Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Panch Prayags in the Garhwal Himalayas of Uttaranchal - The Making of River Ganga

Along the Badrinath route, one comes across the 'five' sacred 'confluences' of the Ganges tributaries which, according to the Hindu tradition, are the revered locations reckoned highly auspicious for certain ritualistic ceremonies like shraddha, snan (holy dip), worship, etc.

It is said that when the most venerated of Indian rivers, the life-giving Goddess Ganga had come down on earth, Her current was so enormous that the Gods had to be summoned to avert a massive flood. As a remedy, the forceful River was divided into 12 streams to control Her power.

Today, the five important locations where some of these sibling streams unite to finally emerge as the single sedative holy stream of the Ganga is known as ‘PanchPrayag’ (Panch means five and Prayag refers to the confluence of two or more rivers).

The Five Confluences – The Panch Prayags

These confluences (as they appear on the Badrinath route from Rishikesh) are named as Devprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, NandPrayag and Vishnu Prayag and are together referred to as the ‘Panch Prayags’ of the Garhwal Himalayas. All of the five are situated in the state of Uttaranchal, the first three- Vishnuprayag, Nandprayag and Karnaprayag being in Chamoli district; Rudraprayag in the district of the same name, and Devprayag in Pauri Garhwal, on the border with Tehri Garhwal.

Although one comes across these revered confluences while also on the upward journey towards Badrinath, they are better understood in the descending order that is while coming down from Badrinath towards the plains, and hence I will describe it that way.

1. Vishnuprayag = Alaknanda + Dhauli Ganga

The journey starts from Badrinath where the melting ice of the Bhagirath Kharak and the Satopanth glacier give rise to the Alaknanda River. The River makes its way downwards thereon, to Vishnuprayag (approximately 5 km from Joshimath and 8 kms from Badrinath), the first of the five sacred prayags. Here the Alaknanda gently unites with the Dhauli Ganga in the shades of the bordering mountains and woods and continues its voyage ahead. Sage Narada is said to have worshipped Vishnu here. The place houses a small octagonal stone temple built by the Maharani of Indore - Queen Ahilyabai, in 1889 AD said to be the abode to a Shiva lingam.

2. Nandaprayag = Alakananda + Mandakini

Meandering its way downhill past dense forests, ancient temples and settlements, to the south-west of Vishnuprayag, River Alakananda pauses briefly again at Nandaprayag (190 kms short of Rishikesh on the Uttarkashi road) - the second of the five confluences - this time to tenderly cuddle along with Mandakini. The place is dedicated to Nand, the Yadav king and the famed foster father of Lord Krishna. He is said to have pleased Lord Vishnu with his devotion here and attained the boon to have a son like Vishnu himself. The confluence is marked by a temple dedicated to Gopalji, a form of Lord Krishna. The trek to Tapovan branches out from here via Kunwari pass.

3. Karnaprayag = Alaknanda + Pindar River

Further 21 km downstream, 170 kms from Rishikesh is the third prayag - Karnaprayag – the site where the Pindar River, rising from the Pindar glacier below the Nanda Devi hill range, surges into the Alaknanda. It is said that the tragic hero of the epic Mahabharat, Karna had acquired the shielding kawach kundals from His father, Surya here. Karnaprayag is marked by two temples - one dedicated to the goddess Uma, the daughter of the Himalayas and the other to Karna, after whom the township gets its name. It is also said that the last rites of Karna were performed here. Another significance is that Swami Vivekananda is also believed to have meditated here for eighteen days.

4. Rudraprayag = Alaknanda + Mandakini

Next in the series of confluences is Rudraprayag, 137 km short of Rishikesh, where the Alaknanda River once again unites with the Mandakini (a la Nandprayag as seen above). The confluence gets its name from ‘Rudra’, a form of Shiva who created the musical notes ‘Ragas & Raginis’ here which outline the basis of the Indian music to day.

RudraPrayag - Confluence of Rivers Alaknanda and Mandakini
(Photo Coutesy - indiatravelpal.com)

It is also the place where Jim Corbett killed the famous man-eater leapord of ‘Rudraprayag’. A steep line of steps leads to the confluence point while ancient temples Rudranath and Chamunda Devi stand on the upper end of the steps. The road bifurcates here; one goes towards Kedarnath and the other proceeds to Badrinath via Karnaprayag, Nandaprayag and Vishnuprayag as described above.

5. Devprayag = Alaknanda + Bhagirathi = GANGA

And finally, 70 km from Rishikesh, one meets Devprayag - the last of the confluences. This is the place where Ganga, the life-giving goddess breathes life. The two holy rivers - the bluish-green rapid Bhagirathi, the chief stream of the Ganges unites with a calm but mucky Alaknanda and River Ganga is born.

Devprayag - Confluence of Rivers Alaknanda and Bhagirathi

It is the first prayag on the way to Badrinath and last while descending down from the same. It is home to the famous Raghunatha Math, also known as the Ram temple, as also to the priests of Badrinath in winter.

Thus,

Panch Prayag -----> VishnuPrayag -> Nandprayag -> Karnaprayag -> Rudraprayag -> Devprayag -> River GANGA

Shrouded in myths, legends and mysticism, all of these five prayags are considered to be almost as sacred, if not equivalent, to the famous Triveni Sangam confluence at Allahabad where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers merge. No wonder then, the 'Panch Prayag' is, to any devout Hindu traveling to the Char Dhams in the Himalayas, certainly one of the things to look out for. Many pilgrims, in fact take a dip in the rivers at these locations before embarking on to visit the holy char dham circuit in the ‘Dev Bhumi’ (God's land) as Uttarakhand is commonly known.

People of Garhwal, in particular, gather at the five prayags during Makar Sankranti, Uttarayan, Basant Panchami and Ram Navami festivals for a holy dip in the sacred river confluences. We could, however, just manage stopping at these places for a while to contemplate on the significance of the spot, admire the awesome scenery, and could never actually go down at the sangam or offer prayers at the local temple.


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46 comments:

  1. Wow superb , wonderful information . thanks for sharing .

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  2. I understood that many towns were built along the river.
    I guess that it is both for pray and convenient for living.
    That's a good idea.

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  3. What a mighty river it is! Superb shots.

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  4. A mighty river indeed and what a beautiful place! Such wonderful and fascinating information, Arti! And superb captures! You do take us on such amazing journeys! Thank you! Hope your week is going well! Enjoy!

    Sylvia

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  5. Wow.....Very informative & beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. It's a enchanting post on panch prayags...Divine...

    Saru

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  7. `Crisp and yet comprehensive. I am still to visit that Deva Bhoomi.I saw a travel video. Thanks.

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  8. I didn't know any of this, you are so informative. The third picture is my favorite! Beautiful!!!

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  9. Amazing information ... never knew there is so much of background for the holy river ganga ... the water looks so fresh and foamy ..awesome clicks taken at perfect location

    Super Yummy Recipes

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  10. Thats a trove of information on the Ganga:) Awesome breathtaking views, nice pictures too!

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  11. Beautiful river and amazing shots, Arti!
    Thanks for sharing with us!

    Take care
    Marinela

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  12. wonderful composed information... you have summed it up beautifully in one place :)

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  13. Rivers certainly have got energy Arti - love these majestiv landscape and am glad i live along a big river too!

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  14. so pious.. so true :)

    Weakest LINK

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  15. Magnificent !As i have mentioned this before too that how much i want to visit these places .Thanks a lot once again for this detailed and informative post .

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  16. "Shrouded in myths, legends and mysticism"

    My kind of place. :)

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  17. Fascinating, interesting and informative - this post had it all, many thanks for enlightening us.

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  18. wow.. that's a nice source of information supported by marvelous photography.. nice blog !

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  19. I never knew the story behind the Panchprayag. Thanks for sharing. Wonderful pics, beautiful :)

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  20. An extraordinary river full of deep stories. Amazing!

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  21. excellent information with photos

    thanks

    thanks for sharing

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  22. wow! that was a fascinating and informative post!
    i hope to do it some time!!

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  23. interesting information.... never thought the river had deep stories...

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  24. Nice post, Arti! Lovely pics. Never knew that the Ganga is the result of many confluences. :)

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  25. A mighty river Ganga starts from melting ice or glacier and has stories or is respected muuch.Indeed a great river.Thank you for information.

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  26. This is a comprehensive information about the River Ganga, Arti. No wonder it is a life-giving source and revered as Goddess to have sustained people's lives along the rivers. Have a nice weekend.

    Yoko

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  27. Have heard about all these prayags as my father have visited most of them, he say water their is very cold and crystal clear.
    VNKRD this is how I have learned them Vishnuprayag,Nandaprayag,Karnaprayag,Rudraprayag and Devprayag hehe : )

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  28. Rivers are fascinating but they become even more interesting if we know about their significance. Thanks!

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  29. Simply beautifully captured shots...nice reading!

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  30. The mighty Ganges! This was very informative to me. And great pics.

    Have you read the book 'The Roar of the Ganges'.. my mom recommended it to me sometime back, am yet to lay my hands on a copy!

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  31. beautiful... would love to visit and see these places for myself someday. Thanks for sharing....

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  32. I had heard about a few of them, but not all.Thanks for this informative post.

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  33. Your blog is excellent. To get more visitors to your site submit your post at Stumblednews.0fees.net.

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  34. Great info and great pics of one of the places that I really want to visit. Your post contained so much of information that I was not aware of.

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  35. lovely FEEL to see panchprayag
    i m also belonging to one of them,
    "RUDRAPRAYAG"

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  36. Liked the detailed info regarding the confluences...nicely presented :)

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  37. Awesome. Had a chance to see allahabad and varanasi and ganga ghat myself. The sun rise was awesome :)

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  38. A whole load of information! You must have taken so much effort to share it with us...Thanks dear! Holy Ganges is such a mighty river! So nice to know more about it. Your pics describe well...:))

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  39. Another post that takes me back to that trip...

    I think I passed all of them during my travel... not sure about Bishnu Prayag...

    I had a stay at Rudraprayag... passed by the rest on bus...

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  40. WOW! Great information!

    The river is majestic.

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  41. Such a lot of place to visit. Great post.

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  42. in nandprayag its not mandakini but nandakini.

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  43. Liked It!! Great Post..Really ,The Himalayan Tours have always been a great attraction for the adventurous travelers for it paves a great deal of leisure traveling.

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