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    Kasi Yathra- Travelogue and some Useful information

    KASHI TRIP - Part I

    Preparations:
    Ganga Kavery express which connects Chennai & Varanasi is a biweekly Express. We planned the trip to Allahabad, Varanasi & Gaya 100 days before the actual date of departure viz.20.10.08. As our trip was coinciding with Diwali(Thanga Annapoorni, Thanga Visalakshi, Annakodda & Laddu Ther) we anticipated rush and purchased 90 days in advance, both onward and return tickets:
    We wrote to Swamimalai V.Ramasesha Sastrigal(his brother's name is Mr.V.Krishnamurthy Ganapadigal) B-5/311. Hanuman Ghatt, Varanasi-221001(Phone 0542-2310134). The former's son is Mr.R.shiv Kumar. He is computer savvy. A MCA but in Purhoitam. His cell No. is 093353333137/09415336064. His email id is <rshiv_kumar@rediffmail.com> He assured to provide us accommodation, food and also arrange transport and perform pithru karyams. He also gave contact name in Allahabad. Shri. N.Vasudeva shastrigal. Shivmath daraganj, Allahabad. 0532-2500799
    Then we(each family) started doing purchases: For Khasi Shrraddham Dhoti for brahmana and Vadhyar:9x5 Three Nos, Gaya Shrraddham Dhoti for Gayawalis 9x5 five number(if mother is alive four nos only; Gaya Vadyar Dhoti 9x5 one no. Dhambathi Pooja: Two sets of following: Dhoti 9x5 ; 9 yard saree with blouse piece, Mangalyam, metti, mookuthi -(one each for Allahabad and Kashi).
    Extra blouse pieces with kannadi seepu manjal kungumam valayal about 25 sets.
    For Dheepa Dhanam: 31 Brass agals with oil & thiri; for payasa Dhanam Tumblers: 12 nos For Dhasa Dhanam: Gold coin, silver coin, silver kinnam, 9x5 veshti, Shawl/porvai, Kudai, Padarakshai, Pithalai Theertha sombu, Eversilver Milk Pathiram, Eayam poosiya Curd Pathiram, Visiri, Sandhana Kattaiu, Bell, Pusthagam(courtesy: Kunjan),

    YATRA

    The purpose of a Kashi Yatra is to perform Vedic rites for our ancestors. The Purohits were extremely helpful to explain various nuances of rituals. We performed the rites that are traditionally performed during a Kashi Yatra. I share this with all of you in the hope that it may be of reference material for future. I have provided contact numbers of some people there who will be able to arrange everything for anyone who desires to perform these rituals.

    We got down at Allahabad at 4.30 Am after a train journey of 35 hours. Mr.Vasudevan sent his errand boy Mr.Venkatesh to Allahabad Rly Stn to pick us up. The Vedic rituals began at Allahabad. The rituals (even the more extensive ones) take about half a day (early morning to lunch).

    Day of Arrival - Allahabad (Triveni Sangam) (Day 1)(22.10.2008)

    Allahabad is the city where the three greatest rivers of India meet, and continue their journey further. The Ganga weaves her way down from the Himalayas from Gangotri, passing places made sacred by her arrival, like Rishikesh and Haridwar, and passing through the industrial city of Kanpur, before arriving at Allahabad to join her sisters as she makes her way to Kashi. Yamuna also begins her journey in the Himalayas, at Yamunotri, and passes through Mathura and Brindavan, made more sacred by the association of Krishna, and finally arrives at Allahabad where she joins the Ganga to merge her identity with her. Saraswati arrives at Allahabad from god alone knows where, for she is an underground river, who remains unseen to mankind, making her presence felt at certain, extremely special places. She renders the holy Ganga and Yamuna even more pure, more sacred by her association with them at Allahabad. The place where these 3 rivers merge is the Triveni Sangam, a place where thousands and thousands congregate to pay their respects to the rivers and pray for their well being and forgiveness for their sins.
    The three rivers maintain their identity and are visibly different as they merge. While the Yamuna is deep but calm and greenish in colour, the Ganga is shallow, but forceful and clear. The Saraswati remains hidden, but the faithful believe that she makes her presence felt underwater. During the monsoon, when the rivers are in full flow, the confluence of the rivers is seen clearly due to the force of the water, but the same force makes having a dip at the confluence difficult. I was told that during the monsoon, most devotees bathe at the riverbank for safety, while the more ardent ones who are willing to pay for the risk involved go to the confluence in a boat, where a shallow area is created by the presence of a number of boats with a kind of net suspended in between, and bathe there. We went to the confluence of the rivers by a boat. A sort of platform had been constructed there, from which we climbed down into waist deep water. We had a wonderful time bathing in the river. We could have stayed in the water for ages, if it hadnít been for the rites and rituals we had to perform back at the mutt where we were staying. It was a wonderful experience.

    A number of rituals are traditionally performed at Allahabad, mainly for appeasing our ancestors. There are a number of Mutts there who perform the rites. As at Kashi, there is no standard charge, but varies according to the rites one wants to perform and the budget.

    An interesting ritual performed at the Sangam is that of Veni Daanam. This is a practice followed by married women for the long life of their husbands. The husband is supposed to comb and plait the wifeís hair and after decorating it with flowers, the end of the plait is cut off and offered to the rivers. Some men even shave off their hair/beard and offer it also to the rivers. This procedure is performed while travelling by boat to the Sangam and the hair is offered along with flowers, etc at the confluence. There is nothing interesting in itself about this. What is interesting is that hair, being light normally floats on water, but at this place, the hair sinks straight to the bottom. Though hundreds of people offer their hair everyday, there is not a single strand of hair seen floating on the river. Of course, there could and will be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but whatever it is, it gives us proof that nature is a wonderful thingÖ.. Call it God or simply nature, it is indeed inspiring!

    The temple of Veni Madhava (one of the trio along with Sethu Madhava and Bindu Madhava) is a little way inside the city. It is a small temple, with a small idol of Vishnu representing Veni Madhava. According to the legend painted on the walls of the temple, there was once a rakshasa who troubled all the Devas. Narada sought an audience with him to find out his weakness, and found that he suffered from a skin infliction. He told the Asura to bathe in the Triveni Sangam at Allahabad, which the Asura proceeded to do. Amazed at finding himself cured, he wanted to possess the 3 great rivers who had cured him, and began drinking them up! When the rivers pleaded with Vishnu, he arrived in the form of Veni Madhava and killed him, restoring the rivers to their rightful place.

    The Shayana Anjaneya temple is an important one right on the banks of the river. Here, the idol of Hanuman is larger than life, carrying Rama and Lakshmana on his shoulders. Only, the idol is lying down. There are many stories about this temple. According to one, hanuman stepped over the rivers without their permission, angering them. They rose up and threw him to the ground, and crushed his ego. According to the locals, every year, the river rises and covers the whole idol before going back, which they consider absolute proof of this story. Another legend mentions that this is where hanuman emerged with Rama and Lakshmana after defeating the king of Patala, the netherworld, Ahi Ravana. Whatever the story, the temple is a simple and nice one.

    The Adi Shankara Vimana Mandapam, a temple built by the Kanchi Mutt is right next to this temple. This is a 3 storeyed temple with idols and sculptures of various Gods and Goddesses. It is worth a visit.

    The other paces of interest in Allahabad are-

    The Allahabad fort, on the banks of the Yamuna, where we take a boat to go to the Sangam.

    The Bharadvaj Ashram, where Sage Bharadvaj lived

    Anand Bhavan- the birthplace of our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.


    1. Anugnai (Sankalpam)
    2. Vighneshwara Puja (Prayers to Ganesha)
    3. Prayschitta Sankalpam (atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly)
    4. Veni Daanam (Women offer a part of their hair to the river praying for the long life of their husbands. The husband plaits the wifeís hair, decorates it with flowers and cuts off the tip of the plait and offers it to the river. It is an interesting fact that while hair normally floats on water, at the Sangam; it immediately sinks to the river bed. Though almost all married women offer their hair here, there is not a single strand found floating on the river!!!!) I did it for Mohana! first time in life.
    5. Manal brought from Rameswaram is dissolved in Thiriveni
    6. Triveni Sangam Snanam (husband and wife bathe together at the confluence of the 3 rivers, holding hands. One has to go to the confluence in a boat. A sort of platform has been erected at the point for the convenience of pilgrims)
    7. Hiranya Shrraddham *
    8. Pinda Pradaanam, Kshetra Pindam, Tarpanam **
    9. Brumayagnam
    10. Venimadhavar Dharisanam
    11. Vada Vrutcha Dharisanam
    12. To collect Pure Ganges water from Thriveni Sangamam for carrying back to home.
    13. Aram Ghat Hanumar Dharisanam
    14. Kanchi Kamakodi Temple visit
    15. we performed Dampati Pooja at Allahabad. We reached Varanasi at 10 Pm. Mr.Krishnamurthy Ganapadigal has sent us Idly for night tiffin. We were accommodated in his newly purchased house which is a two storeyed building with a muttram for drying clothes. The house had 3 rooms, one big hall of around 700 sq.ft with one bath, one w.c and one Indian toilet. The house had pillows, jamukkalam & mats and 4 cots.
    The rituals at Kashi take place over three days Ė the first day for the Maha sangalpam, the second day for Manikarnika Parvarupa (by doing homam) Shrraddham and the third day for the Pancha Teertha Shrraddham. Then, one goes to Gaya and performs the rituals there, and returns to Kashi for the Ganga Puja, Dampati Puja and only then visits the temples at Kashi.

    To be continued in Part 2


    NANU(R.Narayanan)

    Elder brother of RK Patham Iyer
    Permission taken to publish this travelogue
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    Part II - Kasi Yatra Continued

    Kashi (Varanasi) Day 2(23.10.08)

    1. Anugnai (Sankalpam)
    2. Vighneshwara Puja (Prayers to Ganesha
    3. Poorvanga Sangalpam
    4. Navagraha Preethi Dhanam
    5. Poorvanga Dasa Daanam ***
    6. Naandhi Shrraddham *
    7. Vaishnava Shrraddham *
    8. Punyaa Vajanam (purification ritual)
    9. Maha Sankalpam
    10. Prayschitta Sankalpam (atonement for sins committed, knowingly or unknowingly)
    11. Pala Daanam ***
    12. Mahathasirvatham
    13. Uttaranga Godaanam *** (we did not do)
    14. Chakra Theertha Snanam
    15. Manikarnika Teertha Snanam

    Day 3(24.10.08)

    1. Manikarnika Hiranyaroopa Theertha Shrraddham : This was done in Parvanroopam(Homam Valarthu) Two Brahmanal Bhojanam(Those who are budgeted can do this hiranya roopam also)
    2. Anna roopa theertha Shrraddham
    3. Pinda dhanam
    4. Shethra Pinda Dhanams
    5. Thila Tharpanam
    6. Brumayagnam

    Day 4(25.10.08)

    1. Pancha Teertha Yatra (We went by a motor boat to these 5 Ghats and performed the rituals) Like Madras Auto towing another auto, The motor boat was towing two ordinary rowing boats. One boat exclusively for Rug Vedis. One boat to prepare avis and make pindams. The mai motor boat for performing hiranya Shrraddham
    i) Asi Ghat (Haridwar Teertham) – this is where the Asi river merges with the Ganga. Performing the rites here is believed to give one the fruits of performing the rites at Haridwar.
    ii) Dashashwamedha Ghat (Rudra Sarovara Teertham) – this is the place where Brahma performed 10 Ashwamedha Yagnas, and hence it is considered sacred to perform the rites.
    iii) Trilochana Ghat or varana Ghatt( Vishnu Paada Udaka Teertham)
    iv) Pancha Ganga Ghat ( Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kirana, Doodhapappa- Sangam); Bindu Madhava Temple
    v) Manikarnika Ghat (Manikarnika Teertham, Chakra Pushkarni Teertham) Shethra pinda dhanams in all 5 ghatts, thila tharpanam and Bruma yagnam
    We left in the evening by 5 pm Varanasi by 2 Tata Sumos to Gaya. We reached Gaya at 10 Pm. we immediately rushed to see Thulasi Archanai, Sandhana kappu to Vishnu Padham.
    Gaya Shrardham Day 5(26.10.08)
    Gaya being located in is a Shrraddha Bhoomi. The place where we were asked to stay is managed by a Gujarati lady who also speaks Tamil. We experienced continuous power cuts, no sun- light in bathrooms, inadequate water in Gaya( Lallu Prasad Yadav's Rajyam) (almost zero water for those who preferred to enter bath rooms at the end) (power cut also compounded the problem of not having water in overhead tank). We were also told Phalguni river is having knee deep water only and only Brokshanam is possible. Gaya is a holy place revered by Hindus and Buddhists alike. While to Hindus, it is the footprint of Vishnu (the Vishnu Padam), the Akshaya Vatam and the chance of performing the Vedic rites not just for 3 generations of ancestors, but anyone and everyone that attracts them to Gaya, for Buddhists it is the sacred Banyan tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. Indeed the regular influx of Buddhists from all over the world has made Bodh Gaya a tourist spot in Bihar, and a tourist attraction with all kind of facilities, something like an oasis in the heart of a desert!

    Gaya is all about legends, and there are legends connected to every temple there and every rite that is performed.

    Let me start with the name of the place. 'Gaya'. According to the legend, there was once an Asura named Gayasuran, who was a great devotee of Vishnu. When the Devas couldn’t bear the trouble he caused any more, they went to Vishnu and asked for a way out. Vishnu approached Gayasuran and told him that He wanted to perform a special yagna, and wanted a special place to perform it. Gayasuran offered his heart, and Vishnu accepted. The yagna began, and soon, the fumes and the heat became unbearable, and Gayasuran started succumbing to it. Vishnu asked him for his final wish, and Gayasuran asked that the place he died would be immortalized by his name, and hence the name ‘Gaya’. Second, he asked that people should be allowed to perform the sacred rites (Pinda pradaanam) not only for their ancestors, but for anyone- family, distant relatives, friends and foes, non-Hindus, pets, unclaimed bodies- in short, for any dead human/creature they could think of. This remains the only place where Pinda pradaanam is carried out in this manner. In fact, I am told that in a normal
    Shrraddham , 6 pindams are made (two for each generations which are no more); in a Teertha Shrraddham , as at Kashi, Allahabad, Rameswaram, etc., 16 pindams are offered, including all ancestors on both parents side; in the Gaya Shrraddham, 64 pindams are offered, of which 16 are for the mother alone, since she carries her child for 9 whole months within her body, 16 for the ancestors, and 16 for all others as I have mentioned earlier. Of course, all this is a matter of faith and belief, but what is there in life if we don’t have faith? Anyway, once Vishnu granted his wishes, he stepped on him with his foot, leaving a footprint at this holy place, and granting liberation to Gayasuran. It is this footprint which is worshipped as the Vishnu Padam. For the information of devotees, I must mention that for a fee of Rs.50/- an imprint of the Padam is taken on a muslin cloth and given. This is to be kept in the Puja room and is considered very auspicious.


    1. Phalguni (Falguni) Teertha Snana Maha Sangalpam
    2. Phalguni (Falguni) Teertha Snanam by way of bringing water from the river in sombu and brokshanam
    3. Phalguni Hiranya Shrraddham (this is the traditional Shrraddham performed on the banks of any sacred river, here the Falguni.)
    4. Shethra Pinda dhanam(17) (given to cow later)
    5. Thila tharpanam
    6. Vishnu Paada Hiranya Shrraddham
    7. Pinda prathanam ( 64 Pindams for those who have lost mother also; if mother alive 48 pindams)
    8. Shethra Pinda Dharisanam at Vishnu Patham
    9. Mathru Shodacee(not applicable to those whose mother is alive)
    10. Akshaya Vata Anna/Hiranya Shrraddham † (with anna Shrraddham ) with homam
    11. Akshaya Vata Pinda Pradaanam ** †
    12. Shethra Pinda dhanam
    13. Mathru Shodacee(not applicable to those whose mother is alive)
    14. Thirupthi Dhakshinai Ask Gaya Brahmans if they are satisfied (according to legend, the Brahmins at Gaya are not easily satisfied and it is a tradition to ask them anyway in an attempt to satisfy them)
    Acharya sambhavana (payment of the fees to the pundit)

    15. Saka-Pathra-Ful- Dharisanam(Oru kai-Ilai-Pazham viduthal)
    16. Bhodhi Vruksha Dharisanam
    The next legend concerns the Falguni (or Falgu) river. There is knee deep water in the river at Gaya, though apparently, there is water upstream as well as downstream. It is clear that there is water under the ground, because, even as one digs into the ground with ones fingers, water appears. This is apparently because of a curse on the river. The story goes that Rama, along with his brothers and Sita, came to Gaya to perform the sacred rites for his father, Dasaratha. When the brothers were bathing in the river, Sita was sitting on the banks, playing with the sand. Suddenly, Dasaratha appeared out of the sand, and asked for the Pindam, saying he was hungry. Sita asked him to wait till his sons returned, so that she could give him the traditional Pindam of rice and til. He refused to wait, asking her to give him pindams made of the sand in her hand. Having no other option, she gave him the Pindam he desired with five witnesses – the Akshaya Vatam, the Falguni River, a cow, a Tulsi plant and a Brahmin. Soon, Rama returned and started the rituals. In those days apparently, the ancestors would arrive in person to collect their share, and when Dasaratha did not appear, they wondered why. Sita then told them what had happened, but Rama could not believe that his father would accept pindams made of sand. Sita now mentioned her witnesses, and asked them to tell Rama the truth. Among the five, only the Akshaya Vatam took her side and told the truth, while the others lied, trying to take Rama’s side. In her anger, Sita cursed all of them thus: the Falguni river henceforth would have no water at Gaya; the Cow would no longer be worshipped from the front as all others are- only its backside would be worshipped; there would be no more Tulsi plants at Gaya and the Gaya Brahmins would never be satisfied, they would always be hungry and crave more and more. She then blessed the Akshaya Vatam saying that all who came to Gaya would perform the Pinda pradaanam at the Akshaya Vatam too.

    Other temples in the vicinity are the Sakshi Gopal temple and the Mangala Gowri Temple, which is among the Shakti peethams. By the time Shrraddham was over, it was about 4.30 pm. we left Gaya around 5.30 Pm after visiting Bodh Gaya and reached Varanasi around 11.30 Pm. The roads were excellent thanks to National Highway Authority roads improvement programme of Govt. of India. Since one of the vehicles developed a snag, we had to wait for some time enroute.
    BODH GAYA
    We worship Dhakshinamurthy,Guru or preceptor. A preceptor is more than a teacher, for he not only teaches us things that extends our knowledge, but also those that enrich our lives, and make out life worth living. One of these was the Buddha. Whether we consider Him simply as a Buddhist guru, or the ninth avatar of Vishnu, it remains a fact that He was one of the greatest teachers of all time, and his legacy lives on today in the hearts of millions, some his followers, some simply his admirers. I take the opportunity to write an article on Gaya, one of the places most closely associated with the Buddha. Sanjay & Siddhu can be asked to go through this portion.
    Bodh Gaya is about 18 Kms from Gaya. This is where Buddha came in quest of knowledge, and where he finally was enlightened. This is, truly, the birth place of Buddhism. There are, in all, seven sacred places for Buddhists, all associated with the life of Buddha. These are:

    1.
    Lumbini – his birthplace, now in Nepal
    2.
    Kapilavastu – his kingdom, also in Nepal
    3.
    Bodh Gaya – where he attained enlightenment, in Bihar
    4.
    Sarnath – where he gave his first discourse, in UP
    5.
    Shravasti – where he taught many of his students, near Lucknow
    6.
    Rajgir – where he loved when he fell ill, in Bihar, 80 Kms from Gaya
    7.
    Kushinagar – where he breathed his last, in Bihar.




    To be continued in Part III

    as narrated by Narayanan ( Brother of RK Patham Iyer)
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    Part III Continued- Kasi Yatra

    Buddha spent 6 weeks at Gaya. The first week he spent under the Bodhi tree, the second inside the temple, the third near a lake (it is said that when he placed a foot on the water, a lotus appeared under it), the fourth week in the area around the temple, the fifth under another Bodhi tree (which is no more- a pillar stands in its place) answering the questions of learned Brahmins, and the 6th week at the centre of the pond. It is believed that when a severe thunderstorm approached, Adisesha himself arrived to protect the Buddha, forming an umbrella over his head with his hoods. This is the reason Buddha is sometimes counted as the 9th avatar of Vishnu.

    There are over 50 temples at Bodh Gaya, all built by foreign Buddhists. The most important one however, remains the Maha Bodhi Temple, where the Bodhi tree stands. But we visited only the main temple.
    Bodhi Tree:This tree, though not the original one under which Buddha sat, is however, its descendant. The original tree was destroyed by the Mughals. A branch of the original tree had been taken to Sri Lanka by some Buddhist monks, and Ashoka ordered a branch of that tree to be brought and planted here. He himself took care of this tree. This second one was cut down on the orders of Ashoka’s wife because she was jealous of the attention he paid to it. Nevertheless, he got a second branch from the Sri Lanka tree and planted it. This third one was destroyed during a cyclone, and another branch planted. The present tree is the 4th. It is an amazing thing that branches from the original tree flourish wherever they are planted, all over the world!
    Explanations:

    *
    Shrraddham or performing the Vedic rites to appease one’s forefathers is of two types- Anna roopam and Hiranya roopam. Anna Shrraddham is where a certain number of Brahmins are invited, and are fed at the completion of the rituals. This is considered equivalent to feeding one’s ancestors. However, this is quite tedious, and sometimes expensive. Hence the second option, Hiranya Shrraddham, where the Brahmins are fed only symbolically. This is a quicker and cheaper alternative to the same rituals. At places like Kashi the pundits offer us the option of choosing which kind of ritual we would like to perform, depending on our time and budget.
    Naandhi and Vaishnava Shrraddham refer to the rites for appeasement of one’s ancestors and the Gods, respectively.

    **
    Pinda pradaanam is the ritual of offering food to three (in case of Gaya, more than that) generations of our ancestors. Balls of cooked rice and Til (sesame seeds), which are thus offered are called the pindams.

    ***
    Daanam - Strictly meaning Charity, Daanam refers to the procedure of donating things to the Brahmins in the name of our ancestors. There is a long list of things that need to be given, starting from simple things like umbrellas, fans, and mats to more expensive things made of silver and gold. Among the more auspicious ones is the donation of a cow (Godaanam) and land, both of which are usually done in symbolic terms. Poorvanga and Uttaranga Daanam refer to the things needed to be given at the beginning and end of the rituals respectively, while Dasa Daanam refers to a set of 10 things that need to be donated.

    The Akshaya Vata and the Vishnu Pada are the only two places where one can perform the Vedic rites not only for our forefathers, but for anyone, family, friends, acquaintances, whatever caste, religion or community they may belong to… and also for animals, our pets, abandoned bodies, etc.. This is the uniqueness of Gaya which draws thousands of people from all parts of India.
    DAY 6(27.10.08) DIWALI
    (This year we did not have Diwali but had Asli(original) Ganga Snan)
    1. Deepa dhanam
    2. Payasa Dhanam
    3. Dampati Puja (Prayers offered to an elderly married couple, invoking them as Vishwanath and Annapurna)
    4. Uttaranga Dasa Daanam ***
    5. Thanga Annapoorni, Kasi Viswanathar Dharisanam, Visalakshi Dharisanam(silver pavadai), Thanga Visalakshi in Nattukoottai Chettiar Chathiram Dharisanam
    6. Kala Bairavar Samaradhanai ( 4 Brahmanal bhojanam) Samaradhanai expenses were borne by Kashi Vadhyar

    DAY 7(28.10.08) North Indian Diwali(amavasai)
    1. Ganga Puja (it is a tradition to bring back small sealed containers of water from the Ganges and distribute it among our near and dear ones. One container is kept at home as it is considered sacred and one is taken to Rameswaram where it is used to perform Abhishekam to the lingam. All these containers are kept and prayed to before they are distributed.)
    2. Dhundi Ganapathi
    3. Sozhiyamman Dharisanam
    4. Kala Bhairavar Dhaisanam(Kasi Kayiru Vanguthal)
    5. Bhanaras Hindu University- Birla Temple
    6. Kala Bhairavar Dhaisanam
    RAM NAGAR FORT
    Kashi might be the abode of the gods, but it also been ruled by various kings, who left their imprint on the city. The Raja Ghat on the river, for example, was built by one of them, and history tells us that one of the kings actually jumped from one of its high turrets while trying to escape the British troops during the mutiny, and actually succeeded!

    The last remnant memory of the kings of Benares is the Ramnagar Fort and Palace on the opposite banks of the Ganga, in a section of which the present scion of the royal family still resides. The palace is about 15Kms away by road, and an auto takes about half an hour to reach there. We however chose the longer, but more interesting and relaxing option- that of taking a row boat to the palace across the river. The journey took us a good one and a half hours, but the sheer bliss we experienced made every minute worth it!

    The palace has now been converted into a museum, which closes around 4:30PM. If you want to have a leisurely stroll among the various antiquities displayed, make sure you keep at least 2 hours for the palace alone.

    The entrance to the fort- the Lal Darwaza

    The first section of the museum has various vintage cars belonging to the royal family. After this, we are led back in time thanks to the impressive collection of howdahs and palanquins made of silver and ivory. It is indeed wonderful to see such magnificence, and one wonders what things would have been like when the kings were at the height of their glory. The next section comprises entirely of weapons.

    Anyway, coming back to the museum, the portions I found most interesting were those which displayed beautiful works of art, and gifts from kings of other states. These were truly worth seeing, considering that with the great advances in science and technology, it is impossible to come across such wonderful handwork. Carvings on ivories, brass and bronze, tapestries from various regions of ancient India… The list goes on and on and on………

    The Palace

    The section containing the ancient clothes of the kings, priceless collections from their wardrobe, don’t look so priceless any more. Most of them are moth eaten, and deserve much more care than they are given at present. The section containing portraits of the rulers is good though, and a must-see for al history buffs.

    The Palace Door

    The pride of the museum is an ancient clock which displays not only the year, month, week, and day, but also astronomical facts about the sun, moon and constellations of stars! On the day of our visit the clock was not working. I wish the clock is repaired and restored early.

    Another Section of the Palace

    The name ‘Ramnagar’ is believed to have been given by the kings of Benares, when they decided to build their fort at this place. In ancient times, it was known as Vyasa Kashi, because the great Sage Vyasa (of Mahabharata fame) is believed to have lived here. According to the legend, Vyasa once incurred the wrath of Lord Shiva, who exiled him from Kashi. Vyasa chose to reside on the opposite bank of the Ganga, from where he could at least see the holy city. Thus this place came to known after him as Vyasa Kashi.

    A tunnel-like passage from the quadrangle of the fort leads us under the fort to the river, on the banks of which is a temple known as the Vyasa temple. This temple has 3 lingams representing Vyasa, his son, Suka and Kashi Vishwanath. There is nothing much one can say about the temple, except that its location is absolutely wonderful. On one side is the Ganga, flowing in full force and on the other side are the high walls of the palace. The view is breathtaking, and as for the breeze, I have no words to describe it! I can assure you that it will be a wonderful experience.
    DAY 8(29.10.08) Day of Departure
    1. Visit to Varahi (Though many in our group visited, Self, Mohana, mother & Uma did not visit)
    2. We visited Kasi Viswanath Temple to see Laddu Ther and Annapoorni Temple to see Anna Kooda(This dharisanam is available only for a day that is on the day following North Indian Diwali or Prathamai Day) It would be better, if one cross checks with Vadhyar from Kashi about this Dharisanam before embarking on this trip)
    3. Vadhyar Sambavanai
    4. In the afternoon I visited Mrityunjeswar Mahadev Temple before winding up Kashi Yathra. We reached Chennai at 10.50 Am on 31.10.08.
    While doing all Karma/rituals we prayed for all(macro family) and sought blessings of pithrus(all).
    We are thankful to God for making this trip possible. We are also thankful to Mr.K.Viswanathan (LMW retired)for his valuable guidance.
    We derived lot of mental happiness.

    NANU(R.Narayanan)
    Brother of RK Patham Iyer
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    KASHI TRIP (PART IV of Tavelogue)

    Hope you might have gone through my previous write-up on kashi rituals.

    Now I will attempt on my experiences relating to Kashi Ghatts and temples.

    GHATTS

    There are 64 Ghatts. I will describe a few Ghatts.
    Asi Ghat is where the Asi river merges with the Ganga, this is the southern extreme of the city. Just next to this is the Tulsi Ghat where Tulsidas breathed his last. Then comes the Hanuman Ghat, which is where we stayed. Next to this is the Karnataka state Ghat, where there is a palace built by the Maharaja of Mysore. These two Ghats are full of mutts and ashrams belonging to south India, and hence is full of south Indians at any time of the year. Next comes the Harishchandra Ghat, which is the place associated with the legend of the truthful king, Harishchandra, and the trials and tribulations he underwent. This is one of the burning Ghats of the city, where bodies of people of all castes and communities are consigned to flames.

    Further upstream is the Kedar Ghat, with the Kedareshwar temple, followed by the Kshameshwar Ghat and then the Narad Ghat. The Narad Ghat, incidentally, is the only Ghat on which people don’t bathe. In mythology, Narada is depicted as the naughty saint who always creates trouble (with the best motives of course!), and it is believed that a couple bathing on this Ghat will start fighting amongst themselves!

    The Raja Ghat is one belonging to the royal family of Varanasi, while the Shitala Ghat has a temple of Shitala Devi, who is prayed to, to avoid the pox. The Rana Mahal Ghat was built by Maharana Pratap, and is a fine example of Rajasthani architecture, as is the Maan Mandir Ghat further up, attributed to Man Singh, which also has an observatory on top. The Lalitha Ghat is the one nearest to the Vishwanath and Annapurna temples.

    Next is the famous Manikarnika Ghat, where Parvati is believed to have dropped her ear rings. This is also a burning Ghat, where funeral pyres burn day and night, every single day. It is believed that there is always a pyre burning on this Ghat, at any time of the day or night. Till about 100 years back, the ashes of a pyre burning at midnight would be taken to the Vishwanath temple for the lingam for Abhishekam, but this practice has now been stopped. The fortune of being cremated at this Ghat is solely reserved for Hindus.

    Then we come to the Panchaganga Ghat, which is among the more important ones. Here, it is believed, 5 different rivers merge, and when the river is in full force during the monsoon, the currents of the 5 rivers can be seen. On this Ghat are the Bindu Madhava Temple, and the mosque built by Aurangzeb after he demolished the original temple. The last of all the Ghats is the Varuna Ghat where the river Varuna merges with the Ganga.

    It is sheer pleasure to go for a boat ride in the evening on the Ganges. Please take a simple row boat. There are motor boats too nowadays, but the pleasure the Ganga is waiting to give you can not be experienced in a fast boat.

    Sunset on the Ganga

    We had a wonderful time on the river. Time stood still, and even my boisterous son seemed to realize that this was something special. We watched the colours of the water change as the sun set over the horizon, we saw birds returning back to their nests after a days work, we noticed how adept the seagulls and kingfishers were at catching fish, we even saw a couple of cormorants (snake darters) hover over the surface of the water and catch their prey. But what I shall remember is the sight of the bats as it grew dark. They swooped down, looking like oversized crows, and so perfectly caught fish in the dark. It was a sight we shall never forget. The beauty of nature is not as apparent in the landscape as it is in the life that makes up the landscape.

    The climax of this wonderful boat ride on the Ganges is the Ganga aarti. The aarti is performed every evening at 7 PM on the main Ghats of the river, the most prominent being on the Dashashwamedha Ghat. The chants and the singing of the aarti songs created a wonderful atmosphere and the river and Ghats are full of people taking in this wonderful sight. While the priests perform the traditional aarti to the river, laymen and women like us light up earthen lamps and gently let them down into the river, where they float down like glittering jewels. It is a sight that has to be seen to be believed, and it is certainly an uplifting experience.

    PRAMODH
    Parmodh, the boataman is like Guha from Ramayana Epic. He knows Tamil. May be he was a Brahmin in Poorva Janmam. He knows many of the rituals. Good Vaasanai. He is like a Man Friday to Swamimalai Sastrigals’ family.

    What’s Varanasi without the Ganga? The river is the lifeline of the city. The city revolves around the river with everyone coming there to have a dip.. With its source in the Himalayas, the Ganges never dries up. Of course, with the kind of pollution that we are creating, and the kind of garbage that is put into the river, only the lord knows if this will last!

    There wasn’t too much water in the Ganges. We had to climb down 60 steps on the Hanuman Ghat to reach the water. Each step was so high, climbing back up was an exercise in itself. If we lived in Varanasi, we would never put on weight!

    The Ghats are scrupulously cleaned every day- the minor ones by people with brooms and buckets of water, the important and crowded ones by jets of water. It is a sight that brigs a cheer to one’s heart. Hal-burnt dead bodies are no longer thrown in the river. Authorities are posted on the burning Ghats to make sure that the bodies are burnt completely.

    In spite of this, the sight of the Ghats on the Ganges is not a pleasant one. I believe that this has nothing to do with the authorities, but with the people themselves. People worship the Ganges as their mother, but don’t think twice before defiling her by throwing plastic bags in her .Nothing will change until the mentality of people changes, and that is going to be a slow process.

    When we were performing all the rites and rituals, it struck me that in those ancient days, when people prayed to the Ganga and offered so many things to her, all those things were biodegradable. All the containers were made of leaves, and the offerings were easily soluble, or were eaten by the fishes. Today, everyone comes here to perform the same rituals, but everyone takes a shortcut by using plastic and non degradable substances.

    People are more environment friendly today than ever before, and this is what gives me hope. It is my sincere request to all of you who read this article and visit Kashi to keep these things in mind, and avoid polluting the river in any way that you can. Let’s do our bit for the environment and for this wonderful river. It might not be much, but it will be a beginning if each one of us does our bit………….

    The Temples:

    The Vishwanath and Annapurna temples are the most popular and famous temples in Kashi, and the main reasons for a visit. However, our ancient texts mention a few more temples which are important and must be visited to complete the circuit of temples.

    The Visalakshi Temple

    Visalakshi is the second consort of Shiva in this holy city of Kashi. This temple is one among the 52 Shakti peethams, and is part of the famous triad of temples- Kanchi Kamakshi, Madurai Meenakshi and Kashi Visalakshi. This small temple is situated in one of the narrow lanes around the Vishwanath temple, and it is mainly south Indians who seek out this temple.
    Though the temple is quite small, the idol of the goddess is very beautiful. Behind the main stone idol of the goddess is another idol (some say it is a silver casting, others say it is an idol), believed to be the idol prayed to in ancient times. One of our guides told us that it was the swayambhu idol of the goddess, while another refuted this claim. Whatever it is, it is certainly worth a look, so remember to look behind the idol when you visit the temple.
    Adi Shankaracharya, when he visited the temple, performed prayers to renew the powers of the temple and the goddess which had borne the brunt of several invasions. He also installed a Sri Yantram there, and it is to this Yantram that puja is done. Kumkumarchana to this Sri Yantram is considered very special, and can be performed by asking the pujari there. On Diwali day, she was decorated in Silver Pavadai.

    NATTUKOTTAI CHETTIAR CHATHIRAM

    The Thanga Visalakshi with Diamond studded Mangalyam and Velli Golusu was decorated and was kept in a podium in Chathiram for three days from Diwali Day. Karaikudi Chettiars had assembled in a large number there. We met Gomathy Achi w/o Mr.Kannappan a retire Railway employee who had been there on her 18th Diwali Visit to Kashi.

    The Kala Bhairav temple

    Kala Bhairav is the guardian deity of Kashi. He occupies the position of a guard/ watchman with a dog as his vehicle, and is regarded as one of the forms of Shiva himself. In Kashi, there are 8 Bhairav temples, collectively called Ashta Bhairav. These are - Kala Bhairav, Dhandapani, Veera Bhairav, Batuk Bhairav, Aashu Bhairav, Aananda Bhairav, Rudra Bhairav and Ruru Bhairav.

    Among these, Kala Bhairav is the most important one, visited by all those who visit Kashi. Dhandapani, or the one who wields a stick, is the one who decides on the punishment, while Kala Bhairav is the one who enforces his decision. In the words of our guide, Dhandapani is the commissioner, while Kala Bhairav is the constable. As usual, it is the constable who is more feared, than the commissioner himself!

    The specialty of this temple is the sacred thread available there. These threads, known as Kashi threads, are supposed to ward off evil forces, and are in great demand.

    The Bindu Madhava Temple

    Among the ancient temples in the must-visit list of Kashi temples is the Bindu Madhava Temple. This temple is also one of a trinity- Veni Madhava at Sangam in Allahabad, Bindu Madhava at Kashi and Sethu Madhava at Rameswaram. All these three temples are small, simple affairs, with similar idols which are rather small in size.

    The Bindu Madhava Temple is best approached from the Panchaganga Ghat. There is, of course a road, but one which is rarely used by the pilgrims. The original temple was apparently a big and important one, but was destroyed by Aurangzeb, who (as usual) built a mosque over it. The mosque stands proudly till date, though a couple of turrets have fallen recently, while the new temple is a small one, practically invisible until we reach it.

    The Chozhi Mata Temple

    A visit to Kashi is incomplete without a visit to the Chozhi Mata Temple. This temple is known by various names such as Chozhi or Cowrie Mata, and Gauri Mata temple, and the name owes its origin to the cowries or shells which are thrown to the goddess as offering. The goddess her is considered to be a sister of Shiva.

    According to legend, Shiva sister had her temple within the ancient temple complex. However, when she saw thousands of common people touch and hug her brother while praying, she became jealous and tried to stop this practice. At this, Shiva became angry. "He was at Kashi so that the common people could pray to him the way they liked" He said, and as punishment, banished her, and sent her out of the temple. She repented and prayed to Shiva for mercy, and finally he relented. He could not take back the curse, but He decreed that al those who visit Kashi should visit her too. A trip to Kashi would be ineffective if one returned without visiting her. Hence it is a practice to visit the Chozhi Mata Temple after visiting all the temples in Kashi and performing all rituals. One can buy cowries outside the temple, throw a few on the goddess and ask her to bless them by bestowing on them the fruits of their Kashi Yatra, and bring back a few cowries as Prasad.

    This temple is en-route to BHU and is quite easy to find, as it is frequented by quite a large crowd at all times. Do visit this temple and make your Yatra a success!

    The Annapurna Temple

    Food is one of the basic necessities of life, and it is no wonder that we say ‘Annam Brahma’, food is God. It is the mother who provides food for the child, and it is again no wonder that we pray to the goddess Parvati as Annapurna, the one who gives us food. It is believed that Parvati gave Alms to Shiva, and she is depicted with a bowl in one hand and ladle in the other, serving food to Shiva, standing in front of her, with his begging bowl in His hand. The most popular temple of Annapurna is at Kashi followed by the one at Horanadu, in Karnataka Sef & Mohana have seen Horanadu. There are two other temples of Annapurna, one in Kerala, and one in Gujarat. I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting these last two temples. When I do, I shall surely write about them.The temple of Annapurna at Kashi is right next to the Vishwanath temple. This temple is attached to the Annapurna Mutt. A highlight of this temple is that on the day before Diwali, a golden idol of Annapurna is opened for darshan. This idol can be seen only on that day and two suceedind days only, and it is indeed a great sight! We enjoyed. Annapurna sits in the middle with her trademark bowl and ladle. On her left is Lakshmi (Sridevi- the goddess of wealth) and on her right is Bhudevi (the goddess of the earth). All these idols are of pure Gold, and are beautiful to look at. In front of them stands Shiva, made of silver, asking for alms. We were fortunate enough to visit Kashi during Diwali .

    In the sanctum of the temple, the idol of the goddess is a small one, which is always decorated in a sari when open for darshan. A silver mask covers her face, and little else can be seen. All the idols of Annapurna available show her in a sitting position, and we naturally assumed that that was how she was in this temple. However, we were in for a pleasant surprise. It was then that we realized that the idol of Annapurna is made of black stone, quite small, and she is in the standing position. The image is simple, holding only the bowl and ladle. But goodness, she is so beautiful! The smile on her face is so charming, so real, it almost seems She is standing in front of us!

    The Abhishekam is performed at 10:30AM every morning, but there again, there is an inevitable delay, so be patient, and you will be rewarded. It is worth a wait!

    Another specialty of this temple is that food is served to all devotees….food is too simple a term for what is virtually a feast. Free coupons are available at the temple office and the food is served in a hall behind the temple. It is believed that the goddess takes her food only after making sure that all her devotees have had their fill. Try to partake of this Prasad at least once during your stay in Kashi. It is also a tradition to perform some service before taking food here. So many devotees take their turn in serving a few devotees before starting to eat. This was a wonderful experience in itself, and a practice that must be encouraged.


    Nanu (R.Narayanan)
    Elder brother of RK Patham Iyer
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    Kasi Yatra ( last & Final part)

    The Kashi Vishwanath Temple

    Kashi is known as the land of Shiva.. Everything in Kashi not only revolves around the main temple of Vishwanath, as Shiva is known here, but He is also believed to be in control of everything that happens in this holy city. Normally, in Hindu mythology, the nine planets, or Navagrahas, who govern our actions, are independent, and perform their duty without interference from the Gods (a case of not even God interfering with nature and her rules). However, Kashi is a special city, an exception to this rule, where Shiva even governs the Navagrahas. It is believed that Lord Shaneeshwara (Saturn) once came to catch Shiva for the period of 7 &#189; years (what is commonly called Saade-saati) , and found himself unable to enter the temple. He is believed to have stayed outside the temple, and hence the temple of Shaneeshwara outside the Vishwanath temple is much frequented by pilgrims who light oil lamps here, hoping to escape the clutch of Shani.

    There are just too many legends to explain why Kashi is sacred, and why Shiva chose to reside here. I recently read an article where the writer explains in scientific terms, that in this area, the Ganges flows in a curve, in the northward direction. The curvature and the force of the river led to the formation of a natural amphitheatre, or natural steps in simpler terms. This probably attracted our forefathers to this place, who built Ghats where the steps had formed, to have a bath, and installed their patron deity, Shiva as the lord of this place. Therefore, in order to avoid the confusion, let us not discuss the legends and accept the fact that here, Shiva is called Vishwanath or Vishweshwar, the lord of the world.

    Kashi or Benares has been ruled by various great kings, some distinguished ones, and some not so famous. It even passed through a phase of being ruled over by the Buddhists. But the ancient temples, which saw so many rulers come and go, could not survive the onslaught of the Mughals. The temples were destroyed, not once, but a number of times by various Mughal invaders, leaving no trace of what the original temples might have looked like.

    The temple, as it stands today, owes its existence to the Queen of Indore, Rani AhilyaBai Holkar. It was she who, seeing the sorry state of affairs here, not only provided the funds, but also made all the arrangements for building the temple. She was certainly a great woman, much ahead of her time, who took up the task of restoring to their glory, many of the ancient temples of India, which had suffered at the hands of plundering monarchs. The temple of Somnath is another such temple. Among the other temples which she helped build are the ones at Dwaraka, Triambakeshwar, and Parali Vaidyanath.

    The present temple stands beside a mosque that had been built by Aurangzeb over the ruins of the original temple. The sacred idol, the Shiva lingam, had been hidden in a well, hoping to prevent its destruction. This well, now known as the Gyaana Vapi (well of knowledge) stands in an area between the temple and the mosque. There was some construction work going on (they are renovating the temple and the area around it), and we were unable to circumambulate the temple, and hence could not see the well.

    Though Kashi is a place of great sanctity, it is also infamous for the Pandas, or a class of priests, who charge exorbitant amounts of money. If u talk to anyone who has visited Kashi, you will be sure to hear tales of how they have been overcharged and been taken for a ride by these people. The same goes for the temple too. However, the temple administration is now making efforts to remedy the situation. The first step it has taken in this direction is the creation of its own website. This site has been well organized, with complete details about the temple, as well as the pujas conducted, the timings of the different Aarthis, and the charges for the various offerings. Best of all, it is possible to book pujas on the net well in advance, and arrange whether you want the puja to be performed in your presence, in which case the ticket allows you an entry into the temple bypassing the long queue, or in your absence, in which case, the Prasad is sent to you by post. This is a good system, and must be appreciated. Of course, at this point of time, this doesn’t entirely bypass the earlier system of paying money to the priests. These days, there are a number of people who book for the pujas, and one often gets relegated to the back row from where we can hardly get a glimpse of what is going on. A little extra from your wallet goes a long way in getting you a prime position to watch the puja.

    We attended the Saptharishi Aarthi in the evening.

    The Saptharishi Aarthi is the aarti performed by 7 priests, each belonging to a different Gotram, performing the aarti to the lingam simultaneously. It is believed that every evening, the Saptarishis, the seven great sages come to perform aarti to the lord, and hence this puja is conducted every evening at 7 PM. This is followed by the Shringar Aarthi and finally the Shayan Aarti, when the Lord is put to sleep. We attended only the saptarishis aarthi, but if you do, pay for the Shringar Aarti and stay for the Shayan aarti as well, which is free. Seeing these Aartis is an experience which must not be missed. We were absolutely spellbound seeing the way in which they decorated the Shiva lingam, but I have no words to describe the atmosphere during the final aarthi, which was simply divine, to say the least!

    Written by R Narayanan
    Elder brother of RK Patham Iyer
    ( Permission taken to publish this)
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    GopalaswamyShridharan is offline Banned Achievements:
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    Thank you sir.

    gopal.
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    Kasi Yatra - Do's and Donts

    Please share this with your friends. I may get little bit Ganga Snana punyam !
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    Fantastic travelogue!!
    Anantha Bala
    Mail: zzz9@in.com
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    very very useful. Tons of thanks to all the contributors.
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    Please Add this Personnel Experience in Kasi Yatra.

    Hello Dear Friends of my Community.
    Very recently I had been to Kasi with my family to perform all karmas there.
    Ofcourse for a first timer to this part of the country we donot want to take any risk of beleiving strangers and walk to Kanchi Shankar mutt, as known name and all that.
    I had such a terrible experience with one of the Cook there.
    First one should understand the arrangement being made there.
    Depending upon our detail program at Allahabad , Varanasi and at Gaya an amount is informed to us which we have to pay in the office and get a stamped receipt for that.
    It varies from Rs 8500 to Rs 12000.
    Then we have to inform the correctg date of arrival at Allahabad and the number of persons etc to the Authorities, accordingly all will be arranged, like picking us from Allahabad and completing all proceedings at Allahabad then droping us at Varanasi. Upto here every thing will be fine.
    Once you land at Varanasi you will be suitably accomadated at Mutt. Here also everything will be fine. Once You start your proceedings at Varanasi , the real triouble starts, because of one Cook there by name Mr. Kumar and his Dharmapatni, because you are under his mercy for every thing ,rite from a cup of Coffee to all other things. If he or his wife looses mode halfway , he will refuse to even cook for the Devasam and you will be in trouble. You cannot take Brahmins to Hotel for Sappadu etc. Even Pindams , just imagine made from the rice bought from nearby hotel.
    So beware before booking your Kasi yatra at our Kanchi Shankara mutt ensure that this Genleman Mr. Kumar is not considered for cooking activities.
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