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Hanumathe Sri Rama Doothaya Namaha!
THEERTHA YATRA - A PILGRIMAGE
Theertha Yatra has acquired lot of prominence especially in Hindu religion. It is a journey undertaken to a sacred or a holy place. India the country as such is a pilgrim centre and that is why it attracts lot of foreign tourists visiting India since historical days. Starting from Kashmir (Himalayas) to Kanya Kumari, from Bay of Bengal to Arabian Sea we find innumerable number of pilgrim centers spread across the country. Majority of the pilgrim centers in India are located on the banks of sacred theerthas. A pilgrimage is a Theertha Yatra and a pilgrim is a theerthayatri, the place where the Theertha is located is called Theertha Kshetra or Theertha Sthana. What is a Theertha? What is its significance? In simple language Theertha means sacred water and Theertha sthala or Theertha Kshetra is a sacred or a holy spot. It could be a river, a lake, or an ocean, or even a mountain that is made sacred through association with a deity or a saint. It is spiritual, sacred and celestial. Theertha means sacred water. It symbolizes liberation of soul from the cycle of birth and death hence, it is obvious the land ought to be associated with water and water bodies. It is said that the water element of Theertha is associated with Lord SriMann Narayana indicating the all pervasive nature of the supreme God as that of an ocean in which the never ending movement of birth, life and death of cosmos occurs. The word Theertha means to float. Narayana according to this etymology is the one who moves (floats) in the infinite waters and is also the water itself. Narayana is a confluence of two words Nara + Yana = Narayana. Nara is generally referred to mankind and ayana as the ultimate stage. It is generally referred to mankind and ayana as the ultimate stage which is eternal without ending. Nara element is also associated with another meaning of water. Nara means water and Yana means lives. Narayana means one who lives in water. This close association of Narayana the supreme God with water explains the significance behind a Theertha. That means He is present in all the theerthas. Another meaning of Narayana is said to be Nara means human and ayana mean the path or direction/goal of a human being towards salvation. For example Uttarayana and Dakshinayana that denotes the direction of Sun God. Lord Narayana is the one who shows the direction towards the ultimate reality that is salvation. That means Theertha the place where Lord SriMann Narayana resides in the form of water is a place
of direction to the human beings towards liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth and death. Water mentioned should not be considered as mere water. It is said that before the creation of Universe everything was in the form of water and the all pervasive energy which was present in the very beginning is one that referred to as water in this context and the all pervasive energy was Lord SriMann Narayana. A Theertha possess three elements that make it so sacred and celestial. It is pure, it brings Punya, and it is auspicious (Suchi, Punya and subha) SIGNIFICANCE OF THEERTHA YATRA Theertha is a holy place of pilgrimage since time immemorial. Theerthas are seldom anonymous places. They all have their unique character and ambience. These places are the living symbols of tradition and culture of history. Sthala purana, Kshetra Mahatya, speaks about a particular place/Theertha, its significance, culture and traditions in that place. These places are used by the great sages for their spiritual activities which are evident from the sthala puranas. They have gained prominence depending on the merits of Theertha or the deity or the saint associated with. It will help the pilgrims to cleanse their inner selves, wash out their evil tendencies and open up before them a path or a direction for righteous living. They help in attaining Gnana and Bhakthi to the individuals which helps in changing the direction of their Kriyamana Karma that ultimately lays foundation for the Agami Karma. It is a place where one can get enlightenment for achieving liberation. Theertha Yatra is also one of the karmas to be discharged in mundane philosophy. A Theertha Yatra is not only a physical act but it also implies the mental or moral discipline and learning toward self realization. It is bliss. Visit to Theerthas and following Theertha vidhi is recommended as a Vedic remedy for many ills and sufferings. Theertha Yatra is an opportunity to the householder to detach himself for some time from worries and botherations of the materialistic daily life and to devote that time spiritually POURANIC & MYTHOLOGICAL REFERENCES It is said that reference to Theertha Yathra (Pilgrimage) is available in many Puranas like Maha Bhagavatha, Ramayana, Maha Bharatha, Sri Venkatachala Mahatya, Skhanda Purana, Matsya Purana, Brahma Purana, Brahmanda Purana, etc.,
Mythological reference can be seen from the stories of Maha Bharatha where Pandavas visited many Theertha Kshethras during their pilgrimage, in Ramayana where Lord Sri Rama along with his consort Goddess Sita Devi visited many pilgrim centers and performing Vedic rituals and worshipping, in Maha Bhagavatha Balarama (Lord Sri Krishna’s brother) going on a pilgrimage. There are many references to pilgrimage we find in the history of many Kings and Emperors that ruled India. Even we also find such references in the life history of great saints like Sri Madhwacharya, Sri Raghavendra Theertha, Sri Sankaracharya etc., THEERTHA VIDHI Theertha Vidhi is a part of Theertha Yathra. We would have observed that lot of people in India visit Theertha Kshethras across the country, take sacred bath in holy rivers, perform religious ceremonies especially during parva kala like, Makara Sankramana, Uttarayana, Dakshinayana, Eclipse days, Pushkara days etc. Though different walks of people follow different customs and traditions while visiting a Theertha Kshetra, Dharma Sindhu has prescribed certain uniform rituals (Theertha Vidhi) to be followed while visiting a Theertha Kshethra. Some of them are Theertha Snana (Sacred bath), Theertha Upavasa (fasting), Theertha Mundana (Tonsuring of Head), Theertha Sradhha (Pinda Daana), Theertha Darshana (Darshana of the deity), Theertha Dana (charity), Theertha vratha (Puja/worshipping), Theertha Sravana (Katha recital/parayana). Kasi, Gaya, Prayaga are the trinity of places where performing sacred rites to forefathers is a must. One of the maxims of pilgrimage says that one should tonsure ones head at Prayaga. At the same time theertha vidhi prohibits from fasting and getting ones head tonsured at Gaya. Similar prohibition is also mentioned for other places like Badrinath, Kurukshetra, Jagannathpuri (Puri). Charity given in a Theertha Kshetra is highly fruitful and sacred. Generally people give charity in cash (Hiranya Danam). Charity can also be given in kind if one is prepared in advance like Rice, Ghee, Jaggery, Honey, Grandha (Book), Vasthra, Paada Raksha (Chappals), Umbrella, Hand Stick, Fan, Sayya (Bedding), Phala (Fruits), Bell (Ghanta), Paathra (brass/silver vessel), Asana (Mat), Nava Dhanya, which are called shodasa Danas. The best is Anna Danam, feeding Brahmins. It is said and believed that feeding one brahmin at Gaya brings the same virtue what one would get by feeding one crore Brahmins elsewhere. Observing Theertha Vidhi is very sacred, celestial and auspicious that yields lot of phala, punyadayaka and also mukthidayaka. Performing Vedic rituals at Theertha Kshetra is infinitely more effective than performing in one’s home.
SACRED THEERTHAS It is said that there are more than 5 millions of theerthas in India as per Skhanda Purana. All these places have great religious and spiritual significance and each one of them is capable of liberating a man from all his sins and providing a direction towards Moksha. Some of these places are located on the banks of sacred rivers like Ganga, Sindhu, Saraswathi, Yamuna, Godavari, Narmada, Kaveri, Krishna, and Thunga Bhadra. It is said and believed that these sacred rivers have taken birth from the sacred foot of Lord Sri Hari. Prominent among them are 108 Divya Desams related to Lord Maha Vishnu out of which eight self manifested (swayam Vyaktha Kshethras) holy places viz., Sri Rangam, Tirumala, Sri Mushnam, Thotadri, Salagram, Pushkara, Badrinath and Naimisharanya, 108 Divya Desams related to Lord Siva out of which Twelve Jyothirlinga Kshetras and five Pancha Bhootha linga Kshethras, 51 Shakthi Peetas of Goddess Shakti out of which very prominent Ashtadasa Shakthi Peetas (18), prominent places like Dwaraka, Ayodhya, Mathura, Kanchi, Puri, Haridwar, Kurukshetra, Kasi,Prayaga, Gaya, Kshetras related to Lord Sri Rama, Lord Vinayaka, Lord Subramanya, Lord Hanuman, places attached to the significance of saints like Mantralayam (Sri Raghavendra Swamy), Udupi (Sri Madhwacharya) etc., and the list goes on. Venkatadri Samam Sthanam Brahmande Nasthi Kinchana Venkatesa Samo Devo NaBhootho NaBhavishyathi In this Universe there is no sacred place equivalent to Venkatadri and there is no God equivalent to Lord Venkateswara neither in the past nor in the future going to be. It is said that Universe the creation of Supreme God is a Yatra sthala for the soul that keeps coming and going by virtue of birth and death. Spiritually speaking India is so celestial that it is called a Karma Bhoomi and also a Punya Bhoomi. Theertha Yathra should not become customary like visit to a picnic spot. Having spent money one may have the satisfaction of completing a pilgrimage (Theertha Yathra). But in reality it is not worthwhile without understanding its correct meaning and significance. While going to a Theertha one must remember that it is meant for self refinement and self upliftment. Pilgrimage is for introspection; practice of penance and selfless service and for resolving to strive for an enlightened future. Pilgrimage should be a milestone in this direction. Theertha is a spiritual destination like a Guru/teacher. Indian culture has emphasized the significance of pilgrimage for spiritual progress.
In my pursuit for performing Pitru Karya recently I had an opportunity to visit the trinity places Kasi, Gaya and Prayaga and perform sacred rites to our fore fathers in the month of Karthika (November’08). All of us would have heard of a place called Naimisharanya if not seen, at least heard while performing Lord Sri Sathyanarayana Vratha and while reading the vratha Katha. I am fortunate to visit and have the darshan of the most sacred and celestial place Naimisharanya also during my trip. In this regard for the benefit of those who would like to visit these places for performing religious ceremonies to their fore fathers, I would like to share certain useful information which may not be exhaustive. KASI (BENARAS /VARANASI) - On the Delhi-Howrah line (via Kanpur) One need not tell about the importance of Kashi Kshetra, one of the most sacred and ancient places of Hindu religion on the banks of river Ganges, where it is said that death or performing funeral rites at this place is Moksha Dayaka. It is said that na Gaayathraya para manthra, na Mathru para dhaivatham, na Kaasya param theertham, na Ekadasya samam vratham That mean there is no manthram that is superior to Gayathri manthram, there is no dhaivam superior to Mother, there is no celestial and sacred theertham better than Kaasi,and there is no vratham that is more sacred than Ekadashi vratham. Places visited: • • • • • • • Kasi Viswanath Temple (one of the Dwadasa Jyothirlinga Kshetra) Sri Annapurneswari Temple Kasi Visalakshi temple (one of the Ashtadasa Shakti Peetas of Goddess Durga) River Ganges Kaala Bhairava Temple (A rare form of Lord Siva) Thulasi Manasa Mandir Sankatamochan Temple (Lord Hanuman)
For performing Theertha Sraddha to forefathers, facilities are available at the following address: Contact Person: Sri Bhau Acharya Tonpe,Madhwashram, B.4/61, Hanuman Ghat, Dr.Gopalacharya Tonpe Marge, Varanasi. Tele No: 0542-2277530. River Ganges is within 100 meters from this place. From Varanasi Railway station auto charges will be approx Rs. 80 to 100. Dormitory accommodation, food and guide facilities are available at this venue.
PRAYAGA (ALLAHABAD) – On the Delhi – Howrah route (via Kanpur) before Varanasi Places seen: • Triveni Sangam (Confluence of three Sacred Rivers Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati). You have to travel in a boat to the sangam spot for taking bath and also for performing Veni Danam. Giving Veni Danam (a small portion of their hair) by the married women is said to be very sacred and auspicious at this spot. • Saraswathi River (Antarvahini) • Madhaveswari Temple (Alopi Devi) one of the 18 Shakti Peetas of Goddess Durga where the presiding deity is in the form of Jhula placed on a plat form. • Veni Madhav Temple (Lakshmi Narayana) For performing Theertha Sraddha facilities are available at Uttaradhi Mutt # 77, Mori Daraganj, Near Daraganj Police Station, and Opp to State Bank of India, Allahabad-211006 Contact Person: Sri K.V.Narayana Acharya and Sri.K.N.Raghavendra Acharya Tele: 0532-2508616 – Mobile: 09451366300. Accommodation, food and guide facilities are available at this place. Cab charges from Allahabad Rly station to the venue will be approx Rs. 150 to 200 GAYA KSHETRA (Delhi - Howrah route – via Kanpur-Allahabad-Varanasi) Brief: To give Moksha to Gayasura it seems Lord Maha Vishnu had kept his sacred foot on the Hridaya (chest) of Gayasura on the Dharmasila at this spot. In the name of Gayasura the place has become popular to be known as Gaya. Gayasura literally means holy demon. It is a boon given to Gayasura by Lord Sri Maha Vishnu that who ever perform Pitru ceremonies at this place their fore fathers will get salvation. Not only that, even who ever visits and touches Lord’s foot & Dharmashila at this place will also be given salvation. It is said that Lord Sri Rama performed ceremonies to his forefathers at Gaya Kshetra and it seems soon after the pinda pradhana his father Dasaratha appeared to him in person and said that he was satisfied with the ceremonies. Places seen: • Vishnu Pada Temple – Foot print of Lord Vishnu on the Dharmasila of Gayasura • Mangala Gouri Temple (Mangalya Gourika) – one of the 18 Shakti Peetas • Bodh Gaya (Maha Bodhi where Lord Buddha got spiritual enlightenment) – it is worth visiting. • River Phalguni (Water will not be adequate to take a bath. It is said that due to a curse by Goddess Sita Devi, always there will be scanty water)
Akshaya Vata Vriksha (Banyan tree) – It is said that this tree is existing since Thretha Yuga and its roots are in Varanasi and Prayaga. It is in the premises of Vishnu Paada temple.
Rituals to be performed at Gaya: Theertha Sraddha to fore fathers has to be performed at three places in Gaya, viz., 1.On the banks of river Phalguni 2. In the Vishnu Pada temple (After performing ceremony the pindas have to be dropped on the Sri Vishnu Pada inside the temple) 3.Under the Akshaya Vata Vriksha (Banyan Tree), where the Pindas have to be dropped at the roots of the tree. After performing ceremony under the Banyan tree, one is required to shed eating of at least three food items (sweet, fruit and a vegetable). The Logic and philosophy is to get detached from materialistic things and to begin with food items. For performing sacred rites facilities and accommodation is available at Karnataka Bhawan, Ram Sagar, Nai Sadak Road, Near Panch Mahalla, Gaya -823001 Contact Person: Sri Shodshi M.N.Bacchu Acharya s/o Late M. Narayana Acharya (Purohit), Krishna Acharya or Raghavendra Acharya Tele No: 0631-2435432 – Mobile No: 9931840631, 9934023514. Food for the pilgrims is provided at the venue. Guide facility also is available at the spot. From Gaya Rly station the auto charges will be approx Rs.75 to 100. The facilitators charge Rs.750/- per family for performing sacred rites. Other Contact: Manager, Shri Vidyadheesha Bhavana, Uttaradhi Math, Vishnupadamandir, Gaya823001 - Phone No: 0631-2426311 NAIMISHARANYA (Approx 90 Km from Lucknow in Sitapur district of U.P) We have chosen the road route and the route is Kanpur – Lucknow – Hardoi Road Sandila – Venigunj - Naimisharanya. (200 km) There is also another route via Sitapur. Naimisharanya is on the left banks of river Gomathi. We understand that you can reach Naimisharanya via train from:• • • Balaanaur, the train is available from Balaanaur to Sitapur and Naimisharanya is situated on the way. Kanpur, by picking Kanpur to Balaanaur passenger train. Delhi, where trains are available at regular intervals for Moradabad, a near by place to Hardoi.
Brief about the place It is believed that Naimisharanya existed in Sathya Yuga and the first ever pilgrimage site to be laid out on earth. It is said to be the 8 tharanya among the eight aranyas and 8th Vaikunta among the eight Vaikuntas (Astama Vaikunta) - 33 crores devathas, 3 ½ crore shrines, 88000 sages reside always here. At the junction of Dwapara and Kali Yuga, about 80000 sages headed by Saunaka Rishi wanted to perform a sacrifice to hold off the effects of the oncoming age of Kali. They asked Lord Brahma where they should hold the sacrifice, and he told them he would send his disc to the earth and they should perform the sacrifice where it hits. It struck the earth at Naimisharanya. The disc passed through the earth at a spot that is Chakra-Theertha. Chakra-Theertha is said to be the center of the universe. It is said that the large sweetwater spring that marks the location of Chakra-Theertha has no bottom. It seems The British wanted to disprove this as mythology, so they brought a cable and attempted to find the bottom. After more than 1000 meters they ran out of cable and gave up. Nemi means the outer surface of the disc and the place where it fell is called in the name of Nemi as Nemisharanya or popularly called as Naimisharanya. The Bhagavath Purana says that there is no holy place on earth that compares to this one. There are other stories about Naimisharanya. It is said to be the place where Lord Maha Vishnu killed a demon by name Durjaya and his followers with his Sudarshana Chakra. It is also said that Lord Maha Vishnu killed the demon Gayasura (his devotee) who did penace in Naimisharanya with his Sudarshana Chakra and his body that was cut into three parts fell at three places namely Paada Gaya (Gaya Kshetra in Bihar), Naabhi Gaya in Naimisharanya and Kapali Gaya in Badari Kshetra. • • • Swayambhuva Manu performed yaga for 23000 years at this place It is said to be Nabhi Gaya Kshetra Goddess Sri Lalitha Devi (Sri LalithaTripura Sundari) stopped the disc released by Lord Brahma and shielded the devathas – Origin of Tripura Sundari Sri Lalitha Devi • Sage Dhadhichi donated his bones to Devathas at this place • Sage Vedavyasa divided the Vedas and wrote Bhagavatha and other Puranas from here, • Origin for Lord Sri Sathyanarayana Vratha Katha, Tulasidas wrote Sri Rama Charitha Manas, • It is believed that Lord Sri Rama performed Aswamedha yaga at this place after killing Ravana • and Pandavas also visited this place during their exile PLACES SEEN • Chakra Theertha (Holy bath)
• • • • • •
Sri Lalitha Devi Temple Vyasa Gaddhi/Vyasa Vatika/Vyasa Dham (Performed parayana of Sri Vishnu Sahasranama, Purusha Sooktha and Narayana Upanishad) Manu - Satrupa Tapasthala Hanuman Garhi (Where Lord Hanuman after getting released Sri Rama and Laxmana from the clutches of AhiRavan , bought them on his shoulders through Naimisharanya Gomathi River Balaji Temple (Lord Venkateswara) – performed Sri Sathyanarayana Vratha
What can be done here? • Sri Sathyanarayana Pooja (Facilities are available for performing at Sri Balaji Mandir) • Pithru Cermonies (At present facilities are not available for performing Pitru Cermonies) • Parayana of sacred Puranas especially Sri Mad Bhagavatha, Bhagavath Geetha Right now not many facilities are available for stay/food at Naimisharanya. However dormitory facilities are available at Sri Balaji Mandir being organized by Sri Vikhanasa Samajam (Sri Vaishnava). They are Telugu speaking. They are also providing Anna danam for the tourists. For orthodox persons one has to go prepared to make their own food arrangements. Balaji Mandir: 05865-251274 – Mobile 09793158492 – 09452404404 (Priests are available) Contact Persons: Sri Parasaram Vikhnasacharyulu & Mataji (Contact No: 09415766122) Other contact at this place is: Kaali Peeth Samsthan- Gopal Shastry/Bhasker Shastry (Manager) – 05865 – 251254, 251321, 251238 (R) Mobile: 94155-24983, 04503-73916, 94503 - 73915 For detailed information on the above four places kindly read my other articles published in Scribd.com Authored by Nirikhi Krishna Bhagavan. • • • • Kasi – A Sacrosanct Place Prayaga – The Theertharaj Gaya – The Pithru Kshetra Naimisharanya – A Rare Pilgrimage
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