Studies from an eastern home
Note to the northern pilgrimage
WHEN we consider the overwhelming import of the Himalayan range to the people inhabiting the plains of Northern India, it is not surprising that the Hindus should, from time immemorial, have looked upon the snow-capped peaks as the Abode of the Gods and have deified the rivers which take their rise among them. The slopes of the Himalayas and the banks of the rivers along their upper courses were dotted in past ages with hermitages, monasteries, and colleges, which were the spring-heads of Indian civilisation and spirituality. A few of these still exist, while the shrines that are visited by multitudes of pious pilgrims are very numerous and of a sanctity unsurpassed. The most famous are Mount Kailas, Lake Manasa Sarovara, Kedar Nath, Badri Narayan, Hrishikesh, Hardwar, and Amarnath. The last-named (in Kashmir) was visited by Sister Nivedita in company with the Swami Vivekananda, and is the subject of a chapter in The Web of Indian Life. The pilgrimage here described is that to the group of sacred places situated in the Kumaon division of the United Provinces.
Hardwar is one of the seven holy places spoken of in the Puranas as especially leading to Moksha, salvation. The town stands on the right bank of the Ganges, close by the gorge through which the sacred river debouches on to the plains. It is the scene, every twelfth year, of a vast
assemblage of pilgrims, on the occasion of the Kumbh Mela.
Hrishikesh is distinguished among holy places by reason of the fact that it has preserved intact its character as a hermitage and place of learning. Hindu ascetics still live there in thatched huts, sleeping on grass-mats, content with the barest necessities obtained by begging, speaking little or not at all, making spiritual culture and the pursuit of divine knowledge their sole concern.
Srinagar, a principal town of the Garhwal district, is of course to be distinguished from the city of the same name in Kashmir. It stands on the left bank of the Alaknanda, the head stream of the Ganges, and owes its importance to its position on the pilgrim route. The old town was washed away in 1894, by a flood caused through the bursting of the Gohnā Lake.
Kedar Nath, immediately below the snow-peak of Mahāpanth, at an elevation of 11,753 feet, marks the spot where Shiva, in his flight from the Pandavas, assumed the form of a buffalo and dived into the earth, leaving his hind-quarters on the surface. Four miles from the temple, on the way to the Mahāpanth peak, is the precipice known as the Bhairab Jhāmp, whence sometimes the devotee, in the ecstasy of attainment, would fling himself down.
The shrine of Badri Narayan is below the peak of Badrinath (23,210 feet). It stands on a shoulder of the mountain, at an elevation of 10,400 feet, on the road from Srinagar to the Mana Pass. Tradition points to Sankaracharya as the founder of the original temple.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.