Himalayan Sacred Walks - Part VIII27, Nov, 2017, by Seema Bhatnagar
In continuation to Part VII.
Haridwar is an ancient city in the Haridwar district of Uttarakhand. The river Ganges, after flowing for 253 kilometers from its' source at Gomukh at the edge of the Gangotri Glacier, enters the Indo-Gangetic Plains of North India for the first time at Haridwar, which gave this city its' ancient name, Gangadwára.
Haridwar is regarded as one of the seven holiest places (Sapta Puri) to Hindus. According to the Samudra manthan, Haridwar along with Ujjain, Nashik and Prayag (Allahabad), is one of the four sites where drops of Amrit, the elixir of immortality, accidentally spilled over from the pitcher while being carried by the celestial bird Garuda. This is manifested in the Kumbha Mela, which is celebrated every 12 years in Haridwar.
During Haridwar Kumbh Mela, millions of pilgrims, devotees, and tourists congregate in Haridwar to perform ritualistic bathing on the banks of the river Ganges to wash away their sins to attain Moksha or liberation. Brahma Kund, the spot where the Amrit fell, is located at Har ki Pauri (literally, "footsteps of the Lord") and is considered to be the most sacred ghat of Haridwar.
It is also the primary center of the Kanwar pilgrimage, in which millions of devotees of Lord Shiva collect sacred water from the holy Ganges and carry it across hundreds of miles to their villages and homes to dispense it as offerings in Lord Shiva’s temples.
The name of the town has two spellings: Hardwar and Haridwar. Each of these names has its own connotation.
Hari means "Lord Vishnu", so, Haridwar stands for, " The Gateway to Lord Vishnu". In order to reach Badrinath, one of the four Char Dhams, with a temple of Lord Vishnu, Haridwar is a typical place to start a pilgrim's journey. Therefore, the name Haridwar is appropriate to represent the context.
On the other hand, in Sanskrit, Hara means "Lord Shiva" and Dwara means "gate" or "gateway". Hence, Hardwar stands for "Gateway to Lord Shiva". Hardwar has been a typical place to start a pilgrim's journey in order to reach Mount Kailash, the eternal abode of Lord Shiva, Kedarnath, the northernmost Jyotirlinga and one of the sites of the chota Char Dham pilgrimage circuit and Gaumukh, the source of river Ganges.
Haridwar is also known as the home of Devi Sati and the palace of her father Daksha. In ancient times, the town was also referred to as Gangadwára, the place where the Ganges descends to the plains.
Sage Kapila is said to have an ashram here giving it, its ancient name, Kapila or Kapilasthana.
The legendary King, Bhagiratha, the great-grandson of the Suryavanshi King Sagar (an ancestor of Rama), is said to have brought the river Ganges down from heaven after thousand years of penance, for the salvation of 60,000 of his ancestors from the curse of the saint Kapila. On the same lines, this has been followed as an important ritual by thousands of devout Hindus, who bring the ashes of their departed family members, in hope of their salvation.
Har Ki Pauri
This sacred Ghat was constructed by King Vikramaditya (1st century BC) in memory of his brother Bharthari. It is believed that Bharthari came to Haridwar and meditated on the banks of the holy Ganges. When he died, his brother constructed a Ghat in his name, which later came to be known as Har Ki Pauri. The most sacred ghat within Har Ki Pauri is Brahmakund.
Across Har Ki Pauri, there is a huge Lord Shiva statue, which looks like an iconic landmark of Haridwar. Like in Rishikesh, every evening Ganga arti is performed here also at Har Ki Pauri.
Chandi Devi Temple
It is a temple dedicated to Goddess Chandi Devi, situated atop the Neel Parvat on the Eastern summit of the Sivalik Hills, the southernmost mountain chain of the Himalayas. It is located at a distance of 4 kilometers from Har ki Pauri.
Chandi Devi Temple was built in 1929 by Suchat Singh in his reign as the King of Kashmir. However, the main murti of Chandi Devi at the temple is said to have been installed in the 8th century by Adi Shankaracharya, one of the great theologist of Hindu religion.
Chandi Devi Temple is highly revered by devotees as a Siddh Peetha which is a place of worship where desires get fulfilled. It is one of three such Peethas located in Haridwar, the other two being Mansa Devi Temple and Maya Devi Temple.
Goddess Chandi also known as Chandika, is the presiding deity of the temple. The story of the origin of Chandika is as follows:
Long time ago, the demon kings Shumbha and Nishumbha had captured the kingdom of the god-king of heaven - Indra and thrown the gods from Swarga (heaven). After intense prayers by the gods, Parvati assumed the form of Chandi, an exceptionally beautiful woman and amazed by her beauty, Shumbha desired to marry her.
On being refused, Shumbha sent his demon chiefs Chanda and Munda to kill her. They were killed by goddess Chamunda who originated out of Chandika's anger. Shumbha and Nishumbha then collectively tried to kill Chandika but were instead slain by the goddess. Thereafter, Chandika is said to have rested for a short while at the top of Neel Parvat and later a temple was built here to testify the legend. Also, the two peaks located in the mountain range are called Shumbha and Nishumbha.
This is a story extoling the power of feminine, and for the same reason this is read during Navratras (9 Divine nights) every year.
Places to visit
There are also some other interesting nearby places to visit. Following are few popular ones:
Kankhal, Mansa Devi Temple, Rajaji National Park.
There are many ashrams also which impart education according to ancient Indian methodology. The most famous ones are, Patanjali Yogpeeth and Gurukul Kangri.
Haridwar was the last place in our itinerary and with this our trip came to an end. We had one whole day to spend at Haridwar. The plan was to first visit the Chandi temple with the group and later on one can go individually anywhere to any local attraction.
For me, this was my third visit to Haridwar. Earlier, I went with one of my relatives and took a dip at Har Ki Pauri, that was some four years back. Visiting here for the third time, I wasn't so keen going out to see places or temples.
The last day of our itinerary started with a breakfast followed by a visit to Chandi Devi temple. It was just a 10 minutes ride with bus. It is located at the Neel Parvat top, to reach this top one can either climb the steps or can opt for a cable car which takes only 10 minutes. We all opted for cable car.
Coincidently, it was a very auspicious day to visit any Devi or Goddess temple. It was navratras days which are considered very auspicious to visit any Devi temple. During these days, Devi temples are overcrowded and one has to stand and wait in long queues. But the day we went, it wasn’t too crowded and we could easily reach the sanctum sanctorum and were blessed with a very satisfying darshan of Goddess Chandi. I liked the big sized golden nose ring she was wearing. Made some donations and offerings. It is a tradition to offer anything red to Goddess, red color is her favorite. The readymade offering which I bought had some sweets and red flower garland with some rose petals.
After making offerings and blessed with darshan, I sat for a meditation for 15 minutes. It felt very peaceful there.
In the temple premises itself there were idols of other Goddesses also, like, Goddess Laxmi, Goddess Annapurna, Goddess Parvati. I had darshan of all and finished the visit of temple.
Reached to buses parked outside and came back to hotel room. By this time, I had a bad throat and mild fever. This was an aftereffect of Gangotri dip. I was coughing and couldn’t speak much. So I decided to stay at room rather than going out for a dip at Har kee Pauri or to visit any nearby place or temple. I slept for an hour but fever would take its’ own sweet time to go down. As usual I didn’t take any pill and did wait for it to go down.
In the evening, there was a program planned by Isha team, where some of the participants presented their experiences of the trip through funny skits. Each one of us was full of joy and a heart filled with gratitude for such a wonderful trip.
A special dinner was hosted for us, which included special street food from North India, like chaat, golgappas, tikki and jalebies. Since the group was a potpourri of members from all states across India and few from other countries as well, so, for them, it was a real feast.
In a spirit of celebration and to bid Goodbye, we all danced together on popular tracks from Sounds of Isha. It felt as if it was one big family. Each one had a heart filled with emotions ready to burst in tears any moment. It was time to say goodbye to each other.
Well, all journeys come to an end so is true for this one also. The next day was a day of departure back home. Ten days were just like as if we all were transported to a different world altogether and basked in the company of Divine. We all paid our gratitude to Sadhguru for making this trip happen for us, without his grace it wouldn’t have been possible.