Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shrikhand Mahadev Yatra, India's toughest pilgrimage

Since monsoon floods put Uttarakhand out of bounds for at least a season, pilgrims are eyeing the Shrikhand Mahadev Yatra in Himachal Pradesh with greater interest than ever before. Be warned, however, that this is not for the weak of limb or faint of heart. The 35 km pilgrimage, one of the toughest in the world, ascends through alpine meadows beyond the snow line to a 72-ft high pinnacle of rock, dubbed as the Shivling, at 16,900 feet above sea level. The yatra, organised by the Himachal Pradesh government, typically takes 10 days to complete and prior registration is mandatory. Pilgrims begin the yatra at Jaon village, 170 km from Shimla and 200 km from Kullu by road. A 3-km trek leads them to the base camp at Singhad, the last habitation. From here. The journey requires periodic stops for rest and acclimatization. Private rest tents are available along the way. Pilgrims must carry water bottles, glucose sachets, warm clothing, rainwear, flashlights and rations of dry fruits and dates. Avoid overpacking and ensure that you undergo a medical checkup to determine your fitness before the trip. The Yatra is held in July every year and over 18,000 people visit every year. If you plan to make the journey next year, start working on your fitness.

According to legend, the demon Bhasmasur performed hard penance and pleased Lord Shiva, who granted him the power to turn anyone he touched with his hand into ashes. Drunk on egotistic pride, Bhasmasur attempted to touch Shiva, upon which the Lord fled with the demon in chase. He hid in a cave and later appeared on a mountain top, which is believed to be Shrikhand Mahadev. Shiva enlisted the help of Vishnu who transformed himself into the female enchantress Mohini and tricked Bhasmasura into touching his own head, upon which the demon turned into ashes.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Shri Jeen Mata

Jeenmata Dham is abode of Jeen Mata. Mata is an incarnation of the Durga. Her abode is nestled in the picturesque Aravalli hills in Raiwasa, District Sikar, State of Rajasthan in India, 115 kms from Jaipur-the state capital. The sacred shrine of JeenMata is belived to be thousands of years old. Millions of devotees throng the temple round the year. The congregation of devotees assumes a much colourful look during bi-annual Navratri celebrations - held twice a year in the solar calendar months of Chaitra(around February-March) and Ashvin(around October-November)-popularly known as the Navratris (nine holy days).
Jeenmata temple is surrounded by thick forest on all sides, enveloped in tall mountain curtains from all sides. Its full and real name is Jayantimata. The year of its construction is not known, however the sabhamandapa(congregation hall) and pillars are definitely very old. It is believed that the Pandavas (ancient rulers of Hastinapur state of India),
came to the thick forests of this temple during their exile from Hastinapur. The Pandavas spent part of their exile here incognito and reconstructed the mandir in the style of its present architecture. The place has acquired a great religious importance and is held sacred by all. A natural grace of serenity is lent by the lushgreen vegetation and rich flora and fauna of the surroundings.


There is a popular belief which has come down to people through the centuries that in a village Ghoghu of Churu, King Ghangh loved and married an Apsara (nymph) on the condition that he would not visit her palace without prior information to her (Apsara). King Ghangh got a son called Harsha and a daughter Jeen. Afterwards, Apsara again conceived but as chance would have it, king Ghangh went to her palace without prior intimation and thus violated solemn vow he had made to the Apsara. Instantly, she left the king and fled away with her son Harsha and daughter Jeen whom she abandoned at the place where presently the temple stands. The brother Harsha loved and fulfilled all desires of his sister. Harsha got married on the desire of her sister. Wife of Harsh could not tolerate the love and affection of her husband with his sister. She succeeded in her evil designs to create misunderstanding between the two. As a result, Jeen left the place of her brother to a life of severe austerity and penance in the forests. The brother realized his mistake and reached for Jeen. But he could not convince her to change her mind. Harsh, the brother, also decided to practice the same austerity and penance and undertook the devotion to the Almighty on a different mountain. The two children practiced extreme asceticism atop separate hills in thick forests. With time Jeen gained status of `Durga’ as her Avatar and Harsh achieved the incarnation of `Bhairon’- helper of `Shiva’. In time, a Chauhan ruler built a temple at that place. The main temple has a very high Shikhar (Pinnacle) in the midst.

Goddess Jeen Mata is Devi herself, the very embodiment of divine cosmic power. The deity is Mahishasura Mardini Durga having eight arms. The miraculous deity fulfills the wishes of all her devotees. Whosoever acts unholily in the temple precincts is punished with a divine retribution. Mahishasura was demon in the form of a buffalo. He waged a fierce battle with Shri Durga. He with his forces affronted the goddess with all his demonic powers. The battle with Durga has been beautifully described in the third chapter of Shri Durga Saptashati. Finally, Durga pressed Mahisha with her foot and struck his neck with her lance. The lion too suppressed Mahisha (then in the buffalo form). This lion riding eight-armed form of Durga is Mahishasura Mardini. Here, Jeen Mata is worshipped in her eight-armed form.

Later, the saint of Puri Sampradaya had visited this place and established a Dhuni (Hawan Kund/Hole Hearth). Great Saint Kapil Muni had come to this place and with his asceticism, he generated continous water from the mountains that created a Kund (Water Pond). The Mata is bathed with this holy jal (water of pond) by the head priest of mandir everyday. The holy jal rids the bhakts (devouts of the Mata) of their stubbornest of ills.

Mugal Emperor Aurangzeb wanted to raze to the ground the Mandir of Mata. Being invoked by Her priests, the Mata let out its army of bhairons (a specie of fly family) which brought the Emperor and his soldiers to their knees. He sought pardon and the Kind hearted Mataji excused him from Her anger. Aurangzeb donated akhand (Ever-glow) oil lamp from his Delhi palace. This lamp is still glowing in the sacred sanctorium of the Mata.

Shri Khatu Shyamji

Khatushyam ji is 65 Km. away from SIKAR & 80 Km. from Jaipur via Reengus. This little village is Famous for Shyam ji Temple built in white marble . Temple, Ponds for holy dip and Shyam garden is worth visiting . A large fair is held every Year in the month of FALGUNSUDI EKADASI When lacs of people thronged there. A large number of Dharamshala's are there to accommodate thousands of pilgrims.

Shri Salasar Balaji Dham, Churu, Rajasthan

Salasar Balaji is a religious place for the devotees of Lord Hanuman. It is situated in Churu district of Rajasthan. Salasar Dham attracts innumerable Indian worshipers throughout the year. On ChaitraPurnima and Ashvin  Purnima large fairs are organized every year where more than 6 to 7 lakhs of people assemble here to pay their homage to the deity. Hanuman Sewa Samiti looks after the management of the Temple and the fairs. There are many Dharamshalas to stay and restaurants to eat. The temple of Sri Hanuman is situated right in the middle of the Salasar town.

Pilgrimage spots by the Ganga

While not all of them hold one specific shrine of supreme importance, India's holy towns of Varanasi, Allahabad, Badrinath, Haridwar and Rishikesh are among the country's most popular pilgrimage spots due to their spiritual history and connection to the holy Ganges river.

Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh holds significance for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. In fact, Hindus believe that a pilgrimage to the town at least once in a lifetime and the immersion of the ashes of cremated ancestors in te Ganges is a must. The town is believed to have been established by Lord Shiva himself nearly 5,000 years ago and it is certainly one of the oldest existing within the country.

Allahabad, also in Uttar Pradesh, is another sacred city in UP, where legend has it the god Brahma made his first sacrifice after having created the world. Located at the confluence of the holy rivers of both the Ganges and the Yamuna, the devout believe a third, invisible river, the Sarasvati, joins them here. Allahabad is also the site of the Maha Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, which takes place here every 12 years and the Purna Kumbh Mela, which is held only once in 144 years. The melas are attended by millions from across the world.

Like Allahabad, Haridwar in Uttarakhand also hosts the Maha Kumbh Mela once in 12 years. It is the first city that the Ganga passes through upon its entry to the Indo-Gangetic plain. According to Hindu mythology, it was here that the holy bird Garuda accidentally spilled a few drops of Amrit (holy manna that rendered immortality) while carrying it in a pitcher or kumbha (the kumbha is symbolic of the womb, where life begins).

The gateway to the Himalayas, Rishikesh, is located in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. The city flanks the Ganges and is named after one of Lord Vishnu's many forms, Lord Hrishikesh. It is believed that Hrishikesh appeared here under a mango tree to a sage, to reward his austere dedication to the spiritual path.

The temples of Tamil Nadu

The skyline of our southernmost state is dotted with a wealth of ancient temples that have survived centuries and continue to be worshipped today.

While a mention of all these structures is quite impossible, the most prominent among them are the Chidambaram Temple in the temple town of Chidambaram, the Meenakshi Sundareswara Temple in Madurai and the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur. All of them are dedicated to the god Shiva

Chidambaram is one of the five holiest Shiva temples, each of which represents a natural element; this one is representational of akasha or ether. Sprawled over 40 acres, the complex is vast, with water bodies within and around and it holds a jewelled deity of of Nataraja. It has seen several renovations through centuries of existence, notably at the hands of a clan of Vishwakarmas and Pallava/Chola royalty.

The Meenakshi Sundareswara, dedicated to both Shiva and his consort Parvati, is a massive complex consisting o several tall Gopurams or towers with two golden ones for the presiding god and goddess. Intricately carved and painted, the architecture will take your breath away and the shrines are many and awe-inspiring, like the huge single-stone Ganesha sculpture and the Thousand Pillar Hall.

At Thanjavur, the Brihadeeswara Temple was the world's first all-granite temple, constructed by the Cholas. The Vimana or temple tower is 66 metres high and a giant statue of the sacred bull, Nandi, carved out of a single stone 16 feet long and 13 feet high stands at the entrance. The architecture is in the Dravida style and the entire complex is surrounded by a moat and fortified with high walls.

Sabarimala Temple in Pathanamthitta, Kerala

With over 50 million devotees flocking to Sabarimala, tucked into the Western Ghats of Kerala, it is the largest annual pilgrimage spot in the world -- and that's even more remarkable when you consider that it's not easily accessible and involves a lot of ritualistic penance (abstinence from sex, non-vegetarian food, alcohol, smoking, abusive language and cutting of hair) and climbing.

The temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Ayappan, is believed to have been *****ed at the spot where he meditated after destroying the demoness Mahishi. It sits on a hilltop 914 metres above sea level, and is surrounded by thick woods.

Although it welcomes all devotees irrespective of religion, women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not permitted into the temple, out of respect for Lord Ayappan, who is believed to have been a brahmachari (celibate).
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