The Holy Dip

By S Madhusudhana Rao | THE HANS INDIA |   Aug 13,2016 , 11:53 PM IST


True to general public belief and faith in Rain Gods, people in the region are not let down by the Heavens. Good south-west monsoon and generous rainfall have brought smiles to rulers and the ruled and sprouted new hopes in the farming community of bountiful crops after a prolonged dry spell.

For the new 29th state of Telangana, Krishna Pushkaram is as significant as last year’s Godavari River event. For, this is the first time the devout in Telangana can take a holy dip in Krishna during the August 12-23 event in their own State. To boot, the State government has put in every effort and made elaborate arrangements to facilitate the people take a holy bath during the auspicious 12-day period. 

The Telangana government’s Krishna Pushkaram budget is over Rs 800 crore. In neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, the state government has made the Krishna Pushkaralu, an event to remember and to highlight Andhra culture, cuisine and traditions. With an eye on investment in tourism and development – beaches, rivers and Hindu and Buddhist religious places, etc – from national and international players, the State government has set aside about Rs1,000 crore as Krishna Pushkaram budget with main activities centred around Vijayawada. 

The city, straddling the Krishna River, has been a pilgrimage centre for centuries. Every day, thousands of devotees throng the temple of the city’s presiding deity Kanaka Durga. A visit to the temple, situated atop a hill, Indra Keeladri, abutting the river, is a must for pilgrims. Vijayawada is a key railway junction and commercial centre. 

With the bifurcation of unified Telugu state, Vijayawada has gained more importance and grown in stature as the upcoming new AP capital city Amaravati is just across the River Krishna. Incidentally, the illuminated Prakasam Barrage which is the centre of attraction now is the last major water storage point from where the Krishna River flows down into the Bay of Bengal. 

Not surprisingly, Vijayawada has been the cynosure of all eyes. Notwithstanding the criticism that AP Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu is trying to hog the limelight and blowing his own trumpet over the Krishna Pushkaram arrangements, Vijayawada has been transformed into a fairyland and visitors and locals are wowing the nightly spectacle.

With glitz and glamour liberally thrown in, the sanctity of an otherwise holy event is being questioned. Not long ago, Pushkarams per se were modest and a great deal of spiritual importance had been attached. However, in recent years, the holy event has turned out to be a mass ritual of mega proportions. Thanks to selfie culture, regional language TV channels and motivational promotions by Hindu swamis and gurus of all hues, the Pushkaram dip in ‘sacred rivers’ has been reduced to an irreverent act.

It’s a pity, considering the fact that in ancient India, rivers had always been seen as sacred and attributed with magical powers. Hindu scriptures are replete with stories of how river goddesses have descended on earth to bestow health and wealth on the people of this country. The tomes also stress the need to offer prayers to please the deities.  In other words, river worship is part of Hindu ethos and it touches its peak during Pushkarams. 

Besides offering prayers and performing poojas on river banks, devotees take a holy dip in the river in the belief that it will wash away all their sins.  The belief as well as all the rituals associated with a Pushkaram could be traced back to ancient times and complex astronomical calculations involving the movement of planets and stars.  

The great sages of yore had designated 12 rivers as sacred and linked each one of them to a zodiac sign. For example, the ongoing Krishna Pushkaralu began when Jupiter (Bruhaspati) entered Virgo (Kanya) on August 12 and they would end with the planet’s exit from the constellation. Next year (2017) the River Cauvery will have Pushkarams when Jupiter transits across Libra (Tula). 

Among the sacred 12 rivers in the country, Godavari and Krishna are important in the South. While Godavari is the third longest river after Ganga and Brahmaputra, Krishna comes fourth. And, interestingly, both Krishna and Godavari are close to the hearts of Telugu people. While poets, lyricists, folk artists and authors have immortalised both the rivers in verse and prose, regional filmmakers often add a dash of romance to the beauty and grace of Krishnaveni and Godavari.

A test for Swachh Bharat mission
For a country steeped in spiritual values, environmentalists’ concern about river pollution during Pushkarams has no consequence. Nor devotees taking a holy dip are concerned about it. The norm is dirtying the water and river banks and leave the mess for authorities and volunteers to clean.

There are dos and don’ts pilgrims are expected to observe during the sacred bath. What should be remembered is a holy dip is not a daily bath with soap and shampoo to wash off dirt from the body. A Pushkar dip in the holy river is supposed to be sacred and that sanctity should be maintained at all times and at any cost by the devout.

Similarly, bathing ghats and areas designated for rituals are not trash bins. The used and unused pooja goods need to be disposed of in a proper way rather than tossing them into the river water. When the water is not flowing down the stream the stagnated water starts stinking when the thrown organic materials begin rotting.

Worse, they become breeding grounds for harmful bacteria that spread disease among lakhs of visitors.  In other words, Krishna Pushkaram is a test for Swachh Bharat mission in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

A pat for State govts
Both the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments deserve praise for the excellent arrangements they have made for Krishna Pushkaram pilgrims at various ghats in their respective states. The facilities for devotees include free food, medical camps, transport to bathing ghats, round-the-clock security, crowd control measures to avoid stampedes, extra buses from important towns and cities, traffic regulations and help lines. 

More importantly, the amount of information made available on the internet about Krishna Pushkaralu. Both the Telangana and AP governments’ web sites have info about ghats, how to reach there by road and train (South Central Railway is running a number of special trains) and kinds of accommodation available, nearby temples, among others. Those who wish to have a holy dip in either of the Telugu states can simply visit the websites and gather all the relevant info to make their Pushkaram trip hassle free. 

The legend of Pushkaram
The word ‘pushkaram’ – pushkaralu in Telugu – comes from an eponymous character in a legend.  According to it, a Brahmin in a village, an ardent devotee of Lord Siva, had spent years praying day and night for Him. At last, the Lord appeared. Pleased with his bhakt’s mighty devotion, Siva granted a boon giving him the power to purify rivers. 

Thereafter the Brahmin was known as Pushkar – the one who fortifies – who was later approached by Brihaspati (Jupiter) to make the rivers that come under his influence during his transit periods from one zodiac sign to another holy. Thus the 12 rivers have become holy and sacred.

The first 12 days when Jupiter enters a zodiac sign, known as Adi Pushkaram, and the last 12 days when Bruhaspati exits the constellation, known as Antya Pushkaram, are considered most auspicious. Nevertheless, pundits aver that as long as Jupiter stays in a particular zodiac sign which is associated with a holy river its water remains sacred and those who can’t take a holy dip during Pushkaram can do so in later period. 

Despite such advisories, massive crowds throng Pushkar ghats during the first 12 days as it is popularly believed that the waters will have a divine presence that makes devotees’ sins wash away. Probably, for the same reason, pilgrims pay their respects to the departed souls of dear and near at Pushkar ghats.

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