Vinod Sharma/Ritesh Srivastava
According to Hindu mythology, Haridwar is one of the seven holy cities of India, which is situated at the foothills of the Shivalik range of Himalayas. The word Haridwar, literally means “The gateway to the Kingdom of Gods”, as it is believed that the Gods left their footprints at this place. As per the legends, one can attain supreme salvation by praying to Lord Vishnu (Hari) or Lord Shiva and hence this spot of salvation has derived its name “Haridwar or Hardwar” from the deities.
The sacred river Ganga, which emerges from its source in Gangotri in upper Himalayas, comes down and meets the plains here. It is one of the four holy cities of India where the biggest congregation of faith, globally known as Kumbh Mela, is held.
Haridwar is an ancient pilgrimage site, held in reverence for centuries. The Chinese pilgrim Hyuen Tsang who visited India many centuries ago, narrated Haridwar as Mayura, on the eastern banks of the Ganges in his travelogues. The city is full of several temples and ashrams, each having their own religious significance. A visit to this place takes the inquisitive visitor into a totally different world of spirituality and mysticism.
In the ancient times, Haridwar was also known as Gangadwar, Tapovan and Mayapuri. The centuries old history of Haridwar states that the city derived its name from the sages, who lived here and worshipped their deities. The city is also known as Kapilsthan.
Legend goes that the Suryavanshi King Sagar’s descendent Bhagirath performed penance here to salvage the souls of his ancestors who had perished due to the curse of the sage Kapila.
In order to purge his ancestors of their sins, King Bhagirath brought river Ganga from heaven to earth. The penance was answered and the river Ganga trickled forth from Lord Shiva`s locks and its bountiful waters revived the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara.
According to the Hindu mythology, drops of nectar churned out from the primordial ocean fell at the four sites of the Kumbh mela including Haridwar when Lord Indra’s son Jayant was running away from demons while carrying the earthen pot containing the ambrosia.
Haridwar has always been a major pilgrimage centre for the Hindu devotees and for those seeking peace and eternity. The city is home to some of the most sacred Hindu rituals. One can see devotees from round the globe congregating in Haridwar and Rishikesh to perform yagnas and prayers.
The picturesque city is a major tourist attraction mainly due its perfect blend of height and plains, waterfalls and the river itself. Haridwar is also very popular among both foreign and indigenous tourists because of the different types of alternative treatment facility that it provides. Some renowned Ayurveda and Yoga institutes are also located in Haridwar.
Not only this, Haridwar also stands as a gateway to the other three most important pilgrimage spots for Hindu in Uttaranchal i.e. Rishikesh, Badrinath and Kedarnath.
The pilgrimage to the Himalayan shrines begins only when the sun reaches the zodiac sign of Aries. Haridwar is also the site of celebration of the Kumbha Mela, once in twelve years, when Jupiter transits to the zodiac sign of Aquarius.
The five sacred bathing spots in Haridwar are Gangadwara, Kankhal, Nila Parvata, Bilwa Theertha and Kusavarta. The main ghat at Haridwar is known as Hari-ki-Pairi (known for a footprint of Vishnu on a stone in a wall). Nearby is the Gangadwara temple, the most important of the several temples that dot this town. The Ganga Aarti which is celebrated at 7 pm each night, is a spectacular sight, when the Aarti ceremony is performed at all temples in Haridwar at the same instant. Hundreds throng to the ghats at Hari ki Paudi to participate in this festival. Offerings of lamps and flowers are made to the river immediately following this ceremony and it is a moving sight to watch hundreds of miniature lamps float along the river.
The foremost reason for one to attend the Maha Kumbh is to take a dip in the Holy river. It is believed that a holy dip in sacred rivers during Maha Kumbh or Ardh kumbh takes the person out of the cycle of life & death and liberates him of his sins.
Har Ki Pauri: This sacred Ghat was constructed by King Vikramaditya in memory of his brother Bhartrihari. It is believed that Bhartrihari eventually came to Haridwar to meditate by the banks of holy Ganga. When he died, his brother constructed a Ghat in his name which later came to be known as Har Ki Pauri. This sacred bathing ghat is also known as Brahmakund Ghat. The reflection of golden hues of floral diyas in the river Ganga is the most enchanting sight in the twilight during the Ganga Arti ceremony.
Asthi Pravah Ghat: Immediately south of the main Ganga temple is the Asthi Pravah Ghat, where the ashes of the dead are immersed in the Ganga. This is done as per popular belief that as refreshing waters of river Ganga liberated the 60,000 sons of King Sagar, it will bestow salvation upon the departed souls as well.
Kushavarth Ghat: This sacred bathing ghat is known after famous sage Dattatreya, who meditated for nearly ten thousand years while standing on one foot. This ghat was later constructed by the rulers of the Holkar dynasty. A large number of devotees emerge on Mesh Sankranti seeking salvation for their ancestors.
Subhash Ghat: Subhash Ghat, with a statue of the freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, is adjacent to Har Ki Pauri. A voluntary organization runs a dispensary here and also assists pilgrims.
Gau Ghat: South of Subhash Ghat is Gau Ghat, where people seek atonement for the sin of cow-slaughter (gau means cow). The unique veneration of cow in India goes back 3500 years. The cow was “Kamadhenu”, the fulfiller of desires, and a cherished item of wealth. Death ceremonies were completed with the pious act of donating a cow. The sin of killing a cow is “equal to the sin of killing a Brahmin”.