Panch Prayag, Part 2
BY: SUN STAFF
D.J. Joshi, c. 1970
Dec 29, 2012 CANADA (SUN) Places of Pilgrimage: A serial exploration of the Pancha Prayag.
At each of the five confluences that comprise Panch Prayag, vast numbers of pilgrims gather to take holy bath in the sacred waters. The Char-dhama tirthas of Gangotri, Kedernath, Badrinath and Yamunotri draw pilgrims year-round, some arriving at the height of severe winter weather in the Himalayas, and some of these losing their lives to the trek.
The Panch Kedar and Sapta Badri temples of Deva Bhumi ('god's land') are among the most often visited shrines in Uttarakhand state. Religious towns have grown around all the confluence sites -- Devaprayag, Nandprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag -- except for Vishnuprayag. The closest town to Visnuprayag is Joshimath, about 12 km (7.5 mi) away. Traveling further along that winding road, one eventually arrives at Badrinath Temple. Many pilgrims stop to take bath at all five prayags before finally arriving at Badrinath, to worship Lord Visnu.
The Lord at Badrinath
In order of their spiritual importance, the preeminent point of confluence in India is the Triveni Sangam in Allahabad, where the waters of the Ganges, the Yamuna and the Saraswati join together. Panch Prayag in the Garhwal Himalayas is considered to be next in the order of piety for river confluences. Those of the Panch Prayag located along the road to Badrinath are said to be on the path of Svargarohana (ascending to heaven). This is the route said to have been followed by the Pandavas, after they completed a circumambulation of the earth in order to attain salvation. 
James Baillie Fraser, c. 1820
Among the important festivals and holy observances that drawn devotees to the Panch Prayag, the greatest are the Makara Sankranthi, Uttarayan, Basant Panchami and Rama Navami festivals. On these occasions, throngs of pilgrims come to take a holy dip in the sacred rivers at the five (panch) confluences.
Makara Sankranthi marks the transit of the Sun into Capricorn, and is a traditional harvest festival day. Uttarayan, the six-month period between the Winter and Summer solstices, is celebrated around mid-January. Basant Panchami, celebrated on the fifth day of Magh (January-February) features the glorification of Saraswati Devi. And Rama Navami, of course, marks the Appearance Day of Lord Rama
Gangotri: "Gungotree, The Holy Shrine of Mahadeo"
Aquatint, c. 1800
As we proceed in our detailed survey of the five Panchprayag tirthas, a comprehensive study beings with an understanding of the sources of water that feed these sacred rivers and thus empower the confluences, each with a particular transcendental mood.
The River Yamuna originates at Yamunotri Dham, flowing down to join the Ganges at Allahabad. These two join the now invisible Saraswati at Triveni Sangam.
James Baillie Fraser, c. 1820
The River Bhagirathi flows from Gangotri Dham, (technically, from Gaumukh), where Bhagirath did penance to bring Ganges down from Heaven. Thus, the Ganges is called Bhagirathi from Gangotri up to the location of Dev Prayag.
The River Mandakini flows from the Kedarnath Dham ranges. In the Siva Panchakshara-stotram is mentioned ‘mandakini salila chandana charchithaaya' -- 'the One who wears chandana that is made into a paste using the waters of Mandakini river'. The River Alaknanda flows from Badrinath Dham hills.
Dhaula Ganga flows from the Dhaulagiri Mountains to join with the Alaknanda. This confluence occurs at Vishnu Prayag. Once Dhaula Ganga merges with the Alaknanda, the Dhaula's identity is lost, and both rivers flow together as the Alaknanda.
The River Nandakini, which originates at the peaks of Nanda Devi, joins the Alaknanda River at Nanda Prayag. Again, at this point the Nandakini loses its name and becomes part of the Alaknanda).
Pindar Ganga originates from the Pindar ranges, flowing down to merge with the Alaknanda at Karna Prayag. And again, the Pindar Ganga loses its name and becomes part of the great Alaknanda River. Likewise, the Mandakini merges with Alaknanda at Rudra Prayag, taking the Alaknanda's name.
The Bhagirathi River joins the Alaknanda at Deva Prayag, and at this point both rivers lose their names, and become the Ganges, flowing downstream past Dev Prayag.
So we can see that the sacred rivers flowing from the Char-dhama tirthas of Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, along with the Dhaula Giri, Nandakini and Pindar join together at various prayags, merging to become the waters of the sacred River Ganga. The Yamuna flows independently, coming down from the Char-dhama of Yamunotri, and this Queen of rivers is even larger than the Ganga as she descends to her confluence with the Ganga and Saraswati at Triveni Sangam, Allahabad. From there, Her waters flow into the ocean.
Once the divine rivers reach the sea, they all lose their identity. According to the Mundaka Upanishad, just as rivers cast off their nama-rupa when merging with the ocean, one with knowledge of the Absolute is delivered from material name and form when reaching the Supreme.
 Badam, Gyani Lal (2008). River Valley Cultures of India. Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav
Sangrahalaya. p. 20.
Sources: RNarayanaswami.net, Wikipedia
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