Part-3

LORD VARAH SATISFIES PRITHVI'S CURIOSITY

Sutji then narrated the tale of Lord Varah to the sages, which he had heard from Sage Vyas---

Once, while Narad was wandering about, he reached Meru mountain where he saw the abode of Lord Brahma. He also saw a giant sized entity, just next to Brahma's abode. The person possessed four arms and his face resembled a boar. The person held a conch and a chakra in his two hands--The remaining two hands were in the postures of giving blessings. Narad was very surprised to see that divine person being surrounded by Sages like Vashishth, Atri, Markandeya and Bhrigu. After paying his eulogy to him, he stood in a corner.In the meantime, Prithvi (earth) arrived there with her two companions--Ila and Pingla. She was curious to know about the identities of various mountains, which Lord Varah had established on her.Lord Varah told Prithvi about the prominent mountains---Mountains like Sumeru, Himavan, Mandarachal, Vindhyachal, Pariyatrak, Mahendra, Malay, Sinhachal and Gandhamadan are situated to the north of Himalaya.

The mountain ranges situated to the south of Himalaya are Arunachal, Hasti, Gridhachal and Ghatikachal. Sages believe that in Satyayuga Lord Vishnu had his abode at Anjan Mountain, while in tretayuga, dwaparyuga and Kaliyuga he has his abode at Narayangiri, Sinhachal and Shrivenketachal respectively.Lord Varah and Prithvi flew away towards Venkatachalgiri mounted on Garuda.

LORD VARAH MANTRA

On their way, Prithvi requested Lord Varah to reveal the sacred mantra, chanting of which makes him pleased.

Lord Varah said--'The secret mantra that pleases me to no limits is ---OM NAHAM SHRIVARAHAY DHARANYU UDDHARNAY SWAHA. This mantra is capable of liberating a man and also brings all sort of worldly accomplishments to him.In the first Krita yuga, a Manu named Dharma had realized me by continuously chanting this mantra. Even Indra regained the control of heaven by chanting it. Anant--the lord of all serpents, chanted Varaha mantra and as a result became capable of holding the earth on it's hood.'

MANIFESTATION OF PADMAVATI

Lord Varah then narrated the tale of Padmavati's manifestation to Prithvi. He also revealed to her that Padmavati was the reincarnation of Vedavati and had manifested so that she could become his (Vishnu) consort.Lord Varah said---Once upon a time there lived an emperor named Akash. One day he ordered his men to get the land situated at the bank of Arani ploughed so that a grand yagya could be organized there.As the land was being cultivated, the plough suddenly struck against something. People ploughing the field dug up that place and were surprised to find an infant girl, crying loudly.The news of girls' manifestation spread like a wild fire. The emperor became extremely happy since he had no progeny. He brought up that child as his own daughter. This way the baby girl was brought up like a princess. She was named Padmavati. Padmavati proved very lucky for the emperor, as the emperor, who was still sonless till then was blessed with a son. This male child was named Vasudan.

One day, Narad visited the palace and met both the children. He was impressed by Vasudan's intelligence but Padmavati appeared to be shy and absorbed in her own thoughts. Narad lovingly called her and instructed her to spread her left palm. Narad was amazed to find signs, which predicted Padmavati's marriage to Lord Vishnu. Everybody living in the palace became happy after getting this news.Narad then went away.

PADMAVATI BECOMES LORD HARI'S CONSORT

Continuing with the tale, Lord Varah said-- One day, while Padmavati and her companions were playing in the garden, they saw an equestrian approaching them. He held a bow and arrows in both his hands.The stranger asked all the girls whether they had seen a wolf. Apparently the stranger was on his hunting spree. Padmavati angrily reminded the stranger that hunting was strictly prohibited in that area and hence he should go back home.The stranger was stunned by Padmavati's beauty and said--'I am Ananta from Venketachal mountain. People also call me Veerpati. Can I have this beautiful lady as my wife.'

Padmavati's companions angrily rebuffed Anant who then galloped back on his horse. These unfortunate girls were unable to recognize Lord Vishnu who had come disguised as Anant.After reaching his palace, Anant found it very difficult to concentrate on his work. His mind was occupied by the thoughts of Padmavati. One day, while he was sitting in a thoughtful mood, Vakulmalika (a maid servant) arrived there and requested him to come down for lunch. But, Sri Hari (Anant) was lost in the thoughts of Padmavati. On being asked by Vakulmalika, Sri Hari narrated the following tale to her ---

In treta yuga, when I had incarnated as Ram, Ravan had deceit- fully abducted my consort--Sita. But fortunately she was not Sita but Agni's consort Swaha. Before this incident could occur,Agni had already taken Sita to Patalloka and kept his own wife 'Swaha' in her place. Indra's act had special purpose behind it--to avenge Swaha's death,who was Vedavati in her previous birth and who had committed suicide after being touched by the same demon.Actually, Agni's consort 'Swaha' was 'Vedavati' in her previous birth. So, in reality Ravan had abducted Vedavati instead of Sita. Later on, I thanked Agni and promised him that I would make Vedavati my consort in Kaliyuga. The same vedavati has taken birth as Padmavati. You must go and convince Padmavati to become my consort.Vakulmalika went to Narayanpur and informed the king about Sri Hari's desire. Emperor Akash was extremely delighted at the prospect of having Sri Hari as his son-in-law. An auspicious day was chosen for the marriage and thus, Lord Sri Hari got Padmavati as his consort.

KING PAREEKSHIT

Once, Sutji narrated the tale of king Pareekshit to all the assembled sages---

Pareekshit ruled over Hastinapur. One day he went into a forest on a hunting spree. He saw a deer and managed to injure it with his arrow. But the injured deer disappeared from his sight. Pareekshit chased the injured deer in the direction it had disappeared.He reached a place where sage Shamik was engrossed in his meditation. Pareekshit enquired sage Shamik if he had seen that injured deer. Bur sage Shamik being in deep meditation did not respond to Pareekshit query. This made Pareekshit extremely angry and he wrapped a dead snake around Shamik's neck as a punishment for not having answered his question. But, it made no difference to Sage Shamik and he continued with his meditation. Pareekshit went back fuming in anger.

Shringi was the son of Sage Shamik. When he saw a dead snake coiling around his father's neck, he cursed--'Whoever has tried to insult my father will not live to see the seventh day because a takshak nag would bite him to death.'

When sage Shamik learnt about his son's curse, he reproached his son and sent a disciple named 'Daurmukh' to inform Pareekshit so that he (Pareekshit) could take some preventive measures. Daurmukh went and narrated the whole incident to king Pareekshit.Pareekshit became very scarred and he started living on a canopy that had been constructed in the middle of river Ganges on his instructions. Now he felt secured and safe.Meanwhile a poor brahmin named Kashyap came to know about the curse that poor Pareekshit had received. He knew how to cure a person bitten by snake. So he thought that it was an excellent opportunity for him to receive monetary awards from the king. So, he proceeded towards the place where Pareekshit was staying.

On his way, Kashyap met a brahmin who in reality was takshak in disguise. Takshak was on his way to kill Pareekshit. He asked Kashyap about the reason he was going to meet Pareekshit. Kashyap revealed to Takshak that he could neutralize the influence of poison in any person bitten by a snake. Takshak wanted to examine the authenticity of Kashyap's statement, so he inserted his poisonous fangs into the trunk of a huge tree. A man was sitting on the branches of that tree. The tree as well as the man was charred to death within no time.

Kashyap, really brought the tree and that man back to life. Takshak was stunned by this unbelievable act. He asked Kashyap how much he expected as reward from the king. Kashyap revealed the amount, which he expected from Pareekshit in lieu of giving him a fresh lease of life. Takshak gave lot of wealth to him as a bribe and Kashyap went back home satisfied.Takshak then summoned all his companions and instructed them to go to the place where Pareekshit lived, disguising themselves as hermits. All the serpents went to meet Pareekshit impersonating as hermits and offered fruits to him. According to his plan,Takshak had hidden himself within a plum fruit. He bit Pareekshit as soon as he got a chance. Pareekshit died instantly.Janmejaya was crowned as the next king. Meanwhile, people started criticizing the treacherous conduct of Kashyap, which had resulted in the death of king Pareekshit. He decided to make a pilgrimage to Venketachaleshwar so that he became liberated from his sin.

KRISHNA TEERTH

Sutji narrated a tale to all the assembled sages--During ancient times, a brahmin named Ramkrishna did an austere penance at Venketachal mountain. He remained immobile during the entire course of his penance resulting into the development of mole hills all over his body.Indra was scarred by Ramkrishna's penance and caused a heavy downpour for a week. All the mole hills were washed away from Ramkrishna's body.Lord Srinivas became pleased and appeared before him. He blessed Ramkrishna by saying--'This holy place, where you have performed a great penance will be named after you as Krishna teerth. Anybody who makes a pilgrimage to this place will be liberated from all the sins.'

Eulogizing Lord Venketashwar, Sutji says---

'A man, who has the good fortune of seeing the divine appearance of Lord Srinivas even for a moment, attains salvation.

SOME OTHER PLACES OF PILGRIMAGE ON VENKETACHAL MOUNTAIN

All the sages then requested Sutji to tell about some other places of pilgrimage situated on Venketachal mountain.

Sutji replied---There are about one hundred and eight holy places situated on Venketachal mountain. Among all these holy places, six are considered to be capable of bestowing salvation---Swami pushkarini, Akash ganga, Papvinashan, Panduteerth, Kumar dharika teerth and Tumbu teerth.

ANJANA'S PENANCE AT AKASHGANGA TEERTH

Describing how Vayudeva had once assured Anjana that he would take birth as her son, Sutji told the sages---Anjana, being issue less even after a long married life, decided to do penance in order to beget a son. Sage Matang advised her to go to Akashganga teerth where her wishes would get fulfilled. Sage Matang also described the geographical location-- 'At a distance of ten yojans towards south is situated Dhanachal mountain, which is believed to be the abode of Lord Nrisimha. Brahma teerth lies in its vicinity. At a distance of ten yojans south of Brahma teerth, flows river 'Suvarnamukhari'. Venkentachal mountain is situated to the north of this river and the holiest place called Swamipushkarni is situated among its numerous peaks. You should visit that place and take a holy dip in its water. After that you should seek the blessings of Lord Varahaswami and Lord Venketeshwar. You should then go towards north of Swami teerth and you would reach Akashganga.'

Acting as per Matang's instructions, Anjana went to Akashganga teerth and did her penance. Finally Lord Vayudeva appeared before her and promised to incarnate as Hanuman.

LORD VISHNU ADVISES LORD BRAHMA TO GO TO PURUSHOTTAM KSHETRA

The Sages asked---'O revered sage! We would like to know more about Purushottam Kshetra, where there is a majestic wooden idol of Lord Vishnu.'

Sage Jaimini replied--The sacrosanct place of Purushottam Kshetra is graced by the presence of Lord Jagannath. During ancient times, Lord Varah had rescued Prithvi from the clutches of Hiranyaksha--the mighty demon who had abducted her to Rasatala. After Prithvi had been established in its original position, Lord Brahma commenced his creations. Lord Brahma wondered about the means by which human beings could get liberated from three major types of sorrow---Adhyatmic (spiritual), Adhidaivik (deities wrath), Adhibhantik (related with this world). He sought the help of Lord Vishnu who eulogized the greatness of Purushottam Kshetra and advised him to go there. Lord Vishnu said-- 'Purushottam Kshetra is situated at the sea-shore, to the south of river Mahanadi. This sacroscant place of mine does not get affected by deluge. I dwell at this holiest place as 'Lord Purushottam'. There is a holy pond called Rohin in the vicinity. Anybody who takes a holy dip in that pond gets absolved of all his sins. O Brahma! You must pay a visit to Purushottam kshetra where spending a day bestows virtues greater than all the austerities combined together.'
This way,Lord Brahma went to Purushottam kshetra as per the instructions of Lord Vishnu.

MARKANDEYA EULOGIZES VISHNU

Lord Brahma soon after reaching Purushottam kshetra sat down and started meditating. He was so engrossed in his meditation that he remained in that state for a very long time. This resulted into total chaos as Yamaraj found that his power of causing death had no effect on people living in Purushottam kshetra. Worried as he was, Yamaraj rushed towards Neelachal mountain and sought Lord Vishnu's intervention in the matter.

Lord Vishnu smiled and signaled goddess Laxmi to say something. Goddess Laxmi said--'O Suryanandan! Anybody residing at this holy place is freed from the vicious cycles of birth and death after becoming absolved of all his sins. This is the reason why you are experiencing this unusual problem. The whole world except this holy place will come into your jurisdiction.'

Yamaraj was amazed by this revelation so he asked Laxmi--'I would like to know why such a privilege is being given to this place?'

Laxmi replied--'O Ravinandan! At the time of deluge when the whole world was submerged in the water sage Markandeya was struggling to find a secure place for his survival. Although he was blessed with an unusually long life of seven kalpas but still he needed a place to live in. He started swimming and finally managed to reach Purushottam kshetra, which had remained unscathed by the turbulence of the deluge. There he saw a divine tree called 'Akshay Vat'. Markandeya continued to swim along the coast wondering how that place had managed to remain unaffected by deluge when the whole world had been submerged. Suddenly he heard a voice, which appeared to be coming from the direction of the Akshay Vat--'O Markandeya! Don't worry! Take my refuge and you shall be protected.'

Markandeya was very surprised and looked all around. He kept on swimming and saw Lord Vishnu, who was engrossed in his yoga nidra in ksheer sagar. I (Laxmi) was also present there. Markandeya eulogized Vishnu in the following way--'Salutations to the supreme lord- the source of all creations! O Jagannath! Protect me from getting drowned.'

Lord Vishnu opened his eyes and found Markandeya gasping for breath. On realizing the gravity of the situation he said--'Raise your head and look at the top of this Kalpa Vat. You would find an infant sleeping on a leaf of the Kalpa Vat. The infant is none other than Kaal himself. You should enter inside his (Kaal's) body through his opened mouth and live peacefully as there is no other place for you to live in.'

Markandeya entered into Kaal's body as per the instructions given by Lord Vishnu and was amazed by the expanse of his belly, which appeared like a bottomless pit. He also saw all the fourteen Bhuvans existing within Kaal's belly including all the creatures-deities, sages, siddhas, gandharvas, etc. Markandeya wandered all over the place and after getting tired came out through Kaal's opened mouth. He found Lord Vishnu was still present there accompanied by his consort-Laxmi. Markandeya made salutations to both of them and narrated his experiences he had inside Kaal's belly.Lord Vishnu blessed him and made a revelation--' The place you had visited few moments ago is beyond the limits of creation or deluge. The name of this holiest place is Purushottam kshetra and it is my permanent abode for I do not leave it even for a moment.'Markandeya was very impressed and requested Lord Vishnu to allow him to live there. Lord Vishnu replied--' O Brahmarishi! I shall remain at Purushottam-kshetra till the end of this kalpa. I shall also create a sacrosanct place, which would enable you to become immortal.'

Sage Markandeya then dug up a reservoir with the help of Vishnu's chakra. He did an austere penance to please lord Maheshwar as the result of which he was indeed blessed with immortality. In course of time, this reservoir became famous as 'Markandeya kund'.

HOLY PLACES IN THE VICINITY OF PURUSHOTTAM - KSHETRA

Dwelling in length upon the majesty of Purushottam kshetra, goddess Laxmi said--Purushottam kshetra resembles a conch in shape and is graced by the presence of lord Shiva. Towards its north is situated a temple of lord Neelkanth. A famous shiva linga named Kapal mochan is also situated in the vicinity. One who makes a pilgrimage to Kapalmochan becomes liberated from gravest of sins. A temple of goddess Vimla devi is also situated nearby.

Purushottam kshetra is considered to be supreme among all the places of pilgrimage and for this very reason it is aptly named 'Teerth Raj'. A divine pond called Rohin kund is also situated nearby. Anybody who takes a holy dip there is freed from the vicious cycles of birth and death. It is believed that the increased level of water at the time of deluge ultimately recedes and disappears into this pond.

Goddess Laxmi said--' O Dhanraj! This holy place is beyond your jurisdiction because people living there never experience death. It is well protected by eight goddesses from all the eight directions. The names of these eight goddesses are Mangla, Lamba, Kaalratri, Marichika, Vimla, Sarvamangla, Ardhashini and Chandrupa. How can lord Rudra be absent when Rudrani has manifested herself in eight forms, so, he has manifested himself in eight different forms as well- Kapalmochan, Kshetrapal, Yameshwar, Markandeyeshwar, Ishan, Bilveshwar, Neelkanth, and Vateshwar.While describing the majesty of Purushottam kshetra, goddess Laxmi revealed to lord Brahma--' In the coming satya yuga there would be a king named Indradyumna and would be famous for his unflinching devotion in lord Vishnu. Being pleased by the king's devotion, lord Vishnu would ultimately manifest himself from a wooden structure to bless him. Vishwakarma would then carve out four idols (Jagannath, Balbhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan chakra) from the wooden block all of which would be installed by none other than you (Brahma).'

Once, while sage Jaimini was describing the greatness of Purushottam kshetra to the assembled sages, all of them curiously asked him--

' Where is Purushottam kshetra situated ?
Jaimini replied --' Utkal is situated at the eastern coast of Bharatvarsha. At the time of deluge, when everything gets submerged in water Utkal remains unaffected and it is the very place from where the knowledge of the Vedas spread in all directions. The residents of Utkal are not only learned but also very prosperous. There is not a single person in this land who is not a devotee of lord Vishnu. All the people belonging to the four prominent castes (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) diligently follow their respective dharma. This holy place never experiences natural calamities of any kind.'

Sage Jaimini then went on to narrate the tale of king Indradyumna to all the assembled sages --

'In satya yuga there lived a noble and virtuous king named Indradyumna, who ruled over the province of Malva. He was a great devotee of lord Vishnu. One day, while worshipping in a temple, he asked the priest-I have a wish, which still remains unfulfilled. I have a deep desire of seeing lord Jagannath with my mortal eyes. Is there any means with the help of which I can get my wish fulfilled?

The royal priest had no answer to the king's query so he kept quiet.Suddenly, he saw a group of pilgrims coming towards the temple. He thought that perhaps one of them might be having an answer to the king's query. When the pilgrims arrived at the temple, the royal priest posed the same question to them. One of the pilgrims answered--' There is a place called Odhra, where is situated a grand temple of lord Jagannath. This sacrosanct place is also famously known as Purushottam kshetra and is situated at the foothills of the Neelachal mountain. There is a holy pond called Rohin situated nearby. At the eastern bank of this pond is situated a majestic temple of lord Vasudev. The idol of lord Vasudev is made of 'Indraneel' diamond. To the west of this temple lies 'Shabardeep' hermitage, from where starts a path leading to Jagannath temple.'

Having said this, the pilgrim disappeared from everybody's sight. Not only Indradyumna but all the pilgrims were equally amazed by his sudden disappearance. Indradyumna was convinced that lord Jagannath had himself come there in the guise of a pilgrim. Now, his desire of visiting Purushottam kshetra became even more intense. Indradyumna instructed his priest to find out the exact location of Purushottam kshetra by sending somebody over there. Later on, the priest went home and sought the help of Vidyapati-his younger brother in this regard. Vidyapati readily agreed to help his brother and one fine day he proceeded on his journey with a select group of his trusted friends.

After a long and arduous journey all of them reached 'Ekamravan' forest, situated at the foothills of Neelachal mountain. The thought of being so near their destination made everybody extremely excited. But, despite their best of efforts they could not find Shabardeep ashram. Being tired, all of them decided to take rest for a while and then recommence their efforts to find out the location of Shabardeep hermitage. Finding a huge tree, all of them took rest under the shade of that tree. Suddenly, they heard a heavenly voice, which appeared to be coming from the western direction. They followed the voice and reached Shabardeep ashram in a short time. There they saw a large gathering of devotees. One of the devotees, whose name was Vishvavasu, curiously asked Vidyapati--'It is not easy to reach this place. From where are you coming and where do you intend to go? You must be tired--wait, till I return with some refreshment for all of you.'

Vidyapati was not in a mood to waste his time, as he was aware that Indradyumna was eagerly waiting for him to return. He told Vishvavasu-- I have a difficult mission to accomplish so, I am not in a position to waste my time. I am the younger brother of the royal priest of king Indradyumna. The king has vowed not to have a single morsel of food till he makes a pilgrimage to Purushottam kshetra. He has sent me with a specific purpose of finding the exact location of Purushottam kshetra and the easiest route leading to it. So, help me reach the temple of lord Jagannath as soon as possible.'

VIDYAPATI EULOGIZES LORD NEELMADHAV

Vishvavasu told Vidyapati--' I have heard this prophesy of Indradyumna's possible arrival at Purushottam kshetra in the near future. Not only that, I have also heard that Indradyumna would become so impressed with Purushottam kshetra that he would settle down there for good after renouncing everything.'

Vishvavasu then requested Vidyapati to follow him and started negotiating the steep heights of Neelachal mountain. Vidyapati followed him through the curvy and arduous paths of the mountain. Having walked for sometime, Vishvavasu pointed towards a pond and said--This pond is famously known as Rohin kund. The kalpa vat that you see towards the east of this pond is considered to be so sacrosanct that a sinner becomes liberated of all his sins once he comes under its shade. Lord Jagannath's temple is situated between Rohin kund and the kalpa vat. Go ahead and have a darshan of lord Jagannath for whom you have undertaken such an arduous travel.

Vidyapati's joys knew no bounds as he had been waiting for this moment for a long time. First he purified himself by taking a holy dip in Rohin kund and then went inside the temple to worship lord Jagannath. He worshipped lord Jagannath by chanting the sacred pranav mantra.After the worship was over, Vishvavasu requested Vidyapatito visit his place which was nearby. Vidyapati agreed and accompanied Vishvavasu to his place. Vidyapati was given a royal treat by his host, which made him wonder as to how could Vishvavasu arrange all the luxurious things at such a remote place. He could not control himself and asked Vishvavasu-- Even a king would have found it difficult to treat his guest as lavishly like you! I am amazed how you could make arrangements for all these things at a remote and secluded place like this! How do you manage this?

Vishvavasu replied-- It is not as difficult as you believe. Since Purushottam kshetra is a sacrosanct place and it is frequently visited by the deities who make divine offerings to lord Jagannath. I collect the residuals of whatever is offered to Jagannath from the temple and bring it home. So, I really don't have to make any special efforts to accumulate divine food stuffs. On account of eating these divine food stuffs, not only we have been blessed by eternal youth but also we are never troubled by old age.Vidyapati was very impressed and requested Vishvavasu to become his friend. He also reminded Vishvavasu that he wanted to return as soon as possible so that the king could go on a pilgrimage to Purushottam kshetra. But, Vishvavasu made a shocking disclosure to Vidyapati and said-- King Indradyumna will never be able to have a divine glimpse of lord Jagannath as the lord is soon going to disappear. But, don't disclose this fact to the king otherwise he would get disheartened and abandon his plan of making a pilgrimage to Purushottam kshetra. Finally, when the king in his utter frustration would try to end his life after not being able to have a divine glimpse of Neelmadhav, the most gracious lord will appear in his dream and instruct him to get constructed four wooden idols of Jagannath, Balbhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan chakra.

Having accomplished his mission, Vidyapati proceeded on his return journey and once again he visited Purushottam kshetra, which fell on the way. He picked up a garland, which had been offered to Neelmadhav by some deity.Finally, when he reached Malwa he found king Indradyumna eagerly waiting for him. After presenting the garland to the king, he narrated his experiences he had at Purushottam kshetra--' O king! Lord Jagannath's idol is made of Neelmani diamond and is very ancient. Even the deities have deep regards and undiluted reverence for lord Jagannath and are frequent visitors to Purushottam Kshetra. The garland, which I have given you, was in fact had been offered to Lord Jagannath by the deities- these flowers do not wither and have fragrance lasting for eternity. Purushottam kshetra remains untouched by old age, sorrow or disease and gives salvation to anybody, who goes on a pilgrimage over there.'

INDRADYUMNA LEAVES FOR PURUSHOTTAM KSHETRA

Indradyumna had been waiting for this moment for a long time- the moment when he would get a chance to go on a pilgrimage to Purushottam kshetra. Revealing his great plan to Vidyapati, he said--' Now, the time has finally come for me to go on a pilgrimage to Purushottam kshetra. I also intend to develop that holy place as a prominent place of pilgrimage. I would shift my subject to that holy place and perform one hundred Ashwamedha yagyas once I reach there. I also intend to devote rest of my life in the worship of Lord Jagannath.'

While the conversation was going on, the ever wandering sage-Narad, arrived there and informed Indradyumna how pleased were the deities after learning of his holy intention of developing Purushottam kshetra into a major place of pilgrimage. Narad also dwelt on length on the virtues of Jagannath's worship. Indradyumna, thinking that Narad might prove to be of great help during the course of pilgrimage because of his vast travelling experience, requested him to accompany him to Purushottam kshetra. Narad readily agreed to accompany the king and said--' O king! I shall reveal to you the importance of all the holy places that we come across in the course of our pilgrimage.'

Finally, king Indradyumna left for Purushottam kshetra followed by a large procession, that consisted of his subject, all the ministers and army officers. The entourage touched the bank of river Mahanadi by evening. Deciding to take rest and spend the night there, king Indradyumna first took his bath and then worshipped Lord Jagannath. After the king had taken his bath, all the rest of the people also took their bath and then everybody sat down to have their dinner. After the meal was over, while Indradyumna was busy discussing with his ministers on the future course of action, somebody came with the news that the king of Utkal had arrived. Indradyumna ordered the messenger to bring the esteemed guest with all the honour and respect. The king of Utkal arrived and broke a disturbing news-- ' Indradyumna, I am afraid your intention of having a divine glimpse of Lord Jagannath is not going to fructify as lord Neelmadhav has presently concealed himself beneath a huge heap of sand caused by a ferocious sandstorm. The fallout of this inauspicious incident has been extremely adverse on my kingdom-- as my people are experiencing acute famine.

Indradyumna was shocked, especially the thought of not getting a chance to have a divine glimpse of lord Neelmadhav made him dejected- he saw all his efforts going in vain. But, Narad consoled him by saying --' Don't worry! Lord Neelmadhav is extremely merciful and he will certainly give you an opportunity to have his divine glimpse.'

INDRADYUMNA REACHES 'EKAMRACHHETRA'

Continuing with the tale of Indradyumna, sage Jaimini told all the sages--' Next morning, Indradyumna and his entourage crossed Mahanadi on boats and reached Ekamrachhetra where they worshipped lord Purushottam. After that they worshipped on their onwards journey and reached Kotishwar Mahalaya where they worshipped lord Tribhuneshwar with appropriate rituals. Lord Tribhuneshwar appeared after becoming pleased and blessed Indradyumna that his wish of seeing lord Jagannath was soon going to be fulfilled. Lord Tribhuneshwar then instructed Narad--' O great soul! After reaching Purushottam kshetra, help Indradyumna perform one hundred yagyas as per the instructions given by lord Brahma. I along with goddess Durga, dwell at the entrance of conch shaped Purushottam kshetra. Although, presently lord Jagannath has concealed himself beneath a heap of sand yet very soon he is going to manifest himself. Indradyumna should get constructed a magnificent temple of lord Jagannath at the same place, where once existed his idol and presently which is hidden beneath the heap of sand. Later on, Vishwakarma would then carve out four idols from a single piece of wood, which would subsequently be installed by Lord Brahma himself. Finally, Indradyumna's wish of seeing lord Jagannath would get fulfilled.

Narad assured lord Tribhuneshwar that all his instructions would be followed in letter and spirit. The procession then left for the place indicated by Lord Tribhuneshwar.

INDRADYUMNA EULOGIZES LORD NEELMADHAV

After reaching the temple of Neelkanth-Mahadev, all of them worshipped Mahadev and Durga. They then visited the temple of lord Nrisimha, situated under a sandalwood tree at the foothills of Neelachal mountain.King Indradyumna was anxiously waiting for the moment he would have a divine glimpse of lord Jagannath. He requested Narad to take him to the place where Jagannath had hidden himself beneath the heap of sand. Narad took him near a Banyan tree and said--' Look at this huge Banyan tree that is two yojans in height and whose trunk is spread in the area of one yojan. To the north of this Banyan tree and to the north of Nrisimha temple lies the place where lord Neelmadhav used to have his dwelling sometime ago but who has presently concealed himself. Now, the time is not very far when you would see lord Jagannath with your mortal eyes.'

Indradyumna bowed in reverence to the place where lord Jagannath was supposed to re-manifest himself in the near future. He eulogized the lord as if he were already present there and this was true as Jagannath's idol was indeed present there albeit hidden beneath heaps of sand. He prayed--' O lord! You are the one in whom every living creature ultimately takes refuge. My only wish is to be able to see your idol, which is presently hidden beneath heaps of sand.'Hardly had Indradyumna finished his prayer when he heard a heavenly voice--'O king! Do not worry! The day is not far when you would see me with your mortal eyes. You just need to follow Narad's instructions and your wish will be fulfilled.

NARAD INSTALLS THE IDOL OF NRISIMHA

Narad told Indradyumna--' Now, we should install an idol of lord Nrisimha near Neelkanth's temple for this is the very place where you will be performing one thousand Ashwamedh Yagyas in the days to come. So, your first priority should be to get constructed a magnificent temple of lord Nrisimha. I plan to stay here for five more days as Vishwakarma will be needing my help in carving out the idol of lord Nrisihma.'

Leaving Narad alone near the Neelkanth temple, Indradyumna went near the sandalwood tree, which was at a little distance from the temple, and was surprised to find Sughat- Vishwakarma's son waiting for him. He requested Sughat to construct a grand temple with its main entrance facing west. Sughat constructed the temple within four days. On the fifth day, Narad arrived there with an idol of lord Nrisimha, which had been carved out by Vishwakarma. An auspicious day was chosen for installing the idol. After the idol had been installed, every body including king Indradyumna, Narad as well as the people accompanying the procession worshipped Lord Narsimha.

INDRADYUMNA PERFORMS ASHWAMEDHA YAGYAS

Sages, who had been listening to the tale narrated by Jaimini with rapt attention till then asked--' What did Indradyumna next do after the idol of Lord Nrisimha had been installed?'

Sage Jaimini replied--' After the idol of Lord Nrisimha had been installed, Indradyumna began making preparations for Ashwamedha yagya. He sent invitations to all the deities, learned brahmins and sages. When everybody arrived, he made a special request to Indra to remain present at the oblation site till the completion of one thousand Ashwamedha yagyas.Indra assured Indradyumna of his full cooperation and advised him to go ahead with his plan of accomplishing one thousand Ashwamedha yagyas. Finally, Indradyumna performed the first yagya under the supervision of learned priests. This way, he was able to successfully accomplish nine hundred and ninety nine yagyas without any problem. Finally, when the last Ashwamedha yagya was being performed, Indradyumna had a divine glimpse of Lord Vishnu while he was engrossed in his meditation. Indradyumna narrated his experience to Narad to which he got a reply that it was a good omen, which proved that the king was going to see Lord Jagannath with his mortal eyes.

JAGANNATH IDOL IS CARVED OUT

After the rituals of final yagya ended, Narad advised Indradyumna to perform the rituals of 'Purnahuti' to mark the end of Yagya ceremony. Narad then went on to say--' A tree is considered to be the partial incarnation (Ansha avatar) of Lord Vishnu for each of his hair that falls on the earth gets transformed into a tree.' Narad, then pointing towards a tree told Indradyumna-- ' The almighty Lord has manifested himself in the form of this tree. Now, you should make preparations to get this tree installed on the great altar inside the temple.'

The tree to which Narad had pointed was unique in the sense that it had only four branches on it. Indradyumna, following the instructions ordered his men to uproot the said tree and then install it on the 'Mahavedi' inside the temple. But, at the same time he was wondering as to who would carve out the four idols of Jagannath, Balbhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan chakra. Suddenly, a heavenly voice was heard--' Lord Vishnu would manifest himself on the sacred altar on his own. An old carpenter, who is standing among you, should be sent inside the temple premise. The main door of the temple should then be shut and nobody should try to enter the temple till the idols are ready. One more thing to be kept in mind is that all of you should keep on beating drums so that nobody hears the sound emanating from the carving of the idols. Anybody, who hears this sound, is doomed to become deaf. Similarly, anybody who tries to see the act of idols being made shall loose his power of sight.'

Indradyumna made elaborate arrangements as per the instructions given by the heavenly voice. The old carpenter was sent inside and the main door of the temple shut. On the fifteenth day, Lord Jagannath manifested himself along with Balbhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan chakra. Once again heavenly voice was heard which said--' O king! Get all the four idols coloured on the basis of the complexion of the respective deities. The colour of Jagannath's idol should be dark blue similar to that of dark clouds. Similarly, the idol of Balbhadra should be coloured in white just like his fair complexion. The colour of goddess Subhadra's idol should be reddish just like the rising Sun. Sudarshan chakra should be painted deep red. Either the descendants of Vishvavasu or your royal priest are entitled to participate in the consecration ceremony of the idols in future events.'

Indradyumna, once again following the instructions, got the idols coloured in the way specified by the heavenly voice. After that, all the four idols were adorned with beautiful apparels and ornaments. Now, they really looked divine in their new looks. Looking at the divine idols of Jagannath, Indradyumna went into trance. Seeing his condition, Narad advised not to waste time and seek any boon from lord Jagannath because the sole purpose for which Jagannath had manifested himself was to bless him and to fulfill his wish. Indradyumna immediately realized what Narad meant to say. He eulogized lord Jagannath in the following way--' O Jagannath! Help me out from the sorrows of this world. I don't aspire for anything else.'

Subsequently, Narad and the whole entourage, which had come along with king Indradyumna worshipped lord Jagannath, Balbhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan chakra. Lord Jagannath was worshipped amidst the chanting of dwadashakshar mantra while Jagannath was worshipped with Purush sukta. Similarly, Subhadra and Sudarshan chakra were worshipped amidst the chanting of Devisutra and vedic verses respectively. Finally, donations were made to the brahmins and everybody was sent off with respect.

CONSECRATION OF THE IDOLS

King Indradyumna was anxious to get performed the rituals of consecration as soon as possible, so he asked Narad--' I am not aware of the proper rituals that are employed in the consecration of an idol. I need your help in this regard.'Narad then made a list of articles required for the consecration of idols and instructed Indradyumna to make arrangements for all those items. He also instructed the king to get constructed a grand palace for Lord Brahma, who was supposed to arrive shortly to perform the consecration ceremony. Narad said--' Get constructed three chariots for all the three deities. The chariot meant for lord Jagannath should have a mast on its top with the figure of Garuda on it. Similarly, Balbhadra's chariot should have a mast with a plough drawn on it whereas Subhadra's chariot should have a mast with a beautiful lotus drawn on it. The number of horses pulling the chariots of Jagannath, Balbhadra and Subhadra should be Sixteen, fourteen and twelve respectively.'

It did not take much time to construct the three chariots as per the instructions given by Narad. Very soon lord Brahma arrived there, accompanied by all the deities, to perform the consecration of the four idols. On seeing Lord Brahma, Indradyumna's joys knew no bounds and he paid his obeisance to the creator. Lord Brahma said--' See how fortunate you are. All the deities and sages have come here to help you in your cause.'

Lord Brahma then performed the rituals of consecration on the auspicious day of ashtami of the bright half of the hindu month Vaishakh. The day was Thursday and the Nakshatra was Pushya.

RATH YATRA

Dwelling on length about the auspicious days on which Rath Yatra should be taken out, sage Jaimini told the assembled sages--' The combination of 'Teej' falling in the month of Vaishakh (bright half) and Rohini nakshatra, is considered to be extremely auspicious. A king should get constructed three chariots on the above mentioned day. The entire path along which the chariots as well as the procession is supposed to pass should be decorated with beautiful flowers and banners. On the second day of the bright half of the hindu month-Ashadh, all the three deities are worshipped and subsequently installed on their respective chariots, which are then pulled by the devotees. The procession then passes through the major routes of the city so that people can pay their obeisance. After reaching Gundicha Nagar, the procession should stay there for seven days on the bank of Bindu teerth. On the eighth day, all the chariots should begin their return journey. This famous Rath yatra lasts for nine days.

SOME PROMINENT PLACES OF PILGRIMAGE

Once, sage Shaunak asked Sutji about the means, which enabled human beings to attain salvation in Kaliyuga.
Sutji recounted a tale -- Once, Kartikeya had posed the same question to kartikeya. Emphasizing on the importance of pilgrimages, Lord Shiva had told him that in kaliyuga anybody could attain salvation by going on pilgrimage to holy places. Giving names of some prominent holy places and rivers, Lord Shiva had told Kartikeya that some of them were capable of fulfilling any wish of a man, while some gave salvation. The names of some prominent rivers Lord Shiva had given were Ganga, Godavari, Narmada, Tapti, Yamuna, Kshipra, Gautami, Kaushiki, Kaveri, Tamraparni, Chandrabhaga, Sindhu, Gandaki, Sarswati, etc. According to Shiva all these rivers were not only capable of fulfilling any wish of a man but also giving salvation. Naming some prominent holy places, Lord Shiva had told Kartikeya that Ayodhya, Dwarka, Kashi, Mathura, Avanti, Kurukshetra, Ramteerth, Kanchi, Purushottam kshetra, Pushkar kshetra, Varah kshetra and Badrikashram were capable of liberating a man from the sorrows of this world.'

Lord Shiva had told Kartikeya-- 'Anybody who goes on a pilgrimage to Ayodhya becomes absolved of all his sins. Lord Hari dwells at Dwarka and does not abandon it even for a moment. A devotee, who takes a holy dip in river Gomti and then pays obeisance to lord Krishna, attains salvation even if he is ignorant. In the same manner, one who takes a bath in the holy Panchganga at Varanasi, becomes free from the cycles of birth and death. Anybody, who goes on a pilgrimage to Kashi and pays obeisance to lord Vishwanath, is freed from all the bondage of this world. Great importance has been attached to the performance of 'tarpan' at Vishramteerth and anybody who performs the rituals of tarpan with sesame seeds and water, his ancestors are freed from the tortures of the hell. Taking a holy dip in Kotiteerth at Avantipuri, in the hindu month of Vaishakh and worshipping lord Mahakaleshwar too absolves a man of all his sins. Donating gold either at Kurukshetra or Ramteerth, on a solar eclipse day, helps a man in attaining salvation. Going on a pilgrimage to Purushottam kshetra and worshipping lord Jagannath after taking a holy dip in Markandeya sarovar, bestows incomparable virtues. Badrinath, the dwelling place of lord Vishnu, is considered to be the supreme place of pilgrimage and even its remembrance is capable of giving salvation. Virtues attained by the performance of various deeds (tapa, yoga, samadhi), appear to be insignificant as compared to virtues attained by going on a pilgrimage to Badrikashram.

THE MAJESTY OF BADRIKSHETRA

Kartikeya asked lord Shiva--' How did this sacrosanct place originate? Who is the presiding deity of this place?'
Lord Shiva replied--' Badrikashram is an eternal city and lord Narayan is its presiding deity. A mere sight of Badrikashram is enough to free a man from all the bondage of life. There are numerous other holy places situated in the vicinity, Kedarnath being one of them.'

To emphasize the significance of Badrikashram, lord Shiva narrated the following tale to Kartikeya--' In Satyayuga, lord Vishnu existed in his physical form at Badrikashram for the benediction of human beings. But, in Tretayuga, only sages had the privilege of perceiving him with the help of yoga. At the advent of Dwapar things changed drastically and lord Vishnu just disappeared from Badrikashram. Deities became worried and asked lord Brahma about the reason that made lord Vishnu disappear. Even lord Brahma had no answer to this question. Thinking that lord Vishnu must have gone to Ksheer sagar-his eternal abode, all the deities led by Brahma went there. They eulogized Vishnu, who emerged from the Ksheer sagar. But, none of the deities except lord Brahma could see him. Lord Vishnu told Brahma that the main reason why he disappeared from Badrikashram was the flawed intelligence and arrogance of the deities. Brahma informed the deities whatever Vishnu had told him. All the deities were ashamed of themselves and returned to heaven with long faces. Feeling pity on the deities, I (Shiva) disguised myself as a sanyasi and carried lord Vishnu's idol from Naradteerth to Badrikashram and installed it over there to uplift the sagging morale of the deities. This is how lord Vishnu once again graced Badrikashram with his presence. Even a grain of 'prasad' had at Badrikashram is enough to liberate a man from all his sins.

THE IMPORTANCE OF HINDU MONTH 'KARTIK'

Once, on being asked by some sages about the significance of the hindu month- Kartik, Sutji narrated the following tale-- 'Once, Narad had asked lord Brahma the same question. At that time Lord Brahma had revealed to Narad that 'Kartik' was supreme among all the months just as lord Vishnu is supreme among all the deities and Badrikashram is the crown of all the places of pilgrimage. According to Brahma all these three would have greater significance in Kaliyuga as compared to any other yuga. Kartik is very dear to Lord Vishnu and any virtuous deed done during this month never goes without being rewarded. One important characteristic of this month is that all the deities live in the proximity of human beings for the entire period of the month and accept everything that is offered to them. Penance done in this month or donations made during this month is believed to give Imperishable virtues. There is a special significance of donating food grains during this month. Similarly, worshipping Shaligram during this month also has great significance. Observing austerities during this month or worshipping lord Vishnu with appropriate rituals liberates one's ancestors from the tortures of the hell. Worshipping lord Vishnu with petals of Lotus helps him to become absolved of all the sins committed in his previous many births. Worshipping lord Vishnu with tulsi leaves helps one in getting cured of incurable diseases.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ' HOLY DIPS' IN MARGASHIRSH

Continuing with the description of the significance of various months, Sutji said-- 'Once, while lord Vishnu was engrossed in his 'yoganidra' at Shwetdweepa, lord Brahma arrived there and requested him to describe the importance of Margashirsh. Lord Vishnu had told him that a devotee aspiring for unification with him, must observes austerities during this month. Describing the proper method of observing austerities lord Vishnu had said that one should get up early in the morning and after performing the ritualistic 'achaman', he should remember me by chanting my one thousand names. Next, he should take his bath according to the rituals mentioned in the scriptures, as follows-- He should remove some soil from near the roots of tulsi plant and pluck few tulsi leaves. Holding both the things in his hand, he should chant either Gayatri mantra or the mantra, 'om namo narayanay', so that they become sanctified. While taking his bath, it is a must to eulogize Ganga in the following way- ' O Ganga! Though have manifested from Vishnu's feet and hence called Vaishnavi. Myself being a devotee of lord Vishnu, you should protect me from all the possible sins I am likely to commit in my whole life.' A devotee should say this prayer for seven times and take the same number of holy dips in the river. He should then put on tidy clothes and perform 'tarpan' in the names of all the deities sages as well as ancestors.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHARITY MADE IN 'VAISHAKH'

Continuing with his tales, Sutji said--' Once, king Ambarish asked Narad about the reason why lord Vishnu had special liking for the hindu month-Vaishakh. Narad's answer was that Vaishakh had been given special privilege by lord Brahma himself and is believed to fulfill all the wishes of a man. No other month is as dear to Lord Vishnu as Vaishakh. The sin raises its ugly head only till a devotee has bathed before sunrise in the month of Vaishakh but once he has taken his bath all his sins just disappears. This is also the period when all the deities are believed to dwell in all the rivers, ponds, lakes, apart from the holy rivers. Great significance has been attached to doing charitable deeds in this month, especially providing water to thirsty. Similarly, donating certain articles like umbrella, fans, shoes, all have their own importance. One who gets constructed an inn for the comfort of the travelers and provides water to them attains imperishable virtues. No charitable deed can ever match the virtue of donating food grains and one who accomplishes this great act can be aptly called a 'Pita' (Father).

AYODHYAPURI

Once, on being asked by sage Bhardwaj and few others about the grandeur of Ayodhya, Sutji replied--' Ayodhya, a sacrosanct city is based on the bank of river Saryu. It is the very city where the famous king Ikshavaku ruled once upon a time. The term Ayodhya means unconquerable and consists of three root letters: a- symbolizing Brahma, y-symbolizing Vishnu and dh-symbolizing Rudra. It is a place where lord Vishnu has his abode for eternity and does not leave it even for a moment. According to the scriptures Ayodhya is based on Sudarshan chakra. It is well expanded in the radius of one yojan. Its eastern boundary stretches up to one yojan from a place called 'Sahastradhan'. Similarly, the western front stretches up to one yojan from a place called 'Sama', the southern up to one yojan from the bank of Saryu and its northern boundary up to one yojan starting from the bank of river Tamsa. In ancient times, a brahmin named Vishnu Sharma had performed an austere penance at Ayodhya. Lord Vishnu had appeared after becoming pleased by him and had created a holy place by digging up the earth with his Sudarshan chakra. Anybody, who takes a holy dip in Chakrateerth becomes absolved of all his sins.

 

 

RAMESHWAR KSHETRA

Once, Shaunak and few other sages asked Sutji as to how could a man become free from the bondage of the world. They also inquired whether there was an existence of any such holy place capable of liberating a man from heinous of sin.

Sutji replied--' Ramteerth is supreme among all the places of pilgrimage. A mere sight of this holy place is enough to free a man from the bondage of this mortal world. Going on a pilgrimage to Rameshwar gives virtues similar to what is attained by performing all the yagyas. One, who takes a holy dip at Setu Rameshwar, attains to Vishnuloka. Merely by sleeping at the sea shore of Rameshwar a man gets absolved of heinous of sins like brahmhatya, etc. A man is blessed if his remains are consigned to the holy waters at Rameshwar after his death. Scriptures say that five types of sins are as grave as the sin of brahmahatya--

  1. One, who criticizes sages
  2. A selfish person who cooks food only for himself,
  3. One who destroys well laid path making it difficult for people to tread upon,
  4. One who accepts food from a 'chandal' and
  5. One who sells food grains to a chandal. But, all these just disappears once the sinner reaches Rameshwar.

SETU BANDH

All the sages were curious to know about the holy places in the vicinity of Rameshwar. Sutji replied--Sri Ram replied went into exile accompanied by Sita, his consort and his younger brother, Laxman. Ravan, the demon king who ruled over Lanka deceitfully abducted Sita. Subsequently, Sri Ram befriended Sugreev and killed Bali, who harboured enemity against him. Sugreev sent monkeys in all directions to find out where Sita had been kept by Ravan. Later on Sri Ram reached Mahendra Parvat accompanied by Laxman, Hanuman, Sugreeva, Jambavan, Nal and may more brave warriors. They stayed for a brief period at Chakrateerth, where Vibhishan came to see Sri Ram. Eventually Vibhishan was nominated the king of all the demons by Sri Ram to the great displeasure of his brother Ravan.

Sri Ram and his army faced an uphill task of reaching Lanka for they had to cross the ocean, which lay as a great barrier between them and their destination. Samudra (ocean) revealed to Sri Ram that Nala had divine powers and whatever he would throw in the Ocean would not sink down but keep on floating. Nala tried to check the authenticity of Samudra's statement by throwing a huge rock into the ocean, as he himself was not aware of his powers. To the sheer amazement of everybody present there the rock started floating on the surface of the ocean instead of sinking down. All the rest of the monkeys tried to emulate Nala's feat by throwing huge rocks into the ocean and to their own surprise found that the rocks did not sink. This was how a bridge was built and across the ocean which made it possible for Sri Ram and his army to cross the ocean. Then length of Setu Rameshwar Bandh is hundred yojan and it is ten yojan broad. There are many holy places situated on the bridge prominent among which are Chakra-teerth, Paap-vinashan teerth, Sita -sarovar, Mangal- teerth, Amrit-watika, Brahma-kund, Hanumat- kund, Agastya-teerth, Ram-teerth, Laxman-teerth, Jaya-teerth, Laxmi-teerth, Agni-teerth, Shiv-teerth, Shankh-teerth, Yamuna-teerth, Ganga-teerth, Koti-teerth, Manas-teerth and Dhanushkoti teerth.

RAMESHWAR LINGA

Describing how Sri Ram had installed Rameshwar linga, Sutji said--' After killing Ravan, Sri Ram enthroned Vibhishan as the king of Lanka. While returning to Ayodhya he made a brief stop at Gandhamadan mountain. Since the thought of having killed a brahmin (Ravan) kept on tormenting him, he decided to atone for his sins. So, he installed the idol of Rameshwar linga at Rameshwar setu. Rameshwar linga is so sacrosanct that all the holy places, sages and ancestors are believed to exist within the temple premise of Maheshwar linga. Being installed by Sri Ram himself, this particular linga has special significance attached to it. One who goes on a pilgrimage to this holy place is certain to attain salvation even if he were a 'Mlechha' (born in a low caste).

DHARMARANYA KSHETRA

Once, sage Vyas went to meet Yudhisthira, who requested him to describe the significance of Dharmaranya kshetra.

Sage Vyas replied-- ' O king! Once, Dharmaraj-Yudhisthira did an austere penance to please lord Shiva. As usual, Indra became scarred because he thought that Dharmaraj was doing penance with the intention of acquiring Indraloka. He and other deities went to seek the help of lord Brahma, who did not have any clue. So, all of them went to Kailash mountain to seek Lord Shiva's help. Since Shiva was aware of Dharma's motive, he explained to the deities that there was nothing to worry about. But, Indra was not satisfied and the thought of loosing his kingdom continued to torment him.

Indra then instructed a beautiful Apsara named Vardhini to go to the place where Dharma was doing penance and disturb him by corrupting his thoughts. Vardhini went to the place where Dharma was engrossed in his penance and was successful in disturbing him. When Dharma opened his eyes he found a beautiful Apsara in front of him. Vardhini asked Dharma--' O Lord! What is the objective with which you are doing such an austere penance? Being an embodiment of virtuosity yourself, you prevail in the whole world. So, in a sense you already the lord of the world - what else do you need?'

Dharma told Vardhini that he was doing penance with the objective of having a divine glimpse of lord Shiva. Vardhini informed him that Indra was scarred of losing his kingdom and hence had sent her to disturb his penance. Dharma was pleased by her truthfulness and wanted to reward her for that. Vardhini expressed her desire of having her abode in Indraloka for eternity and also of having a place of pilgrimage named on her. Dharma blessed her after which she returned to Indraloka.

Dharma once again engrossed himself in penance. Ultimately, Lord Shiva became pleased and appeared before him. ' Ask for any boon and it shall be bestowed to you', said Lord Shiva. Dharmaraj replied -' O lord! I want this place to be named after me. I also request you to grace this place by your presence.' Lord Shiva blessed him and fulfilled both his wishes. This was how Dharmakshetra got its name. Subsequently, lord Shiva appeared in the form of Dharmeshwar linga in accordance with the second wish of Dharmaraj. After his penance was over, Dharma also had created a holy reservoir over there which is believed to absolve a man of all his sins.

LOSS OF MORAL VALUES IN KALIYUGA

On being asked by Yudhisthira about the life-style of people in Kaliyuga, sage Vyas replied-- 'There will be a widespread prevalence of sinful deeds and lack of moral values in Kaliyuga. People would become untruthful and would become critical of revered sages. Moral values would decline to such an extent their minds would be preoccupied by nothing else but the thought of sex. In Kaliyuga women will feel most insecure and even her near and dear ones would become untrustworthy - men belonging to their own gotras would try to exploit her. Brahmins would be criticized because of their inappropriate conduct- They would become arrogant, would start trading their knowledge and would not follow the teachings of the Vedas.

Similarly, Kshatriyas would become cowards and a mere reference of battle would be enough to scare them. Majority of people would indulge in immoral deeds like gambling and consume variety of intoxication. They would always look out for an opportunity to grab other's wealth by deceitful means. Married women would not fulfill their obligation towards their husbands. Cows would give lesser milk and trees would bear fewer fruits. Young girls would become pregnant at the raw age of eleven years. Brahmins, by their conduct would undermine the importance of holy places and would indulge in excessive eating and drinking. In Kaliyuga, people would not give any importance to caste system. Kings would loose their kingdoms and Mlechhas would become the rulers. Treachery, enemity and disrespect towards elders would become the norms of the day.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHATURMASYA VRAT

Once, on being asked by Narad about the importance of Chaturmasya, lord Brahma said--' Chaturmasya is the period of four months during which lord Vishnu is believed to take rest in ksheer-sagar. So quite naturally, all the oceans, rivers and ponds are believed to attain divinity due to the presence of Lord Vishnu in ksheer-sagar during this period. This is the reason why great importance has been attached to taking holy bath during this period. A devotee, who observes austerities related with Lord Vishnu during these four months, becomes absolved of all his sins. All the deities are believed to dwell within Lord Vishnu during this period. Going on pilgrimage to holy places and taking holy dips in rivers bestow indescribable virtues.

A devotee must not forget to perform the rituals of 'Tarpan' after taking his daily bath. He should also observe abstinence and avoid indulging in sensual pleasures during this period of four months. There is special significance of making donations during this period, especially donating food-grains.

IMPORTANCE OF ABSTINENCE DURING CHATURMAS

Continuing with the importance of austerities observed during Chaturmas, Lord Brahma said--' Human-beings are bundle of desires and long for worldly things. So, there is a great importance of abstinence and forsaking things, which one is very fond of. One who relinquishes his most favourite thing during this period gets the same thing in abundance in the next world. A householder, who renounces his family life for the sake of his devotion during this period, becomes free from the tortures of recurring births and deaths. Similarly, relinquishing the use of chilly in one's food during this period helps him to acquire great fortune. Renouncing silk cloths during this period gives imperishable joy. One should avoid wearing black cloths during this period. Combing and shaving are prohibited during this period.

A devotee should worship Lord Vishnu on the auspicious day of Kark sankranti. Normally black plums are offered to Lord Vishnu while worshipping. Celibacy is believed to be the best austerity and anybody who observes it during the period of chaturmas, never experiences sorrow in his life.

RITUALS PERTAINING TO SHODASH UPACHAR

Once, on being asked by Narad about the proper methods of performing Shodash upachar rituals, lord Brahma said --'In normal circumstances, when lord Vishnu is worshipped by employing the rituals of Shodashopachar it is considered as 'Tapa'. But, when the same rituals of shodashopachar are employed to worship lord Vishnu during chaturmas, it is considered as 'Mahatapa'. In the same manner, all the austerities that are observed during Chaturmas attain greater importance.

Lord Brahma then went on to elucidate the proper method of performing the rituals of 'Shodashopachar'--' "A particular 'mahasukta' of Yajurveda consisting of sixteen ' richas are chanted while worshipping Lord Vishnu. Similarly richas like 'sahastra-sheersha purushah' and fifteen others are considered to be most appropriate for the worship of almighty Vishnu. First of all, a devotee should perform the ritual of 'nyas' by mentally associating all the sixteen richas with different organs of the body as per the instructions given in the smritis. The same rituals of 'nyas' are then performed on the idol of lord Vishnu or Shaligram. After that an invocation is made to Lord Vishnu by chanting the first richa of Purush sukta--'Sahashtra sheersha Purushah' with a slight modification i.e. by adding 'om' in the beginning of the mantra. Similarly, Lord Vishnu and other 'Parshads' should be installed at the place of worship by chanting the second richa- 'Purush evedam'. With the chanting of third richa, Lord Vishnu's lotus feet are washed after which 'ardhya' is offered with the holy water collected from all the seven seas and other holy rivers. Subsequently, the ritual of 'achaman' is performed amidst the chanting of fifth richa. The ritual of ablution is then performed in which the idol of Lord Vishnu is bathed amidst the chanting of the sixth richa. The idol is adorned with beautiful apparels amidst the chanting of seventh richa.

Similarly, a sacred thread is offered to Lord Vishnu amidst the chanting of eighth richa while sandalwood paste is smeared on the idol amidst the chanting of ninth richa. Subsequently, amidst the chanting of tenth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteen richas, flowers, incense, lighted lamp and naivedya are offered to the deity respectively. Naivedya should consist of cereals. While performing 'aarti' the fourteenth richa should be chanted. A devotee should then circumambulate around the idol amidst the chanting of fifteenth richa. Imagining himself as an inseparable part of lord Vishnu, he should meditate amidst the chanting of the sixteenth richa."

VIDHYACHAL OBSTRUCTS THE PATH OF SURYA

Once, sage Vyas narrated the following tale to all the assembled sages-- ' Once, while wandering about, sage Narad arrived at Vindhyachal mountain. He was received with great honour and respect by Vindhyachal mountain. But, when the time arrived for Narad to take his leave, he took a deep sigh, which made Vindhyachal extremely perplexed and he asked Narad if anything was wrong. Narad replied--' Your rival-Meru mountain is superior to you in every respect and this is the fact I am lamenting about. My deep sigh is just the indication of my worried state of mind.'

Vindhyachal mountain was filled with inferiority complex and started waiting for an opportunity when he could prove his superiority to Meru mountain. He thought--' Perhaps Narad was right for even Lord Surya has great respect for Meru's might and this is the reason why he circumambulates my adversary. If I am able to beat Meru in height then may be Lord Surya would start circumambulating me and this way I shall prove my superiority to Meru.'

Now, Vindhyachal started increasing his height and in a short time its peaks became invisible. The fallout of this amazing incident proved to be quite catastrophic for the world because even Lord Surya was left stranded at a particular point in the horizon. As a result, one part of the earth became too hot for any life to exist. Similarly, the other half of the earth became unbearably cold. The time became still and everything went haywire in the world.

All the deities became extremely worried and went to Lord Brahma to seek his help. Lord Brahma advised them to go to Kashi and seek help from sage Agastya. Deities were pleased at their good fortune of getting a chance to visit Kashi. Deities, after reaching Kashi paid a visit to 'Manikarnika teerth' and took their bath. Subsequently, they went to Vishwanath temple and worshipped Lord Vishwanath. At last, they reached the hermitage of Agastya where he was busy worshipping a self made Shivalinga. The entire hermitage was crowded with young pupils of Agastya. After the pleasantries having been exchanged, sage Agastaya asked the deities about the purpose of their visit.

AGASTYA ORDERS VINDHYA TO DIMINISH ITS SIZE

When Agastya learnt of the problem created by Vindhyachal, he agreed to help the deities despite fully aware of the fact that once he left Kashi it would not be possible for him to see his dearest Kashi once again at least in his present birth. Before leaving for Vindhyachal, he sought permission from Lord Bhairav. He then reached the place where Vindhyachal had obstructed the path of Surya. Lopamudra, his wife accompanied him.

When Vindhyachal found Agastya starring angrily at him he became scarred and immediately minimized his size. Sage Agastya was pleased that his objective had been achieved without making any effort but he knew quite well that once he left the place Vindhyachal would regain his mammoth size. So he decided to do something so that Vindhyachal could not obstruct the path of Surya. He worked out a plan according to which he instructed Vindhyachal to wait for him until he returned after accomplishing his pilgrimage. Vindhyachal agreed assuming that Agastya would return in a short time.

Vindhyachal thanked his good fortune of escaping Agastya's wrath, which could otherwise have threatened his very existence. Sage Agastya then went away never to return and Vindhyachal kept on waiting for his arrival. This way, the path being cleared, Surya was once again able to move freely on its orbit without any problem and as a result normalcy returned to the world.

On the other hand, Agastya who was not at all happy leaving his dearest Kashi was desperate to get there back as soon as possible. But, he knew that his wish was going to remain unfulfilled. While wandering about, he reached Kolapur where he worshipped goddess Mahalaxmi. When goddess Mahalaxmi appeared, he asked her whether he would ever be able to reach Kashi in his present life. Goddess Mahalaxmi replied--' Your wishes will be fulfilled in the coming nineteenth dwapar, when you would incarnate as Vyas and would contribute a great deal in the propagation of the Vedas and Puranas. There is a sacrosanct place of Kartikeya not very far from here. Go there and pay your obeisance to Lord Kartikeya and he would unravel the mysterious aspects of Kashi to you.'

Sage Agastya and his wife Lopamudra then went to the mountain called Sri Shail, where Kartikeya lived at that time.

KASHI -THE SACROSANCT PLACE OF PILGRIMAGE

After travelling for sometime, both of them arrived near Sri Shail mountain. Pointing his finger towards the mountain, Agastya told his wife--'One, who has a good fortune of seeing the peaks of this mountain, never takes a second birth.'

Lopamudra replied in amazement--' If the sight of this mountain was capable of giving salvation then why do you long for Kashi?'
Sage Agastya then went on to clarify that there were many other holy places capable of giving salvation. Prayag is one such place. It is capable of bestowing all the four 'Purusharth' to man-Dharma, Arth, Kaam and Moksha. Apart from Prayag, there are many more holy places like Naimisharanya, Kurukshetra, Gangadwar, Avanti, Ayodhya, Mathura, Dwarka, Badrikashram, Purushottam kshetra which are capable of giving salvation to a man. But none of these places can match Kashi because Kashi is incomparable.

LORD KARTIKEYA DESCRIBES THE MAJESTY OF KASHI

Sage Agastya and his wife Lopamudra circumambulated Sri Shail Mountain and climbed up Lohit mountain where they found Lord Kartikeya. Both of them eulogized kartikeya by singing vedic hymns in his praise. Lord kartikeya was extremely pleased by their devotion and said- O revered sage! You can understand Kashi's importance by the fact that, though I am capable of reaching any place according to my wish but still, here I am doing this austere penance for the attainment of Kashi. I must confess that I have not been successful in my efforts till date. If any body thinks that he can attain to kashi just by performing austerities than he is totally wrong. Kashi can never be attained to until and unless one has the blessing of Lord mahadeva. And one who is fortunate enough to have reached Kashi must under no circumstances leave it till he is alive. O Agastya! You are blessed because you had the good fortune of residing at Kashi. Please allow me to touch your body, which has acquired holiness due to its proximity to Kashi.' Having said this, Kartikeya touched different parts of agastya's body as if he were touching the sacred soil of Kashi.

THE ORIGIN OF KASHI

Sage Agastya asked Lord Kartikeya how the sacrosanct place, Kashi came into being. He also asked how Kashi became famous as a place capable of giving salvation to a man.

Lord Kartikeya revealed to Agastya that once Parvati had asked Lord Shiva the same question. Lord Shiva had told her--' At the time of deluge when every thing had submerged in the ocean and darkness prevailed everywhere, only BRAHM-the embodiment of truth existed at that time and nothing else. BRAHM, the absolute truth is indescribable and inexpressible. No name can be attributed to HIM. HE is the absolute truth, the ultimate knowledge, the infinite, the omnipresent and the eternal bliss. Though basically formless HE attained a form on account of HIS own wish. That form is none other than me. Later on I created Prakriti from my body. All three of us (Shiva, Parvati and Kashi) manifested simultaneously by the grace of 'Aadi purush' (The Almighty God).'

Continuing with the tale of Kashi's greatness, Kartikeya told Agastya-' There is no holy place as dear to Lord Shiva as Kashi, which is not abandoned by him as well as his consort-Parvati even at the time of deluge. Lord Shiva named this holy place- Ananda van, because it gave immense joy to him. Subsequently, Lord Shiva and goddess Jagdamba put a glance on the left portion of their respective bodies as the result of which a divine entity manifested himself who was none other than Lord Vishnu and who was named Purushottam by Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva after blessing Purushottam went away. Later on, Lord Vishnu created a divine reservoir with his sudarshan chakra and filled it up with his sweat. He then engaged himself in an austere penance. Lord Shiva once again appeared along with Parvati and blessed Vishnu by saying-' This holy place will become famously known as Manikarnika because this is the very place where I had once lost my diamond ear-ring.'

Lord Vishnu made a request to Shiva --' May this place fulfill the wishes of those who seek salvation. Since it is blessed with your eternal presence hence its another name would be Kashi.'

Lord Shiva assured Vishnu by saying- ' This sacrosanct place is very dear to me and no event takes place here against my wish. Even if a person living here happens to be a sinner he has nothing to fear because I protect him. One who lives far from Kashi but remembers it with reverence becomes absolved of all his sins.'

There is a magnificent Shiva-linga at Kashi famously known as Kashi Vishwanath. Here is situated one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. Just as the Sun is visible in the whole world despite its presence at a particular point in the horizon, in the same manner Kashi has its influence throughout the length and breadth of the world.

SANAT KUMAR GLORIFIES MAHAKAAL TERTH

Once, goddess Parvati requested Shiva to describe the significance of Mahakaal teerth. Lord Shiva replied-" Once, Sanatkumar- one of the manasputras of Lord Brahma had gone to his father's abode, situated at a place near Meru mountain. Sage Vyas arrived there and asked him the same question. Sanatkumar had revealed to him that all kinds of sins loosed their evil influence at Mahakaal teerth. He had also told him that it was called 'Peetha' because Matrikas had their abode over there. Anybody, who is fortunate of leaving his mortal body at this holy-place, is freed from the vicious cycles of birth and death. This place is very dear to Lord Shiva and is also called by various other names like Ekamrak-van, Mahakaal-van and Vimukti-kshetra.

KAPAL MOCHAN

Once, lord Shiva arrived at Mahakal forest with a skull in his hand. All the trees and vegetation were delighted to find him in their midst. They requested lord Shiva to remain their forever. Lord Shiva told them that it was not possible for him to stay there forever but on being requested once again agreed to stay there for at least a year. After one year, when the time for departure came he released the skull from his hand as a memorial.

When lord Brahma came to know of this incident, he instructed all the deities to reach Mahakal forest without wasting any time so that a grand yagya could be performed at the place where Shiva had left the skull. All the deities went to the said place and worshipped Lord Shiva by employing the rituals of Pashupat vrata, which Lord Brahma had taught them. Lord Shiva became pleased by their devotion and said--' Perhaps you all are not aware that there was a specific objective behind my act of releasing the skull from my hand. This act of mine was done to protect your lives but it seems you are unaware of its significance. In a way, all of you have already received my blessings in advance for your deep devotion. What else do you wish for ?'

Deities were amazed by Shiva's statements and were wondering what Shiva was trying to convey. So, they requested Shiva to unravel the mystery so that they could understand what he meant to say. Lord Shiva told them-' The followers of Maya were planning to kill you while you were busy doing penance but no one of you was aware of their evil motive. I came to know about this in my deep state of meditation and dropped the skull from my hand. As soon as the skull touched the ground a thunderous sound was made as the result of which all the demons were killed instantaneously.'

All the deities thanked Lord Shiva for protecting their lives. In course of time this particular place became famous as Kapal mochan temple and is presently situated in Ujjain.

VARIOUS NAMES OF UJJAINIPURI

Once, sage Vyas requested Sanatkumar to reveal why Ujjainipuri was known by various names like Kanakshringa, Kushasthali Avanti and Padmavati.

Sanatkumar replied-' Once, Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva arrived at Ujjainipuri in search of Lord Vishnu, who had disappeared from his abode. To their pleasant surprise they found Lord Vishnu staying there. Both of them requested Vishnu to allow them to stay at Ujjainipuri and said-' O Lord! When did you create such a magnificent place with golden mountain peaks? Allow us to live in this beautiful city for we can not live in your separation.'

Lord Vishnu requested Brahma to make his abode in the northern part of the city while Shiva was told to make southern part as his abode. Lord Vishnu then told them-' Since you have referred to this place as a city of golden mountain peaks therefore from now onwards it would become famous as 'Kanchan Shringa' (golden peaks)'.

Sanat kumar then went on to explain why Ujjainipuri was also called Kusha sthali-' Having created the world, Lord Brahma requested Lord Vishnu to nurture it. Lord Vishnu agreed on the condition that Lord Brahma provided him a pious place on the earth from where he could perform his duty. Brahma then picked up a handful of kusha grass and threw down on the earth. This way Lord Vishnu performed his duty as the nurturer of the world sitting on the seat of Kusha grass. This is the reason why this place came to be known as Kusha sthali.'

Sanat kumar then described how Ujjainipuri also came to be known as Avanti puri-' Once, after being defeated by the demons, deities fled to Meru mountain. Later on they went to Lord Brahma and sought his help. Lord Brahma took all the deities to Lord Vishnu. Hardly had they reached the abode of Vishnu and offered their obeisance, then they heard a heavenly voice- 'There is a sacrosanct place called Kushasthali in the forest of Mahakal van. This holy place is graced by the presence of Lord Mahadeva. Go there and engage yourself in austerities and you will certainly become the master of the heaven once again.'

Subsequently, all the deities went to a place called Paishachmochan situated in Kushasthali and engaged themselves in various austerities. As prophesized by Vishnu, the deities indeed defeated the demons and became the ruler of heaven. The term 'Avan' means 'the protector' and since it had protected the deities hence it became famous as Avanti.

Sanat kumar also described how Kushasthali also came to be known as Ujjaini-' Once, a demon named Tripur did an austere penance to please Lord Brahma. When Brahma appeared he expressed his wish of becoming immortal. Lord Brahma fulfilled his wish as the result of which Tripur became arrogant and started tormenting the deities. The deities sought the help of Lord Shiva, who assured them that he would kill the demon. Subsequently, Lord Shiva did kill Tripur with his most lethal weapon 'pashupat ashtra' after a fierce battle. The place where this incident took place became famous as Ujjaini because of the fierce battle fought between Shiva and Tripur.

Continuing with the tale which described the reason why Ujjainipuri also came to be known as Padmavati, Sanatkumar told Vyas-' During the time of ocean churning ambrosia had also emerged from the ocean bed along with many other valuable things. The demons wanted to drink ambrosia so that they could become immortal but the deities were against this idea. Very soon, the arguments turned into a major dispute and both the sides started quarrelling. Narad requested Lord Vishnu to do something in this regard. Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a beautiful lady and was successful in infatuating the demons. Finally, he started giving ambrosia to the deities who after drinking it became immortal. A demon named Rahu was sitting in the rows of the deities after changing his guise. Lord Vishnu was unable to recognize Rahu and gave some ambrosia to him mistaking him to be a deity. But, hardly had Rahu gulped down Ambrosia and before it could reach down his throat, Vishnu severed his head. Rahu's head became immortal as the result of ambrosia's influence. This incident had taken place at Mahakal forest. Later on all the deities distributed the whole wealth, which had emerged from the ocean among themselves. This is the reason why Ujjainipuri came to be known as Padmavati because Padma is another name of Goddess Laxmi.

THE GRANDEUR OF AVANTIPURI

Sanatkumar says-' Once, Parvati requested Lord Shiva to explain why Avantipuri was considered so holy by the devotees. Lord Shiva told her that it was so because there were numerous holy places situated over there. Lord Shiva had told her-' There are four holy rivers flowing through the different regions of Avantipuri- Kshipra, Divya-nav, Neelganga and Gandhavati. There are temples belonging to eighty four shiva lingas, eight Bhairavas, eleven Rudras, Twelve Aadityas, six Ganeshas and twenty four goddesses. Not only this there are also temples of Lord Vishnu and Brahma. Avantipuri is spread in the radius of one yojan. There are temples belonging to ten different incarnations of Lord Vishnu- Vasudev, Anant, Balaram, Janardan, Narayan, Hrishikesh, Varah, Dharnidhar, Vaman and Lord Vishnu himself taking rest on Sheshnag. Apart from these there are many other holy places situated at Avantipuri, which enhances its sanctity and holiness.