Over-view of prominent Tirthas in Bharata Varsha

The entire Bharata Varsha is laced with several Tirthas, mostly to cater to the devotional feelings of persons at Places situated nearby as also to attract quite a few devotees from far off Places depending on the intensity of their Bhakti and the pull of such Tirthas owing to their reputation. Tirthas are the abodes of Rishis. It is strongly believed that Devas made frequent expeditions and Lord Brahma stayed there for long durations.

In fact, only those whose physical abilities are in order, or are disciplined, non-egoistic, performers of Vratas, truthful, determined and highly devotional would reap maximum advantage rather than the run of the mill crowds without aim or purpose. For example, those visiting Pushkara Tirtha ought to observe a strict regimen of Snaana-Deva Puja-Pitra Shraaddha-Agni Karyas- Daana- Dhyana-Tapsya and total dedication, and then only the real fruits are reaped, including transfers to Brahma Loka! Casual visits to the Tirtha are of academic interest to merely publicise that they have too registered a trip! Any marginal return of Tirtha Visits of informal nature is peripheral.

It is said that the best route to Tirthaas is to commence the Yatra from Jambu Marg, observe single meal for five nights and worship Bhagavan Vishnu with austerity. From Jambu Marg to Tundulikashram to Agastyashram where three nights are to be spent fasting and performing Deva Puja and Pitra Puja which would give Agnishtom Yagna Phala. Further on visit Kanyashram Tirtha for worshipping Devi Lakshmi and proceed toYayati Patana Sthan and perform ‘Parikrama’; this entire package would bestow the fruit of executing Ashvamedha Yagna. Continuing the austerity of moderate food, one should carry on visiting Mahaakala Tirtha at Ujjain, to worship Mahaa Kala Linga by ‘Abhisheka’ with milk followed by the sacred Snaana at Koti Tirtha.There after one should continue the Yatra at Umapati Tirtha at Bhadravati Sthaan. The worship at these Tirthas would fetch the Punya of Godaan and joining Shivaganas. Deva Puja and Pitru Tarpan at Holy Narmada provide the fruits of Agnishtoma Yagna and automatic demolisher of sins. It is said that even the vision of Narmada River is as good as snaanas at Sarasvati and Yamuna for seven days each and a mere ‘sparsha’ (touch) of Ganga River. Narmada is said to be a highly Sacred River in Three Lokas, where Devatas, Asuras, Gandharvas, Rishis and others attain siddhis by performing Tapasya on its banks. Sage Narada told Yudhihtara of Pandavas that after taking ‘Vidhivat’ (formal) snaana in Narmada and spending even one night’s stay on its banks would demolish hundred ‘peedas’ or serious impediments of severe nature. Those who perform formal ‘Pinda daan’ with Veda Mantras at ‘Janeswar Tirtha’ would satisfy Pitras till ‘Maha Pralaya Kaal’. On the four sides of ‘Amarakanta Parvata’are set up Koti Rudras; if a devotee were to take a sacred ‘Snanaa’ (Bathing) and worship with flowers and chandana to as many Rudra Lingas as possible, the Koti Rudra Bhagavan would be extremely pleased most certainly and without doubt. On the western side of the Amarakanta Mountain, there is a Presence of Bhagavan Maheswara and worship of this Idol would provide salvation to seven previous generations! In fact, there are some sixty crore and sixty lakh Tirthas around all the four sides of Amarakanta Mountain and those who stay there for good time by observing Brahmacharya with full control of Indriyas devoid of violence and falsity would indeed be blessed by Maha Deva. River Kapila in the Southern part of the Mountain, is highly sacred and propitious and worship of innumerable Tirthas around fetch funds of Punya; River Vishalyakarana is another holy entity which tears down sins instantly and wrecks all traces of unhappiness in life! Snaana- Dhyana-Puja-Tarpana-Shraaddha-Daana- Dakshina at the time of Surya Grahana or Chandra Grahana (Solar / Lunar Eclipses) at Narmada  or Kapila / Vishalyakarana would bestow ten-time more of Punya along with Pundareeka Yagna Phal. Finally, Snaana- worship at Jwaleswara Maha Deva Temple provides Swarga and death at this Tirtha would free the soul from the cycle of births and deaths! The Narmada-Kaveri Sangam, like Ganga-Yamuna Sangam, is another holy spot where Snaana, worship of Devas/ Pitras and Yagna Karyas are performed to accomplish superior levels of ‘Mahatmya’.      
Among the various Tirthas on the Narmada banks are Panneswar where Devas come down to bathe; Garjan (Indrajit) which fulfills ambitions and enterprise; Brahmaavart where Lord Brahma bestows Gyan and Creative Power; Angaareshwar where one worships Bhagavan Rudra for ‘Rudra Loka Praapti’; Kundaleshwar where Shankara and Devi Parvati take frequent sojourns; Pippaleswar for the benefit of Rudra loka nivasa; Vimaleswar to purify soul and if dead tavel to Rudra Loka; and Pushkarini Tirtha for eligibility of half of Indra’s throne. Devatas and Gandharvas greet the Sacred Nirmada thus:

 ‘Namah Punya jaley Aadye namah Saagaragaamini,
Namostu tey Rishiganaih Shankara dehaanih srutey/
Namostutey Dharma bhrutey varaananey Namostutey Deva ganaika vanditey, Namostutey Sarva Pavitra Paavaney Namostutey Sarvajatprasupujitey’

(Punyajala Narmada! You are among the leading Rivers and my greetings to you.You are the one worshipped by Rishis as materialised by Mahadeva; you are the preserver of Dharma and Devas bend their heads down to your feet. You have the power of purifying each and every material and are worshipped by everybody.) If any Brahmana recites this Stotra would become a Veda Vidwan; a Kshatriya would attain victory in battles; a Vaishya gains profits in business, and others achieve ‘Uttama Gati’ (higher status). Apart from the above, many other Tirthas are distributed on either the banks of the Sacred Narmada such as Shulabhadra, Bhimeswar, Narmadeswar, Adityaswar, Mallikeswara, Varuneswara, Neerajeswara, Koteswara, Vamaneswara, Vateswara, Bhimeswara, Nandi Tirtha, Vyasa Tirtha, Erandi Tirtha, Suvarna Tilaka, Skanda Tirtha, Sarva Tirtha, Shakra Tirtha, and so on.
Having heard about the Tirthas on the banks of River Narmada from Devarshi Narada, King Yudhishtara became enthusiastic to learn about the other important Tirthas in Bharata Varsha. He evinced interest for instance in the magnificence of Sage Vasishtha’s Ashram on Arbuda Mountain (who was the son of Himalaya) where a single night stay bestowed the Punya of daana of thousand cows. Likewise, one should visit Pinga Tirtha where the fruit of charity of hundred cows was received. One should also visit Prabhas Kshetra where Agni Deva stayed always and would be qualified for the Punya of ‘Manava Agnishtoma’ and ‘Atirathra Yagna’. Further one should witness the Sangam of River Sarasvati and the Sea on the western Bharata, where also the ‘phala’ of charity of one thousand cows would be reaped. Stay of three nights and simultaneous performance of Pitru Tarpanas at Varuna Tirtha would award Ashwamedha Yagna phal. Vara daana Tirtha was also stated to endow Sahasra Go Daana Phala. Visit to Dwarakapuri could not be missed as even now ‘Mudras’or reproductions of Trishul on Lotus Leaves are visioned there. Snaana- Rudra Puja- Pradakshina at Shankha kantheswara Tirtha would grant ten Ashwamedha Phal and remission of sins for the entire life. Even mere reaching Vasudhara Tirtha would provide the fruit of the Horse-Sacrifice while Tarpana to Pitras would benefit far further. Not far from here were Vasu Tirtha immensely liked by the Ashta Vasus as also Brahma Tunga Tirtha for pleasing Lord Brahma by worship and Renuka Tirtha for purifying of conscience. In the near vicinity were Pancha Nada Tirtha, Bhima Tirtha and Giri Kunja Tirtha. In Kashmira Pradesha the Tirthas are Vitasta Tirtha, Malada Tirtha, Dirgha Satra Tirtha, Shashayana Tirtha (reputed for Snaanas in River Saraswati on Kartika Pournimas), Kumarakoti Tirtha, Rudra koti Tirtha and the most renowned Sangama Tirtha for bathing in the River Saraswati for destroying life-long sins. In Kurukshetra, Narada’s recommendation was for a month-long stay, where Bhagavan Vishnu was stated to have been very receptive to the desires of his devotees, where there was a Place known as ‘Satata Sthan’ or Place Forever quite appropriately. The popular Tirthas in Kurukshetra included Shalvikini, Panchanada, Soma Tirtha, Kruta Shoucha, Pampa, Varaha Tirtha, Kaaya shodhana, Lokoddhhara, Kapila and Go -Bhavana. Even if the air-borne dust of Kurukshetra got deposited in the skin pores of a Pilgrim, sins of the traveller in the region evaporate away into thin air; this was what Sage Narada affirmed! From Kurukshetra, Narada desired to visit Brahmavarta and gradually reach Kasishwara to get rid of sins, proceed to Sheetavana and Swarnalomapanayana.It was recommended that one should preferably enter Pundarika Tirtha on Shukla Paksha Dashami and after reaching  Trivishtap Tirtha, take bath in the River Vaitarini  to wash off sins and worship Bhagavan Shankara. Thereafter, a devotee should visit Paanikhyat Tirtha and Mishrikha Tirtha. It was stated that Maharshi Veda Vyas sought to unite the Tirthas around and hence the name was Mishrika. There was Runantak Kuup where Til daan be performed and two very significant Tirthas named Ahan and Sudina Tirthas where Snaanas bestow the blessings of Surya Deva. Snaanas and Pujas at Koti Tirtha would enable charity of thousand cows. Kapalamochana Tirtha on the banks of the Holy River Sarasvati and the highly popular Pruthudak Tirtha for worshipping Devas and Pitras were two holy spots with unbelievable power. The belief had been that there would be no ‘Punarjanma’ after worship at these two Tirthas! At the Samgam (Confluence) of Rivers Saraswati and Aruna, a three-night stay at the world renowned Tirtha would relieve sins of seven generations including Brahma hatya. From there, two Tirthas called Shathasahastra and Sasahastra are reputed too as visits and Pujas endow the Punya of donating a thousand cows. Snaans and Worships at Renuka Tirtha, Panchavat Tirtha and Sthanuvata Tirtha were all highly significant, before a devotee reached Sannihita Tirtha where sacred snaanas during Solar Eclipses are stated to equate those at all the Tirthas, Jalasayas, Kupas and Mandirs. Naimisharanya,-stated to be the most significant Knowledge Center and the unique Meeting Point of Rishis and their deliberations signifying the contents of all the Holy Puranas and Scriptures addressed by Veda Vyasa, Maha Muni Sutha, Sage Shounaka and others-was the famed Region where the Kali Kala Chakra could not enter and kept the age-old Sancity of earlier Yugas in tact. From Kurukshetra to Dharma Tirtha where Yama Dharma Raja performed penance of thousands of years, folowed by a visit to Kalaapa Vana, Suvarna Tirtha and Sougandhika Vana is stated to be a great experience since the sins of seven generations would get evaporated. Pilgrimage to Gangadwar (Haridwar), Koti Tirtha Snaan and worship at Sapta Ganga, Tri Ganga and Shakravarta Tirthas would fetch the fruits of performing Pundarika Yagna and Sahasra Go Daana.                                        The most important ‘Yatra’ as commended by Narada Muni related to Kalindi Tirtha. The Devarshi asserted that the ‘Punya’ earned from the pilgrimage to Pushkar, Kurukshetra, Bhahmaavarta, Pruthudak, Avamukta Kshetra (Kashi) and Suvarna Tirtha could be equated to that of Yamuna Snaan! Bathing in Yamuna with or without ‘Sakaama’ or ‘Nishkama’ ie with or without objective was certain like what a ‘Kama dhenu’or ‘Chintamani’ (desire- fulfillers) would impart instantly. Those bathing in Kalindi waters irrespective of their ‘Varnas’ or castes would become handsome, healthy and strong and what was more, they would be highly blessed. Narada Muni said that in Satya Yuga, persons are liberated by means of Penance and Tapas; in Treta Yuga by Gyan, in Dwapara Yuga by Yagnas, and in Kali Yuga by giving away ‘Daanas’, but Kalindi Kanya or Devi Yamuna surpassed these limitations since even a worshipful ‘Snaana’ would be enough to liberate the person concerned in the present Yuga.In this connection, Sage Narada gave the illustration of a Vaishya called Hemakundal who amassed riches, although by fair means, but did not beget children for long. He followed a highly virtuous life of Deva Puja, giving away donations, Atithi-Satkar (Respects to Guests) and such other ‘Punya Karyas’. As a result, he was blessed with two sons, but both of them squandered money and out of helplessness, the Vaishya retired into forests. The sons Shrikundal and Vikundal squandered the hard earned and honest money of the father and became victims of wine, women and gambling. They died early due to vices almost simultanenously.Yamadootas took away the two brothers to Yamaloka where the elder son was sent to Rourava Naraka while the second son was sent to Swarga.This happened so, even though both the sons did same kind of vicious deeds but the second son took only two dips in River Yamuna; the first ‘snaan’ liberated his sins and the second dip granted him Swarga! As the Yamadootas conveyed to Vikundal that it might be possible to transfer his elder brother also to Swarga, there was perhaps a possibility to do so if only the Punya of the younger brother could be donated to his elder brother, then the younger decided to do so; by this transfer, the elder brother no doubt was able to reach Swarga, but in view of the self-less sacrifice of the younger one in the process of donation so liberally given away to the elder brother, he too was given a berth in Swarga!       
Devarshi Narada described then the magnitude of Kashipura to Yudhishtara. Bhagavan Shiva and Devi Parvati adorned the Throne atop the mount of Meru Parvat once and the latter desired to know as to how his devotees could vision the Bhagavan without experiencing too many insurmountable obstacles. Parama Shiva then gave away the secret that Kashipura was the unique Place of his residence where his devotees could observe the requisite regulations of Dharma and vision him instantly. Kashipura thus came to be known as the Avimukta Kshetra which had been dear to him; whatever endeavours that human beings could perform at Varanasi by way of Daana-Japa-Homa-Yagna-Tapasya-Dhyana-Adyayana and Gyan would all be everlasting. The past sins of all the Beings stored for thousands of births would vanish even while entering Kashipura. This would be applicable to Brahmanas, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, Varnasankaras or of mixed varnas, women, Mlecchhas, Chandalas, animals, birds and worms and ants.

Yatra saakshan Mahadevo dehaantey Swayameeshwarah,
Vyachashtey taarakam Brahma tatraivahyavi muktakey/
Vaaranaasthaa chaasya madhye Vaaranaasipuri,
tatraiva samshitam Tatvam nithyamevam vimuktakam/
Varanasyam param sthanam na bhutam na bhavishyati,
Yatra Narayano Devo Mahadevo Diviswarah/
Mahapathakini Devi ye tebhyaha paapakruttamaah,
Vaaraanaseem samaasaadhya tey yaanti paramaam gatim/
Tasmanmumukshurniyato vasudvai maranaantakam,
Vaaranasyam Maha Devaajnaanam labdhwa vimuchyatey/

( To those who were about to die in the Avimukta Kshetra, Bhagavan himself would preach the Taraka Brahma Mantra. The Sacred Place called Varanasi in between the two Rivers of ‘Varana’ and ‘Asi’ is full of ‘Nitya Vimukta Tatwa’ or the Philosophy of Permanance and Liberation. There was never a Place like Varanasi nor ever be where Bhagavan Narayana and Deveswara resided with luminosity. A Great Sinner or even a worse example like him would qualify for liberation as soon as he entered Varanasi. That was the reason why ‘Mumukshus’ or those desirous of achieving liberation desired to reside in Kasi with self-control and dedication till their termination and prompt Bhagavan Shiva himself to bestow ‘Gyan’ and ‘Mukti’to them). Narada asserted that just as Purushotthama Narayana was the superior among Devas, and Maha Deva was the utmost among Ishwaras, Kashipura was the most significant among the Tirthas. This was why people of high understanding longed with the cherished hope of living and if possible die at Varanasi.

At Varanasi, there is a popular Shiva Linga called Kapardeswar, where devotees perform Pujas and Pitru Tarpans; in fact, they should stay there for six months to achieve ‘Yoga Siddhi’. Also, taking baths at Pischacha Mochana Kund nearby the Temple and carrying on with Pujas to Kapardeshwar would result in demolition of ‘Maha Patakas’ like ‘Brahma hatya’. In the days of yore, a Tapaswi Brahmana named Shankhakarna performed Puja, ‘Rudra Paath’and ‘Pranava Japa’; he decided to worship Kapardeswara always till the end of his life’s journey accordingly. One day Shankhakarna visioned a hungry Piscacha nearby and when asked by the Brahmana, the Piscacha narrated that in his last birth he was a prosperous Brahmana with a large family, but did not heed to perform pujas to Devas, Cows and Guests nor did any worthy task. The Picsacha asked Shankhakarna to suggest a way out for getting rid of his existing status.The latter asked the Piscacha to take the Sacred Name of Kapardewara and immediately jump into the Kund nearby the Temple and the Piscacha died while swimming. The Brahmana was happy that the Piscacha was relieved and he prayed to Kapardeswar as follows: ‘Bhagavan’! You wear ‘Jata-jut’ (twisted and coarse hair on head and face) and known as ‘Kapardi’; you are ‘Paratpar’, saviour, unique,  Purana Purusha, Yogeswaa, and ‘Agni Rupa’, mounted on the Sacred Nandiswar; I take refuge in you; You are ‘Ru’ or the Distancer of Sorrows thus known as Rudra; you extend all over the Sky, Brahma Swarupa! I seek your protection; you possess thousand feet, eyes, heads and Forms; you are incomprehensible even to Vedas; You are ‘Lingarahit’ or beyond understanding as a man or a woman; ‘Aloka Shunya’, Swayam Prakash’or Auto-illuminated; You are ‘hara’ or the eliminator of obstacles; ‘Bheda Shunya’ or ‘Adviteeya’ (Exclusive)’! I seek your fortification! By so saying, Shankhakarna fell down the Earth while reciting ‘Pranava Mantra’ and integrated into ‘Shivaswarpa’ which was Eternal and Blissful.
From Varanasi to Gaya, Narada suggested the course to perform Pinda Daana at the Vata Vriksha named Akshaya vat and after taking bath at Maha Nadi, execute Tarpanas to Devas and Pitras. This would firm up ‘Kulodhaara’ or purify the ‘Kula Vamsa’. Thereafter pay visits to Brahmaranya, Dhenuka Tirtha, Grudhnavati (for Bhasma Snaan), Udaya Parvat (for Darshan of Savitri and to render ‘Sandhyopaasana’ to obtain the benefit of rendering Gayatri Mantra for Twelve Years), Yonivaasa (to aviod the nine-month Garbhavaasa), Phalgu River Snaana, Dharma Pushti Yatra, Mani Naga tirtha, Brahmarshi Gautami Vana, Ahalya Kunda Snaana, Gandaki Nadi atra, Maheswari Dhara, Narayana Sthaana ( where Brahma, Devas, Rishis, Twelve Adityas, Eight Vasus,  and Eleven Rudras worship Janaardana), Shaaligrama Tirtha  (where a Well contained the waters from Four Oceans), Jatismara Tirtha, Vateswara, Patakanashini Koushiki, (Kosi Nadi), Champakaranya, Koushala Nadi, Kaala Tirtha (where charity of Twelve Bulls was exexcised), Sona-Jyotirathi Sangam, Pushpavati Snaan, Mahendra Parvat,  Matanga Kshetra, and finally Gokarna Tirtha.

Sage Narada made a special mention of Prayaga as one of the most Sacred Tirthas of Bharata Varsha where Brahma and Narayana were both ready to bestow their blessings to mankind. This is also the unique ‘Sangam’ (Confluence) Point of two illustrious Rivers of Bharata viz. Ganga and Yamuna. It was stated that the Region between these two glorious Rivers constituted the middle portions of Prithvi. Prayag’s name, if heard, or sung was worthy of prostration. Being theYagna Bhumi of Devatas, the Sangama Snaana is known as the most outstanding experience witnessed ever by Devas. Even a small ‘Danaa’ at Prayaga is stated to have a snow-balling effect to assume manifold times. The saying was that one should perfom Tapasya at Pushkara, Daan on a Mahalaya day, and Upavas (fasting) at Bhrugu-tunga. Mere Snaanas at Pushkar, Kurukshetra and Ganga would register freedom of sins for seven generations in the previous births and seven generations ahead. The moment that a person touched his or her backbone in Ganga, that person’s details would get recorded. Where ever Ganga flows, all the Regions and Tapovanas on the River Banks are known as Siddha Kshetras.If a person were unable to actually visit Prayaga and experience the Sangama Snaana, atleast even mental desire would yield Punya. Also, Punya begets Punya and those who possess strong faith would certainly fulfill their desires to take up the pilgrimage.Qualifying further the ‘Mahatmya’ of Prayaga, Suta Maha Muni narrated the illustration of Yudhishtara; he experienced untold misery that the icon of Kuru Vamsa like Bhishma, Gurus like Drona and Kripacharya, First Cousins, Karna and countless close relatives were all mercilessly killed and could not overcome the grief yet, quite after the passage of time. As though in response to the predicament of Yudhishtara, Mahatma Markandeya visited Yudhishtara. He assured that what Yudhishtara and other Pandavas had done was not only a duty of a Kshatriya, but also a grand vindication of Dharma and justice vis-a-vis the vicious and highly sinful actions perpetrated by Kauravas; the Elders and some of the Virtuous personalities who sided the wrongdoings had to suffer too in the bargain. Having fully justified the actions of Pandavas and assuaged the personal feelings of Yudhishtara, Mahatma Markandeya recomended Tirtha Yatra to Prajapati Kshetra starting from Prayaga to Pratishthanapura. Lord Brahma and Devatas were in complete charge of this memorable Tirtha. Vishnu and Maheswara too protect Prayaga and the adjoining Region with vehemence.A three-night stay fasting at Prayaga, especially after bathing, Pinda daana and charity of cows, gold and Bhumi would readily bestow the fruits of Ashwamedha Yagna and more than that great mental peace to have killed so many enemies at the Maha Bharata Battle, assured Markandeya. Any person performing Panchagni Sewa between at the Sangam area of Ganga and Yamuna would never have physical disabilities and diseases, besides Swargawas in as many years as hairs on the body. A death at Prayaga would secure relief from the cycle of further lives and deaths. Accordingly, Panadavas did the ‘Sevas’ at Prayaga and several Tirthas around by way of daily Snaanas, liberal Daanas, fastings, Pinda Daanas, Keshava Pujas and so on.

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