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Friday, July 5, 2013

Gaya Sraaddha by Sarma Sastrigal


Preface

In the Aadi month of Khara varsha (July 2011), accompanied by my wife, I went on a pilgrimage to Gaya, Prayaag and Varanasi (or Kasi), to fulfil the religious duties including sraaddha, and returned with great 

peace and tranquillity. Naturally many friends came to enquire about the tour and I gave them the details of where I went and what I did. 

Subsequently quite a few people asked me to write about my experiences in these places and publish it as a booklet, and add on other facets like sthala puranas (history or legend of the place), and I obliged. 


The booklet was written in Tamil and published some time ago. The slim volume in your hands is a transcription into English of the same booklet. 

Sri V S Kumar of Srinagar colony, Chennai took interest and helped me in doing the translation. He has done a great job and I thank him very much for the same. I must caution the reader that this is by no means an exhaustive treatise on Gaya Sraaddha. I have only tried to paint a 
sketch, give you a feel for the „Gaya magic‟.

For a Vaishnavite the pilgrimage is considered complete with the Sraaddha and related Pitru karyams at Gaya, and it is not mandatory to cover Kasi and Prayaag. For a Smaartha however, a tour to Gaya for performing „Gaya sraaddha‟ is not complete without covering Prayaag (also known as Triveni Sangam) in Allahabad and Varanasi (also called Kasi). As a rule an Iyer therefore undertakes a package tour of all the 3 places. 


“..FOR A SMAARTHA HOWEVER A TOUR TO GAYA FOR PERFORMING “GAYA SRAADDHA” IS NOT COMPLETE WITHOUT COVERING PRAYAAG AND KASI…”



Sri Sarma Sastrigal
Gaya Sraaddha Accordingly my program – we being Smaarthas – was modelled on the following lines:

Reach Varanasi at 8 am travelling by Ganga Kaveri Express from Chennai

Day 1: Visit temples, tour Varanasi and participate in the Ganga Harati at night
Day 2: Leave for Prayaag by Road, about 125 km. away, early morning and return to Varanasi the same night
Day 3: Perform Ganga snana (bathe in the river Ganga) under the Mahasankalpa, do Tirtha Sraaddha etc., at Kasi, leave for Gaya (240 km. away) in the evening by Road and reach in about 7 hrs.
Day 4: Perform Gaya sraaddha, starting at 7 am and concluding by 5 30 pm, get back to Varanasi by midnight.
Day 5: Perform Pancha Ganga ghat sraaddha and Dampati puja (worship by a couple), and fly back to Chennai after lunch and reach the same evening.

Pilgrims to Gaya can avail themselves of the services of purohits and guides who will help them perform pitru karma as specified. All that is required of the Karta is sincere and steadfast focus on doing the karma. You can in fact experience the awesome power of our pitrus when you undertake a Gaya trip – they make sure that you conduct the entire pilgrimage with comfort and without any hitch. The active participation of the karta‟s wife is absolutely essential for the success of 

a Gaya sraaddha. Generally for proper fulfilment of any vaidika karma the lady of the house has to be totally involved, but this is even more crucial for Gaya pilgrimage. It just won‟t do if the karta decides to undertake the tour – the wife‟s willing cooperation is a must. The benefits to the lady from actively enjoining the efforts of her husband in a Gaya sraaddha are immense: it has far-reaching favourable impact on her health and the well-being of her family. The position allotted to women in our Sastras is truly exalted.
_____________________________-
“..WE SHOULD KNOW 
AND BELIEVE THAT 
THE PITRUS WILL 
SENSE OUR VISIT TO 
GAYA EVEN AS WE 
ARE PACKING OUR 
BAGS AND WILL BE 
READY TO RECEIVE 
AND ACCEPT OUR 
KARMAS…”
-____________________________
Another sine qua non for a satisfactory Gaya sraaddha is total and unquestioning trust that our pitrus exist, albeit in a different form, that we can communicate with them and seek their blessings, and that they are in some respects Godlike and can give us the boons we ask for. Gaya sraaddha is not to be done out of fear that pitrus will otherwise curse us – no! We have to learn to view them as our friends and facilitators for leading the Brahmin‟s life as ordained, to the extent feasible in today‟s world. We should know and believe that the pitrus will sense ourvisit to Gaya even as we are packing our bags and will be ready to receive and accept our karmas. The contentment of pitrus from our deeds results in an impressive basket of goodies for us – health for the karta and his family, progeny, knowledge and wisdom, and wealth and prosperity.

If my writing of this booklet gives a fresh impetus to persons who are thinking of a trip to Gaya and makes them act on it with anticipation and joy, I shall consider it a job well done.


I pray Almighty to bestow health, happiness and prosperity on everyone.


Sarma Sastrigal [sarmasasthrigal@gmail.com]


GAYA THE PITRU KSHETHRA

 ____________________________________-
“..WE SHOULD KNOW 
AND BELIEVE THAT 
THE PITRUS WILL 
SENSE OUR VISIT TO 
GAYA EVEN AS WE 
ARE PACKING OUR 
BAGS AND WILL BE 
READY TO RECEIVE 
AND ACCEPT OUR 
KARMAS…”
_____________________________________
The very mention of Gaya invokes in us a sense of devotion suffused with pride and 
excitement. It is every son‟s duty to go to Gaya after the demise of his parents and conduct Gaya sraaddha. Apart from delighting the pitrus his act bestows eminence on his family as well.

“Jeevator vaakya karanaat,

Pratyaabdam Bhuri bhojanaat,
Gayayaam pinda daanaat,
tribhi: putrasya putrata” 

say the Sastras. “When the parents are alive, obey their commands. When they die, 

perform their annual sraaddha properly. And go to Gaya and offer pindas for them. 
You can be called a son to your parents only when you do all these three things.” Gaya is in the state of Bihar. It is located on the Kolahaala Mountain in a beautiful place called Champaka. God is ensconced here as Gadaadhara. How many sraaddhas do you have to do at Gaya? As per the sastras you will require at least six days to complete all the sraaddhas required of you. But over the years mandatory observances have been reduced to two Hiranya sraaddhas and one Paarvana sraaddha. This is the least one has to do at Gaya.
________________________________
“you have the great 
fortune of reaching these 
64 pindas directly to 
Vishnu Paada (the feet 
of Mahavishnu) instead 
of imagining it.. The 
satisfaction you get 
when you do this is 
indescribable…”
________________________________
The modus operandi for this "minimum‟ observance is described below.

1. At Phalguni River: You should go to the Phalguni River and bring the water, and on 

the banks of the river itself your lady will make the havis, with help from the locals. She will then take out one part of the broth and make 17 pindam-s from it. You will do pinda pradaana of the 17 pindams with sankalpa mantras right there on the banks, and after doing „yataasthana‟ you will give the pindas to the cows there. 

2. At Vishnu Paada: This is where you go next, to do pinda pradaana. You may recall 

that when we do sraaddha at home we chant “Vishnu paadaadi samasta paadeshu dattam” at the time of Brahmana bhojana. You literally do this now. You take the remainder of the havis cooked at Phalguni River and make 64 pindas, and do pinda 
paradaana with sankalpa mantras. And you have the great fortune of reaching these 
64 pindas directly to Vishnu paada (the feet of Mahavishnu), instead of imagining it. 
The satisfaction you get when you do this is indescribable.

3. Paarvana sraaddha: You may undertake the next part of your observance, the 

Paarvana sraaddha, in the place in which you are staying. We stayed at Karnataka 
Bhavan, which offers the facility. You should do a sraaddha with homa, with five Brahmins present. At the end of the sraaddha again you have to make 64 pindas out of the havis cooked here, and take them to Akshaya Vata.



4. Akshaya Vata: You may recollect that in the course of our annual sraaddha we say „Akshaya Vata‟ when doing the namaskara (obeisance) at the end of Brahmana bhojana. This is the place to which you now take the pindas made out of the paarvana sraaddha havis. Akshaya Vata is a huge peepul tree and you offer the pindas in the shade of this tree. A speciality of the pinda pradaana here is that 16 of the 64 pindas you offer are for the mother and are referred to as „maatru shodasi’. You can sense an exhilarating, almost supernatural vibration as you enter Akshaya Vata. Another feature of Akshaya Vata is that you can offer pindas not only for your forefathers of your Gotra but even others and pray for their journey to pitruloka. This can include your near and distant relatives, friends, even your enemies. So it would be wise to prepare a list of people for whom you would like to do pinda pradaana, note their gotra, sarma nama (the name by which they are supposed to do their Brahmin karmas) etc. and have the particulars ready. It is a matter of great significance that in the Ramayana we are told that Rama and Sita offered pindas for King Dasaratha. You should consider it as nothing short of a divine blessing that you are doing pinda pradaana at such a sanctified spot.

5. A vegetable, a fruit and a leaf: At Akshaya Vata, you usually take a pledge to drop a vegetable, a fruit and a leaf from your diet and not to eat these for the rest of your life. You decide the names and inform a Purohit there, and he will do the sankalpa for you. At the end of the sankalpa you offer a Brahmin there the consecrated water (tirtha), which he takes, confirming your pledge. When you finish all the foregoing observances you realize that it is far beyond your usual lunch time, and you didn‟t even feel hungry! Now that you have completed this leg of your stipulated rituals, you eat the pitru sesha bhojana (the remainder of the Sraaddha food).


The legend of Gaya:


Gayasura was a great Asura whose powers of tapas (penance) were comparable to those of Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakasipu. The Devas approached Brahma, Siva and Vishnu – in that order – to make him desist from his penance, as they feared he would ask for boons that could be their undoing. Brahma tried to convince them that Gayasura was of a noble mind and would not ask for anything deleterious to their welfare, but their fears remained. They watched with trepidation as Vishnu offered boons to Gayasura. Gayasura asked the Lord: “Make mine the most sanctified, the purest body on this earth, much purer than even those of devas, rishis, mantras and other sanyasis. And anyone who touches me should be cleansed of all his sins and become pure.” He further prayed: “All Gods, with or without form, should be consecrated at this place as long as this Universe exists. This sthala could be named as Gaya, after me. People who come here to do sraaddha and pinda pradaana should get promotion to Brahmaloka after their death, in spite of any sin that they might have committed on the earth.” 


Mahavishnu, who had expected Gayasura to ask for mukti (freedom from rebirth) was pleased that he had prayed for something that would benefit the world at large, and gave him the boon. He was wonderstruck at the sacrificing nature of Gayasura‟s boon-seeking. But the Devas realized that the boon would be a double-edged sword, and could do great harm. This was because one key deterrent to wrongdoing is fear of hell, fear of being condemned. If people were to be rid of this fear by the knowledge that anything they do can be absolved with a visit to Gaya, sins would escalate and the very foundation of Creation would be shaken. They approached Vishnu again. Mahavishnu conveyed their view and anxiety to Gayasura and asked him to offer his body for a yaga (penance). Gayasura was delighted to submit to the Lord‟s wishes and lay down across the Madhuban called Champaka aranya, with the Kolahala Mountain for a pillow. This became what is Gaya today.

____________________________
“Akshya Vata is a huge 
peepul tree, one can 
sense an exhilarating 
almost supernatural 
vibration as you enter 
Akshaya Vata 
_________________________-

Buddha Gaya: If you have the time and the inclination, do visit Buddha Gaya and the Bodhi tree under which Gautam Buddha got his realization. You can also go to the Buddha temple in this place.


Pratyabdika sraaddha and Gaya Sraaddha: A word about this. It is absurd to think that doing Gaya sraaddha exempts you from doing pratyabdika sraaddha or the annual ceremonies for your departed parents. This is quite contrary to what the sastras say. If you have a stupendous feast at a five-star hotel one day, don‟t you need to eat the next day or for the rest of your life? Sraaddha at Gaya is a very fulfilling ritual, and one should try to do it in one‟s lifetime. But it has no correlation to the pratyabdika sraaddha that you have to do annually. The annual ceremony has to be done, and there is no exception. When you complete the Gaya sraaddha and touring around Gaya, you will find it difficult to leave Gaya, the place renowned as „Pitru Kshetra‟. We had to be literally wrenched away, for the second leg of our tour – Kasi, which we reached after midnight, leaving Gaya at 6:30 in the evening.


PRAYAAG (TRIVENI SANGAMAM)


Prayaag derives its name from a magnificent Yaga conducted in this city by Brahma 

with three agni‟s (fires) – Aahavaneeyam in the east, Gaarhapatyam in the west and 
Dakshinaagni is the south. Prayaag, also called „Tretagni Prayaag‟ for this reason, is 
situated to the west of Ganga, north of Yamuna and south of Akshaya Vata. The Rig 
Veda accords Prayaag a very special place. Bhagiratha, as we all know, was responsible for bringing Ganga to the earth. Thanks to his prodigious achievement, not only did the pitrus of Bhagiratha but those of countless other human beings since then have been blessed by Ganga Mata. When we read some of the Rig‟s in Rig Veda about Triveni Sangam, or the confluence of Yamuna and Ganga, which generated from the head of Lord Shiva, we can sense the greatness of Prayaag.
___________________________________________

“it is absurd to think 

that doing Gaya 
Sraaddha exempts you 
from doing pratyabdika 
sraaddha or the annual 
ceremonies for your 
departed parents…”
______________________________________

Normally pilgrims from south come to Prayaag first after alighting in Allahabad, complete the rites here and then proceed to Kasi. However we went to Kasi first and then to Prayaag from Kasi by car, a distance of 3 hours. Prayaag is the confluence or Sangam of not just Ganga and Yamuna, but the river Saraswati also. But to the human eye only Ganga and Yamuna are visible: Saraswati flows as an undercurrent and cannot be seen. Worship together by a couple, is recommended at Prayaag. The man shaves, takes a bath in the Triveni and does Hiranya Sraaddha. After this the couple perform the puja at the Triveni with the assistance of the Panda. The wife personifies her husband as Madhava and he accords her the status of Veni, combs and pleats her hair, cuts off an inch at the tail of the pleat and offers it to the Panda with kunkuma, chandana and akshata (saffron, sandal and rice pellets), which the Panda offers to the river. While all the other things float, the hair-piece alone gets sucked into the water and disappears.


The word Veni has the meaning of Triveni, and it also connotes the plait of hair. And just like Triveni Sangam, where one of the three merging rivers is not seen, one of the three strands of the pleat is not visible – only two strands are seen. This analogy explains the procedure described for the Dampati Puja.



Bathing in Triveni Sangam: This is a memorable experience. Even as 
we walk on the shore towards the boat we can feel the sanctity of the occasion. The Panda also gets into the boat with us, as the boat takes off in the Yamuna, and does sankalpa (pledge) for us. Vapana or shaving is also a key aspect of the rite, and so the barber travels with us as well. The boat is brought to a halt at the point of the Sangam, and while you see water all around you, the place where your boat is parked is shallow and you can see the sandy floor of the river. The boats are fastened onto wooden poles specially erected for this purpose. A platform is also erected on the water, on which you can stand and take bath.

Collecting Ganga Jal (water from Ganga): It is here that you collect Ganga Jal or the water of sacred Ganga and not in Kasi, as some people believe. You get containers of all shapes and sizes here itself, and the shopkeeper seals the container for you after you have filled it. To get Ganga Jal, your boatman takes you a little further into the river after you finish your bath, and you collect the sacred water of Ganga in the receptacle you may have brought. It is believed that after the bath you should discard the dhoti, saree and blouse etc. you had worn. 


The legend of Prayaag: 


After the 18-day war of Mahabharat Yudhishtra takes a tally of lives lost in the war on either side. When he realizes that along with his brothers he has been responsible for the deaths of countless blood relations of theirs, he is dumbstruck by the enormity of the sin that would accrue to them. He seeks from Markandeya the way for absolution of the sins.

Markandeya tells Yudhishtra that going to Prayaag is the surest – nay, the only way to absolve himself and his brothers of the killing of his blood relations. He explains to Yudhishtra that Prayaag is called „Tirtha Rajan‟ because it has the power to remove your ignorance and cleanse you of all your sins, and the mere setting of foot on its soil has the force equal to the conduct of an „Aswamedha Yaga‟.

Accordingly Yudhishtra goes to Prayaag and performs penance as directed, and acquires the power and glory that equip him with the ability to do great Yagas later, including the Rajasuya Yaga. He also gets the title of „Dharma Raja‟, or Rightful King.


____________________________-

“it is here (Triveni 
Sangam) that you collect 
Ganga Jal or the water 
of sacred Ganga and not 
in Kasi, as some people 
believe..

-_________________________-


The poetic beauty of Triveni Sangam: 


It is said that Ganga was exuberant when she saw the earth and leapt to the ground right away and started flowing with abandon till she reached Prayaag. At that point Yamuna accosted Ganga and implored her to halt awhile and take her along. Ganga refused, saying “I can‟t stop. Do you know what a tremendous job Bhagiratha has had to do to bring mehere? I have to finish the duty of absolving and liberating the souls of all my sons. I have no time to wait”. 


Yamuna responds: “You don‟t even have to wait. Just let me flow with you”. Again Ganga demurs, saying “if you flow with me, my name won‟t be singled out for the absolution that I‟m doing”. But Yamuna wins her over by saying “I don‟t want my name to be included. Let it all be to your credit. Unlike you, I have come to the earth of my own will and not after being entreated to do so by Bhagiratha. I am the daughter of Sun God, but I seek no glory – I only wish to serve for the benefit of humankind, and in the bargain realize my own life‟spurpose”. Ganga is awed by the selfless and lofty goals of Yamnua and embraces her with sisterly affection.



The indescribable emotional current that passes through them when they embrace is Saraswati, who emerges and tells both Ganga and Yamuna: 


“I am the karta, the creator, of this fusion of soul and wit – emotion and intelligence – of you two. Your Sangam or confluence is therefore incomplete without me, and I will also be coming along. It will be Triveni Sangam, the confluence of three rivers. But I will continue to be an undercurrent and shall not be seen.” 


Ganga is white in colour, and pure of heart and mind. Yamuna is black in colour being the progeny of Surya, and again of a spotless, pure mind. Saraswati is grand, impressive and colourless. Such a combination cannot but be stupendous – and it is no wonder Prayaag is such a holy spot.


Kumbh Mela


The Kumbh Mela is one of the most prestigious happenings at Prayaag. It occurs once in 12 years, the precise date being decided by stellar configuration, and is simultaneously held at Nasik, Hardwar and Ujjain. The legend of Kumbh Mela is interesting.


__________________________________

“..few drops of nectar fell 
in these four places and 
sanctified the spots 
immediately...to 
commemorate the 
occasion and to celebrate 
the holiness of these four 
spots Kumbh Mela is 
performed….
The legend of Kumbh Mela: 

_________________________________

\
When the celebrated „Amrit Manthan‟ (the stirring of the Sea of Milk to get nectar) took place, the asuras fought with devas and managed to take possession of the pot. Seeing this, Brihaspati or Garuda snatched it from them and flew to Heaven, to get it back to the devas, with asuras in hot pursuit. On the way, a few drops of the nectar fell in these four places, and sanctified the spots immediately. To commemorate the occasion and to celebrate the holiness of these four spots Kumbh Mela is performed. Devout Hindus throng in their millions to take the holy dip on such occasions and seek absolution for their misdoings.
In the Mahabharata, Pulastya Maharishi expounds the beneficial value and powers of a holy dip in Triveni Sangam. Prayaag is referred to in a couple of other places as well.

If you have the time and the inclination, the following spots in Prayaag are worth a visit:


Bharadwaja Ashram

Veni Madhava temple
Akshaya Vata
Adi Sankara temple (Kanchi mutt)
Hanuman temple

 KASI (VARANASI)


The sacred river Ganga comes to our mind as soon as we say „Kasi‟ or „Varanasi‟. Though Ganga is revered as holy wherever she flows, nowhere is Ganga snana (bathing in the River Ganga) more sacred than at Kasi.Three Vaidika karmas are preeminent at Kasi: 


Ganga snana

Tirtha sraaddha
Darshan of Annapoorna Visalakshi sameta 
Viswanatha Swami and of Kala Bhairava 

Ganga snana (bathing in the Ganga): There is no limit to the number of times you can take a dip in holy Ganga – and strangely, your yearning for a dip never seems to ebb, to go down: the theory of marginal utility does not work here. 


The very first bath in Ganga that you take should be as directed by a priest, as a „pavitrapaani‟ (a person with the Darbha-pavitra on his hand i.e. finger).Subsequent baths can be as many as you want, and there are few rules on how. The craving for a dip in Kasi Ganga of the average devout Hindu is too well-known to need repetition. That is perhaps why, when he or she overcomes many an ordeal to land in Kasi and finally take the bath, the happiness and contentment arising from Ganga snana is incredible.


Witness the power of Ganga Mata, who unites people from all over the nation who speak different tongues and are of varied castes and sub-castes with the one common goal of a dip at Kasi, and you get a feel for the command of Kasi as well as Ganga. No one seems to mind the crowd, the filth, the stench, the narrow lanes and by-lanes etc. They have only one thing on their minds while at Kasi – Ganga snana.


Ganga, the perennial river, sanctifies everyone who bathes in it. She absolves you of sins accumulated over the years, asking in return for just one thing from you: humility and unquestioning devotion. The mere sight of Ganga gives you peace and tranquillity, helps you find answers for umpteen problems you face in day-to-day life, and – most important – makes you take your first steps in spiritual awakening. Kasi, after all, means light – so here is where you „see the light‟. We took our Ganga snana at Kedar Ghat, collected Ganga water in pots and came to our place of stay to perform Tirtha Sraaddha immediately. This is the recommended routine.

___________________________________
“your yearning for a dip 
never seems to ebb, to 
go down at Ganga, the 
theory of marginal 
utility does not work 
here!!!.
________________________________________
Tirtha Sraaddha: This sraaddha is like any pratyabdika sraaddha (annual death ceremony that we do or deceased parents). Except for a slightly different sankalpa, the procedures are similar. Five Brahmins are invited for the bhojana (eating).

 Pancha Ganga Sraaddha: This sraaddha involves pinda pradaana at five ghats while you are in motion – that is, on a boat ride, sitting in the boat itself. On theappointed dates we cook pindam‟s, take and keep them in a boat, and offer 17 pindam‟s at each of the five ghats with pinda pradaana sankalpa. Ubhaya-vamsa tila tarpana has also to be done – this is the tarpana for pitrus of the vamsa‟s of both the husband and wife. Occasionally the placid Ganga gets flooded and the authorities refuse permission for doing the pancha Ganga sraaddha in motion, from the boat. This happened to us, unfortunately. We therefore had to engage a rickshaw, go to each of the ghats and perform the pinda pradaana and tarpana on the shores.



Boat rides on the Ganga: The predominant emotion you have when you go for a boat ride on the Ganga is devotion or bhakti. It is nothing short of a spiritual experience and involves the darshan or viewing of all the 64 ghats slowly, one by one. The boatman takes us to within 100 feet of every single ghat, and the names of all ghats are etched in his memory. It is a ride guaranteed to suffuse you with an exalted feeling. The sights are truly unforgettable – of the temples and other buildings around each ghat, of the hordes of people bathing or praying or otherwise in communion with God. 

We started our ride with Asi Ghat and I remember some names: Tulsi, Riwa, Chasing, Anadamayi, Kedar, Tripura Bhairavi, Hanuman, Vijayanagar, Chowki, Kshemeswar, 

Mansarovar, Narada, Pandya, Munshi, Darbhanga, Ahilyabai, Seetala, Dasaashwamedha, Prayaag, Manmandir, Mir, Lalita, Manikarnika, Durga, Brahma, Lal, Trilochan, Naya, Raj, Prahlad, Harishchandra....

Manikarnika Ghat: This is a cremation ghat, to which dead bodies are brought, presumably of people dying in Kasi. We do not hear lamentations and sorrowful crying when bodies are received here for cremation: only chants of Rama nama or salutations to Mahadeva. The body is first immersed in the Ganga, and after it dries the paanda does the cremation to the accompaniment of mantras. In a short while the body is reduced to ashes, which are then immersed in the Ganga. 


Harishchandra Ghat is another such cremation ghat. Despite seeing death and karmas for departed souls all around you, you never feel the heaviness or trepidation that death usually evokes. Instead your mind switches to the philosophical mode, about the inevitability of death and what you can and should do in your lifetime to make sure of a safe passage for your soul after death. This is a truly defining moment in one‟s life.


“As you travel across Kasi on the boat along the river you wounder if it is Ganga that adds piety to Kasi or it is the other way round… As you debate this within yourself, the truth dawns on you – the two are seamlessly intertwined and the sanctity is a blend that owes as much to Kasi as it does to Ganga Mata. The other striking feature of Kasi, which has been written and argued about endlessly by different people with different personal agendas, is the essential purity of the Ganga. The river presents a weird coexistence of the sublime and the earthy: you see scenes of Harati and pious offerings immersed in the river, and at the same time bodies being burnt and ashes immersed, people bathing and washing their dirt into Ganga, and the waste of the town merging into the river. 

How can Ganga be then called „pure‟? It is not even clean, let alone pure. My wife instinctively asked me this question as a welter of happenings around her. I could offer only one response: with all the impurities dissolving into the waters of Ganga, do we ever hear of anyone being infected as a result of a dip in Ganga? At least I have not. Is that a clinching argument in favour of Ganga‟s chastity? I think so. I don‟t know.


Ganga Haarati: An awesome sight not to be missed by visitors to Kasi is the Ganga Harati celebrated with gaiety and splendour at Manikarnika Ghat at 7 p.m. every evening. This and the performance of Dampati Puja should be definitely on your schedule while in Kasi.


The legend of Varanasi: River Varuna from the north of Kasi and river Asi from thesouth merge into the Ganga inside the city, and it is said the city got its name Varanasi as a result, right from Sat Yuga. Kasi is a renowned place of pilgrimage for all Hindus. The Sastras aver that Lord Siva created the city standing atop his Trishul. It is believed that Bhagvan Sankara still lives here, and that anyone dying in Kasi is sure to attain Sivaloka (moksha). There are many who come to Varanasi in the last stage of their lives in the hope that they will breathe their last here and their souls will be liberated forever from the cycle of birth and death.

Kasi Viswanatha temple: Kasi, one of the seven „Mukti sthalas‟ in India for Hindus, hosts one of the Jyotirlingas at the imposing Viswanatha temple. The darshan of the temple and Jyotirlinga is a dream come true for every devout Hindu. It is here that you get decisive proof of the unity of our nation in the backdrop of its massive diversity.Young and old, male and female, poor and rich, north and south, educated and illiterate – they all mingle freely here, and are as one before God. You should see the narrow two-way lane that takes you to the temple, called Viswanath Galli. You jostle with one another, make snail‟s progress on important days and at important times, you are subjected to quite a lot of inconvenience – but it simplydoes not affect you. The anticipation of seeing the Linga when you are going to the temple and the exhilaration of having seen it when you return overshadow all your physical and mental tribulations.

The legend of the temple: The Viswanatha temple you see now is a small one, but the original temple was a huge edifice. It was razed to the ground and all its wealth and riches looted and taken away in 1193 AD by Qutbuddin, the lieutenant of Mohammed Gori. The Viswanatha linga alone was somehow saved and worshipped secretly for many years. Raja Todarmal built a new temple in 1585 AD and the Linga consecrated, but even this temple was destroyed by Aurangzeb and a mosque constructed in its place. So what we now have is a mosque in the location earlier occupied by the Viswanatha temple. After Aurangzeb left a small temple was built and the Linga was consecrated again, and this is now the Kasi Viswanatha temple we all go to and pray at. The Linga and the temple have lost none of their glory, though: millions of devotees offer devout prayers every day and take away devout memories.

___________________________________-
“...naturally the 
beautiful 
Annapoornashtakam 
composed by Sri Adi 
Sankara comes to our 
mind when we enter this 
temple…
_______________________________________

Sri Annapoorani temple: Situated towards the south of Viswanatha temple, Sri Annapoorani temple is a must-see for every devotee. Naturally the beautiful Annapoornashtakam composed by Sri Adi Sankara comes to our mind when we enter this temple. We start chanting and singing: “Krupavalamba nagari Kasi puraadheeswari / Mata Annapoorneswari bhikshan dehi”. While Jaganmata Annapoorna is resplendent in the bright light, we also get the darshan of the golden Annapoorani behind the screen.

Sri Kala Bhairava temple: We have heard of Kasi kayiru (the Kasi thread, a black thread we wear around our wrist). This is sold at this place. The thread is supposed to be worn on the right wrist by men and on the left wrist by women, and is reputed to have powers of dosha-nivrutti‟ or removal of defects in our horoscopes or stellar placements. A Panda who stands there lightly pats us on the back with a peacock feather, and that is said to take care of the defects.


Rameswaram visit in the first and the last leg of the tour: A typical Kasi pilgrimage begins with a visit to Rameswaram to offer prayers to the Gods for the forthcoming Kasi yatra. At Rameswaram you take a handful of sand and keep it, for dissolving in Triveni Sangam at Prayaag, in the second leg of your tour. At Prayaag you collect Ganga jal (water from the Ganga) and take it back to Rameswaram in the third and final leg of the pilgrimage for doing abhisheka of Ramanatha Swami. This ancient process has endured down the ages and is followed even today.

Recommended procedure after returning: On returning from a tour of Prayaag-GayaVaranasi or any of these sthala‟s, you may perform a Samaaraadhana followed by Brahmana Bhojana. The puja and archana, replete with Ashtotra chanting in praise of Ganga Mata, Kasi Viswanatha and Bhageerathi, will be a fitting finale to the pilgrimage. It is at this function that you can also distribute Kasi Kayiru, Kasi Sombu and other memorabilia that you may have bought for your friends and relatives.

________________________________
Gaya Sraaddha
“at Prayaag you collect 
Ganga Jal and take it 
back to Rameshwaram 
in the third and final leg 
of the pilgrimage for 
doing Abhiseka of 
Ramanatha Swami
____________________________

TIPS/NOTES

Advance planning

For a package tour of Gaya, Kasi and Prayaag, you are well-advised to keep Kasi as 
the centre-point or hub and decide the place of stay at Kasi well in advance. Similarly, it is important to know the cost options and match option that best fits your budgetary and other constraints. You should keep as little room as possible for on-the-spot decisions, because these can prove prohibitively costly.

Sequence


And please remember the sequence: Prayaag, Gaya and Kasi is the right order in 
which you should undertake the pilgrimage. And without including the travel days, the minimum time you should set aside for the entire program is five days, preferably six.

Dana materials including Veshti


For the Paarvana Sraaddha at Gaya and Prayaag you may take the dhotis (9x5 veshti) to offer to vidhikaas there instead of buying them there, as it could save you quite 
a penny. You may require 12 dhotis in all. You may also buy and take dana materials 
like tirtha patra etc. from home if you so wish. For the Dampati Puja at Kasi again, you may want to take the required items – sari and related clothing, metti (ornament for the toes), tirumangalyam (ornament around the neck) and other mangala dravya‟s (pristine articles for good augury) – from home after buying them locally where you live, instead of buying them in Kasi. Some people pay money in lieu of the materials.

Importance of local Purohits


Some devotees take their own Vadhyar (Family sastrigal) along with them for the entire tour, and offer them Acharya Sambhavana on return. This is perfectly in order; but at different places on the tour the karmas have to be carried out only with the local pandits/vadhyars at the respective places. 


Can be done on any day
Unlike in the case of the Pratyabdika Sraaddha (annual ceremony), tithi or paksha need not be taken into consideration for performing sraaddha at Gaya. We can perform the Pitru karma at Gaya on any day.

Our attitude

As far as possible you should take the rough with the smooth on a typical Gaya-Kasi pilgrimage. There will be plenty of things you will need to outsource to the locals, be it karmas to be done by the Kasi Pandas or Gaya purohits, or tours to be organized by your local contact. And quite possibly some of these may not be turn out as you would have liked. On such occasions, you should take it in your stride and be satisfied with what you got, instead of making a song-and-dance. After all you have travelled all the way for cleansing your dosha‟s, and for attaining the mature wisdom that man proposes and God disposes, and it is His supreme will that shall prevail. So it would be sensible not to add to your dosha‟s by criticising someone or hurting others in the process of yatra.

Less luggage makes travel a pleasure .This dictum is particularly worth emulating for a Gaya tour.

Madi, Aacharam and Kaalam

Like tithi and paksha, which do not matter here, you may have to make exceptions in regard to kala (time), madi (personal sanctity) and aahara (food) as well. None of these are entirely in your control during the trip and so it would be best not to be too finicky. You may end up eating at all kinds of times, or doing pinda pradaana after madhyahnikam, which you would normally not do. 

____________________________
“you should take it in 
your stride and be 
satisfied with what you 
got, instead of making a 
son and dance...
_____________________________

Remembering and constantly practising two things will make your Gaya-Kasi trip wonderfully satisfying: first, you are in an alien place and so learning and adopting their rules and regulations; and second, where you are not sure of the process, go with your guide‟s directions and in the absence of these, simply listen to your heart and do its bidding. 

Mangalani Bhavanthu


_______________________________________
SRI SARMA SASTRIGAL
‘B’ BLOCK, GROUND FLOOR, MANGALAM 
APARTMENTS, 135, RANGARAJAPURAM 
MAIN ROAD, KODAMBAKKAM. 
CHENNAI 600 024
Mobile : +91 9444380973

E-mail: sarmasasthrigal@gmail.com

_____________________________________


S Swaminatha Sarma is now known as Sarma Sastrigal and affectionately addressed as Sarmaji by his friends. He hails from Kumbakonam.


He learnt Veda from his father Brahmasri Srinivasa Sastrigal. Later Sriman 
Sankarji, his spiritual Guru, guided him to understand our age-old tradition and 
the fundamentals of our Dharma Sastras.

He considers it his Janmantra Sukrtam, that he had the privilege of having the 

darshan of all the three Acharyas of Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt - Sri Sri Maha Swamigal, Sri Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal and Sri Sri Vijayendra Saraswati Swamigal - on several occasions and receiving their blessings. He also had the privilege of having the blessings of HH 44th Jeeyar and HH 46th Jeeyar of Sri Ahobila Mutt.

Sarma Sastrigal, now 63, devotes his full time in the noble pursuit of disseminating the knowledge of our scripts. He teaches several groups of interested people the philosophical, conceptual as well as practical aspects of our scriptures. 


He is also a performing Sastrigal and conducts all types of Vaidika Karmas.



“The Great Hindu Tradition” written by this author is a veritable encyclopedia 
on our Sanatana Dharma. The book, released and blessed by Pujya Swami 
Dayananda Saraswati, guides the reader on the what, why and how of our 
Sastras. Well written, the book demystifies Hindu Philosophies and rituals and 
presents them in a simple, easy to understand manner.

“Brahmashri Sarma Sastrigal, an ardent devotee of our Srimatam, has written 

many books in Tamil on the performance of Vedic rituals. His latest book, „The 
Great Hindu Traidtion‟ in English seems to be an encyclopedia on the rituals of 
our Sanatana Dharma.

It is observed that he has taken great strain in bringing out this book only to 

make the younger generation of the Hindu community to realize the intricacies 
of the Vedic way of life. This book will certainly help us know about our hoary 
heritage”
- Excerpts from the Srimukham, Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt



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