The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Bhagirathi


Bhagirath Kharak Glaciers (pink) stretch from east of Gangotri Glacier
to Satopanth Lake (red), source of the Alakananda

Mar 08, 2014 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 20.

The River Bhagirathi's waters originate from the Gaumukh glaciar, which can be considered the original Bhagirathi theertham. The water then flows down to Gangotri dham, one of the holy Char-dham, where Bhagiratha performed penance to bring the Ganges down from the heavens. For that reason, the Ganges is called Bhagirathi from Gangotri down to Dev Prayag, the point of confluence between the Bhagirathi and Alakananda rivers.

While the Alaknanda River descends from the foot of the Satopanth, a triangular lake located at nearly 15,000 feet above sea level, it is also fed by the Bhagirath Kharak glaciers near Nanda Devi peak in Uttarakhand before coursing down to Badrinath dham. These waters cascade over 142 miles, encompassing the Panchaprayag. In our last segment we included a picture of the Bhagirathi mountain peaks standing behind Gomukh Glacier. This range of the lower Himalayas stretches above the Char-dham: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedernath and Badrinath.

As it happens, we have discussed the Bhagirathi River quite a number of times in Sun Features over the last few years, particularly in the series on the Char-dham and Panchaprayag. We will summarize the highlights here, as they focus on the Bhagirathi.

The waters flowing down from the great Himalayan mountain range to the Char-dham are among the holiest in all of Mother Bharat. As their names imply, Gangotri and Yamunotri dhams are dedicated to the Ganga and Yamuna Rivers. Gangotri receives the Bhagirathi River (which later becomes the Ganga), and the Mandakini River flows to Kedarnath dham, while the Alaknanda flows to Badrinath.

Bhagirath Shila at Gangotri
[ Photo courtesy ]


The original tirtha at Gangotri is located in Uttarakhand, on the banks of the Bhagirathi. The site is marked by a small temple of Ganga Ma, which stands in a flagged courtyard facing upstream. The current temple dedicated to Ganga Ma was built about 250 years ago by the Gurkha monarch, Amar Singh Thapa. The structure was then restored in the late 19th century. The temple is open for pilgrims from October to May. During the winter months, when the area is covered by deep snow, Ganga Ma retreats to Mukhba, 12 kilometres downstream, where she is worshipped.

The main temple complex at Gangotri is made of white granite and is twenty feet tall. Close to the temple is a stone known to be the Bhaigirath shila, which marks the place where Bhagiratha meditated and did penance to encourage Mother Ganga to earth.

At Gangotri temple, a railing is placed across the sanctum to prevent entrance into the main temple area. Each morning and evening, Ganga Ma's Deity is brought out to give darshan to all the pilgrims.

Up until 1987, pilgrimage had to cross a dangerously swaying rope that enabled them to cross the Ganga's raging torrents, and get to the dhama grounds. Many lost their lives to the water here. Eventually a bridge was put in place, making it easier and safer to cross.

Dev Prayag: Confluence of the Bhagirathi (left) and Alakananda (right) Rivers

Dev Prayag

Among the Panch-prayag, or five main confluences of these sacred rivers, Vishnu Prayag on the Alaknanda is the first. It is then joined by the Dhauli, Nandakini, Pindar, Mandakini, and Bhagirathi Rivers, respectively. Deva Prayag is the fifth and last confluence, where the Bhagirathi joins the Alakananda and Mandakini rivers. At this point the rivers take on the name of the Ganges, flowing downstream past Dev Prayag.

At the Dev Prayag, the Bhagirathi flows in rapids with strong currents, meeting a much calmer Alaknanda River, which is slower and more sediment-laden. For this reason, there is a strong visual contrast at the confluence of these two rivers. The Bhagirathi runs down a steep declivity with rapid force, roaring and foaming over large rock fragments in its bed, while the placid Alakananda flows smoothly and gently until the point of its turbulent confluence.

The Puranas say that Lord Brahma meditated at Devprayag for thousands of years to obtain permission for engaging in his work of creation. It is also said that Devprayag is the place where Lord Vamana entreated the demon-king Bali for three steps (trivikrama) of land. There are two kunds on the river banks: the Vasistha Kund on the Bhagirathi and Brahma Kund on the Alakananda. Nearby the prayag is the temple of Danda Naggaraja (Lord of the Nagas), and a Chandrabadni temple.

In the village of Dev Prayag is an ancient temple of Lord Rama. The abode of Sri Raghunathji is believed to be about 10,000 years old. The mandir was destroyed by an earthquake in 1803, but was rebuilt by under the patronage of Daulat Rao Scindia.


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