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.


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.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Temples along the way from Rishikesh to Haridwar

God is everywhere in the holy towns of Rishikesh, Haridwar; between and beyond as well. While driving down the 28 km stretch from Rishikesh to Haridwar, one comes across innumerable shrines and temples spread all over the highway. Pilgrims do take out time to visit these as well, some of which are described below –

Glass Temple

Houses idols of various Gods and Goddesses and attracts a large number of pilgrims due to its magnificent and dazzling works of mirror patchworks and glass architecture.

A colorful mosaic of Lord Ganesha in a Glass Temple along the way from Rishikesh to Haridwar
The elephant headed Lord Ganesha in a riot of festive colors

Idols of Radha -Krishna in a Glass Temple along the way to Haridwar
Radha-Krishna in glowing pink glass shades
Among all persons, it is Sri Radha in whose company Lord Madhava (Krishna) is especially glorious, as She is especially glorious in His. ~ Rig-parisishta

A fascinating mosaic of a Krishna leela in a Glass Temple along the way to Haridwar
A mosaic depicting the butter thief prank (makhan chori leela) 
of mischievous child Krishna

A scene from the epic Mahabharta represented in glass a Glass Temple along the way to Haridwar
Lord Krishna imparting the doctrine of Bhagavad Gita (Gita Updesh)
to Arjuna in the battlefield of Mahabharata

Wonderful mosaic idols of Radha Krishna in a Glass Temple along the way to Haridwar
Idols of Shiv and Parvati in a Glass Temple along the way to Haridwar
Attractive images of Lord Shiva along with His consort Goddess Parvati

An Ancient SatyaNarayan Temple

A 500 year old ancient temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu and His consort Goddess Laxmi.

Ancient Laxmi Narayan Temple along the way from Rishikesh to Haridwar
Goddess Laxmi along with picture frames of various other Gods alongside

An old Rudraksh tree, the seeds of which are traditionally used for making  prayer beads beads in Hinduism, in the compound is worth a mention here.

A very old tree in the premises of the Ancient Laxmi Narayan Temple along the way from Rishikesh to Haridwar
A close up shot of a very old tree in the premises of the Ancient SatyaNarayan Temple along the way from Rishikesh to Haridwar
A very old evergreen Rudraksh tree in the SatyaNarayan temple premises

Sphatik Shivling

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the sphatik (mercurial) Shivling inside the temple is popular among the locals.

Sphatik Shivling Temple along the way from Rishikesh to Haridwar
Sphatik Shivling inside the temple with an image of
Lord Shiva in the background

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ashrams in Rishikesh

Rishikesh is home to a number of ashrams and every year  people from all over the world come to these ashrams to learn yoga, meditate and take away some peace for their mind back home. Below is a picture of some of these well known ashrams in Rishikesh...

Parmarth Niketan Ashram

The largest and probably the most famed ashram in Rishikesh, Parmarth Niketan Ashram offers accomodation facilities for tourists and yoga courses but it is best known for is its enchanting and spiritual Ganga Arti in the evenings which is an attraction in itself.

Aarti preparations in full swing at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram In Rishikesh
Students busy in the evening aarti arrangements at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram In Rishikesh
Evening Arti (prayer) preparations in full swing at the ashram

The glowing oil lamps in the Ganga River amidst the ringing temple bells, the chanting of the hymns coupled with the serenity and the divinity that one experiences is moving and something that stays with you for a long time. Cameras can be taken along.

Crowds filling in at the Parmarth Niketan ashram in Rishikesh
Devotees waiting for the evening aarti to begin at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram In Rishikesh
People assembling for the evening aarti at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram In Rishikesh
Devotees settling in and waiting anxiously for the prayer to start

A statue of Lord Shiva presiding over the Parmarth Niketan ashram evening aarti in Rishikesh
Lord Shiva presiding over the arti proceedings

(Image courtesy goindia.about.com)
The evening arti at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram enlightening
the banks of River Ganga and the numerous souls as well...

Address, Arti Timings and Contact Nos. of Parmarth Niketan Ashram:

Parmarth Niketan Ashram is in Swarg Ashram area, near the Ram Jhoola on the right bank of Ganga, facing upriver.

Arti Timings: Summer 6 - 7 pm, Winter 5.30 - 6.30 pm

Tel: (01364) 2440088  Email: parmarth@aol.com, parmarth@parmarth.com

Swarg Ashram

Swarg Ashram - A very famous area of Rishikesh

Built in the memory of Swami Vishudhanand, the saint better known as Kali Kamli Wala (the saint with a black blanket), it is a small township consisting of a dozen of ashrams, temples and numerous cafes, shops and stores.

Gita Ashram

Spread in a huge campus in the Swarg Ashram area, it has been a site for penance of various saints like Swami Ramtirth and Guru Shri Ram Sukh Daasji. It offers accomodation and food facilities, regular meditation and yoga discourses all through the year and also houses a Gita Press book shop and a very old banyan tree in its compound.

Address and Contact Nos. of Gita Ashram:

Gangapar, P.O. - Swargashram,
Rishikesh - 249304 (Uttaranchal)

Contact number: +91-135-2430122, 2432792

Sri Sri Ravishankar Ashram

Make the divine your Valentine.
Just be…and know that you are loved.
That is Beloved.
God Loves Fun by Sri Sri Ravishankar

The Sri Sri Ravishankar Ashram in Rishikesh
Welcome to the Sri Sri Ravishankar Ashram in Rishikesh

Just a stone’s throw from the Swami Dayananda Ashram in Rishikesh is the Ashram of the very famous Indian spiritual leader and founder of the Art of Living Foundation, Sri Sri Ravishankar. And we took out some time for a quick stroll through it.

Brass statuettes in the Sri Sri Ravishankar Ashram in Rishikesh
A brass statuette inside the ashram

Though not as spacious as the Dayananda Ashram but its still large enough to comfortably house a Temple, small but a quite peaceful garden and a Meditation hall where, as the security guard informed us, Guruji conducts Art of Living courses and yoga sessions.

Lord Shiva Temple in the Sri Sri Ravishankar Ashram in Rishikesh
A Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in the ashram premises

A tree in the Garden of Sri Sri Ravishankar Ashram in Rishikesh
A tree in the garden catches my eye!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ganpati Visarjan - Lord Ganesha's Journey Back Home

11th September, 2011 - Ananth Chaturdashi (11th day of the Ganesh Chaturthi Festival):

Ganpati Gele Gavala, Chain Padena Amhala

These few lines in Marathi, very pertinently describe the feel in the atmosphere today.

After 10 days of fanfare and merrymaking, the time has come to see off our very dear friend Lord Ganesha. Lacs of idols all across the city will be immersed in sea, artificial lakes and ponds as HE returns to His heavenly abode. Though the mood is a bit somber but He is given a grand farewell… Amid musical beats of drums and loud chants, thus begins His journey back home…

He is taken in trucks, cars, carts, on top of heads or held in hands for the visarjan towards the water body
Beating of drums as Ganpati idols are taken for visarjan in carts
Ganpati idols being brought for visarjan in cars
A very Huge Ganpati idol of Shiv Mitra Mandal being taken for visarjan in a cart
A Huge Ganpati idol being brought for visarjan in a truck
Ganpati idols being brought for visarjan

He is seated on a platform before the visarjan takes place
Lord Ganesha idols in a Mumbai temple before Ganpati Visarjan
Lord Ganesha idol in a Mumbai temple before Ganpati Visarjan

He is pampered as devotees surround him for the final prayers,
sing artis (hymns) and let out loud chants before bidding him adieu
People performing aarti and pooja before the Ganpati visarjan
Ganpati aarti being performed before visarjan
Ganesh idol being redied for visarjan in MumbaiPeople performing aarti and pooja before the Ganpati visarjan

He keeps hold of all the focus, everything else is just that... a blur!
Devotees crying on the eve of Ganpati Visarjan in Mumbai

In all these days gone by,
everyone has formed an individual bond with the Lord,
and for many it’s not that easy to let it go loose…
Devotees crying on the eve of Ganpati Visarjan in Mumbai

He gets in line with His other Siblings
before He can start His journey back home
People bringing Ganesha idols for Ganesh Visarjan in Mumbai
People bringing Ganesha idols for Ganesh Visarjan

All His religious belongings like garlands
and other spiritual paraphernalia are removed
All religious paraphernalia are removed before ganesh immersion

Devotees look on as their Beloved gets ready to slowly blend with water
Devotees look on as Ganesh Visarjan takes place in a local Ganesha Temple

The kids look on too grabbing hold onto their balcony seats
People enjoying the Ganpati Visarjan in Mumbai

And eventually, He departs vanishing out of everyone's sight...
Ganpati Visarjan in an artificial lake in Mumbai
Ganpati Visarjan in an artificial lake in Mumbai

As one looks at these scenes pass by, hearts are warm and eyes moist... the mind can’t help but roll back to the festivities of the days gone by – The Ganpati Pandal Hopping, darshan of the Lalbaugcha Raja or the different Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations cutting across boundaries – …and tries to hold all of them tight... but the more it tries to do so, the faster they keep slipping by, ultimately evaporating into a huge void…

A devotee bids adieu as Lord Ganesha Visarjan takes place

He has finally departed but... not before teaching us a lesson of detachment, not before leaving behind His blessings for all, not before whispering a soft promise in our ears, a promise of coming back soon next year... Then, the city will be full of life once again and dance away to His festive tunes, and things will pick up right from the very point they have become blurry…

Till then, however, let's all say it loud and clear... for one last time... zor se bolo

Ganpati Bappa Maurya… Pudcha Varshi Lavkar Ya!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Lalbaugcha Raja and Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandals

Though I love meeting Lord Ganesha at the various Ganpati Pandals during the Ganesotsav festival, somehow the most famous Ganpati of Mumbai, the Lalbaugcha Raja has always eluded me. But this year, for the very first time in my life,  I finally managed to fix an appointment with the Emperor of Mumbai – Lalbaugcha Raja and got His blessings at last!

9th September : This friday was special… very special to me! I was on a special journey, a journey to meet the royal ruler before He departs to His abode…

A Photographic Journey to the Lalbaugcha Raja, Lower Parel, Mumbai

It’s 7.00 AM and shops are still closed. Day in His Kingdom is yet to begin… For a town that never sleeps (The Pandal is open 24*7 on all festival days), this indeed comes as a surprise…

Shacks and shops lining the Lalbaugcha Raja route duing the Ganesh Chaturthi

As I walk towards the Pandal, I understand He is not only a king, but also the current hot favorite Superstar featured in the various billboard ad campaigns lining up the way to the Pandal…

Huge Ad Billboards featuring Lord Ganesha during the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in Mumbai

All roads seem to be leading up to Him, everyone seems to be heading in one single direction, with one common goal

The crowds at the Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh Pandal during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations

After a few min walk, the palace comes in view… the big gates luring me in… I find a certain sense of anxiousness and anxiety gripping me tight

The main entrance to the Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh mandal

There is a certain magic in the air, a certain madness, and I join in the frenzy

Devotees at the Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh Pandal during Ganeshotsav

Once in, the overpowering sense of crowds suddenly seem to evaporate and you become a part of them; everyone becomes one in the core basic thought and what exists now is no individual entity but just one big mass of humanity!

Crowds at the Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh Pandal during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations

I let out a loud ‘JAI’ that crash with parallel sound waves coming in from all directions, everytime chants of ‘Bolo Ganpati Bappa Ki..’ and ‘Undir Mama Ki…’  are heard and feel a swift dash of exhilaration run in…

Long Mukhdarshan lines to meet the Lalbaugcha Raja during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations

Bagha Bagha! Lalbaghcha Raja Disto Aahe!’ (Look! The Lord is now visible! ) It’s just 20 min or so in the queue… A glimpse so soon, How? I wonder. But a single step forward, a slight curve in the queue and yes, its indeed Him!

Long narrow Mukhdarshan lines to meet the Lalbaugcha Raja during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations
Long and narrow Mukhdarshan lines to meet the Lalbaugcha Raja during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations
Long narrow queues to meet the Lalbaugcha Raja during Ganeshotsav

Within a few minutes, digicams, mobile cams are out and people hamper scamper to freeze and capture Him in the best possible way they can…

People capture theLord ganesh Image in their cameras at the Lalbaugcha Raja, Ganesh Pandal during Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations

A few more min and little do I know, but I am standing right in front of HIM! He welcomes me personally with a warm smile …?!… It’s thrilling! He sits on His majestic throne sparkling, gleaming… radiating an aura that’s much more than just mesmerizing, hipnotizing or any other similar adjective that I can think of…

The Lalbaugcha Raja - Ganpati in all His slendour at the Lalbaug Ganpati Mandal

Who says Lalbaugcha raja is one of the largest 'idols' in Mumbai, I disagree! The Lord is  not only an 'idol' but very much alive here… and it’s the incredible power of the engaged faith and reverence of millions and millions over the years that has breathed life in Him… you just need to hold those cords of conviction taut, stay true to your beliefs and then feel His Presence…

Outside the pandal, after the coveted 'darshan', a sense of satisfaction and content lingers on and the atmosphere is very much relaxed… People revel in the bliss of pleasure and happiness and take back with them sacred marks of their Beloved BAPPA

Sacred Red Thread of faith at the Lalbaugcha Raja - Ganesh Pandal
Red mark on the foreheads of devotees at the Lalbaugcha Raja Ganpati Mandal

A stone's throw from Lalbaugcha Raja Ganpati Pandal is the Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal, known to come up with one of the best decorations in Mumbai every year…

Lalbaug sarvajanik utsav madal, Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal in Mumbai

There is a fee of Rs 10 to go in… I shell out the bucks, albeit unwillingly, to see Him in… There is a small beeline of devotees…

A narrow line of devotees at the Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal in Mumbai

A big statue of Lord Shiva, His father, keeping guardA palatial ambience all around…

The decorations at the Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal in Mumbai
Lord Shiva statue as part the decorations at the Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal in Mumbai
Lord Shiva Temple inside the Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal compound in Mumbai

A Shivling inside the Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal compound in Mumbai

Lord Ganesha is seated in the most humble of settings devoid of any exuberant ornamentations or decorations, a complete contrast to all the lavishness outside…

Lord Ganesha at the Lalbaug sarvajanik utsav madal, Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal
Deity of Lord ganesha at the Lalbaug sarvajanik utsav madal, Ganesh Galli Ganpati Pandal

Today is the last day of the festival, the Ganesh Visarjan day… And as I write this post, the final procession of the Lalbaugcha Raja is already underway from Lalbaug and will reach Chowpatty the next morning.

Though it’s too late now to push all those who have never had a chance to make a trip to the Lalbaugcha Raja to make one this year but… I strongly urge you to mark those dates in your calendar diary for the next festive year… The All Obstacle Removing Lord, The Wish Granting King – The Lalbaugcha Raja is calling you, Make sure you Hear His call!

Related Info on Lalbaugcha Raja -

1. There are two lines for the darshan. The Mukhdarshan line is the one in which you only get to see Him from a distance and moves much faster than its counterpart, called the Navsaachi Rang or Mannatwali Line. The wait in this latter queue can extend to as long as upto 20 hrs. We opted for the former and it took us just about 40 minutes to reach Lord Ganesha.

2. It is among the city's  richest mandals and each year a huge amount is received in the form of donations. This year, the total collection during Ganeshotsav has been around 6 crores.

How to Reach Lalbaugcha Raja -

The nearest station to Lalbaugcha Raja on the western railway lines is Lower Parel. On the central route, you will need to alight at the Currey road railway station. It is a 10-15 min walkable distance from both these stations.