Panch Prayag, Part 5


The Alaknanda River flowing in from the left meets the Pindar River (center background)
to flow on as the Alaknanda (foreground) at Karnaprayag

Jan 01, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — Places of Pilgrimage: A serial exploration of the Pancha Prayag.


Karnaprayag (or Karn Prayag) is the place where the Alaknanda River is joined by the Pindar River (also known as the Pindar-ganga). The confluence is located at an elevation of 1,451 meters (4,760 feet) above sea level. The main tributary of the confluence originates at Pindar Glacier, below the Nanda Devi hill range, and it's also fed by the Milam Glacier, another of the Nanda Devi group. Nanda Devi mountain towers to a height of 7,816 m. (25,634 ft.), and is surrounded by the icy peaks of Trisul, Drona Giri, Narad Ghunti, Mrigathuni and Maiktoli hills.

Upon entering Garhwal, the waters of Pindar Glacier take the name of Karna-ganga, later becoming Pinder-ganga before merging with the Alaknanda. Before joining Alaknanda at Karnaprayag, the Pindar is fed by the Kali-ganga and the Bheri-ganga rivers.

The Alaknanda (from right) is joined by Pindar river (from bottom) at Karanprayag

Next to the confluence site there is a large area of pasture on the bank where cows are grazed. According to legend, a local zamindar inadvertently killed a cow (go-hatya) on this pasture land. The zamindar did not have adequate money to engage in acts of reparation to atone for this great offence, so he asked a visiting pilgrim from South India to help him. The philanthropic pilgrim assisted the zamindar in buying the pasture land, which was dedicated to Lord Badrinath with a vow that the land would only be used for grazing cows.

The Mahabharata states that Karna did penance here and earned kavacha (armour) and kundala (ear rings) from his father, the Sun god. This protective gear gave Karna superior powers. The confluence thus derives its name from him. Karna's burial rites were performed here, and the stone seat where he did penance is still worshipped at the prayag.

The Puranas state that when Karna came to this place, there was no river confluence, so the spot was not entirely fitting for his performance of tapasya. Thus Karna caused the Pinder River to descend and meet the Alaknanda here.

Uma Devi Temple, Karnaprayag

In a temple built in recent times to commemorate Karna, the deity of goddess Uma Devi (daughter of the Himalayas) resides. The adjacent stone temple was rebuilt by Adi Shankaracharya, featuring a natmandir and garvagriha (sanctum). In the sanctum are deities of Lord Shiva and Parvati, along with Ganesha. There is also a murti of Karna.

A steep row of steps descends from the temple to a path leading to the confluence point. There, small shrines of Shiva and Binayak (Ganesh) Shila are believed to protect pilgrims, presumably from the turbulent confluence waters. Every 12 years, Uma Devi is taken out on procession to local villages around Karnaprayag.

The Road to Karnaprayag
Photo courtesy

There is also a reference to this site in Meghaduta, a drama in Sanskrit by the poet Kalidasa, who says that the Satopanth and Bhagirath glaciers joined to form the Pindar River. In his Abhijnana-shakuntala, Kalidas mentions that some of Shakuntala and King Dushyanta's romantic pastimes took place here.

One of the local attractions near Karnaprayag is Nauti Village, home of the goddess Nanda. This place is the starting point for the Nanda Devi Raj Jat Yatra, one of the longest pilgrimage tours covered by foot in India. The yatra goes out only once every twelve years, and was just held in 2012.


Charanik @ Wordpress, Wikipedia


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