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KASHI YATRA

For all Hindus it is very auspicious to visit Kashi Viswanath (Varanasi) at least once in their life
time. South Indians Perform Kashi Yatra in which Spiritual rites in three places viz. Allahabad, Kashi
and Gaya are concerned. Given beneath, in concise are the Spiritual rites usually carry out in Kashi.

KASHI YATRA Spiritual Rites Usually Take Within 9 Days in 5 Phases

Kind Note : This Yatra is prescribed in Kashi Purana . For who consider this as
too long period in busy work shedule we suggest KASHI YATRA Spiritual Rites Usually
Take Within 5 Days in 3 Phases

Phase 1
The yatra starts with a pilgrimage to Rameswaram,where Lord Rama did pooja to Lord Shiva who
is called Sri Ramanatha Swami in Rameswaram Temple.

One has to take a bath in the holy Agni Theertham there and take a Sankalpam at the start of the
pooja.Then we take ritual baths in the 28 holy Theerthams in the Temple complex at the Rameswaram
Temple.Then have Darshan of the Lord Sri Ramanatha Swami.

Then we have to perform Srardham for our ancestors there either as a full Srardham or as a
Hiranya Srardham, an abridged version of the ceremony with five Brahmin priests. Here instead of
cooked rice, wet soaked rice is given as Pindams or offerings.

Then we go over to the lands -end, Dhanushkodi, where one has to take dip/snaan in the sea 33
times, collect the sand from the seashore in three big scoops. This sand (about a Kg each bag) are called
no more as just sand. They are named, Sethu Madhava,Veni Madhava and Bindhu Madhava after
Aavahanam. Sethu Madhava and Bindu Madhava are dissolved/consigned to the sea and the other, Veni
Madhava is brought with us in a cloth bag. These are to be dissolved in the Prayag, the Sangam
(confluence) of the Holy River Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswathi at Prayag (Allahabad) at
Triveni Sangam.

Then visit the various temples in Rameswaram like Kothandarama Swami. Rama Theertham,
Lakshmana Theertham, Seetha Theertham etc.

Phase 2
We are mention Yatra days from here only. We exclude the no of days need for Rameswaram &
train/ flight travel days.

Day 1
Lucknow arrival. Transfer to Hotel/proceed to Naimisarayanya stay at Ahobila matt and Meeting
our sastri / vaadhiyar.

Day 2
Take Holy dip at Sakaratheertha, and perfoming pooja at the temples. Visit other places.
Proceed to Ayodhya, Visit Ram janma Bhomi Place,proceed to Prayag. Transfer to guest House
arranged by Sastrigal. Breakfast at Namicharanya, Lunch at Lucknow, Dinner at Allahabad.
Day 3
Allahabad rituals.

Prayag (Allahabad) (Triveni Sangam) (Day 3)


1. Anugnai (Sankalpam)
2. Vighneshwara Puja (Prayers to Ganesha)
3. Prayschitta Sankalpam (atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly)
4. Veni Daanam (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 that while hair normally floats of 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!!!!)
5. 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)
6. Hiranya Shrardham *
7. Pinda Pradaanam, Kshetra Pindam, Tarpanam **

Prayag (Allahabad) – spiritual rites


The spouses, before the Veni Dhan, seek permission from their husbands . Then the Veni
Madhav and Bindu Madhava, by now dried are worshipped. Please do not call them as sands
from Rameswaram.Plastic bags are banned in The Ganges so carry them in cloth bags.

Then in a flat plate, (Muram in Tamil) keep a mirror,comb, kumkum, haldi,a blouse piece
and take a boat to the Sangam With the priests,(Pandas of Kasi) Prayag) chanting divine
Mantras, the husband combs the wife's hair,(Pinnal) then does pooja to the scissors and
accompanied by chantings of the priest removes some hair (ritualistic) from the pleat of hair of
his wife.This,with the things kept in the Muram, is offered to the river Ganges at the Sangam.

It is observed that while the Turmeric/kumkum float,the piece of hair sinks,. It is understood
as the acceptance of our offering Veni Dhanam, by the Triveni . Triveni means the confluence of
the three rivers,Ganga,Yamuna and Saraswathi..

Then offer/dissolve the Veni and Bindu Madhavas brought from Rameswaram in the
sangam.

Afterwards,collect water from the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna in a can for
getting it sealed in coppeer vessels. One vessel,about half a litre or so are to be preserved for
the Abhishekam at Rameswaram to conclude the Sampoorna Kasi Yatra. The other small
copper vessels filled with the holy water can be used in poojas at home and for offering to
friends/relatives.
After returning from Triveni Sangam, Tharpanam has to be done at the sastri / vaadhiyar
Residence.The cooked rice for making 17 pindams are prepared and given by the priests at the
Shivmutt.Opposite the mutt is a place for sealing the Ganges water in small copper vessels.If
we had informed them in advance, meals are provided at the sastri / vaadhiyar at a nominal cost
of Rs.50/=per plate. Most people do the filling and sealing of the Holy water from Ganges at
shop in Varanasi.

THIS DAY NIGHT STAY AT VARANASI GUEST HOUSE

Phase 3
Day 4 Varanasi (Kashi Spiritual Rites)

i) Maha Prayaschittam. (Atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly)

ii) Punyaa Vajanam (purification ritual), Anugnai -Maha Sankalpam &Vighneshwara puja

iii) Manikarnika Snanam (holy bath at manikarnika ghat ),

iv) Pancha Ghatta Pindam Pala Daanam , Uttaranga Godaanam , Manikarnika Teertha Shrardham (Anna
roopam / Hiranya roopam)

THIS DAY NIGHT STAY AT VARANASI GUEST HOUSE

Day 5 Varanasi (Kashi Spiritual Rites)


Early-Morning
i) Vishwanatha Mangala aarti Abhishekham
ii) Annapoorna/Vishalakshi Kumkum Archanai
iii) Kashi Ganga 64 Ghats Darshan by boat ride with Legendary Ganga aarti .
Pancha Teertha Yatra (One has to go in a boat to these 5 Ghats and perform the rituals)

i) Asi Ghat (Haridwar Teertham) – this is where the Asi river merges with the Ganga. Performing the
rites here is believed to give one the fruits of performing the rites at Haridwar.

ii) 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.

iii) Trilochana Ghat (Vishnu Paada Udaka Teertham)


iv) Pancha Ganga Ghat (Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kirana, Doodhapappa- Sangam); Bindu
Madhava Temple

v) Manikarnika Ghat (Manikarnika Teertham, Chakra Pushkarni Teertham)

THIS DAY NIGHT STAY AT VARANASI GUEST HOUSE

Day 6 Varanasi (Kashi Spiritual Rites cont…)

i) Ganga Puja (it is a tradition to bring back small sealed containers 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.)

ii) Dampati Puja (Prayers offered to an elderly married couple, invoking them as Vishwanath and
Annapurna)

iii) Uttaranga Dasa Daanam ***

iv) Kala Bhairava Samaradhana (invocation and prayers to Kala Bhairav)

viii) Kala Bhairava Samaradhanai


ix) Worship of Kowdi Mata temple/Gavvalamma Gudi.
x) visit other local important temples (Bhu viswanath , sankata motchan hanuman , durga ji temple,
tulasi manas temple , gowdi amma temple , saranath Buddha stupa , temple and museum & ram nagar
fort ) then proceed gaya.

It is advisable to make a day trip to Gaya from Varanasi. The journey takes about 6 hours, and
the roads are extremely good. The general practice is to take a car to Gaya on the evening of the
Pancha Teertha Shrardham at Kashi and stay overnight at the Mutt at Gaya. The rituals at Gaya are
completed by lunch time, and one can return to Kashi by nex day evening.

AFTER KASHI LOCAL TOUR PROCEED BODH GAYA AND NIGHT STAY.

Phase 4
Day 7 Gaya Shrardham
i) Palguni (Falguni) Teertha Hiranya Shrardham (this is the traditional Shrardham performed on
the banks of any sacred river, here the Falguni.)

ii) Vishnu Paada Hiranya Shrardham


iii) Akshaya Vata Anna/Hiranya Shrardham & Akshaya Vata Pinda Pradaanam
(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) )

Explanations:
* Shrardham or performing the Vedic rites to appease one’s forefathers is of two types-
Anna roopam and Hiranya roopam. Anna Shrardham 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
Shrardham, 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 Shrardham 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. *** Daanam - 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 (Godaanam) and land, both of which are usually done in symbolic terms. Poorvanga and
Uttaranga Daanam refer to the things needed to be given at the beginning and end of the rituals
respectively, while Dasa Daanam refers to a set of 10 things that need to be donated.

The Akshaya Vata and the Vishnu Pada 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.
THIS DAY NIGHT STAY AT VARANASI GUEST HOUSE

Day-8 Varanasi to Madurai by flight.


THIS DAY NIGHT STAY AT Rameswaram GUEST HOUSE

Day 9
Abisheham of Kasi theertham to Ramanatha swamy.
uesday, 24 May 2011

Kashi Yatra
KASI YATRA
Undertaken by: K. Natarajan and Hema Natrarajan
During June 6 - 10, 2009

Report by K.Natarajan, Chennai Ph.: 22200440

Overview

Some data are available about Kasi Yatra in the literature; mainly the internet: but, I could not get a detailed
information on the subject. The available data are inadequate, because, several questions remain
unanswered. A number of readers have given brief info on some aspects of the Yatra; while others have
given on some other aspects. But, comprehensive information covering all essential aspects of the Yatra is
not available in the literature: mainly, the net. This is perhaps because, one has to spend considerable
amount of time for a detailed write-up. I have spent about ten days in collating the information based on my
own travel and experience. Before emabarking on Kasi Yatra, one must be familiar with terms like: Triveni
Sangam, Manikarnika Ghats, Veni Daan, Akshaya Vada, Vishnu Paad, Gaya Shrardham, Ganga Aarti,
Kasi Vishwanath, Annapoorna, etc. I hope this write-up would be useful to the pilgrims who
contemplate Kasi Yatra in the near future.

Why Kasi Yatra?

Several Hindus talk of embarking on Kasi Yatra when they get old. The Hindus believe that Kasi Yatra
constitutes the final journey of life. As one becomes aware that he is getting old, he comes to terms with
the process of life and death. One seeks salvation despite the sins he has committed knowingly or
unknowingly all through his life. Kasi may provide a path to Moksha notwithstanding the present and past
Karmas: notwithstanding the present and past sins. Kasi provides one last hope for salvation. This is the
Hindu belief. Also Kasi Yatra includes trip to Gaya and Prayaag (Allahabad). You feed the hungry ancestors
waiting anxiously at Gaya: for you to offer food to them in the form of pindams. The satisfied ancestors
bless you with good health, wealth and happiness. They will bless you with all best things on Earth that you
have desired. Kasi is the place for liberation as well, apart from salvation. Liberation from what? Liberation
from the cycle of births and deaths. Having experienced misery several times in life, no sane person wants
to be born again and again in this world? During the ancient days, old people used to embark on Kasi Yatra,
walking all the way to Kasi from deep down South, just to die in Kasi. They used to walk through forests
and mountainous terrains. Many died on the way. Nevertheless Moksha is assured. Those days, if one
goes on Kasi Yatra, he or she will never be seen any time in future. Because, we never had high-speed
transportation system or infrastructure to support such travel. The Yatra was invariably by walk.

These days, many people don’t have a good idea regarding what exactly constitutes Kasi Yatra. Some
people think that a Kasi Yatra simply means a trip to Kasi and a dip in the River Ganga. This is not true.
Some others, who have heard of the trips to places such as Kasi, Gaya, Prayaag, etc. in connection with
Kasi Yatra, are aware of the rites or Samskaras, but, they think that it may be a very expensive process.
This is also not true. Kasi Yatra with your partner (wife or husband) need not be very expensive: it can
actually be quite affordable. Note that, in order to carry out ceremonies like Shrardham, one must be
accompanied by his wife: since, both husband and wife are involved in most of the ceremonies. It is better
not to take children with us.

The main purpose of our trip has been to carry out the rituals related to Kasi Yatra: not site-seeing. These
include prayers at Temples like Viswanath, Visalakshi, etc. Someone told me that there are at least a
thousand temples at Kasi: so, it is called the City of Temples. There are a hundred major Temples. The
Kasi Yatra also includes trips to Gaya and Prayag (Allahabad). A dip in Ganges and Triveni Sangam and
prayers at Viswanath and Visalakshi Temples will help cleanse our sins and facilitate Moksha.
Performing Shrardham at Gaya will give us the best opportunity to receive the blessings of our ancestors,
who will be too pleased to bless us after we offer the pindams. At Kasi, we may also perform Ganga Pooja
and Dampati Pooja.

The best age for embarking on Kasi Yatra is between 55 to 65 years. Because, by that age people normally
finish all their responsibilities / commitments to the family. Further, after 65 years, one may not be physically
fit to withstand the rigors of the trips to various places; not to mention the highly-involved ceremonies.
Further, one needs some mental make-up in terms of renunciation, maturity, spiritual outlook, etc. which
are not possible when you are too young. As one grows old, he gets mellowed down in matters relating to
materialism. This kind of mind-set is appropriate for Kasi Yatra. Like I have mentioned before, please do
not take your children during Kasi Yatra. It is inauspicious to witness things like Akshaya Vata and Vishnu
Paada when the parents are alive. Besides, Kasi Yatra is not precisely a pleasure trip for fun.

In this write-up, I have given a brief description of the three places involved: Kasi, Prayaag and Gaya. In
summer, it is very hot in all these places: temperature goes up to 45 deg. C. So, please avoid peak of
summer. Also, winter will be very cold. So, bathing in the rivers will be difficult. Hence, it is a good idea to
choose a proper time for Kasi Yatra.

About Benaras

Since Kasi Yatra mainly refers to Kasi, I consider it necessary to tell you all something about Kasi or
Benaras, which is referred to as Varanasi in the Railway Guides, Air Maps, and for all official purposes.
Clearly, there are three names pertaining to the same place: Kasi, Benaras and Varanasi: So, I am a bit
confused regarding the name by which I am supposed to talk about this place. This confusion comes
because: the pilgrimage to this city is Kasi Yatra; the major University here is Benaras Hindu University;
the official name is Varanasi. Anyway, I will use all these three names in this write-up, depending on the
situation and purpose. For instance, no one says it is Varanasi Yatra; but it is always Varanasi Airport; and
Benaras Hindu University. Varanasi is derived from Varuna plus Assi, the two rivers. Varanasi is situated
between the confluence of the rivers, Varuna and Assi with the Ganges. There is mention of Kasi in Rig
Veda, Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. So, the city is certainly very old: perhaps, older than 3,000 years.
Clearly, Benaras is one of the oldest civilizations of the world. No wonder, Mark Twain had described
Benaras as older than history and older than tradition. More than 30 lakh people live here; a very populated
and crowded place indeed. I have heard of this city in connection with: pilgrimage (Kasi Yatra), silk sarees
(Benares silk), Kasi Vishwanath Temple, etc. I also know that Kasi has been a major Center of Learning
for Vedic studies for three thousand years. Some important Universities have been established here during
ancient times: one being Taxila. Well known poets or scholars like Kabir, Tulsi Das, Pundit Ravi Shankar,
Bismilla Khan, etc. have lived here. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the
great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism, Shaivism as well as Shakta Sect have coexisted in Kasi harmoniously
for hundreds of years.

Nearly 20 years back, my sister who has been working in the Benaras Hindu University (BHU), has said
that Benaras is not very clean; and that Ganges is actually very dirty. Even now, Ganges is far from clean;
despite the crores of Rupees spent under Clean Ganga Project of the Govt. of India. The boatman told me
that the money allocated for the Project has not been effectively spent; and that some people may have
actually swindled considerable part of the budget.

Benaras is a highly crowded city. It is full of lanes. Lanes and lanes, everywhere. As if these are not enough,
there are also sub-lanes along the lanes. You will see cows and cattle blocking the lanes. These cows
generally allow no more than one-foot-space for us to get through them. No, they will never hurt you. Still,
one is always skeptical while walking through them. Also, you will have to be careful while crossing the
gallis (lanes); lest you skid as you walk on the cow-dung. Regarding neatness, cleanliness etc., less said,
the better. Note that, in order to get to the Ganges and various Ghats, you should necessarily walk through
these gallis; or galli-gallis: I mean sublanes. Most of the Mutts or Halls where religious ceremonies are held
are along these gallis; so no escape from these. I had already read about them in one of the issues of
Mangaiyar Malar, the Tamil Magazine; so, I was mentally prepared for this kind of experience. Therefore,
what I saw was something very similar to what I had visualised in my mind about Benaras; except that I did
not bargain for gallis within the gallis; this is something too much for me. Within these lanes, you have
various shops; selling nice things: lassis, cool drinks, sweets, etc. There are some shops next to the public
toilets. Yet, people eat happily as if they live in a very different world notwithstanding the stink from the
toilets. Apparently, the fine smell of the hot-hot delicacies has overpowered the stink from the toilets which
are just a few feet apart. The old city is highly congested and polluted; so, the affluent section of the present
population has moved to the suburbs with better facilities. However, all the ancient Temples are situated in
the old city: generally, along the Ganga River.

In this connection, I want to caution the readers about one thing. When you want to visit Kasi for pilgrimage,
just don’t bother about things like cleanliness. Be a part of the crowd. Be a team player. You will actually
feel nice that way. Even if you live in a star hotel, you still have to come to one of these ancient houses or
Mutts for ceremonies. That is why, we actually decided to stay in one an a/c hotels just opposite one of
those religious joints in a lane. This is not the ultimate-quality hotel; but would serve our purpose. Indeed,
several VIPs have carried out the religious ceremonies from this house owned by Shri Krishnamoorthy
Ganapadigal. Nadigar Thilagam Shivaji Ganesan and his family, for instance; Shri Radha Ravi being
another visitor. I was gaping at the huge photo of Shivaji in his house for several minutes. I was told that
Radha Ravi was also constantly looking at this very photo for a long time. The way Shivaji was standing
with folded hands in front of the Ganapadigal with absolute humility and piety is impressive. Anyone will get
that feeling. The Ganapadigal said that Benaras is bursting at the seams; because, a city basically designed
for just 5,000 people several hundred years back, is now catering to a crowd of 50 lakhs. (I checked up the
population data later; it appears that the actual population is around 31 lakhs as on 2001). What else can
you expect from such a situation? Nevertheless, thousands and thousands of people keep pushing each
other as they walk to the Ganges or as they have a dip in the Holy River. The thought of attaining Moksha
is too overpowering and tempting in relation to the cleanliness of the river or inconvenience due to excessive
crowd. If you expect clean, crystal - clear water in the Ganges, you are asking for the Moon. The water is
muddy; dead bodies are dipped into the Ganges just very close to your bathing spot; I have seen, even
sewage water flowing into the Ganges. Yet, the water is fairly acceptable for a bath. Indeed, we enjoyed
bathing in the Ganges; we refused to come out of water; but for the need to do ceremonies. The Priest told
me that Maha Shivratri is the most famous festival in Kasi, when the devotees take bath in the Ganges and
pray Lord Vishwanath. Very large number of people visit Kasi at that time.
About Prayaag (Allahabad)
Though Prayag has been in existence for ages, the name Allahabad was given by the Mughal emperor,
Akbar. Allahabad or Prayag is also called the "Tirth Raj", the king of all pilgrimage centers. There are many
references to Prayag in the Epics, Vedas and Puranas. Allahabad is situated at the confluence of the three
rivers: Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati (a mythical river which is not visible). The place where Ganga and
Yamuna meet is called Sangam (union): the venue of many sacred fairs and rituals: the place that attracts
thousands of pilgrims throughout the year. The most important event at Prayag is the Kumbha Mela. Millions
of people from all over India gather at Prayag to take a holy dip at Sangam. People also go to Prayaag for
the annual Magha Mela, which is also holy. We took a car to Allahabad, which is about 2 1/2 hours drive
from Kasi. After completing all the rituals at Prayaag, we got back to Benaras the same day. Indeed, we
had enough time in the evening to visit a few places, as well as to witness Ganga Aarti.
About Gaya

Gaya is situated on the banks of Phalgu (or Phalguni) river in the State of Bihar. Gaya was a part of the
ancient Province of Magadha, and is a sacred city not only for the Hindus, but also for the Budhists. Gaya
derives its name from the demon, Gayasur (Gaya plus Asur, the demon). Lord Vishnu killed the demon by
placing his foot on him. The foot-print of Vishnu was left in Gaya. The demon got transformed to a series
of rocks and hills around Gaya. The whole city has become holy and blessed by Mahavishnu. That is why
lakhs of people visit Gaya to perform Shraddha to absolve the sins of the ancestors. The pleased and
satisfied ancestors bless us with good health and wealth: not only for us; but also for the entire family. Gods
and Goddesses have promised to live on Gayasur’s body, which is present everywhere in Gaya. There are
various Ghats and Temples along the Falgu (Phalgu) River. There are also a few Temples on hill-tops:
such as: Rama Shila, Mangla Gauri, Shringa Sthan and Brahmayoni. These Temples are generally part of
the pilgrimage circuit. Elaborate staircases have been built in most of them, when there is an ascent. I did
not have time to visit most of them, though. In this region, trees such as Pipal and Akshaya Vat (the banyan
tree that does not die) are popular and considered holy. The Mangla Gauri shrine has two round stones
representing Goddess Sati, the consort of Lord Shiva. The most important Temple however, is Vishnu Paad
Temple along the Phalgu River. Vishnu Paad or Foot is very holy, because the Holy Foot has annihilated
the demon. You should place the pindas; wash them; and then place your head on the Holy Foot to attain
Moksha. We went to Gaya by car and returned to Benaras by the same car, which was arranged by our
Pundit Ganapaadigal. There is no need to book a hotel at Gaya. We started from Benaras at 2 AM and
reached Gaya at 7 AM. After completing the rituals at Gaya, we started from Gaya at 1 PM and reached
Benaras by 6 PM. We had enough time in the evening to visit some temples in Kasi.

Tour Schemes and Options

There are various schemes available from the Tour Operators suiting your budget. There are a number of
methods of embarking on Kasi Yatra. My wife and self-have chosen a somewhat costly method in view of
my time limitations (I still continue to work; I am 62 plus): I have the need to complete the whole Yatra and
important rituals in 5 days. I have problem of leave. So, I have decided to fly wherever possible along with
my wife. Chennai-Benaras – Chennai; via Delhi, where there is a stop-over for one to four hours depending
on the flight. But, even this is not too expensive. It is a good idea to carry with you some bread and snacks
to eat in places like airport during the waiting periods; or even inside the plane. The present day flights may
or may not provide food onboard. Besides, after performing Shrardham, one is not supposed to eat all kinds
of food offered in the airlines during the return trip.

There are a number of Tour Operators all over India. There are a few at Chennai too; for instance, there is
one at T.Nagar who regularly advertises in the local magazines giving details of the programmes as well
as amount involved. The budget varies between Rs. 6,000 to 10,000 depending on the services provided.
We went through a Service Provider, Mr. Vaideeswaran, who has an office at Spencer Plaza, Chennai. For
myself and my wife, he has designed a specific programme by arranging appropriate flights, so that we
could complete the whole programme in 4 days; that too within the budget that we had in mind. For us, time
was at premium. I find Mr. Vaideeswaran a very cordial, friendly and reasonable person. He has provided
us quality service and has been in touch with us even while we were at Kasi, Gaya or Allahabad. Wherever
we went, someone was there to receive us. The coordination was near-perfect. Whenever we had some
problems: minor, though: he sorted them out through his representatives at various places. I will be happy
to give his address on request.

There are various tour – programmess, generally, extending to a period of 10 to 15 days, organized by tour
operators using modes such as trains, vans or cars. Such programmes may cost less. Some service
providers offer very cost-effective programs when you go in groups; they may provide group
accommodation in modest places.

There is a difference of opinion regarding the sequence of visits to varied places. Some say, you should
visit Triveni first; others say, Benaras. I went through the literature on the subject; there is no conclusive
advice in such matters. Also, the problem of flight availability, landing spot, connecting flight etc. will impose
further restraints on your programs. So, we decided to have our programs as follows: Chennai – Benaras
– Prayag (Allahabad) – Benaras – Gaya – Bodh Gaya – Benaras – Chennai. For people residing at Chennai,
this is the best bet; in case you want to fly.

The Indian Railways operate a popular ten-day Tour Programme from Chennai by means of Ganga-Kavery
Express. Most of the pilgrims may find this method convenient and suitable. Even for such programmes, I
feel, it is better to engage a professional coordinator or tour advisor. It will make immense sense; and is
also cost effective. Mr. Vaideeswaran, our Service Provider, also coordinates with the Railways and others
to facilitate such tours. Please note that irrespective of the type of the tour programme, mode of travel,
number of days, and itinerary, the charges may not include the expenses required for performing religious
rites or rituals; which may be around Rs. 10000 to 20000 depending on what you intend to do. The amount
required for daan depends entirely on your generosity. If you are aware of this, you won’t have any problem
with your Tour Operators.
A typical itinerary for the Indian Railways Kasi Yatra is as follows: (Tariff: Economy: Rs. 6650 per person
(twin sharing); Standard: Rs. 9200 (twin sharing)):

 Day 1: Monday: Dep from Chennai Central by 2669, Ganga Kaveri Express at 17:30 hrs
 Day 2: Tuesday: Train journey
 Day 3: Wednesday: Arrival Allahabad at 03:50 hrs. Check-in for Wash and fresh up in
Dharamshala. Visit to Triveni Sangamam for bathing. Darshan of Anjaneya. After lunch, visit Anand
Bhavanand and reach Ayodhya at 20.00 hrs. Overnight stay in Ayodhya
 Day 4: Thursday: Bath in river Sarayu and visit Valmiki Bhavan, Ram Janam Bhoomi, Kanak
Bhavan and Hanuman Temple. After lunch check out from hotel at Ayodhya and Proceed to Varanasi (220
kms). On arrival, get to your hotel and stay overnight at Varanasi.
 Day 5: Friday: Bathe in river Ganga. Perform rituals to ancestors. Visit Kasi Viswanath Temple,
Visalakshi Temple and Annapoorani Temple. After lunch and rest, visit Ganga Aarathi in the evening. Stay
overnight at Varanasi
 Day 6: Friday: After breakfast, check-out hotel from Varanasi, proceed to Gaya. Visit Kal Bairav
Temple enroute and arrive at Gaya. Proceed to Buddha Gaya and visit Main Temple and Monasteries of
various countries. Check into hotel at Gaya and stay overnight.
 Day 7: Sunday: Perform rituals for ancestors and visit Vishnu Pad Temple. After lunch, check-out
from hotel at Gaya and proceed to Varanasi. Check into hotel at Varanasi and stay overnight.
 Day 8: Monday: Enjoy Boat ride in river Ganga in the morning. After lunch, check out from Hotel
and visit Banaras Hindu Uiversity, Birla Temple, Sankat Mochan Mandir, Thulasi Manas Mandir, Gaudi Bai
Mandir and Saranath temple. Proceed to Varanasi Railway station to board Train no. 2670, Ganga Kaveri
Express: Dep. at 20:25 hrs.
 Day 9: Tuesday: Train journey
 Day 10: Wednesday: Arrive Chennai Central Railway station at 09:50 hrs.

Like I have pointed out before, my own programme has been short and sweet, but hectic. The Chennai-
Varanasi-Chennai travel has been by air via Delhi (stopover). The whole programme was over in four days;
but this will kept us very busy every moment from take-off to landing. There have been a series of
programmes; never a dull moment. In such high-density programmes, one should have the capacity to
withstand the rigorous time schedule as well as the rigors of the rituals and successive visits to the temples.
However, most of the important activities (rituals, ghats, and temples) have been covered albeit in an
intensive way. I recommend that the readers take 6 sets of inner garments. You won’t have time to wash
them, anywhere. Take four sets of dhotis as well as angavastarams. The ladies should take four sets of 9
yards sarees. Also take a few towels and hand-kerchiefs. It is a good idea to take elementary medicines
like antacids, paracetamol, multivitamin tablets, etc. Also, learn to wear the Panchkatchan Dhoti or Madissar
Pudavai (for ladies): you may not get help in such matters at Kasi, Prayaag, Gaya etc. My itinerary is as
follows: (Total fare: Rs. 18,496 per head):

Day 1:

Dep. Chennai: June , 09: IC 440: 0640 Hrs


Arrive Delhi: June , 09: 0910 Hrs.
Dep. Delhi: June , 09: IC 406: 1005 hrs.
Arrive Varanasi: June 6, 09: 1120 Hrs.
Lunch at the residence of Sh. Krishnamurthy: 1200Hrs; Tea at the same place: 1600 Hrs.
Visit Temples: Kal Bairav, Birla Mandir, etc.

Day 2:

Travel to Allahabad by car (about 2 ½ hours). Bathing in Triveni Sangam. Take water from Sangam in a
can. Buy small copper containers from a shop. You may buy some 10 containers. Also buy one big container
to take Ganga water for Abhishek at Rameshwaram. Give Ganga water for pouring in these containers and
sealing.
Return to Kasi by 3 PM
Boating in Ganga. Visit the Ghats of Ganga
Ganga Aarti (about 2 hours): Float a lamp on the Ganges.
Visit Temples: Viswanath, Annapoorni
Go to sleep early: say by 8 to 9 PM.

Day 3:

Wake up at 1 AM. Take bath. Get ready by 2 AM. Take clothes for bathing and Shrardh.
Travel to Gaya. Dep. 2 AM. Reach Gaya by 7 AM.
Perform Gaya Shrardh
Visit Vishnu Pada Temple. Perform rituals at this Temple.
Visit Bodh Gaya enroute to Benaras.
Reach Kasi by 5-30 PM.
Visit Visalakshi Temple.

Day 4:

Rituals and Poojas at the Mutt of Shri Krishnamurthy Ganapadigal


Perform Shrardh in the Ghats: 5 times.
Concluding Pooja: Namaskarams (Pranaams): Daans
Offering of Shrardh Lunch for the Brahmins at the residence of Ganapadigal
We may eat Shrardh Lunch thereafter.
Leave for Varanasi Airport by 1230 Hrs.
Dep.: Varanasi: June 9, 09: IC 405: 1540 Hrs.
Arrive: Delhi: 1700 Hrs.
Dep. Delhi: June 9, 09: IC 540: 2000 Hrs.
Arrive: Chennai: June 9, 09: 2235 Hrs.

Note: By the time you reach your residence at Chennai it will be past midnight. Most of the times, the airlines
don’t maintain the scheduled time; invariably there are delays; you must allow for them. We almost missed
the connecting flight to Varanasi from Delhi. However, we managed to get the flight because, the connecting
flight to Varanasi was also late! So, one mistake corrected the other!

The best method of visiting various ancient Temples at Kasi is by means of an auto rickshaw; not car. A
bigger vehicle like car cannot swiftly move through the huge crowd along the lanes. The cycle rickshaws
are also used. It is a painful sight to see the cycle rickshaw pullers pedaling their ways through the lanes:
a practice no more prevalent in most of the areas of Chennai. Just imaging an old man moving the rickshaw
on which, three fat ladies have been happily sitting. It is painful to see such a sight.

For visiting places like Gaya, Prayag (Allahabad) etc. from Benaras, I suggest that you go by a car. You
need not book a hotel at Gaya. You need to book only one hotel for all these visits; say, at Benaras. You
can move back and forth from Benaras. For a pilgrimage consisting of three nights and four days, I booked
an a/c hotel at Benaras through Shri Krishnamoorthy Ganapaadigal, who was recommended by Mr.
Vaideeswaran. I found this arrangement very convenient. It will take about six hours to reach Gaya from
Benaras. After doing the ceremonies at Gaya, you can be back to Benaras by 6 PM. And take rest for some
time in your hotel. Triveni at Allahabad is about 2 ½ hours drive from Benaras. There is a minor problem in
such an arrangement, though. You need to get up at 1 AM for your trip to Gaya; and take bath in the hotel;
and get into the car by 2 AM; you will reach Gaya early in the morning (by 7 AM); just in time for conducting
the ceremonies. Our Ganapadigal had already arranged for someone to receive us at the site at Gaya.
Everything went off with clock-work- precision vis-à-vis time-schedule. That is why I say, it is better to go
through a reliable travel coordinator or advisor.

There are a number of star hotels in Benaras: most of which are away from the major Temples, Thirthas or
Ghats. These hotels will provide you all luxury and comfort to be expected in such hotels. However, for
rituals, you still have to travel some 15 km and come to the Ghats via the lanes. So, it becomes pointless
to stay in such high class hotels. The idea of coming to Kasi is for pilgrimage; not for fun. The accent is on
rites, rituals and Vedic procedures; not comfort and pleasure. However, please note that the power (current)
fails too often. In this sense, a decent hotel has an advantage. Because, the hotel may have a generator.
Otherwise, you may get burnt in the heat of summer. The generator allows you to switch on at least a fan,
if not the a/c. Considering these points, we stayed in a modest a/c hotel just opposite the house of the
Ganapaadigal, albeit in a lane! When the power failed, a fan came to our rescue. I suggest that you choose
an accommodation in one of the lanes at Hanuman Ghat. I feel, it is a good idea to be with the public rather
than seeking exclusive treatment in a stylish hotel. In my opinion, a good, decent, clean hotel near one of
the Ghats would do. We stayed at the Hotel Arti in Hanuman Ghat (a/c hotel). It is not very expensive by
the standards of Chennai or Mumbai. It is also just opposite the House where the Vaadhyar or Pundit
performed ceremonies like Sankalpam; so very convenient. We were also provided with South Indian food
in the same House (Mutt), which has a decent Mess. The food is prepared by a group of Brahmins. Even if
you stay in star hotels several kms apart, it is inconvenient to travel by the car in the narrow lanes where
the Ghats are situated. So, staying in such hotels don’t make much sense in whatever way you look at it.

Ganga Snaan

Ganga Snaan means, bathing in the Ganges or Triveni Sangam. Ganga Snaan ensures Moksham. You
can get rid of all your sins and avoid rebirth. The Ganges is highly polluted and unclean. I am generally very
finicky about cleanliness; but in Kasi, I just went with the general public; and I actually felt quite comfortable;
and was generally, at ease. When you see dead bodies being cremated along the Ghats, what cleanliness
are we talking about? However, we realize that, after all, human body is basically a filthy unclean system;
this is how one feels in Kasi. Besides, the Holy Ganges cleanses the whole body; and also our sins. I would
like to mention that in spite of repeated baths in the various Ghats as well as Triveni Sangam, we never
had any problem with our body or skin when we returned to Chennai. No itching! The Priest told me that
the Ganges water is known to last a hundred years without getting spoiled. The water in Triveni appears to
be cleaner. It is a pleasure to take bath at the Triveni Sangam. There is considerable force exerted on you
by the rivers. So, you should hold on to one of the poles erected at the Sangam. There is also a rope at
which you can place your feet for security. The platform, the pole and the rope provides enough security
for a safe bath. The platform is placed in a region where the depth of water is not too much: say, 3 to 4 feet.
During the days of flood, I am told, people don’t take bath at the interior region; but on the steps near the
banks. You should dip into the Ganges or Sangam nine times, with your head fully immersed in water as
you chant: Om Namakshivaya. At Sangam, don’t forget to immerse the Holy Sand brought from Agni
Theerth, Rameshwaram. Also, you should immerse a few strands of your wife’s hair at Sangam, constituting
Veni Daanam. I have discussed about this separately in another Section.

The Ghats of the Ganges

I am told that there are around 100 Ghats along the Ganga River; but from the point of pilgrimage and / or
bathing, five Ghats are very popular: Dasaswamedh Ghat, Manikarnika Ghat, Harischandra Ghat, Panch
Ganga and Assi Ghat. In a few Ghats like Harishchandra and Manikarnika, we noticed that a large number
of dead bodies are cremated after dipping them in the Ganges; yes, the dead bodies are dipped on one
side, as people take bath nearby unmindful of this. This is Varanasi. The Ghats of Ganga constitute the
holiest spots along the Ganges. Several kings of the past have built palaces near the Ghats. I was also told
by our Vaadhiyar (Priest) that the ladies of King Ranjit Singh used to take bath in a Ghat regularly in the
residence which exists even now along the Ganga. There are a large number of Temples along the Ganga;
esp. near the Ghats. People pray in these Temples after a bath in the Ghats. We had a dip in three of the
Ghats and prayed in one of the Temples on the shore. Not all the Ghats have Temples; they are simply for
taking bath. The Tulsi Ghat is named after the famous poet, Tulsi Das, who actually lived here for several
years and composed Ram Charit Manas. It is like our Kamba Ramayanam. Aurangazeb has built a big
mosque near the Panch Ganga Ghat; five rivers are supposed to meet in this Ghat. It is compulsory to take
bath in the Assi Ghat, one of the first Ghats, and offer prayers to the Lingam under the Peepal Tree. At the
Dasawamedha Ghat, Lord Brahma has sacrificed ten horses; and is an important spot. When you take bath
here, you get the benefits of doing Aswamedha Yagam. The Chakra Thirth is actually a well; we poured
one sombu (about a litre) of water drawn from the well constituting Chakra Thirtha. We bought some lamps
from the vendors and floated them on the Ganges.
Cremation Ghats

At Manikarnika Ghat, you can see several dead bodies burning at once at several heights. The ashes will
be dumped in the Ganges. The souls will be liberated. For several minutes, I was watching the dead bodies
burning constantly. It becomes very clear to one and all that no one is going to live permanently on Earth;
death is assured for all. None can take even one Rupee when he dies; indicating the futility of materialistic
objects. Such thoughts make one calm and quiet. Some equanimity is transmitted to your person instantly
as you watch the cremation of innumerable bodies. Several bodies are placed in the Que awaiting
cremation. Anyone who visits Benaras must witness such cremation in these Ghats. According to the
legend, Vishnu dug a pit with his chakra, and the sweat created during his meditation filled the pit. Shiva
shook his head and his jeweled earring fell into the pit, hence the name Manikarnika. Tradition has it that
those who die at Benaras and get cremated at the Manikarnika Ghat, get liberated from the cycle of life and
death.

When I saw cremation in the Harishchandra Ghats, my mind naturally recollected the story of this ancient
King who followed the path of truth; I recalled the way his wife Chandramati had undergone suffering as a
sequel to this. A bath in these Ghats will ensure that your sins are dissolved and you attain Moksha after
your death. This is the main reason why the Hindus want to have a bath in the Ganges; esp., in these
Ghats. I am told that the Manikarnika Ghat is THE most important one for cremation; and hence for
doing Shrardham. We offered pindams to the ancestors here. Nowhere in India, you will see cremation
right at the center of the city; except Varanasi, which is considered as Mahashmashan; the Great Cremation
Ground. In the olden days, thousands of Hindus used to do Kasi Yatra just to die at Kasi and attain
Moksha. So, Kasi became the Great Cremation Ground for the whole of Hindustan. The Cremation Ghats
convey a clear message to all: Nothing is permanent. Death is certain. Death is assured for all those who
are born. It is only a matter of time. Kasi Yatra and a trip to Gaya signify these facts. So, one has to behave
himself while alive. This is the message of the cremation Ghats during Kasi Yatra. So, when you embark
on Kasi Yatra, make it a point to get close to the Cremation Ghats. Please don’t avoid them.

Ganga Aarti

All the pilgrims visiting Kasi should not fail to participate in the Ganga Aarti event. It is simply spectacular.
Ganga Aarti is held in a few places along the Ghats; but the one at Dasaawameth Ghat is the most
scintillating show. There are a number of priests clad in identical saffron uniform, performing a series of
Poojas: say, 16 types: like doopam, deepams, karpooraadanai, etc., constituting the Shodasobachara
Pooja. Before starting the Aarti, some experts give discourses on some Vedic topics. The deepaaradanai
done by nearly ten priests, each holding a tall lamp with several steps of lighted lamps at different levels
constitutes a magnificent sight. You may see a good portrayal of the Ganga Aarti at Youtube. Several high
quality photos are also displayed in the Wikipaedia. The Ganga Aarti is held each day at 5 PM, and takes
nearly an hour. Hundreds of people witness the same from innumerable boats in the nearby Ghats. One
problem is Ganga Aarti is held simultaneously from two nearby areas and the loud-speakers from both
create disturbing conditions creating interference on both. I think, there is no need of loud speakers in the
first place. Besides, one does not need two Ganga Aartis at such close locations. However, despite these
aberrations, it is a marvelous spectacle to watch.

Shrardham

There are two types of Shrardhams: Anna Shrardham and Hiranya Shrardham. In Anna Shrardham, a few
Brahmins: 3 to 4: are fed after the ceremonies. These Brahmins represent our ancestors. In Hiranya
Shrardham, no such elaborate feeding takes place: instead, plantains and rice are offered; however, certain
rituals are still carried out. Anna Shrardham is more involved and expensive in relation to the latter. It also
takes more time. While regular, full-fledged Anna Shrardham is mandatory at Gaya, you may opt for Hiranya
Shrardham at Kasi, which is repeatedly done five times in the various Ghats of Kasi. The most important
Shrardhams at Kasi are the ones performed at Manikarnika and Pancha Thirtha. Nandi is meant for the
appeasement of the ancestors; while Vaishnava Shrardham is for pleasing or satisfying the Gods. Pinda
Pradaanam is the ritual of offering food to three or more generations of our ancestors. Balls of cooked rice
to which a small quantity of ellu (sesame seeds) is added constitute Pindams. The offering of the same is
Pinda Pradaanam.

Dhaanam: (or Daan)

You should also do an important thing during Kasi Yatra, particularly at Kasi: “dhaanam” (or daan) or charity.
You may do this to anyone; Brahmins in particular. Anything can be given as daanam: vessels, money,
clothes, mats, cow (go-daan), gold, etc., depending on your capacity and generosity. The Poorvanga Daan
refers to the one at the beginning of the rituals; while the Uttaranga Daan refers to the one at the end of the
rituals. The Dasa Daan refers to the ten traditional daans recommended in the Scriptures. Nowadays, the
daans are given based on one’s generosity and economic conditions; no prescribed rules are followed. The
daans are mainly for the Brahmins who conduct the rituals; but you can give daan to anyone and everyone;
the poor and needy; irrespective of the caste. Anna Daan is the most important daan. I may mention that
after completing the Kasi Yatra, we are expected to feed 10 couples and offer daans.

If you do dhaanam properly, the Brahmins will say: tripti. But, it is difficult to get a “tripti” from the
Brahmins at Gaya. You really have to be a bit liberal; and also kind. The readers should not imagine that
it will cost them the Earth to get “tripti” from the Brahmins. Liberal charity with love and affection would do.
Dhaanam or charity or donation constitutes one of the most important aspects of Kasi Yatra. We are aware
that several people have offered dhaanam of cow (go-dhaanam) or even gold from time to time. If we can’t
do that, the least we can do is to give liberal amount of money to the poor and needy; Brahmins in particular.
Why Brahmins? Because, they are the ones who perform the rituals. They have no other income. During
our Kasai Yatra, my wife and self could manage to get tripti from the Pundits and Priests in most of the
places; and the expenses were still manageable. Sometimes, I have noted that even some well to do people
offer meager amounts. This is improper in these days of inflation. Please note that the Brahmins doing
religious service are not beggars; they are learned people; well-versed in Vedic rites; and also do enormous
work during the rituals; and deserve a better deal. Besides, they too have children studying in colleges.
There are innumerable poor people and even beggars who will seek charity from you. It will be impossible
to please or satisfy all these. They also prove to be a big nuisance; since they won’t let you do your
ceremonies peacefully. In Kasi, I noticed that one beggar lady was trying to get daan from us repeatedly,
even after receiving liberal amount from us. Needless to say, one would get disgusted with such cheats.
Notwithstanding these, we have tried to give some money to the poor wherever possible. The Pandas in
temples, Ghats, etc. will try to exploit you. So, avoid them to the extent possible. Like I have said before, it
is better to go through a Service Provider or Coordinator, who will generally take care of such matters; so
that you won’t be harassed by the unwanted elements.

Gaya Shrarddha

The most important ritual to be performed at Gaya is Shraddha: that too at the bank of the Phalguni River.
The Phalgu River is dry most of the time; so a bath here is out of question. We were astonished by the
length and breadth of the river; yet, devoid of water: it is all sand everywhere along the river. The Priest
narrated the legend about Phalguni River. Rama and Sita, came to Gaya to perform the sacred rites for
Rama’s father, Dasaratha. Sita was playing on the sand when Rama went for bathing. At that time,
Dasaratha suddenly appeared in front of Sita and asked for pindam (food), which Sita offered after
converting sand to pindams. When Rama came after a bath, he could not believe this. Sita said, she has
five witnesses: the Akshaya Vatam (banyan tree), the Falguni River, a Cow, a Tulsi Plant and a Brahmin.
Of these, only the Akshaya Vatam supported her stand; all the others kept quiet. Sita became very angry
and cursed the four as follows: there would be no water in Phalguni most of the times; the Cow would
always be worshipped from the back side (never from the front side, as is the normal practice); there would
be no Tulsi Plant at Gaya; the Brahmins would never be satisfied at Gaya (that is why, they rarely say “tripti”
at Gaya). On the contrary, Sita blessed that the Banyan Tree would remain immortal. That is why this tree
is known as Akshaya Vat: Aakshaya means one that never decays; Vat means a banyan tree). We are also
told that while all the banyan trees generally shed their leaves sometime during a year, the Akshayavat
remains ever green: even in draught. The readers may note that even though, the Phalguni River is bone-
dry, we would see water even if we dig the sand by one foot. There is sub-soil water everywhere along the
river. Other important temples in the vicinity are the Sakshi Gopal temple and the Mangala Gauri Temple
(this is a part of the Shakti Peetam).

Gaya is significant to all the Hindus from the point of view of salvation of the souls of their ancestors. People
perform Gaya Shraddha; esp. a ritual called pinda daan. These pindas would constitute food for the hungry
ancestors, who have been keenly awaiting our presence at Gaya to offer the pindas after proper Shraddha.
The satisfied ancestors will bless us offering us anything and everything that we need for ourselves as well
as our entire family. If all the members of a big family can’t perform Gaya Shraddha due to some
inconvenience, it would not matter. Even if one member performs the same accompanied by his wife, the
ancestors will be pleased and bless all. This is the advantage. I am happy that I could perform Gaya
Shraddha along with my wife for the benefit of the entire family; the other members of my family have not
had a chance to perform the same. I am happy that I could fill the void. The Vedic Rites are performed not
just for three generations; but for all the ancestors connected with the families of bot the husband and wife
participating in the Gaya Shraddha. The “Bhumihar Brahmins” have been the traditional priests at
Vishnupad Mandir. We were told by the Pandas that the present day temple was rebuilt by Devi Ahilya Bai
Holkar, the Maharani of Indore in the 18th century.
I will now narrate the way the Gaya Shraddha is performed. This is very important for the readers. We
should note that, when Gayasur died he had requested Vishnu one boon: that people should be perform
the Shraddha and the sacred rites including Pinda Pradaanam: not only for their ancestors, but for anyone
and everyone: ancestors of the immediate family, distant relatives, friends and foes, non-Hindus, pets,
unclaimed bodies, etc: in short, for any person or animal that has died naturally or through some mishap.
This is an exceptional act of kindness on the part of Gayasur as well as Maha Vishnu who granted the
boon. The pindams are offered even for the realatives who were not well-disposed to our family. Because,
even those realtives, who had been generally adverse to our interests, have done some good things some
time in their life: say, by attending or gracing our functions. The pindams are also offered to people who
have died during accidents, natural disasters, mishaps, etc. as well as people who have committed suicide.
Similarly, pindams are offered for friends, birds, animals, etc; indeed, anything and everything associated
with our life directly or indirectly. We chant mantras and offer pindams sequentially one by one to all
ancestors, friends, enemies, animals and birds. This is the beauty of Gaya Sraddha. Gaya is the only
place where Pinda Pradaanam is carried out in this manner for anyone and everyone. The Akshaya Vata
and the Vishnu Pada are the only two places where one can perform the Vedic rites not only for our
forefathers, but for anyone: family, friends, acquaintances, people of whatever caste or religion, animals,
pets, abandoned bodies, etc.
In a conventional Shrardham performed at home, 3 pindams are made: for three generations. In a Tirtha
Shrardham, a la at Kasi, Prayaag, Rameswaram, etc., 16 pindams are offered for all ancestors of father as
well as mother. In the Gaya Sraddham, as many as 32 to 64 pindams are offered. If 64 pindas are offered,
32 are for the mother alone; 16 for the ancestors; and 16 for all the others. If 32 pindas are offered, 16 are
for the mother; and the other 16 are for the ancestors and others. At Gaya, we offered only 32 pindas. At
Kasi, we offered a total of 16 pindas at each of the five Ghats. The rituals for the mother are the most
important and very touching too. Generally, 16 pindams are offered as we tell the mantras one by one in
some sequence, meaning: (I have given only those that I remember. As I chanted the mantras and offered
the pindams, I nearly got choked due to emotions; my eyes got moist; the priest also noted this):
 Mother, you have carried me for 10 months continuously; for that, I offer a pindam.
 Mother, I have kicked you several times while in your uterus; you have tolerated that with a smile; for that,
I offer you a pindam.
 Mother, you have taken pains to perform various ceremonies and rituals for my general welfare and health;
for that I offer you a pindam.
 Mother, when I was young, you did not consider it dirty or nasty to wash me and clean me, whenever I
urinated or defecated; for that, I offer you a pindam.
 Mother, you did not sleep for several days whenever I was sick to make sure that I have a good sleep and
recover soon; for that I offer you a pindam.
 Mother, you have denied yourself all the privileges, so that I have good education and life; for that I offer
you a pindam.
Sita has blessed the Akshaya Vata saying that all who came to Gaya would perform the Pinda Pradaanam
at the Akshaya Vatam too. That is why, we placed the Pinda Pradaanam at the base of the Akshaya Vata
(banyan tree) too. So, when you perform Shrarddha at Gaya, after the ceremonies, you should place the
pinda pradaanams at the Vishnu Paada as well as Akshaya Vata. Also, a round rice ball, along with some
ghee poured over that, has to be offered to the crows inside the temple so that the hungry ancestors, who
would arrive in the form of crows, can take their food. I am told that for a fee of Rs.100/- an imprint of the
Padam is taken on a muslin cloth and given to the devotee. You may keep it in the Pooja room; it is
considered very auspicious.

Photo: Vishnu Padam

Bodh Gaya

When we were returning from Gaya, we stopped at Bodh Gaya, about 25 Km from Gaya. This is the place
where Lord Budha got enlightened under Bodh Tree. It was very hot; some 45 deg C. To get to the Budha
Statue, one has to climb a large number of steps. The steps were very hot; so people were running up and
down to beat the heat. A saving grace was that there was a simple carpet along the steps; yet it was pretty
hot. Since you have to remove your chapels if you want to get to the Bodh Tree, we were content to have
a close look at it from a distance; rather than getting the feet burnt.

Budha attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. A lot of Budhists as well as Hindus visit this place. I have
seen several Budhist Monasteries operated by foreign agencies; for instance, the Thai Government.
Indeed, many foreign governments (Burma, Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, etc.) have contributed liberally for
the construction and infrastructure development at Bodh Gaya. The Thai Monastery, which I could see from
the road as we drove, is very impressive. To me, it looked as though the various Budhist governments
maintain their religious embassies here.

Allahabad-Benaras-Gaya Highway

The Highway to Benaras from Gaya is actually the Delhi-Calcutta Highway; part of the Super Highways
Program of Vajpayee: perhaps, a part of the Golden Quadrilateral. It is not as crowded as the Southern
Highways; perhaps due to the absence of industrialization a la South; clearly the entire UP-Bihar belt is
relatively very poor. So, the cars move fast; this is a saving grace given the hot temperature (around 45
deg. C). The Sun was beating down heavily on us. The air-conditioned car gave some relief. Otherwise,
heat stroke is a possibility. The local people use clothes to cover their heads and bodies to beat the heat. I
saw one lady pouring water from a bottle all over her body before boarding her car. This is one way of
beating the heat, I guess. If you travel in summer, make sure that you drink plenty of water, lassi, cool
drinks, etc., which are available on the way. This will give you protection from dehydration.

Important Temples During Kasi Yatra

 Viswanath Temple (Kasi)

This is the most important Temple at Kasi and is dedicated to Lord Visweswara. It is one of the twelve Jyothir
Lingas of Lord Shiva. It is believed to be the holiest place for the Hindus, due to the permanent presence
of Lord Shiva, as Kasi Viswanath. So, one would feel the waves of Lord Shiva impinging on him at all time.
The Viswanath Temple was destroyed several times by the rulers like Mohammed Ghori, Aurangzeb, and
Warren Hastngs and was rebuilt successively. The temple in the present form was built by Rani Ahillyabai
Dikar in 1776 A.D. I was told that after destroying the Temple, Aurangzeb built a mosque over that.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh constructed the golden cover on the Temple Towers. As I was looking at the Temple
Towers, I was wondering, how a Sikh King had been so generous to donate to a Hindu Temple. The lakhs
of people visiting the Temple means that, whereas people can destroy buildings, no one can destroy the
faith of the masses. Because, such a faith is a sequel to the Sanadhana Dharma of the Hindus practiced
and followed over a period of thousands of years. The readers would note that the Shiv Linga at this Temple
is very small. Like they say in Tamil, “Moorthy siruthaalum kirthy sirukkaadhu”: meaning, even if the idol is
small, reputation is big.
Pic: Kasi Vishwanath (Thanks: Uma; www.shaktipeethas.org)

 Vishalakshi Temple (Kasi)

This is one of the most important Temples to be visited in Kasi. Hindus regard Kasi as one of the Shakti
Peethas. Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati’s earrings fell. Hindus of the Shakti
Sect (Shaktaism) make an exclusive pilgrimage to the city because they regard river Ganga itself as
Goddess Shakti. Also, Vishalakshi and Annaoorna Temples constitute Shakti Temples.

 Bindu Madhav Temple (Kasi)

After taking bath in the Pancha Ganga Ghat, we visited the Bindu Madhav Temple and prayed there. Mr.
Satyamurthy has given some details about this temple in his blog (www.shaktipeethas) as follows:

Lord Indra killed a Brahmin named Vritrasura. Because of killing the Brahmin, Indra aquired Brahma
Hatya Dosham that will impact very seriously on him. To overcome this, he constructed five temples for
Lord Vishnu at different places as follows:

1.Bindu Madhav: Kasi


2.Veni Madhav: Prayaag (Allahabad)
3.Kunthi Madhav: Pithapuram
4.Setu Madhav: Rameswaram
5.Sundara Madhav: Anantha Padmanabham(Trivandrum)

These Temples constitute Pancha Bindu Madhavs. The original Temple at Kasi was destroyed by the
Muslim invaders. The present one is the small reconstructed version in a nearby spot.

 Kal Bhairav Temple (Kasi)

It is an ancient temple of Varanasi near the Head Post Office at VishesharGanj. We are told that Kal
Bhairav is said to be the "Kotwal of Varanasi" , without his permission no one can stay in Kasi.

 Sankat Mochan Temple (Kasi)

This Temple is situated near the Assi river stream, on the way to Banaras Hindu University from the city.
This is a Temple for Lord Hanuman, who is also known as "Sankat Mochan": the God who protects us
from all anxieties, disturbances and tormentations. This temple is founded by Goswami Tulsidas. This
temple is also known as "Monkey" temple, as lot of monkeys are there inside the premises. The security
restrictions are severe.

 Annapoorna Temple (Kasi)

Annapoorna is an important Temple to visit in Kasi. A visit to this Temple is a must. Because, food is one
of the most important requirements for all human beings as well as animals. Goddess Annapoorna will
ensure that there is never food shortage in your house, if you visit this Temple and pray with dedication.
Also, don’t forget to buy an image or representation of Annapoorna and keep it in your Pooja Room at your
residence. You will have adequate food and prosperity throughout your life. According to the legend, Lord
Shiva asked Goddess Annapoorna to ensure that no one goes hungry in Kasi when a person lives; while
Shiva will ensure that he will attain Moksha after his death. Annapoorna is Kasi’s Queen and is also known
as Bhavani. Annapoorna literally means, provider of Plenty of Food. The idol of Annapoorna always has a
small vessel containing Annam (food) signifying that the worshipper is assured of food throughout his life.
 New Vishwanath Temple : Birla Mandir: (Kasi)

We went to this Temple by an auto; quite convenient. This Temple is situated inside the Banaras Hindu
University. This is a modern place of worship planned by Pandit Malviya and built by the Birlas on the
pattern of Vishwanath Temple. This Temple is open to all, irrespective of caste or creed. As we were
traveling inside the BHU Campus, we noted that the Campus is huge. Almost every kind of Department is
there at BHU. No wonder, it is considered as the biggest University in India. When we saw a number of
houses for the BHU faculty, I was reminded of my sister and her husband who worked at BHU about two
decades back. Pointing to the houses, I told my wife, my sister must have been residing in one of these.
BHU is somewhat far off from the city, and takes about 40 minutes to drive to the Campus.

 Tulsi Manas Temple (Kasi)

This temple is dedicated to Lord Rama. The temple is built in the place where Goswami Tulsidas
composed the epic 'Ramacharitramanas', the Ramyana of Tulsidas. Tulsi Manas Temple was constructed
by a philanthropist family in 1964.

 Durga Temple (Kasi)

This is also known as Monkey Temple, because of the presence of a large number of monkeys in the
Temple. This temple is one of the most important temples in Varanasi. This temple is built in Nagara Style.
The shikhara of the temple is formed by many small spires which are built one on top of the other. According
to legend, the present statue of Goddess Durga was not made by man but appeared on its own in the
temple. Thousands of Hindu devotees visit this temple during Navratri and other auspicious occasions.
Non-Hindus can enter the courtyard of the Durga temple but not the inner sanctum.

 Vishnupaad Temple: Gaya

This is the most important Temple at Gaya. This is where we perform rituals to ancestors after the initial
ceremonies in a Mutt. This massive temple, located in the old town, is built over the footprints of Lord
Vishnu. Inside the temple, the 40 cm long footprint of Vishnu is made of solid rock and surrounded by a
silver plated basin. This Shikhara style temple was reconstructed during the 18 th century AD by Queen
Ahilya Bai of Indore, on the banks of the river Falgu. The readers would recall that Viswanath Temple at
Kasi was also reconstructed by Maharani Ahilya Bai. We are very surprised about this and appreciate the
generosity of this great queen as well as her service to Hinduism. Non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the
temple.

 Patalpuri Temple: Allahabad

The Patalpuri temple is located inside the Allahabad Fort. Within the Patalpuri temple, we have the Akshaya
Vat - or the immortal banyan tree. It is believed that Lord Rama has visited the Patalpuri Temple. The
famous Chinese traveler, Hiuen Tsang also visited this temple.
Akshaya Vata: Eternal Banyan Tree: Prayaag

The Akshaya Vata literally means immortal or eternal banyan tree. This tree is located within the Patalauri
temple, on the bank of Yamuna, inside the Allahabad Fort. We are familiar with this tree because, we talk
about it during the performance of the rituals for the ancestors: the Shraddhams or dhivasams. This holy
tree is also documented at length in the Scriptures. During the cyclic of destruction, when the whole earth
was enveloped by waters, Akshaya Vata remained alive and unaffected. It is on the leaves of this tree that
Lord Krishna rested as a baby when land was no longer visible. And it is here that the immortal sage,
Markandeya, had a vision of the Lord. Legend also has it that the Bodi tree at Gaya is a manifestation of
this tree. There are hundreds of shrines near this holy tree. However, but for a few, most are inaccessible,
because the Fort is a restricted military area. The Fort was closed to the public during British rule; and even
now, we do not have access to this tree. We are told that during the Kumbha Mela, the government gives
permission for pilgrims to pay their homage to the Akshaya Vata. However, people feel that the pilgrims
never see the holy tree; instead, they are shown a branch of an ordinary banyan tree. We don’t know the
truth. But, belief and faith matter more than the facts. The readers may note that the Akshaya Vata of
interest during Kasi Yatra is the one at Gaya, not Allahabad.

Rituals at Triveni Sangam

An important ritual during Kasi Yatra is a dip or bath at Triveni Sangam: the junction of three rivers: Ganga,
Yamuna and (mythological) Sarawati. The river Saraswati is said to flow beneath the ground, and is not
visible. As we were going on the boat, the boatman showed that the brown river on one side is the Ganges;
and the blue river on the other side is Yamuna. The third invisible river is beneath these two. The region
where these three rivers meet is the Sangam or Sangamam. This is the holiest of all the Thirthas. Every
Hindu should taske bath here to attain salvation. The boatman stopped near a platform constructed for
anchoring the boats. All the people from various boats assemble here and take bath. The husband and wife
pairs take bath together. All the people dip into the river at least nine times, chanting: Om Namakshivaya.
Sangam is around 7 km from the heart of Allahabad. From our Mutt or residence, we drove to the river site.
Each year, tens of thousands of people take dip at Sangam during the Magha Mela. Besides, lakhs of
people take bath at Sangam during Ardh Kumbh and Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh Mela is held once in twelve
years. Two important rituals are to be performed at Sangam. The first one is Veni Daanam: the husband
should comb the hair of his wife; split it in three parts, and knit and tie the hair together after that\, a small
part of the hair at the end is to be cut; and this is to be dipped into the Sangam. The other ritual is, the sand
that we brought from Rameshwaram (from Agni Theertham or Sea) is to be dissolved at Sangam, after
performing Pooja, considering the sand as Shiv Linga. We have noted that, whereas hundreds of people
dump the hair at sangam, nowhere have we noticed hair floating on the water; the entire hair gets immersed:
it does not happen in other waters: where the hair tends to float. We collected water in a five-litre plastic
can at Sangam. Later, this was poured in a dozen brass containers of various sizes and volumes; and then
sealed. There are a number of shops at Allahabad, for just this purpose. Generally, the shop-keepers who
sell these containers don’t charge separately for sealing them. The remaining water was brought in the
same plastic container to Chennai, for distribution to friends and relatives in small containers purchased at
Chennai.

Rameshwar Yatra
One must perform Rameshwar Yatra before and after the Kasi Yatra. Then only, the Kasi Yatra will stand
completed as per traditional procedures. For A south Indian, the procedure is as follows: First, go to
Rameshwaram. Take bath in the 18 Tirthas. Get soil from the Agni Thirtha (the sand beneath the sea). The
sea itself is known as Agni Thirtha. This will be packed in a container or bag (plastic) and given to you after
Pooja. Visit Rameshwaram Temple. At Triveni, the Priest would do Pooja for the Shiv Linga made from this
sand and Archana and Aarti would be performed. After that, this would be immersed in the Triveni at
Prayaag (Allahabad). We should again visit Rameshwar after completing Kasi-Triveni-Gaya Yatra. The
Ganga water taken from Kasi and/or Triveni will be brought to Rameshwar for performing Abhishek on
Rameshwar Lingam. Then the Kasi Yatra would be complete after offering food and daan to 10 dampatis or
couples. In Rameshwaram there are 51 Theerthas; inside the Rameshwar Temple itself, there are 22
Theerthas; of which 18 are functional now. You should take bath using the 18 Theerthas inside the Temple.
The Agni Theertha is the Sea water outside the Temple; where one must take bath and bring the sand from
beneath the Sea near the shore. The Rameshwar Yatra itself is an involved one, having several sequences
and procedures. I don’t intend to write a detailed description of this for want of time; I leave it to others.
Vedic Rituals during Kasi Yatra

The Kanchi Mutt at Kasi has suggested a comprehensive list of rituals to be performed during Kasi Yatra. I
have reproduced them below:

I. At Prayaag (Allahabad): (Triveni Sangam)

 Anugnai (Sankalpam)
 Vighneshwara Puja (Prayers to Lord Ganesha)
 Prayschitta Sankalpam (atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly)
 Veni Daanam (Women offer a part of their hair to the river praying for the long life of their husbands.
The husband combs and 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 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.)
 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)
 Hiranya Shrardham
 Pinda Pradaanam, Kshetra Pindam, Tarpanam

II. At Kasi (Varanasi)

I have presented the Vedic Rites to be performed in three series as follows. Each series can be performed
during a day. However, we have performed selected rituals from each series in a single day for want of
time.

I. Series
 Anugnai (Sankalpam)
 Vighneshwara Puja (Prayers to Lord Vigneshwara)
 Poorvanga Godaanam
 Poorvanga Dasa Daanam
 Naandhi Shrardham
 Vaishnava Shrardham
 Punyaa Vajanam (purification ritual)
 Maha Sankalpam
 Prayschitta Sankalpam: for atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly
 Pala Daanam
 Uttaranga Godaanam
 Manikarnika Teertha Shrardham (Anna roopam / Hiranya roopam)

II. Series

Pancha Teertha Yatra (One has to go in a boat to these 5 Ghats and perform the rituals):
i) Asi Ghat (Haridwar Teertham) – this is where the Asi river merges with the Ganga. Performing the rites
here is believed to give one the fruits of performing the rites at Haridwar.
ii) 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.
iii) Trilochana Ghat ( Vishnu Paada Udaka Teertham)
iv) Pancha Ganga Ghat ( Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kirana, Doodhapappa- Sangam); Bindu Madhava
Temple
v) Manikarnika Ghat (Manikarnika Teertham, Chakra Pushkarni Teertham)

III. Series

 Ganga Puja (it is a tradition to bring back small sealed containers 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.)
 Dampati Puja: Prayers offered to an elderly married couple, invoking them as Vishwanath and
Annapoorna (We did Namashkar to the Ganapaadigal and his wife; offered a saree and dhoti to them).
 Uttaranga Dasa Daanam
 Kala Bhairava Samaradhana (invocation and prayers to Kala Bhairav)

III. At Gaya: Gaya Shrardham

 Anna Shrardham and Preliminary Rituals: These were performed at the residence of the Priest
 Palguni (Falguni) Teertha Hiranya Shrardham: this is the traditional Shrardham performed on the
banks of any sacred river; in this case, River Falguni.
 Vishnu Paada Hiranya Shrardham: We go to the Vishnu Paada Temple: the pindams are offered
at the Holy Foot of Vishnu and we place our head on the Foot and do Namashkar.
 Akshaya Vata Anna/Hiranya Shrardham
 Akshaya Vata Pinda Pradaanam: The pindams are placed at the base of the banyan tree, Akshaya
Vata.
 Tharpanam to the ancestors
 Offering food to the Gaya Brahmins
 To enquire 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 dhakshina or fees to the Chief Priest or Pundit

Note: While the three Series at Kasi constitute a comprehensive procedure, we have carried out the
following rituals at Kasi to conserve time: Sankalpam, Vigneshwar Pooja, Maha Sankalpam, Praychitra
Sankalpam, Pala Daanam, Pancha Theertha Yatra and the five Shrardhams at the Ghats, Ganga Pooja,
Dampati Pooja, Dasa Daanam, offering food to Brahmins, etc. We have however, performed most of the
rituals recommended by the Kanchi Mutt and identified above, at Gaya and Prayaag.