Our Trip to Prayag/Varanasi and Gaya - Sept/Oct'09

Varanasi is said to be the oldest inhabited city in the world. There are supposed to be 2,000 temples in Varanasi. It is 125km east of Allahabad, on the bank of the Ganges.

Many older people come to Varanasi to die and to be burned at the burning ghats along the river. It is believed that anyone who dies in Varanasi attains moksha (liberation). It is said that being burned at Varanasi adds to the pious credits of someone, therefore many bodies are brought here to be cremated. Many widows come here to die.

The name Varanasi most likely stems from the two rivers, Varuna and Asi, which join the Ganges on the north and south borders of the city.

The Ganges, which normally flows southeast, reverses its course and flows north for a while at Varanasi, which is considered very auspicious. There is a five-mile parikrama path that goes around this sacred city. There are 81 bathing ghats and other holy kunds, or sacred tanks.

Now let me describe the Holy Yatra we undertook....

Thanks from the Ganga.
.


[Shri Mani Vadhyar of Varanasi with Family]
Our sincere thanks to our Shri Mani Vadhyaar and his family of Kashi, for having made this trip to Allahabad - Varanasi - Gaya a memorable one and making our trip ever so comfortable and satisfying in every way.


Preparations for our Varanasi Trip


We planned the trip to Allahabad, Varanasi and Gaya about three months before the actual date of departure i.e. 24.09.09. It was a long process and we charted out our itenarary in such a way and saw to it that we had a comfortable journey right from start to finish. There are many trains going to Varanasi from Chennai. We chose to go by Tamilnadu Express from Chennai and kept Delhi as our Base. From Delhi, we made arrangements to go to Prayag/Varanasi/Gaya and while in return, via Delhi to Chennai. As our trip was a week before Diwali, and since we anticipated rush, we purchased the tickets well in advance, both onward and return tickets.


We were 6 members on the whole i.e. Ramachandran and  Lalitha,[myself and my Husband]; Sankar and Uma [husband's sister and brother-in-law]; Venkataraman and wife Vijayalakshmi [husband's elder brother and wife]. Another brother of my husband [Jayashankar and family], could not make this trip due to his office/ work pressure. My husband's elder sister Chandra and brother-in-law, Advocate Balu, opted out of this trip since they have been to Kashi a few years back with their family members. We ofcourse, really missed them a lot, as they are always the most sought-after and enjoyable company to be with. 


Once our tickets were purchased and dates finalised, our next important assignement was to get in touch with our Sastrigal[Vadhyar] in Varanasi. My brother-in-law,Sankar, got in touch with our Vadhyar, Shri Palghat R. Subramanya Vadhyar[Alias] Mani Vadhyar, Address: "KERALA MUTT", B -4/59, Hanuman Ghat, Varanasi-221 001[U.P.] India. Ph: 0542-2311268 / 2275890. Shri Mani Vadhyar is known to us and this being the case, all the arangements got smoothly completed, to enable us to embark on this holy pilgrimage of ours. It is customary for the Vadhyar to arrange all facilities for pilgrims right from Allahabad, Varanasi and Gaya. Shri Mani Vadhyar assured to provide us good accommodation, food and also arrange transport and and most important, to perform pithru karyams there.



The Vadhyar also assists us in arranging and giving the contact name in Allahabad. and the Vadhyar's name [in Allahabad] being Shri. Prayagai S. Natesa Shastry, Theertha Prohit, Address: 116/95, Shiv Mutt & Sankar Mutt, Mori, Daraganj, Allahabad - 221 006. Ph: 0532-2500799. Once all these contact details were in hand, we had to take the next step which was purchasing of items for the various rituals/poojas, right from Allahabad/Kashi/Gaya. The items were listed out carefully for each family, and we started doing purchases. For Khasi Shraddham Dhoti for brahmana and Vadhyar: 9x5 -two Nos each, Gaya Shrraddham Dhoti for Gayawalis 9x5 five numbers [if mother is alive- four nos only]; Gaya Vadyar Dhoti 9x5 one no. Dhampathi Pooja: one set each of following: Dhoti 9x5 ; 9 yard saree with blouse piece, Mangalyam, metti, mookuthi -(one set each for one family, for Kashi). Extra blouse pieces with kannadi seepu manjal kungumam valayal about 15 sets[approx]. For those of you who are willing to afford, and depending on your budget, can buy the following items also for the various Dhanams. [ this ofcourse, depends on each individual's wish[optional], on whether to perform these Dhanams or not] For Dheepa Dhanam: 31 Brass agals with oil & thiri; for payasa Dhanam Tumblers: 12 nos For Dhasa Dhanam: Gold coin, silver coin, silver kinnam, 9x5 veshti, Shawl/porvai, Kudai, Padarakshai, Pithalai Theertha sombu, Eversilver Milk Pathiram, Eayam poosiya Curd Pathiram, Visiri, Sandhana Kattaiu, Bell, Pusthagam. 


YATRA  - The purpose of a Kashi Yatra is to perform Vedic rites for our ancestors. The Vadhyars were extremely helpful to explain various nuances of rituals. We performed all the rites that are traditionally performed during a Kashi Yatra. I wish to share this with all of you in the hope that it may be of reference material for future. I have also provided all the contact numbers of some important people there who will be able to arrange everything for anyone who desires to perform these rituals, as was done for us, while on this holy pilgrimage. 


Holy Yatra Begins...... 


After a day of sight-seeing and rest in Delhi, we left for Prayag[Allahabad] from Delhi, by Prayag Express departing Delhi at 9.00 pm. Being a prestigious train, our journey was most comfortable and we reached Allahabad at 6.30AM, ofcourse, after a good night's sleep.



Prayagai S.Natesa Shastry sent his guide, one Mr. Dheeraj, to Allahabad Rly Station to pick us up,along with a vehicle for commuting. It took us about half an hour to reach the Vadhyar's house. Once we entered the Shiva Mutt, we were well received by the Vadhyar himself. He of course gave us all the instructions [in fact,charted out our timetable] of our various rituals to be done for that day. We got ourselves ready soon in the room provided for our stay. [It is customary for the Vadhyar at Shiva Mutt to provide accomodation for all the pilgrim parties who visit Allahabad to perform these rites]. The Vedic rituals began at Allahabad at around 8 am. The rituals [even the more extensive ones] take about half a day only. [early morning to lunch] Day 1 [ 28.09.2009] Day of Arrival - Allahabad [Triveni Sangam] A brief note on the Triveni Sangam: Allahabad is the city where the three greatest rivers of India meet, and continue their journey further. The Ganga weaves her way down from the Himalayas from Gangotri, passing places made sacred by her arrival, like Rishikesh and Haridwar, and passing through the industrial city of Kanpur, before arriving at Allahabad to join her sisters as she makes her way to Kashi. Yamuna also begins her journey in the Himalayas, at Yamunotri, and passes through Mathura and Brindavan, made more sacred by the association of Krishna, and finally arrives at Allahabad where she joins the Ganga to merge her identity with her. Saraswati arrives at Allahabad from god alone knows where, for she is an underground river, who remains unseen to mankind, making her presence felt at certain, extremely special places. She renders the holy Ganga and Yamuna even more pure, more sacred by her association with them at Allahabad. The place where these 3 rivers merge is the Triveni Sangam, a place where thousands and thousands congregate to pay their respects to the rivers and pray for their well being and forgiveness for their sins. 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. During the monsoon, when 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. I was told[by our Guide], that during the monsoon, most devotees bathe at the riverbank for safety, while the more ardent ones who are willing to pay for the risk involved go to the confluence in a boat, where a shallow area is created by the presence of a number of boats with a kind of net suspended in between, and bathe there. We went to the confluence of the rivers by a boat. A sort of platform had been constructed there, from which we climbed down into waist deep water. We had a wonderful time bathing in the river. Felt like we could have stayed in the water for ages, if it hadn’t been for the rites and rituals we had to perform back at the mutt where we were staying. It was a wonderful experience, an experience one should never miss in his/her lifetime! 


A number of rituals are traditionally performed at Allahabad, mainly for appeasing our ancestors. There are a number of Mutts there who perform the rites. As at Kashi, there is no standard charge, but varies according to the rites one wants to perform and your budget. 


An interesting ritual performed at the Sangam is that of Veni Dhaanam. This is a practice followed by married women for the long life of their husbands. The husband is supposed to comb and plait the wife’s hair and after decorating it with flowers, the end of the plait is cut off and offered to the rivers. Some men even shave off their hair/beard and offer it also to the rivers. This procedure is performed while travelling by boat to the Sangam and the hair is offered along with flowers, etc at the confluence. There is nothing interesting in itself about this. What is interesting is that hair, being light normally floats on water, but at this place, the hair sinks straight to the bottom. Though hundreds of people offer their hair everyday, there is not a single strand of hair seen floating on the river. Of course, there could and will be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but whatever it is, it gives us proof that nature is a wonderful thing….. Call it God or simply nature, it is indeed inspiring! The Vadhyar in Allahabad deputes a Panda, who waits near the boat for our arrival and does the above rituals at the Triveni Sangaman. The Vadhyar also instructs us on how much to pay at all the places during the said rituals. The charge we paid for the Panda is Rs.25/- [or 30], depending on your satisfaction and budget. Very reasonalble infact. 


The temple of Veni Madhava (one of the trio along with Sethu Madhava and Bindu Madhava) is a little way inside the city. It is a small temple, with a small idol of Vishnu representing Veni Madhava. According to the legend painted on the walls of the temple, there was once a rakshasa who troubled all the Devas. Narada sought an audience with him to find out his weakness, and found that he suffered from a skin infliction. He told the Asura to bathe in the Triveni Sangam at Allahabad, which the Asura proceeded to do. Amazed at finding himself cured, he wanted to possess the 3 great rivers who had cured him, and began drinking them up! When the rivers pleaded with Vishnu, he arrived in the form of Veni Madhava and killed him, restoring the rivers to their rightful place. 


The Shayana Anjaneya temple is an important one right on the banks of the river. Here, the idol of Hanuman is larger than life, carrying Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders. Only, the idol is lying down. There are many stories about this temple. According to one, hanuman stepped over the rivers without their permission, angering them. They rose up and threw him to the ground, and crushed his ego. According to the locals, every year, the river rises and covers the whole idol before going back, which they consider absolute proof of this story. Another legend mentions that this is where hanuman emerged with Rama and Lakshmana after defeating the king of Patala, the netherworld, Ahi Ravana. Whatever the story, the temple is simple and good one to visit. 


The Adi Shankara Vimana Mandapam, a temple built by the Kanchi Mutt is right next to this temple. This is a 3 storeyed temple with idols and sculptures of various Gods and Goddesses. Indeed, it is worth a visit. Our Guide, Dheeraj, was most helpful throughout our stay, right from Allahabad to Gaya and back. 


On completion of the Rituals, we had a sumptuos meal at the Shiva Mutt itself.[There is a Cook for this purpose]. We were tired and hungry after performing the rituals and hence did full justice to the meal served to us.


After a satisfying day of having performed all the rituals at Allahabad, we bid farewell to our Vadhyar Shri S. Natesa Shastry and thanked him for having made our stay most comfortable and pleasant and ofcourse, needless to say, most satisying!. At around 2 pm in the afternoon, we started our jouney to Varanasi from Allahabad [by road] , by the car[Tata Sumo] rented to us by our Mani Vadhyar of Varnasai. Charges for all these types of transportation is ofcourse extra and does not include in the package[Vadhyar Sambhavanai]. Depending on your budget, you could opt for whatever type of car you prefer[A.C or Non-AC].


Enroute, we did some sight-seeing and saw the following places of interest in Allahabad. The Allahabad fort, on the banks of the Yamuna, where we take a boat to go to the Sangam. The Bharadvaj Ashram, where Sage Bharadvaj lived Anand Bhavan- the birthplace of our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. 


The following Religious Rituals were performed by us at Allahabad: 


1. Anugnai (Sankalpam)

2. Vighneshwara Puja (Prayers to Ganesha)

3. Prayschitta Sankalpam (atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly)
4. Veni Dhaanam (Women offer a part of their hair to the river praying for the long life of their husbands. The husband plaits the wife’s hair, decorates it with flowers and cuts off the tip of the plait and offers it to the river. It is an interesting fact[as mentioned earlier] that while hair normally floats on water, at the Sangam; it immediately sinks to the river bed. Though almost all married women offer their hair here, there is not a single strand found floating on the river!!) Enjoyed the boat-ride on the whole. 
5. Manal brought from Rameswaram is dissolved in Triveni Sangam. 
6. Triveni Sangam Snanam (husband and wife bathe together at the confluence of the 3 rivers, holding hands. One has to go to the confluence in a boat. A sort of platform has been erected at the point for the convenience of pilgrims) 
7. Hiranya Shrraddham 
8. Pinda Pradaanam, Kshetra Pindam, Tarpanam 
9. Brumayagnam 
10. Venimadhavar Dharisanam 
11. Vada Vrutcha Dharisanam 
12. To collect Pure Ganges water from Triveni Sangam for carrying back to home. 
13. Aram Ghat Hanumar Dharisanam 
14. Kanchi Kamakodi Temple visit


From Allahabad to Varanasi....



After a good 5 to 6 hrs jouney, we reached Varanasi at 7 pm. We were accommodated in a newly built house/apartment called Kerala Mutt of Shri Mani Vadhyars', in Hanuman Ghat, which is a two storeyed building with a mittam for drying clothes & marble flooring. Each floor of the house has 5 rooms, two big double rooms and the other 3 are single rooms with Varandhas for drying clothes. Each floor has a common bathroom with western toilet facility. The rooms had pillows, jamukkalam and mats and cots. Extra cots in each room is provided in case we need them. Though a new construction, it is well maintained and neat.



As soon as we arrived, our rooms were alloted to us. Good, hot Chappathis for our night tiffin was waiting for us on our arrival at the Mutt, which was arranged by our Mani Vadhyar, prepared by his Cook, one Balasubramanian. Incidentally, this Cook, Balasubramanian, is the one engaged [works for Mani Vadhyar] for preparing of lunch/dinner etc etc for all the pilgrims coming to Varanasi on this holy pilgrimage. We could see his utmost sincerity and dedication in the work he was rendering to so many of the pilgrims. Very applaudable indeed!



I should mention here that during our entire stay in Varanasi, Balasubramanian [Cook], provided us timely and ofcourse very tasty meals/tiffin and on all occassions, we did FULL JUSTICE to the meals provided!

Since we were all dead tired after our road journey, refreshing ourselves quickly, we had our night tiffin. Shri Mani Vadhyar was not in station the day we arrived and hence, his brother-in-law /caretaker and assistant, Rangan, briefed us on the various aspects of our stay and programme for the next three days in Kashi.



The next day i.e. 29.09.09, my brother-in-law, Sankar and wife Uma, performed his father's Shrardham. The rest of us were free to go round the place and enjoy. Since we had the full day to ourselves, we went to the nearby shops and got the taste of the road-side lassi/curd etc which we found to be very, very tasty. I should mention here of the road-side shops selling poori/sabji and Jilabies...really mouth-watering and one cannot resist in asking for a second helping... We also tasted some hot..hot vadais from the Madras Hotel/Coffee Shop, near to our Mani Vadhyar's house in Hanuman Ghat! Did not miss out on the cycle-rickshaw ride through the narrrow streets of Varanasi. Wow! What an experience...!!!


One should not forget to mention here about the famous Seitiar Kade in Kashi, which is a very famous landmark in Hanuman Ghat. It is in this shop that one can buy the "Gangai Sombhu" for filling up the pure ganges water collected by one and all [in plastic cans] from the Triveni Sangam on to the Sombhus. There are different sizes of Gangai Sombhus available and you can choose the size and quantity according to your budget and convenience in carrying them back to your place. The price is reasonable too. There are lots more of other eye-catching brass items available in this shop which you will wnat to take home. It is here that we bought all our Gangai Sombhus'. The shop authorities see to it that they are well-sealed and sealing is ofcourse, free of cost.


As you enter this small shop, one cannot but stop to gaze in atonishment and wonder at the "Vigraham of Annapoorani Goddess", about 2 1/2 to 3 ft in height, decorated in all its splendor! Very pleasing to our eyes indeed! On enquiring about this beautiful Annapoorani Vigraham, the Proprietor says that this Vigraham is not less than 150 years old!! Nodoubt a true master-piece.




Another interesting piece of info that I could gather about this shop[from the proprietor's wife] is that they are originally"Shettys" from Bangalore and not "Chettiyars" as all the local people pronounce the name of the shop. This word "Shetty" has slowly, in the long run, come to be known/ pronounced as "Chettiyar Shop" by the local people and all the tourists who come to Varanasi! Hence anybody wanting to know/go to this shop can ask for the "Chettiyar Kadai", as it is called!


Rituals in Kashi 


The rituals at Kashi take place for over three days – the first day for the Maha sangalpam, the second day for Manikarnika Parvarupa [by doing homam] Shrraddham and the third day for the Pancha Teertha Shrraddham. Then, one goes to Gaya and performs the rituals there, and returns to Kashi for the Ganga Puja, Dampathi Puja and then visits the temples at Kashi.
Day 1 Kashi [Varanasi] [30.09.2009]

1. Anugnai [Sankalpam]
2.Vighneshwara Puja [Prayers to Ganesha]
3. Poorvanga Sangalpam
4. Navagraha Preethi Dhanam
5. Poorvanga Dasa Dhaanam
6. Naandhi Shrraddham
7. Vaishnava Shrraddham
8. Punyaa Vajanam [purification ritual]
9. Maha Sankalpam
10. Prayschitta Sankalpam [atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly]
11. Pala Daanam
12. Mahathasirvatham
13. Uttaranga Godaanam
14. Chakra Theertha Snanam
15. Manikarnika Teertha Snanam


Day 2 Kashi [Varanasi] [01.10.2009]

1. Manikarnika Hiranyaroopa Theertha Shrraddham : This is done in Parvanroopam[Homam Valarthu] Two Brahmanal Bhojanam[Those who are budgeted can do this Hiranya roopam also]
2. Anna roopa theertha Shrraddham
3. Pinda Pradhanam
4. Shethra Pinda Dhanams
5. Thila Tharpanam


Day 3 Kashi [Varanasi] 02.10.2009]

1. Pancha Teertha Yatra [We went by a motor boat to these 5 Ghats and performed the rituals] If the persons are more, [I was told by our Ravi Vadhyar who assisted us], that two boats are engaged-the motor boat would tow two ordinary rowing boats. One boat exclusively for Rug Vedis. One boat to prepare avis and make pindams. The main motor boat for performing hiranya Shrraddham. In our case, since we were only 6 members, we took only one motor boat and performed all the following rituals.
1. Assi Ghat (Haridwar Teertham) – this is where the Assi river merges with the Ganga. Performing the rites here is believed to give one the fruits of performing the rites at Haridwar.

2. Dashashwamedha Ghat (Rudra Sarovara Teertham) – this is the place where Brahma performed 10 Ashwamedha Yagnas, and hence it is considered sacred to perform the rites.

3. Trilochana Ghat or varana Ghatt [Vishnu Paada Udaka Teertham]

4. Pancha Ganga Ghat [Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kirana, Doodhapappa- Sangam]; Bindu Madhava Temple

5. Manikarnika Ghat [Manikarnika Teertham, Chakra Pushkarni Teertham] Shethra pinda dhanams in all 5 ghatts, thila tharpanam and Bruma yagnam.



From Varanasi to Gaya



After our lunch, we left in the late afternoon by about 2.45 pm from Varanasi by road [A/C-Tata Sumo] to Gaya. We reached Gaya at 7.30 pm. On the way, we went to see Thulasi Archanai, Sandhana kappu to Vishnu Padham. We also went to Bodh Gaya enroute to Gaya [will narrate our experiences of Bodh Gaya in my latter section/paragraphs]



Day 4 - Gaya [Gaya Shrardham] [03.10.2009]

Gaya being located in, is a Shrraddha Bhoomi. The place where we were asked to stay was Karnataka Bhavan, but due to the powercut[almost half of the day it is told that there is no power supply in Gaya] and the climbing of steps[about 50] in the dark, we opted to book Hotel rooms nearby. The only good Hotel nearby was Hotel Gharana about half an hour's drive from Karnataka Bhavan. We experienced continuous power cuts, no sun- light in bathrooms, inadequate water in Gaya. We were also told Phalguni river is having knee deep water only and only 'Prokshanam' is possible.

Gaya is a holy place revered by Hindus and Buddhists alike. While to Hindus, it is the footprint of Vishnu (the Vishnu Padam), the Akshaya Vatam and the chance of performing the Vedic rites not just for 3 generations of ancestors, but anyone and everyone that attracts them to Gaya; for Buddhists it is the sacred Banyan tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Indeed the regular influx of Buddhists from all over the world has made Bodh Gaya a tourist spot in Bihar, and a tourist attraction with all kind of facilities, something like an oasis in the heart of a desert!



Gaya is all about legends, and there are legends connected to every temple there and for every rite that is performed.



I should let you know here [for those of you who do not know] the significance of the name of the place. 'Gaya'. According to the legend, there was once an Asura named Gayasuran, who was a great devotee of Vishnu. When the Devas couldn’t bear the trouble he caused any more, they went to Vishnu and asked for a way out. Vishnu approached Gayasuran and told him that He wanted to perform a special yagna, and wanted a special place to perform it. Gayasuran offered his heart, and Vishnu accepted.



The yagna began, and soon, the fumes and the heat became unbearable, and Gayasuran started succumbing to it. Vishnu asked him for his final wish, and Gayasuran asked that the place he died would be immortalized by his name, and hence the name ‘Gaya’. Second, he asked that people should be allowed to perform the sacred rites (Pinda pradaanam) not only for their ancestors, but for anyone- family, distant relatives, friends and foes, non-Hindus, pets, unclaimed bodies- in short, for any dead human/creature they could think of.
This remains the only place where Pinda pradaanam is carried out in this manner. In fact, I am told that in a normal Shrraddham , 6 pindams are made (two for each generations which are no more); in a Teertha Shrraddham , as at Kashi, Allahabad, Rameswaram, etc., 16 pindams are offered, including all ancestors on both parents side; in the Gaya Shrraddham, 64 pindams are offered, of which 16 are for the mother alone, since she carries her child for 9 whole months within her body, 16 for the ancestors, and 16 for all others as I have mentioned earlier.
Of course, all this is a matter of faith and belief, but what is there in life if we don’t have faith?



Anyway, once Vishnu granted his wishes, he stepped on him with his foot, leaving a footprint at this holy place, and granting liberation to Gayasuran. It is this footprint which is worshipped as the Vishnu Padam. For the information of devotees, I must mention that for a fee of Rs.50/- an imprint of the Padam is taken on a muslin cloth and given. This is to be kept in the Puja room and is considered very auspicious.



The Pandas[priests at the temple], ofcourse have the habit of pouncing on all the devotees to extract as much money as possible. So one should be careful in dealing with them. It is best not to carry your purse with lot of cash, lest you may land in trouble. It is advisable to carry limited cash only.


1. Phalguni [Falguni] Teertha Snana Maha Sangalpam 
2. Phalguni [Falguni] Teertha Snanam by way of bringing water from the river in sombu and prokshanam 
3. Phalguni Hiranya Shrraddham [this is the traditional Shrraddham performed on the banks of any sacred river, here the Falguni.] 
4. Shethra Pinda dhanam[17] [given to cow later] 
5. Thila tharpanam 
6. Vishnu Paada Hiranya Shrraddham 
7. Pinda prathanam [64 Pindams for those who have lost mother also; if mother alive 48 pindams] 
8. Shethra Pinda Dharisanam at Vishnu Patham 
9. Mathru Shodacee[not applicable to those whose mother is alive] 
10. Akshaya Vatam Anna/Hiranya Shrraddham [with anna Shrraddham ] with homam 11. Akshaya Vatam Pinda Pradaanam 
12. Shethra Pinda dhaanam 
13. Mathru Shodacee[not applicable to those whose mother is alive] 
14. Thirupthi Dhakshinai : To ask Gaya Brahmans if they are satisfied [according to legend, the Brahmins at Gaya are not easily satisfied and it is a tradition to ask them anyway, in an attempt to satisfy them]. Acharya sambhavana [payment of the fees to the pundit] 
15. Saka-Pathra-Ful- Dharisanam[Oru kai-Ilai-Pazham viduthal] 
16. Bhodhi Vruksha Dharisanam The next legend concerns the Falguni (or Falgu) river. There is knee deep water in the river at Gaya, though apparently, there is water upstream as well as downstream. It is clear that there is water under the ground, because, even as one digs into the ground with ones fingers, water appears. This is apparently because of a curse on the river. The story goes that Rama, along with his brothers and Sita, came to Gaya to perform the sacred rites for his father, Dasaratha. When the brothers were bathing in the river, Sita was sitting on the banks, playing with the sand. Suddenly, Dasaratha appeared out of the sand, and asked for the Pindam, saying he was hungry. Sita asked him to wait till his sons returned, so that she could give him the traditional Pindam of rice and til. He refused to wait, asking her to give him pindams made of the sand in her hand. Having no other option, she gave him the Pindam he desired with five witnessesthe Akshaya Vatam, the Falguni River, a cow, a Tulsi plant and a Brahmin. Soon, Rama returned and started the rituals. In those days apparently, the ancestors would arrive in person to collect their share, and when Dasaratha did not appear, they wondered why. Sita then told them what had happened, but Rama could not believe that his father would accept pindams made of sand. Sita now mentioned her witnesses, and asked them to tell Rama the truth. Among the five, only the Akshaya Vatam took her side and told the truth, while the others lied, trying to take Rama’s side. In her anger, Sita cursed all of them thus:



The following are the Religious Rites [one should] we performed at Gaya:

1. the Falguni river henceforth would have no water at Gaya;

2. the Cow would no longer be worshipped from the front as all others are- only its backside would be worshipped;
3..there would be no more Tulsi plants at Gaya , and

4. the Gaya Brahmins would never be satisfied, they would always be hungry and crave for more and more.

5. She then blessed the Akshaya Vatam saying that all who came to Gaya would perform the Pinda pradaanam at the Akshaya Vatam too.


Other temples in the vicinity are the Sakshi Gopal temple and the Mangala Gowri Temple, which is among the Shakti peethams. By the time Shrraddham was over, it was about 4.30 pm. We then had lunch at around 5pm and we left Gaya around 6 pm. We visited Bodh Gaya enroute to Gaya. We after a safe journey, finally, reached Varanasi around 11.30 Pm. 


The roads were excellent -thanks to National Highway Authority roads improvement programme of Govt. of India. Twice we stopped by the roadside, to have a cup of coffee/tea, to refresh ourselves. On the whole a very staisfying trip to Gaya indeed!


Our Bodh Gaya Visit 


We worship Dhakshinamurthy,Guru or preceptor. A preceptor is more than a teacher, for he not only teaches us things that extends our knowledge, but also those that enrich our lives, and make out life worth living. One of these was the Buddha. Whether we consider Him simply as a Buddhist guru, or the ninth avatar of Vishnu, it remains a fact that He was one of the greatest teachers of all time, and his legacy lives on today in the hearts of millions, some his followers, some simply his admirers. This is where Buddha came in quest of knowledge, and where he finally was enlightened. This is, truly, the birth place of Buddhism. There are, in all, seven sacred places for Buddhists, all associated with the life of Buddha.



These are:

1. Lumbini – his birthplace, now in Nepal 
2. Kapilavastu – his kingdom, also in Nepal 
3. Bodh Gaya – where he attained enlightenment, in Bihar 
4. Sarnath – where he gave his first discourse, in UP 
5. Shravasti – where he taught many of his students, near Lucknow 
6. Rajgir – where he loved when he fell ill, in Bihar, 80 Kms from Gaya 
7. Kushinagar – where he breathed his last, in Bihar.


Buddha spent 6 weeks at Gaya. The first week he spent under the Bodhi tree, the second inside the temple, the third near a lake (it is said that when he placed a foot on the water, a lotus appeared under it), the fourth week in the area around the temple, the fifth under another Bodhi tree (which is no more- a pillar stands in its place) answering the questions of learned Brahmins, and the 6th week at the centre of the pond. It is believed that when a severe thunderstorm approached, Adisesha himself arrived to protect the Buddha, forming an umbrella over his head with his hoods. This is the reason Buddha is sometimes counted as the 9th avatar of Vishnu. There are over 50 temples at Bodh Gaya, all built by foreign Buddhists. The most important one however, remains the Maha Bodhi Temple, where the Bodhi tree stands. But we visited only the main temple. 


Bodhi Tree: 


This tree, though not the original one under which Buddha sat, is however, its descendant. The original tree was destroyed by the Mughals. A branch of the original tree had been taken to Sri Lanka by some Buddhist monks, and Ashoka ordered a branch of that tree to be brought and planted here. He himself took care of this tree. This second one was cut down on the orders of Ashoka’s wife because she was jealous of the attention he paid to it. Nevertheless, he got a second branch from the Sri Lanka tree and planted it. This third one was destroyed during a cyclone, and another branch planted. The present tree is the 4th. It is an amazing thing that branches from the original tree flourish wherever they are planted, all over the world!



Explanations for the Religious terms:
* Shrraddham or performing the Vedic rites to appease one’s forefathers is of two types- Anna roopam and Hiranya roopam. Anna Shrraddham is where a certain number of Brahmins are invited, and are fed at the completion of the rituals. This is considered equivalent to feeding one’s ancestors. However, this is quite tedious, and sometimes expensive. Hence the second option, Hiranya Shrraddham, where the Brahmins are fed only symbolically. This is a quicker and cheaper alternative to the same rituals. At places like Kashi the pundits offer us the option of choosing which kind of ritual we would like to perform, depending on our time and budget. Naandhi and Vaishnava Shrraddham refer to the rites for appeasement of one’s ancestors and the Gods, respectively. * Pinda pradaanam is the ritual of offering food to three (in case of Gaya, more than that) generations of our ancestors. Balls of cooked rice and Til (sesame seeds), which are thus offered are called the pindams. * Dhaanam - Strictly meaning Charity, Daanam refers to the procedure of donating things to the Brahmins in the name of our ancestors. There is a long list of things that need to be given, starting from simple things like umbrellas, fans, and mats to more expensive things made of silver and gold. Among the more auspicious ones is the donation of a cow (Godhaanam) and land, both of which are usually done in symbolic terms. Poorvanga and Uttaranga Dhaanam refer to the things needed to be given at the beginning and end of the rituals respectively, while Dasa Dhaanam refers to a set of 10 things that need to be donated. * The Akshaya Vatam and the Vishnu Padam are the only two places where one can perform the Vedic rites not only for our forefathers, but for anyone, family, friends, acquaintances, whatever caste, religion or community they may belong to… and also for animals, our pets, abandoned bodies, etc.. This is the uniqueness of Gaya which draws thousands of people from all parts of India.


Day 5 Kashi [Varanasi] [04.10.2009] 


1. Ganga Puja [it is a tradition to bring back small sealed containers[Gangai Sombhu] of water from the Ganges and distribute it among our near and dear ones. One container is kept at home as it is considered sacred and one is taken to Rameswaram where it is used to perform Abhishekam to the lingam. All these containers are kept and prayed to before they are distributed.]



2. Dhampathi Pooja was performed. One set each of the following was offered to each of the three Dampathi's: Dhoti 9x5 ; 9 yard saree with blouse piece, Mangalyam, metti, mookuthi/Bangles, Manjal/Kumkum/Cheepu/Kannadi[Comb& Mirror][one set each]. Prayers are offered to an elderly married couple,along with two other Dampathis[since we were 3 couples], invoking them as Vishwanath and Annapurna).



On the whole, it was a very satisying Pooja for all of us. We later, also performed the Samaradhanai [normally this function is performed on finishing/coming back, after the holy Yatra]. So we decided on performing this Ritual while in Kashi itself. This was performed with 6 Brahmanas, followed by Bhojanam[lunch] for the 6 Brahmanas and us. Depending on your budgeting, Dakshnai is given to each of the Brahmanas, seeing to it that they are fully satisfied and happy.



3. Vadhyar SambhavanaiThis is performed after the Dampathi Pooja to the Main Vadhyar at Kashi, who is instrumental in making this trip worth the effort, right from A to Z. Depending on your budget, a good amount is offered as "Sambhavanai" to the Vadhyar. Normally, the amount works to Rs.8,000/- to 10,000/-. On being very much satisfied with the way in which our Shri Mani Vadhyar conducted/guided us in performing all the Rituals, right from Prayag/Varanasi & Gaya, a good sizable amount was offered as "Sambhavanai" to the Vadhyar.[each of the 3 couples separately]. It was really worth the money spent!



We also visited the following Temples in Varanasi: 


1. Dhundi Ganapathi 
2. Sozhiyamman Dharisanam 
3. Kala Bhairavar Dhaisanam(Kasi Kayiru Vanguthal) 
4. Bhanaras Hindu University- Birla Temple 
5. Kala Bhairavar Dhaisanam 


RAM NAGAR FORT 


Kashi might be the abode of the gods, but it also been ruled by various kings, who left their imprint on the city. The Raja Ghat on the river, for example, was built by one of them, and history tells us that one of the kings actually jumped from one of its high turrets while trying to escape the British troops during the mutiny, and actually succeeded! 


Ram Nagar Fort, Varanasi
The last remnant memory of the kings of Benares is the Ramnagar Fort and Palace on the opposite banks of the Ganga, in a section of which the present scion of the royal family still resides. The palace is about 15Kms away by road, and an auto takes about half an hour to reach there. One can also opt for a more interesting and relaxing option- that of taking a row boat to the palace across the river. I am told that the journey will take about a good one and a half hours, but the sheer bliss one can experience makes every minute worth it! The palace has now been converted into a museum, which closes around 4:30PM. If you want to have a leisurely stroll among the various antiquities displayed, make sure you keep at least 2 hours for the palace alone. 


Though we missed seeing this palace, our Guide, Dheeraj, and some of the people known to us, were very helpful in giving some interesting details about this Fort. It seems to be a good place to go sight-seeing, across the River Ganga. 


While doing all Karma/rituals we prayed for all our family members and sought the blessings of all pithrus. We are thankful to God Almighty, for making this trip possible. On the whole, this holy pilgrimage was most satisfying and above all a memorable one. Our sincere thanks to our Mani Vadhyar and his team for giving us full support and making our stay most comfortable. Also our sincere thanks must be said to our Guide, Dheeraj, without whom, and together with his valuable guidance, we would have not enjoyed our sight-seeing and going to important religious places etc. I should mention here that all of us derived a lot of mental peace, happiness and satisfaction, always to be remembered and cherished for many, many more years to come.


In this connection, for those of you who have not gone through my earlier posting on Kashi Rituals, you can log on to my website URL:



http://punithayatra.blogspot.com/ [my August posting]


Some of my/our experiences on Kashi Ghatts and temples:


There are 64 Ghatts. I give below some of my descriptions on a few of the Ghatts we visited..


Assi Ghat is where the Assi river merges with the Ganga, this is the southern extreme of the city. Just next to this is the Tulsi Ghat where Tulsidas breathed his last. Then comes the Hanuman Ghat, which is where we stayed. Next to this is the Karnataka state Ghat, where there is a palace built by the Maharaja of Mysore. These two Ghats are full of mutts and ashrams belonging to south India, and hence is full of south Indians at any time of the year.



Harischandra Ghat


Next comes the Harischandra Ghat, which is the place associated with the legend of the truthful king, Harishchandra, and the trials and tribulations he underwent. This is one of the burning Ghats of the city, where bodies of people of all castes and communities are consigned to flames.

Dasasvamedha Ghat


Further upstream is the Kedar Ghat, with the Kedareshwar temple, followed by the Kshameshwar Ghat and then the Narad Ghat. The Narad Ghat, incidentally, is the only Ghat on which people don’t bathe. In mythology, Narada is depicted as the naughty saint who always creates trouble (with the best motives of course!), and it is believed that a couple bathing on this Ghat will start fighting amongst themselves!




Scindia Ghat...
The Raja Ghat is one belonging to the royal family of Varanasi, while the Shitala Ghat has a temple of Shitala Devi, who is prayed to, to avoid the pox. The Rana Mahal Ghat was built by Maharana Pratap, and is a fine example of Rajasthani architecture, as is the Maan Mandir Ghat further up, attributed to Man Singh, which also has an observatory on top. The Lalitha Ghat is the one nearest to the Vishwanath and Annapurna temples.


Manikarnika Ghat


view the burning ghats


Next is the famous Manikarnika Ghat, where Parvati is believed to have dropped her ear rings. This is also a burning Ghat, where funeral pyres burn day and night, every single day. It is believed that there is always a pyre burning on this Ghat, at any time of the day or night.



Manikarnika Kund 


Till about 100 years back, the ashes of a pyre burning at midnight would be taken to the Vishwanath temple for the lingam for Abhishekam, but this practice has now been stopped. The fortune of being cremated at this Ghat is solely reserved for Hindus.





Lord Vishnu's footprints- Chakra-Pushkarini 


Pancha-ganga Ghat
Then we come to the Panchaganga Ghat, which is among the more important ones. Here, it is believed, 5 different rivers merge, and when the river is in full force during the monsoon, the currents of the 5 rivers can be seen. 


Alamgir Mosque built by Aurangzeb
On this Ghat are the Bindu Madhava Temple, and the mosque built by Aurangzeb after he demolished the original temple. 


Deity of Bindu Madhava
The last of all the Ghats is the Varuna Ghat where the river Varuna merges with the Ganga. It is sheer pleasure to go for a boat ride in the evening on the Ganges. 


The Adi Keshava Vishnu Temple
Millions of pilgrims a year come to Varanasi. The three most important ghats are Manikarnika, Dasaswamedha, and Pancha-ganga.


Pilgrims taking their Holy Bath
To bath at these three ghats is called Tri-tirtha Yatra. Also important are Asi Sangam and Varuna Sangam. To bathe in these five places is call Pancha-tirtha Yatra. You are supposed to bathe in these five ghats in a certain order. First you bathe in Asi Ghat, then Dasaswamedha Ghat, then the ghat by the Adi Keshava Temple near the Varuna River, then Pancha-ganga, and then Manikarnika...


..After taking bath at these five places, most pilgrims then go for darshan of Visvanath, Annapurna, and Sakshi Vinayaka [the witnessing Ganesh].




You should take a simple row boat and not the motor boat. There are motor boats too nowadays, but the pleasure the Ganga is waiting to give you, cannot be experienced in a fast boat. 


Sunset on the Ganga 


We had a wonderful time on the river. Time stood still, and one can experience the sheer joy and peace while on the Ganga. We watched the colours of the water change as the sun set over the horizon, we saw birds returning back to their nests after a days work, We could spot on how adept the seagulls and kingfishers were at catching fish. It was a sight we shall never forget. The beauty of nature is not as apparent in the landscape as it is in the life that makes up the landscape. 


The climax of this wonderful boat ride on the Ganges is the Ganga aarti. The aarti is performed every evening at 7 PM on the main Ghats of the river, the most prominent being, on the Dashashwamedha Ghat. 


Ganga-puja


....are offered first to mother Ganga...
The chants and the singing of the aarti songs created a wonderful atmosphere and the river and Ghats are full of people taking in this wonderful sight. While the Pandas[priests] perform the traditional aarti to the river, laymen and women like us light up earthen lamps and gently let them down into the river, where they float down like glittering jewels. It is a sight that has to be seen to be believed, and it is certainly an uplifting experience, impressioned in our minds.....never to forget! Dheeraj our Guide, right from Allahabad to Gaya and back and our boatmen whom we rowed with, were like Guha from Ramayana Epic. All the boatmen know how to converse in Tamil, which makes it all the more easier to move with them while on boat or when going sight-seeing and during performing of rituals. May be they were born in/were Brahmins in Poorva Janmam. They in fact know many of the rituals that we perform.



The people and pilgrims joyfully worshipping the holy river Ganges...


People/Pilgrims worshipping the holy river Ganges...


I should mention here that Dheeraj, our Guide, is like a Man Friday to Mani Vadhyar's family. Most trusted and efficient person one can be with and ofcourse not to say the least... sincere chap and very hard-working! 


What is Varanasi without the Ganga? 


The river is the lifeline of the city. The city revolves around the river with everyone coming there to have a dip.. With its source in the Himalayas, the Ganges never dries up. Of course, with the kind of pollution that we are creating, and the kind of garbage that is put into the river, only the lord knows if this will last! There wasn’t too much water in the Ganges. We had to climb down 50 to 60 steps on the Hanuman Ghat to reach the water. Each step was so high, climbing back up was an exercise in itself. If we lived in Varanasi, we would surely, never put on weight! The Ghats are scrupulously cleaned every day- the minor ones by people with brooms and buckets of water, the important and crowded ones by jets of water. It is a sight that brings some joy and relief to one’s heart. Half-burnt dead bodies are no longer thrown in the river. Authorities are posted on the burning Ghats to make sure that the bodies are burnt completely.



In spite of this, one finds that the sight of the Ghats on the Ganges is not a pleasant one even now. I believe that this has nothing to do with the authorities, but with the people themselves. People worship the Ganges as their mother, but don’t think twice before defiling her by throwing plastic bags and other dirt in her .Nothing will change until the mentality of people changes, and that is going to be a slow process.



When we were performing all the rites and rituals, it struck me that in those ancient days, [my mother used to tell me] that when people prayed to the Ganga and offered so many things to her, all those things were biodegradable. All the containers were made of leaves, and the offerings were easily soluble, or were eaten by the fishes. Today, everyone comes here to perform the same rituals, but everyone takes a shortcut by using plastic and non-degradable substances and making the Mother Ganga dirty.

I am of the opinion that people are more environment friendly today than ever before, and this is what gives me hope. It is a heart-breaking sight to see the Ganga being polluted in a bad way and it is my/our sincere request to all of you who read this article and visit Kashi to keep these things in mind, and avoid polluting the river in any way that you can.



Let us do our bit for the environment and for this Wonderful and Sacred River. I am sure It might not be much, but it will be a beginning, if each one of us does our bit in being environment-friendly.





The Crowded Streets of Varanasi
In the old part of the city there are numerous mazes of thin, very crowded streets, which makes the place very interesting.


The Narrow Lanes of Varanasi
The streets are so narrow, that one can easily get lost here..


The Temples that must be visited:


The Vishwanath and Annapurna temples are the most popular and famous temples in Kashi, and the main reasons for a visit. However, our ancient texts mention a few more temples which are important and must be visited to complete the circuit of temples.



The Kashi Visalakshi Temple

Visalakshi is the second consort of Shiva in this holy city of Kashi. This temple is one among the 52 Shakti peethams, and is part of the famous triad of temples- Kanchi Kamakshi, Madurai Meenakshi and Kashi Visalakshi. This small temple is situated in one of the narrow lanes around the Vishwanath temple, and it is mainly south Indians who seek out this temple.



Though the temple is quite small, the idol of the goddess is very beautiful. Behind the main stone idol of the goddess is another idol [some say it is a silver casting, others say it is an idol], believed to be the idol prayed to in ancient times.

The priest there, told us that it is the swayambhu idol of the goddess, while others refute this claim. Whatever it is, it is certainly worth a look, so remember to look behind the idol when you visit the temple. Adi Shankaracharya, when he visited the temple, performed prayers to renew the powers of the temple and the goddess which had borne the brunt of several invasions. He also installed a Sri Yantram there, and it is to this Yantram that puja is done.
Kumkum archana to this Sri Yantram is considered very special, and can be performed by asking the pujari there. On Diwali day, the Goddess is decorated in Silver Pavadai.


NATTUKOTTAI CHETTIAR CHATHIRAM

Our Guide Dheeraj narrated this to me : For those of you who go during Deepavalli, one can never miss the Thanga Visalakshi with Diamond studded Mangalyam and Velli Golusu was decorated which will be kept in a podium in Chathiram for three days from Diwali Day. Karaikudi Chettiars will assemble in a large number there. It is a sight to be seen. [We went a week before Deepavalli and hence could not see this]


The Kala Bhairav temple


Kala Bhairav is the guardian deity of Kashi. He occupies the position of a guard/ watchman with a dog as his vehicle, and is regarded as one of the forms of Shiva himself. In Kashi, there are 8 Bhairav temples, collectively called Ashta Bhairav. These are - Kala Bhairav, Dhandapani, Veera Bhairav, Batuk Bhairav, Aashu Bhairav, Aananda Bhairav, Rudra Bhairav and Ruru Bhairav
.
Among these, Kala Bhairav is the most important one, visited by all those who visit Kashi. Dhandapani, or the one who wields a stick, is the one who decides on the punishment, while Kala Bhairav is the one who enforces his decision. In the words of our guide, Dhandapani is the commissioner, while Kala Bhairav is the constable. As usual, it is the constable who is more feared, than the commissioner himself!


The specialty of this temple is the sacred thread available there. These threads, known as Kashi threads. They are supposed to ward off evil forces, and are in great demand.

The Bindu Madhava Temple

Among the ancient temples in the must-visit list of Kashi temples is the Bindu Madhava Temple. This temple is also one of a trinity- Veni Madhava at Sangam in Allahabad, Bindu Madhava at Kashi and Sethu Madhava at Rameswaram. All these three temples are small, simple affairs, with similar idols which are rather small in size. The Bindu Madhava Temple is best approached from the Panchaganga Ghat. There is, of course a road, but one which is rarely used by the pilgrims. The original temple was apparently a big and important one, but was destroyed by Aurangzeb, who (as usual) built a mosque over it. The mosque stands proudly till date, though a couple of turrets have fallen recently, while the new temple is a small one, practically invisible until we reach it. 

The Chozhi Mata Temple 

A visit to Kashi is incomplete without a visit to the Chozhi Mata Temple. This temple is known by various names such as Chozhi or Cowrie Mata, and Gauri Mata temple, and the name owes its origin to the cowries or shells which are thrown to the goddess as offering. The goddess her is considered to be a sister of Shiva. According to legend, Shiva sister had her temple within the ancient temple complex. However, when she saw thousands of common people touch and hug her brother while praying, she became jealous and tried to stop this practice. At this, Shiva became angry. "He was at Kashi so that the common people could pray to him the way they liked" He said, and as punishment, banished her, and sent her out of the temple. She repented and prayed to Shiva for mercy, and finally he relented. He could not take back the curse, but He decreed that al those who visit Kashi should visit her too. A trip to Kashi would be ineffective if one returned without visiting her. Hence it is a practice to visit the Chozhi Mata Temple after visiting all the temples in Kashi and performing all rituals. One can buy cowries outside the temple, throw a few on the goddess and ask her to bless them by bestowing on them the fruits of their Kashi Yatra, and bring back a few cowries as Prasad. This temple is en-route to BHU and is quite easy to find, as it is frequented by quite a large crowd at all times. 

Do visit this temple and make your Yatra a success! The Annapoorni Temple Food is one of the basic necessities of life, and it is no wonder that we say ‘Annam Brahma’, food is God. It is the mother who provides food for the child, and it is again no wonder that we pray to the goddess Parvati as Annapurna, the one who gives us food. It is believed that Parvati gave Alms to Shiva, and she is depicted with a bowl in one hand and ladle in the other, serving food to Shiva, standing in front of her, with his begging bowl in His hand. The most popular temple of Annapurna is at Kashi followed by the one at Horanadu, in Karnataka Sef & Mohana have seen Horanadu.


The temple of Annapurna at Kashi is right next to the Vishwanath temple. This temple is attached to the Annapurna Mutt. A highlight of this temple is that on the day before Diwali, a golden idol of Annapurna is opened for darshan. This idol can be seen only on that day and two succeeding days only, and it is indeed a great sight! Annapurna sits in the middle with her trademark bowl and ladle. On her left is Lakshmi (Sridevi- the goddess of wealth) and on her right is Bhudevi [the goddess of the earth]. 


During Deepavalli,,all these idols are of pure Gold. In front of them stands Shiva, made of silver, asking for alms. In the sanctum of the temple, the idol of the goddess is a small one, which is always decorated in a sari when open for darshan. A silver mask covers her face, and little else can be seen. All the idols of Annapurna available show her in a sitting position, and we naturally assumed that that was how she was in this temple. However, during Deepavalli, it is customary that the idol of Annapurna is made of black stone, quite small, and she is in the standing position. The image is simple, holding only the bowl and ladle. It is said that the smile on her face is so charming, so real, it will almost seem as if She[the Goddess] is standing in front of us! Though we did not have the opportunity to see this beautiful sight, we could very vividly visualize the picture/scene in our minds, as the priest in the temple narrated and explained these in detail. 


The Abhishekam is performed at 10:30AM every morning, It is worth a wait! Another specialty of this temple is that food is served to all devotees throughout the day….food is too simple a term for what is virtually, a feast. Free coupons are available at the temple office and the food is served in a hall behind the temple. It is believed that the goddess takes her food only after making sure that all her devotees have had their fill. Try to partake of this Prasad at least once during your stay in Kashi. It is also a tradition to perform some service before taking food here. So many devotees take their turn in serving a few devotees before starting to eat.



This was a wonderful experience in itself, and a practice that must be encouraged. We offered a token amount as contribution towards "Anna Dhaanam" and derived a great sense of satisfaction on having done this at this temple in Kashi.



Precious moments.....unforgetable memories.....they are. The Kashi Vishwanath Temple Kashi is known as the land of Shiva.. Everything in Kashi not only revolves around the main temple of Vishwanath, as Shiva is known here, but He is also believed to be in control of everything that happens in this holy city. Normally, in Hindu mythology, the nine planets, or Navagrahas, who govern our actions, are independent, and perform their duty without interference from the Gods (a case of not even God interfering with nature and her rules).


However, Kashi is a special city, an exception to this rule, where Shiva even governs the Navagrahas. It is believed that Lord Saneeshwara [Saturn] once came to catch Shiva for the period of 7 ½ years [what is commonly called Saade-saati] , and found himself unable to enter the temple. He is believed to have stayed outside the temple, and hence the temple of Saneeshwara outside the Vishwanath temple is much frequented by pilgrims who light oil lamps here, hoping to escape the clutch of Sani[Saturn]. 


There are just too many legends to explain why Kashi is sacred, and why Shiva chose to reside here. I read an article sometime back, where the writer explains in scientific terms, that in this area, the Ganges flows in a curve, in the northward direction. The curvature and the force of the river led to the formation of a natural amphitheatre, or natural steps in simpler terms. This probably attracted our forefathers to this place, who built Ghats where the steps had formed, to have a bath, and installed their patron deity, Shiva as the lord of this place. In order to avoid the confusion, let us not discuss the legends and accept the fact that here, Shiva is called Vishwanath or Vishweshwar, the lord of the world. Kashi or Benares has been ruled by various great kings, some distinguished ones, and some not so famous. It even passed through a phase of being ruled over by the Buddhists. But the ancient temples, which saw so many rulers come and go, could not survive the onslaught of the Mughals. The temples were destroyed, not once, but a number of times by various Mughal invaders, leaving no trace of what the original temples might have looked like.




The temple, as it stands today, owes its existence to the Queen of Indore, Rani AhilyaBai Holkar. It was she who, seeing the sorry state of affairs here, not only provided the funds, but also made all the arrangements for building the temple. She was certainly a great woman, much ahead of her time, who took up the task of restoring to their glory, many of the ancient temples of India, which had suffered at the hands of plundering monarchs. The temple of Somnath is another such temple. Among the other temples which she helped build are the ones at Dwaraka, Triambakeshwar, and Parali Vaidyanath.
The present temple stands beside a mosque that had been built by Aurangzeb over the ruins of the original temple. The sacred idol, the Shiva lingam, had been hidden in a well, hoping to prevent its destruction. This well, now known as the Gyaana Vapi (well of knowledge) stands in an area between the temple and the mosque.


Though Kashi is a place of great sanctity, it is also infamous for the Pandas, or a class of priests, who charge exorbitant amounts of money. If you talk to anyone who has visited Kashi, you will be sure to hear tales of how they have been overcharged and been taken for a ride by these people. The same goes for the temple too. However, the temple administration is now making efforts to remedy the situation. The first step it has taken in this direction is the creation of its own website. This site has been well organized, with complete details about the temple, as well as the pujas conducted, the timings of the different Aarthis, and the charges for the various offerings. Best of all, it is possible to book pujas on the net well in advance, and arrange whether you want the puja to be performed in your presence, in which case the ticket allows you an entry into the temple bypassing the long queue, or in your absence, in which case, the Prasad is sent to you by post. This is a good system, and must be appreciated. Of course, at this point of time, this does not entirely bypass the earlier system of paying money to the Pandas/Priests. These days, there are a number of people who book for the pujas, and one often gets relegated to the back row from where we can hardly get a glimpse of what is going on. A little extra from your wallet goes a long way in getting you a prime position to watch the puja. We attended the Saptharishi Aarthi in the evening on one of the days we were in Kashi..



We were already late for Vishwanathar temple. So we hurried to Lord Vishwanathar temple. We had to literally run down the very narrow lanes of Kashi and it took about 20 minutes for us to reach this temple. We were completely exhausted when we reached the place. But what an experience it was! This is probably my most exciting hour of my/our life. This is the time I was waiting to happen – finally it is happening. We were taken through few metal detectors and physical search by cops at the entrance of the temple. The entrance of the temple is not like any of our South Indian temples – no grand gopurams or great paintings etc. Before you realize that you are inside a temple, you are already inside Lord Vishwanathar temple. This is a small temple – made in marble. We moved to a place that has 4 entrances at the center is a big square shaped brass/copper border – inside which is the holy abode of Lord Vishwanathar lingam. This whole square is filled with water, vilva leaves, rudraksha and the we did prokshanam of that water in our head , touched the lingam and were asked to quickly move out by the pundas (priests) there. We stepped out of that sannidhi and waited outside in the small praharam. I must tell about the praharam. We were sitting on a plantform-like structure and something touched my back and I looked back and there are hundreds of small shiva lingams in a row. Then I started walking around the temple and you could see lingams everywhere in the temple - once again, this is the first time I am seeing so many lingams. In the meanwhile, our guide, Dheeraj, took money from us to buy tickets and also to let us watch the saptharishi puja sitting close to the sannidhi. The plan was to let us stand near and watch the puja. But me and my husband were literally pushed up the steps to watch the proceedings [there are three steps from which we can see the puja] and the others in the bench. We were told to wait for some more time to start the puja. I was expecting huge crowd to come and witness the Saptharishi Puja but found only 20 or so folks. I was surprised. It was 7.25PM – they put one bench on which my brothers and sister-in-laws were seated. Before us 4-5 people were sitting on the floor. It was odd to sit on the bench when Lord Vishwanathar is on the floor level. However, I was not allowed to standup from the steps as another punda already did a perfect job of collecting money from another guy who was going to stand and witness. So I was sitting on the staircase from which I got a good view of the puja..



Saptharishi Puja All seven pundas assembled there – they looked very fresh – probably just took their bath – vibuthi smeared all on their foreheads, big rudraksha malas around their necks, clean white dhotis etc. They started emptying the water from the lingam and wiped the whole place. All the preparations started for the puja. Soon they started chanting Sama Vedam. This is my first time listening to Sama Vedam. Once they started the abhishekam, people who knew Shri Rudram started chanting. All the abhishekams were over. Then they started the alankara. They brought the five-headed snake crown for the Lord. Unlike the ones we see in south or in most places, each head of the snake will be at different levels and looking at different sides. Once it is set on the top of the lingham, the whole thing is decorated with flowers. The way pundas decorate the lingham with flower is a divine art. They decorate it in such a way that not one flower falls off and yet you could see the lingham to some extent.


Between 8.15 PM and 8.30 PM is the time for deeparathanai. This is an out of the world experience for anyone to witness. All the seven pundas will ring seven bells at the same time, their hands are extremely synchronized the they chant the sama veda in the same pitch, the deepams are lifted and lowered – all at the same stroke. When they all take the deepam closer to the lingham, it appears like the snakes are moving! This not happened once – almost every time I look closer, the pundas are lot more synchronized. All the devotees sitting there are completely mesmerized – if anyone wants to experience the “oneness”, this is probably the only place for that. The way the priests gets excited are little scary at times – it looked like they forgot their bodies and deep into a different state – a Samadhi state except that the hands are mouth are doing synchronized actions. The sound from those bells is deafening – makes you not to think of anything other than Lord Parameswaran. There is an absolute silence from the devotees. At one point, I just turned back for something and saw lots of people standing right behind us – not even a small sound from them. Devotees are standing in all 4 entrances to witness this outstanding puja to Parameswaran. Without HIS blessing we can’t even put a foot forward.If we have HIS darshan, He will take us closer to Him. Our trip is one fine example. 


Post-Puja ceremony


Seeing these Aartis is an experience which must not be missed. We were absolutely spellbound seeing the way in which they decorated the Shiva lingam, the chanting of the mantra and clanging of the bells; pure ecxtasy...carrying you to a world of oblivion and magic... I would say.....seeing is believing.... I have no words to describe the atmosphere during the final aarthi, which was simply divine, to say the least! On hearing the Mantras and the way it is performed, one can feel the vibration running through his/her body - a feeling so extraordinary and exulting that one can never ever experience anywhere in the world!! An experience to behold!


Finally at the stroke of 8.30PM, the entire puja was over. The moment after the puja was over, people started to walk out. What a satisfying and wonderful experience on the whole!


This Holy Yatra was indeed worth the efforts taken - and  thoroughly, an out of the world experience for us all!


With this, my holy Yatra, starting from Rameshwaram, to  Allahabad - Kashi - Gaya comes to a close.  I am sure all of you will find this interesting and useful. 


The next Holy Yatra is to Rameshwaram to complete this Yatra.  For knowing the details of this Yatra, you may log on to the following URL on our trip to Rameshwaram:
http://punithayatra.blogspot.com/2011/04/our-rameshwaram-trip-completing-our.html



5 comments:

  1. very useful madam how much expense incurred for performing shrardam pujas in total ?my e mail id is railpalam@gmail.com

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  2. excellent writeup of your experience. I need to go to the holy places to do my rituals to ancestors. Is there any contacts you can provide now in Kashi or Gaya would be very helpful. My email id rajakumar10@hotmail.com
    Thanks.

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  3. Dear Mr. Rajakumar,

    Thanks for your appreciation on my write-up about our Holy Yatra. I will reply with all contact details to your email shortly, which I am sure will be of great help to you when you plan your trip to Allahabad/Kashi/Gaya.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Dear Mr.Rajkumar,

    I sincerely appreciate your write-up on Holy Yatra. It is excellent for a lay man to understand the contacts and will help to plan such a trip. I could interact with mani shastrigal. Best regards, N K Sreeram ( nksram@gmail.com )

    ReplyDelete

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