Ganga has been called as the tirath of kaliyug. This tirath is fast receding. It is said that once Ganga retreats completely, kaliyug will end a few years after that. In this series of articles, we will attempt to trace the epic journey of Ganga, from Gomukh to Gangasagar. Har Har Gange!
Having entered the plains at Haridwar, the earlier southwest flowing Ganga turns east to bless the cities of Kannauj, Farukkabad and Kanpur. Somewhere in between, it is joined by the Ramganga. The shallow and volatile Ganga then moves ahead to meet the deep and calm Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati at the Triveni Sangam (Prayag).
According to the 10th Mandal of Rigved, those who bathe at the place where the two rivers, white (Ganga) and black (Yamuna), flow together, rise to heaven. A bath at this confluence of Ganga and Yamuna at Prayag is believed to wash away sins and grant freedom from the cycle of life and birth.
Prayag through Ages
Prayag, now known as Allahabad, is the second-oldest city of India and finds mention in the Vedas. Excavations have revealed Northern Black Polished Ware dating to 600–700 BCE. It is also called as Tirthraj or Prayagraj, the king of holy places and the region between Ganga and Yamuna is said to be the most fertile region on earth.
In the times of Satyug, Lord Brahma performed the Prakrista Yagya at this location and hence it was called Prayag, the place of offerings. It is also one of the four sites where drops of nectar fell from the pitcher (kumbh) after Samudra Manthan, making it the site of sacred Kumbh Mela every 12 years.
In Tretayug, Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita visited the Bhardwaj Ashram located here while they were in exile. It was at Daraganj where Nishad, the king of boatsmen, helped them cross the Ganga. After the war with Ravan, Lord Ram and Lakshman stopped at Prayag again to do prayashchit for Brahman hatya.
In Dwaparyug, Kurus, the rulers of Hastinapur, established the town of Kaushambi near Prayag. They shifted their capital to Kaushambi when Hastinapur was destroyed by floods.
In 1575, Akbar made Prayag the seat of one of his 12 imperial provinces and called it Illahabad, the place of God. During reign of British, the city came to be called as Allahabad.
SOME PLACES OF INTEREST
Beni Madhav Temple
Situated in Daraganj, the last bathing ghat before Ganga joins Yamuna, Beni Madhav temple is one of the 12 Madhav temples, located in Prayag. According to legends, Prayag remains intact at the time of deluge and Lord Vishnu resides here a Yogmurti on a banyan leaf (Beni Madhav). Lord Shiv is said to reside here as the immortal banyan tree, Akshay Vata.
Patalpuri Temple and Akshay Vat
A small door by the Sangam in the eastern wall of the Allahabad Fort leads to the underground Patalpuri temple adorned with a large group of deities. Outside the temple is the legendary Akshay Vat, the indestructible banyan tree as described in Prayag Mahatmya of Matsya Purana.
According to a legend, when Lord Narayana in granting Rishi Markandey’s wish flooded the entire world for a moment, Akshay Vat was all that could be seen above water level. Lord Ram, Lakshman and Sita are said to have rested beneath this tree.
As of 2011, a permission from the Commandant of Allahabad Fort’s Ordnance Depot is needed to visit this tree. On one day during the Kumbh Mela, the site is open to all the pilgrims.
Nag Vasuki Temple
Located in Daraganj, the Nag Vasuki Temple is dedicated to Vasuki, the King of Serpents. There is a large idol of Bhishma Pitamah in a reclining position near the temple. An annual fair is held here on the occasion of Nag Panchami.
Rishi Bharadwaj, one of the saptrishis of the present Manvantara, is said to have dwelled in the ancient town of Prayag in Treta Yug and his ashram was a famous education center of the time. Lord Ram visited the ashram, while proceeding for exile to Chitrakoot. In all, 11 temples are located inside the premises. A beautiful Bharadwaj park is also located nearby.
Close to the Bhardwaj Ashram is the ashram of his Guru, Maharishi Yajnavalkya. This is the place where Maharishi Yajnavalkya narrated Ramayan to Rishi Bharadwaj which was recorded by Goswami Tulsidas and named it as Ramacharita Manasa.
Kalyani Devi and Lalita Devi Temples
Prayag is also among the 51 Shaktipeeths, believed to be the site where fingers of the left hand of Devi Sati fell. Two renowned temples, dedicated to Kalyani Devi and Lalita Devi, in the vicinity of each other, lay claim to having been built over the very spot. The Archaeological Survey of India dates the Kalyani Devi idol as 1,500 years old.
The Hanuman Temple in Allahabad is unique in that it is the only temple where Lord Hanuman is seen in a reclining posture. There is a popular belief that every year during monsoon season, Ganga water rises and submerges the whole temple to give a holy dip to Lord Hanuman.
Situated midway between the holy towns of Prayag and Varanasi, Sita Marhi marks the place where Devi Sita returned back to the earth when she willed it. Devi Sita was living at the Valmiki ashram in the forest of Sitamarhi when Lord Ram asked her to return to him. Devi Sita with folded hands told him that she had served him with all she had and now it was time for her to end human life. She then asked Mother Earth to take her in her lap.
Ulta Qila and Samudra Koop
On a mound called ‘Kot’ are located a big walled well, Samudra Koop and an upside down fort, Ulta Qila. There is a mention of Samudra Koop in the Matsya and Padma Purana, however archaeologists attribute it to the reign of Samudra Gupta. The disorientation of the fort is attributed to the curse of Gorakhnath, disciple of Matsyendranath. Till 1855, there was only a mound here but in the same year Saint Sudarshan Das from Ayodhya renovated the well and got an ashram & a temple built here. The area has huge steps leading to banks of Ganga along with many caves.