and saved countless Yatris and so did yeoman service by various Defence Forces and their Wings to have extended the trekkers. Happily the entire Bharat stood up as one to help the survivors as per one’s own resources and sincere assistance. May Bhagavan Shankara who assumed a spurt of momentary fury for whatever was his own reason but essentially of the nature of interminable mercifulness, take the victims in his own fold and bless them as Kailasa Vaasis!

Right on the expanse of Himalayas are Nanda Devi and Maha Mrityunjaya in the Gadhwal region. Mountain Nanda Devi’s top is the world’s highest Mount Everest named Gouri Shankar. Yatras are conducted to Gaurishankar every twelve years and enterprising men and woman do join the yatra coinciding Bhadrapada Sukla Saptami. On way are Nandakesari, Purna, Triveni Deval, Nandaapeeth etc. The Legend states that Bhagavati Nanda Devi uprooted several Asuras and purified herself by bathing in Rupkunda. Maha Mrityunjaya of Gadwal region again which is of some fifteen miles hike from Karna – ganga suffered a massive earth quake in the remote past at the time Adi Shankaraacharya in mid 18th century and a Shivaratri Festival has been celebrated there ever-since.

Sri V.D.N.Rao and Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham

Kamakoti.org presents the Essence of Puranas in English, condensed by Sri. V.D.N.Rao, devotee of Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. Compiled, Composed and Interpreted by V.D.N.Rao, Former General Manager, India Trade Promotion Organisation, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi Ministry of Commerce, Govt. of India The author can be contacted at [email protected]