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Hardwar is known to have historically gone through multiple names before it permanently became known as Hardwar. Some of these names are known as Ahoganga, Gangadvara, Mayapuri, Kapildvara (named after the sage Kapila) and Swargadwara, meaning the way to heaven (Karar 101). Hardwar lastingly got its name from the combination of “har” meaning “Lord Shiva” and “dwar” meaning “gateway to the land of Gods” (Bajpai, Yadav and Pandey 226). The first settlers of Hardwar are believed to have been the Rajputs of Pauri, more specifically Raja Islam Singh who is believed to be the founder of the city of Hardwar (Karar 101). Hardwar being ruled by the Rajputs of Pauri came to an end, but they are still found to be living in areas close to Hardwar. A wide range of communities are involved in the famous pilgrimage activities that occur in Hardwar. For example, during the Kanwar Mela, which is the largest yearly festival that takes place in Hardwar, Hindus from nearby cities of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Haryana “ritually carry the holy water of the Ganga in small pitchers” (Karar 102) known as Kanwar. Muslim artisans travel down to Hardwar to make these Kanwar.

            Hardwar is geographically positioned in northern India in Uttarakhand between the latitudinal parallel and longitudinal meridian (Sultan 9). The city has approximately 225, 235 inhabitants and is about 42.01km2 (Bajpai, Yadav and Pandey 227). Hardwar’s positioning contributes to the city being an extremely famous pilgrimage centre due to it being full of both natural and cultural tourism resources. Some of the natural resources include the Ganga river, hills, forests, elephants, tigers and jungle cats (Sultan 10), which also contributes to Hardwar’s aesthetic. The Ganga river is the most important factor in determining Hardwar’s religious significance as it is regarded as the most holy and scared river in the world to the Hindus since time that is immemorial (Bhutiani et al 1). Some of the cultural resources found in Hardwar are Temples, Ashrams and Dharamshalas. A major place of pilgrimage is the Maya Devi Temple located in Hardwar, which is the temple of the deity Adhisthatri and is known to be “where the heart and navel of Goddess Sati had fallen” (Sultan 11).

            Due to Hardwar’s religious/ritual significance there are many festivals and fairs that take place in the city. There is a religious festival that takes place almost every month: in January they celebrate the Makar Sakranti, the Maha Shivratri is celebrated from February-March, March-April is the Ram Navmi, in April they also celebrate Baisakhi, Buddha Poornima and Ganga Saptami are celebrated in May, Kanwar Mela is in June, Somwati Amavasya is in July, August holds the Janmashttmi, in October they celebrate the Durga Puja and finally, in November the Kartik Poornima is celebrated (Karar 103). Around 2-2.5 million people take part in these festivals (Sultan 11). As well, there is the Kumbha Mela. This festival only takes place every twelve years, marking when the sun is in Aries and Jupiter (Brihaspati) enters into the zodiac sign Aquarius (Kumbha) (Sultan 11). Some Hindus believe that Adi Shankaracharya, who is an Indian philosopher that “consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, sub-school of hindu philosophy” (Karar 103) revived the festival and in turn revived Hinduism. The Kumbha became one of the world’s largest religious gatherings, with Hindus from all over the world wanting to revive themselves by taking part in the many religious discussions, preaching and gathering blessings that occur, this is done by participating in the mass bathing in the Ganga river (Karar 103). The initiation of the Kumbha Mela is believed to be a commemoration for the event of the Devas (Gods) and the Danavas (Demons) churning the ocean and finding an Amrita-kumbha, which is a potful of nectar (Karar 101). Many rival parties fought for its possession and when the Kumbha was being taken to safety a few drops of nectar fell out of the pot and onto the site. In the year 2010 more that 80 million pilgrims visited Hardwar during the Kumbha Mela to dip in the holy water of the Ganga river (Sultan 11). It has been examined that the summer months show the biggest rise in tourists to Hardwar. This makes sense due to the fact that that the summer months mark the beginning of pilgrimage of Badrinath and Kedernath following the dip in the holy Ganga river at Hardwar (Sultan 12).

            As the Kumbh Mela is the most important ritual festival for the Hindus, the attraction of many priests, saints and yogis from all over India results in a massive rise in noise levels for the city. A study done by Madan and Pallavi (2010) evaluated the noise level of Hardwar during the Kumbh Mela compared to a normal day in the city, along with the impact this noise has on the inhabitants of Hardwar’s health. The noise levels were monitored at four different locations, the first being the Singh Dwar, which is considered the entry point of Hardwar. This location was shown to be extremely crowded with traffic and high noise levels (Madan and Pallavi 293). The second location is the Rishikul, which is a bus stop that is temporarily set up during the Kumbh Mela festival, constant horns and shrieking take place here as all traffic of the city passes by this location (Madan and Pallavi 293). The Har Ki Pauri is the third location under evaluation, it is known as the main centre of attraction for tourists in Hardwar, as hundreds of Hindus move towards it to ritually bathe in the holy Ganga river (Madan and Pallavi 293). At the Har Ki Pauri loud religious music is blasted all day and night, as well it is an extremely crowded area (Madan and Pallavi 293). The fourth and final location under examination is the Chandi Ghat, which is the junction that is very close to the Har Ki Pauri where “all round the year tourist and pilgrimage activity is clearly visible” (Madan and Pallavi 293). The results found in the study showed that the noise created during the Kumbh Mela festival impacted human health by inducing headaches, which caused a difficulty to concentrate. As well, Hindus got less sleep at night, making them tired or fatigue. The noise also resulted in increased blood pressure and hearing problems (Madan and Pallavi 295). These various impacts are significant because the Kumbh Mela is intended to be a festival in which Hindus take part in many religious rituals to seek Moksha; therefore, it is important for them to be at optimal health and peace; therefore, having little to no factors affecting their physical or mental health.        

For someone who practices religion, pilgrimage can in some cases be regarded as extremely important and significant because it represents someone’s search for happiness, bliss and satisfaction (Maheshwari and Punima 1). Pilgrims who would travel to Hardwar to participate in another religious festival admired by the Hindus called the Ardha-Kumbha, which is only celebrated every six years would travel through dense forests, rivers and rivulets (Karar 101). Kings, saints and ascetics and general pilgrims would travel by foot, on bullock-carts, horse-back, on camels or on elephants in large groups (Karar 101) and it would take months to actually reach Hardwar. On the auspicious occasion of the Ardha-Kumbha roughly 18 million people dip into the Ganga river (Maheshwari and Punima 1), which shows the religious significance of pilgrimage. Dipping in the Ganga river during these religious festivals is regarded as a Hindu attempting to attain Moksha, which is “salvation from the cycle of rebirth and freedom from one’s sins” (Maheshwari and Punima 1). Hindus believe themselves to feel closer to God by following the various rituals of the multiple festivals (Maheshwari and Punima 1). Some of the daily activities of the festivals include bathing in the Ganga, worshiping (Puja), listening to religious discourses voiced by saints and attending the various performances of the Hindu epics (Maheshwari and Punima 1). In a study done by Maheshwari and Punima (2009) the Ardha-Kumbha festival resulted in Hindus feeling more satisfied with life, relieved of all their tensions from their daily tasks and attainment of inner tranquility and peace (Maheshwari and Punima 1). They also found the religious festivals to aid people overcome terrible situations, such as, loss of a family member or loved one (Maheshwari and Punima 1).

Since the Ganga river is one of the most scared rivers in the opinion of the Hindus, concern has been raised regarding the mass amounts of bathing that take place in the river. During the festivals of the Kumbh and the Ardh-Kumbh there is special importance placed on the ritual of bathing in the Ganga river. Therefore, during these festivals millions of people dip into river and bathe themselves (Sultan 14). During the 2010 Kumbh Mela, which began in January and carried on until April there were 11 bathing dates throughout the 104-day festival which took place at Hardwar (Sultan 14). Around 80 million people took part in bathing in the Ganga river, which severely affected the quality of the water in the Ganga. This raised concern for the health of people who participate in the ritual of bathing in the river, as well, for the people downstream who drink the water from the river (Sultan 14). A study done by Sharma, Bhadula and B.D. Joshi (2010) suggested that the bathing leads to an increase in Bio-chemical oxygen demand, total dissolved solids and a decrease in dissolved oxygen. When the water quality was tested before and after the festival drastic changes were found in the physio-chemical and the microbiological dimensions of the Ganga river (Sharma, Bhadula and B.D. Joshi 4). The water quality did not show improvement, it only got worse, which resulted in stray dogs and pigs being attracted to the river. These unsanitary conditions caused various contagious and airborne diseases (Sharma, Bhadula and B.D. Joshi 4). Studies show that the holy river has reached frightening levels of pollution (Sultan 13). Eighty-nine million litres of sewage from nearby cities are dumped into the Ganga river, which is extremely alarming (Sultan 13). This is not only alarming for the Hindus who take part in these ritual practices, as their health is in danger, but this is also concerning for the religion itself. Concern is raised for the religion due to reasons of these festivals and activities having to eventually be changed or forgotten because of the issues that pollution is causing in regards to people’s health. 

Another study done by Bhutiani at al. (2016) suggested that the mass bathing that takes place in the Ganga river developed a range between good and medium water quality. Whereas, after further studies took pace it was found that the water quality of the river is poor. Thus, it is evident that the water quality of the Ganga river ranges from poor to good (Bhutiani at al. 1). The study concluded the primary sources of pollution are sewerage, solid and liquid waste contaminants or organic nature that all enter into the river. Although, the mass bathing that takes place during the religious festivals does not aid in the cleanliness of the Ganga river quality. Inhabitants of the area should take necessary measures to reduce the risks of future contamination entering the river, not only for the health of people living in the area and Hindus who practice these bathing rituals, but for the practices and rituals themselves and their survival in the religion as they are extremely significant in the many festivals held in Hardwar.

Hardwar has proven itself to be an extremely important location for those who practice Hinduism due to its major festivals such as the Kumbha Mela and the Ardha-Kumbha Mela festivals. The positioning of Hardwar close to the Ganga river is the largest contributor to its religious significance because of the ritual importance placed on the river during the Kumbha Mela and the Ardha-Kumbha Mela festivals. Considering the results from the multipul studies examined precautions should be taken in the future in regard to using the Ganga during these important religious festivals to avoid the spreading of more diseases and sickness among the Hindus, as their health is the most important.  

References and Further Recommended Reading

Bajpai, Yadav and Pandey (2015) “Tourism and Tourist Influx Evaluation and Analysis in Haridwar and Rishikesh Townships of Uttarakhand.” Dept. of Geography, Kumaun University. issn- 2348-0459.

Bhutiani, D.R. Khanna, Kulkarni and Ruhela (2016) “Assessment of Ganga River Ecosystem at Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India With Reference to Water Quality Indices.” Applied Water Sci 6, 107-113 (2016).

Karar (2010) “Impact of Pilgrim Tourism at Haridwar.” Anthropologist, 12(2): 99-105 (2010).

Maheshwari, Singh (2009) “Psychological well-being and pilgrimage: Religiosity, happiness and life satisfaction of Ardh-Kumbh Mela pilgrims (Kalpvasis) at Prayag India.” Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT.

Madan and Pallavi (2010) “Assessment of Noise Pollution in Haridwar City of Uttarakhand State, India During Kumbh Mela 2010 and its Impact on Human Health.” Journal of Applied and Natural Science 2(2): 293-295 (2010).

Sharma, Bhadula and B.D. Joshi (2010) “Impact of Mass Bathing on Water Quality of Ganga River During Maha Kumbh.” Nature and Science 2012;10(6): 1-5.

Sultan (2015) “Tourism, Economy and Environmental Problems of a Religious Town: A Case Study on Haridwar, Uttarakhand, India.” Lecturer, Dept. of Geography, Hiralal Majumdar College. issn- 2319-7722.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Kumbh Mela

Ardha-Kumbha Mela

Maya Devi Temple

Ganga river



Makar Sakranti

Maha Shivratri

Ram Navmi


Buddha Poornima

Ganga Saptami

Kanwar Mela

Somwati Amavasya


Durga Puja

Kartik Poornima

Noteworthy Websites related to the Topic,_Lumbini

This article was written by: Teneal Laturnus (Spring 2020), who is entirely responsible for its content. 

Queen Kunti

Kunti was the daughter of Sura, who was also the father of Vasudeva. Kunti at birth was named Prtha. She was described as very beautiful, religious, kind-hearted and a responsible young lady (Bhawalkar 158).  Kunti is better known as the mother of the five Pandavas from the Mahabharata, and the wife of king Pandu. She was also addressed as Lord Krsna’s paternal aunt; Sura had made a promise to his childless cousin that he would give him his first-born child (Bhawalkar 158). Therefore, at a very young age, Prtha was given away to Kuntibhoja. Prtha was then known as Kunti, the daughter of Kuntibhoja from then on (Bhawalkar 158). This is regarded as Kunti’s first sacrifice, as a young child, at the age of playing with toys and dolls. She was given away without being acknowledged but rather against her own will to keep the word her father had made with his cousin.

The duties Kunti fulfilled as a daughter lead her father to trust her with the hospitality when the Brahmana named Durvasa came to visit Kuntibhoja’s palace. Durvasa gave the family an advisory that he should not be mistreated otherwise he would not stay in the palace. Kuntibhoja agreed to his terms and his daughter, Kunti, also agreed to be at the service of the great sage with her righteous behaviour (Bhawalkar 159).  Upon the service Kunti gave to Durvasa, he granted her a boon which was not available to any other human being. Kunti denied that boon he was granting her, and instead he then granted her the Atharva incantation. Upon reciting the mantra Durvasa gave her, whichever god she calls will be brought to her and grant her a son. After Kunti was given the mantra, she continuedly kept thinking about it. During these thoughts Kunti began to menstruate and felt ashamed of this. The sun started rising and as she looked at the sun, she decided she wanted to try the Atharva incantation. Instead of seeing the Sun, Kunti saw the sun as a lord, in his human form (Bhawalkar 162). Once he started speaking to Kunti, she was frightened as she was only testing out the incantation. She immediately told him to go away although the Sun said it would although, once she has been given a son. She knew that having a child before marriage would have people questioning her, about her virginity and how she went against Dharma. She asked the sun to forgive her as she was just a child, and this was a silly mistake. However, the noble Kunti was not able to persuade the Sun. The Sun told her that after her union with him she would become a virgin again; and her son would be a great and powerful hero (Bhawalkar 164). Kunti then fell onto the bed and became unconscious, she was made unconscious by the Sun’s yogic powers.

Once she gained her consciousness, she was pregnant. Her pregnancy was kept a secret in the palace between Kunti and her nurse. Her son looked just like his father, the Sun, armour on his body and gold earrings (Bhawalkar 165). Immediately after she had given birth to her son, she placed him in a basket lined with cloth to keep him warm and comfortable as she left for the river. She placed the basket with the child in it and told the baby that he was protected from the beings of the sky, earth, and heavenly beings. She trusted that the King of waters, Varuna would protect her child. She wept as she lowered the basket with her baby into the water and left from there in sorrow of leaving her child. She knew she could not go against dharma, and this was one of Kunti’s greatest sacrifices as a mother (Bhawalkar 165).

After Kunti arrived back to the palace, her father had arranged a Svayamvara for her. A Svayamvara which is the process of selecting a groom and that it did not lay restrictions on the wealth and social status of the contestant (Ganeshiah 36). Out of the thousands of kings who were at the palace for this event she chose Pandu of the Kuru family. He possessed manly attributes and came from a powerful family. While Kunti was married to Pandu, she was also a co-wife to Madri who was known worldwide for her beauty (Bhawalkar 166). Madri was jealous of Kunti as she knew that Kunti was the chief queen although Madri thought of herself as more superior and more deserving; Kunti always felt like Madri was closer to the king because of her beauty. King Pandu was given a curse as one day while hunting he shot a deer while it was copulating (Rodrigues 178). Since Pandu killed the deer while it was engaged in an act of pleasure, a shape shifting rsi cursed Pandu that he would die the next time he made love to either one of his wives (Rodrigues 178). After this curse, Pandu renounced his throne and took his wives to live in the forest leaving behind their luxurious lives. There was a voice from heaven that said Pandu’s first son would be Yudhishthira, the greatest amongst the followers of Dharma. Kunti then used the incantation given to her from Durvasa and called for the wind god, Vayu. Bhima, the child with terrific strength was born, the voices from heaven said this child would be the greatest among all powerful heroes. As a baby, there was an incident that occurred with Bhima that had astonished his parents. Kunti was startled by a tiger, which she had Bhima in her lap. She quickly got up and the child fell out of her lap, but he crushed the stones and rocks beneath him. He was a child of such force and strength. Pandu next told Kunti he wanted a very powerful son and by pleasing Lord Indra our child will hold magnificent powers. Thus, was born the undefeatable child who will destroy all enemies, Arjun (Bhawalkar 175).

With Kunti having her sons, Madri spoke to Pandu and told him that as a co-wife she could not ask Kunti but wondered if he could ask if Kunti could share progeny with Madri.  With use of Kunti’s mantra, Madri invoked the twin gods Aswins and then had twin sons. After the birth of Nakula and Sahadeva, voices from the heavens spoke that these two boys could excel in prosperity and power. There was a naming ceremony for all of the sons of Pandu, the five Pandavas. The five children were granted great powers by the gods, as they would bring grace to their race, the Kurus (Bhawalkar 177).

 During the spring month, Madri was wearing a beautiful dress, as Pandu saw her he lost control of himself. With the attempt to get intimate, as per his curse he died immediately. Madri took responsibility for being the reason of Pandus’ death and committed sati (Bhawalkar 178). Madri was the favoured wife of Pandu as he met death to douse his desire, while Madri was unable to bear children while Kunti helped her and gave the mantra Durvasa gave her to help out with childbearing. This is an example of how humble and modest Kunti was. Kunti had to bear widowhood and raise all the five sons on her own as Madri had committed sati (Bhadra 65). Kunti did not display any preferential affection towards any child but instead loved each equally.

Kunti returned to Hastinapur with her children after Pandus death. Upon arrival in Hastinapur, people began to wonder about the father of her children, many raised suspicions. Duryodhana, the oldest of the Kauravas, made a plan to burn Kunti, and her five sons alive in a palace. Duryodhana had an entire palace made of wax so every single item in the palace would burn into ashes including Kunti and her five sons. She advised her sons that this plan has been made and they conducted a secret evacuation plan. This is an example of how Kunti was a very powerful mother despite being a widow and struggling. Kunti had to live among her enemies and protect her family (Bhadra 65). Bhima had carried his mother on his shoulders out of the tunnel where they evacuated from the burning palace. After escaping they took shelter under a tree for the time being. As far as arranging brides for the Pandavas, Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas was mostly attracted to Arjuna. At the svayamvara, Draupadi’s family had heard of how the Pandavas escaped the wax palace. Kunti showered her blessings on Draupadi and all her sons.

Kunti raised many questions inside her mind in regards to her motherhood and her relation to her first born son, Karna. Karna had rejected his mother since he knew she had given him away as a baby. Kunti had to live with the guilt in her heart for many years knowing she had given away her son although, it was against her will as she did not want to go against Dharma and have a child as an unmarried woman. Kunti is a symbol of continuous suffering as a mother and a widow. Losing her child as soon as giving birth based on the fact that Dharma will not allow her to keep the child and live without questions. Kunti displayed Pativrata Dharma to the best of her abilities as Pandu’s wife. Kunti’s sacrifices from a child and into her motherhood makes her a very special individual that everyone can look up too. Some can look up to her in terms of her Pativrata Dharma, or her strength as being a widowed mother and raising five sons without discrimination of love; Kunti loved each and every son very much (Bhadra 65). She remains much of an inspiration despite all the ill luck that was thrown at her through her life.


Bhadra, Suranjana (2016) Retelling the Myth of Kunti:Saoli Mitra’s Timeless Tale. Burdwan: An interdisciplinary Journal of Literary Studies

Bhawalkar, V (2002) Eminent Women in the Mahabharata. Delhi: Sharada Publishing House

Ganeshaiah, K N (1998) Love Games that Insects Play. The evolution of Sexual Behaviours in Insects: Department of Genetics & Plant Breeding

Rodrigues, Hillary (2016) Hinduism- The Ebook: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, Ltd.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

  • Arjun
  • Bhima
  • Bhishma
  • Draupadi
  • Durvasa
  • Gandhari
  • Karna
  • Kauravas
  • Krsna
  • Madri
  • Mahabharata
  • Nakula
  • Pandavas
  • Pandu
  • Prtha
  • Sahadeva
  • Vasudeva
  • Yudhisthra

Noteworthy Websites Related to Topic

Article written by: Amisha Kumar (March 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.

Faxien (FA-Hsien): Chinese traveller

Shi Faxian wrote a detailed record of his travels from the years 399-418 C.E. after noticing that the Vinaya-Pitaka, a collection of Buddhist scripture, was unfinished, particularly, the Vinaya concerning monastic rules and precepts (Li, 157). Without this knowledge, those who wished to renounce and live religious life according to the Buddha’s teaching did not have the resources to do so. A completed Vinaya would provide monks or bhiksus with rules, daily activities and bhiksus ordination ceremonies. Faxian’s travels documented these rituals at the historical time that they happened. Through the culture and customs of the people he met. His major work is the translation of the Maha-samghika-Vinaya with the help of Buddhabhadra along with the recovery of the Sanskrit text Mahisasaka-Vinaya. Several pieces of his work appear in the collections of the Tripitaka (Li, 159).

Faxian was originally named Kung but was sent to the Buddhist order at the age of three. There, he was given the religious name of Fa-hsien meaning, “Law Manifest” (Fa-hsien, 7). Fa-hsien departed from Chang-an in the year 399 C.E. at the age of sixty-five. The list of places he visited is numerous, starting from dangerous deserts to powerful kingdoms to a three-year long return voyage. He crossed deserts, the Pamir Plateau, travelled through North, Central and East India, then sailed across the Indian Ocean and the China sea, landed at Laoshan and reached Chienkang in 413 C.E. (Fa-hsien, 7). By the time he returned to China he was seventy-four years old. Before his travels, Chinese monks had yet to travel further than North India. When Fa-hsien arrived in North India, sutras were passed down orally which convinced Fa-hsien to press further into India in pursuit of monastic rules that Chinese monks deeply needed. These monastic rules are one of three main parts of the Tripitaka. The Sutra-Pitaka, contains the sayings of Buddha and his main disciples, the Vinaya-Pitaka contains Monastic rules and the Abhidharma-pikaka is known as the Basket of Commentaries (Fa-hsien, 15).

Fa-hsien’s first stop travelling west was the country of King Ju Tan where he would stay for his first summer retreat. It was a Buddhist custom for monks to take the summer or rainy days off. From there Fa-hsien would travel to Tunhaung after his summer retreat through a desert that was known to have evil spirits and hot winds that killed every man who encountered them. It was described to have skeletons of those who perished there to mark the way (Fa-hsien, 16). He visited the Country of Shenshen and Agni. Both Kings in these countries embraced Buddhism and had four thousand monks from the Hinayana School. Agni held monks who held traditions far more strictly than Shenshen and who prohibited Chinese Monks (Fa-hsien, 17). The Country of Khotan was largely prosperous and hospitable. Here they witnessed the image procession. Travelling to Khalacha, Fa-hsien witnessed the five-year assembly, a time in which the king presents offerings to monks. From Khalacha, the group journeyed west to North India where they crossed the Pamirs. (Fa-hsien, 18-22).

They arrived in Udyana, the northernmost part of India and found all the inhabitants to speak the language of Central India. Here it was rumoured that Buddha came to this country when he visited North India. After a summer retreat they travelled south to Suvastu, it is said that the king tested Buddha by transforming into a hawk and a dove. To ransom for the dove the Buddha cut off a piece of his flesh for the hawk (Fa-hsien, 26). Travelling East, the places they visited had many claims to former actions of the Buddha. He gave up his body for alms, his eyes in Gandhara and head in Takshasila. Travelling south the group eventually reached the city of Hilo where there was built a temple for Buddha’s skull. Here, the king worried about security assigned eight men of noble families each with a seal to seal up the relic. Every morning they would check to see if the seals were broken or tampered with. Fa-hsien would go on to lose a companion to the cold of the Lesser Snow Mountains (Fa-hsien, 28-34). Eventually, they reached Central India, also known as the Middle Kingdom. It is here that Fa-hsien would acquire the Maha-samghika-Vinaya. He also obtained the Sarvastivada-Vinaya (Li, 202).

Having arrived in Central India, they arrived at a country called Samkasya where Buddha descended from the Trayastrimsas Heaven after preaching the Law to his mother for three months. To the southeast, Kanyakubja was a city in which the Buddha taught the law to his disciples. Further on, the Country of Vaisakha where the Buddha planted a willow twig that he used to clean his teeth with. Heretical Brahmans would cut it down, but it would spring up in the same place as before. Northward to the City of Sravasti was a city that was scarcely populated. Southeast from here laid the city of Kapilavastu and the garden of Lumbini. Here, the Krakuchchanda Buddha was born while in the garden of Lumbini, the queen bathed in a pool. When she emerged she gave birth to a son who would be bathed by two dragon-kings. A well was made there where the monks would usually drink from. (Fa-hsien, 49). East of this is the country of Ramagrama, known for its relics. Further east they reached the city of Kushinagara, where the Buddha was said to have entered Nirvana. East, they reached the country of Vaisali, north of which is the storeyed Monastery where the Buddha lived. Eventually, they reached the country of Magadha and the city of Pataliputra which was King Asoka’s capital (Fa-hsien, 50-58). King Asoka (272-232 B.C.E.) was king during Buddhism’s spread to Asia. Heading west they arrived at the new city of Rajagriha which was mentioned to only have two monasteries (Fa-hsien, 62). Passing through the Gridhrakuta Mountain, where the Buddha used to sit in meditation at the summit, they reached the city of Gaya. This city, unfortunately, was deserted. Fa-hsien returned to Pataliputra and travelled west to reach the city of Varanasi, a short distance away to the deer park where Pratyka Buddha entered Nirvana. Fa-hsien ended his journey in central India in the country of Tamralipti where he spent three years on a voyage to Chang-an (Fa-hsien, 63-72).

Fa-hsien’s main purpose in travelling west was to obtain monastic rules in India. He travelled to India during the reign of King Chandragupta II. His account of his travels, the Record of Buddhist Countries is the earliest account of information that we have of this era besides a few coins and sculptures (Fa-hsien, 9). The places that he names are of great interest to those studying the trade routes between China and the west. One of the earliest cultural interactions noted during his time in Shenshen, was that the monks residing there all practised the religion of India, but some observed it more strictly than others. This was how it was visiting countries to the west. It was only the language that differed from country to country. One of the earliest recordings of a cultural event was the record of the image procession in the country of Khotan. The image procession has a resemblance to that of a parade. It begins on the first day of the fourth month with the cleaning of the streets. The monks that the king has favour (during this time it was the monks of Gomati Monastery) would prepare a four-wheel image car three li from the city. This image was adorned with precious substances such as gold, silver, lapis-lazuli etc. Buddha’s image would stand at the centre of the car attended by two Bodhisattvas while divas of gold, silver or carved jade are suspended in the air. When the car approached the city, the king would take off his crown and change into clean clothes. Then, carrying flowers would burn incense before them. There is a different car for each ceremonial and each monastery had one day to parade its images (Fa-hsien, 19).

During Fa-hsien’s time in Central India, he was able to acquire a copy of the Maha-samghika-Vinaya. The translation of this text would be his major contribution to Chinese Buddhism and the understanding of monastic rules. It was the most extensive and complete text of the Vinaya (Li, 202). First arriving in Central India he took the time to describe the environment. The customs of the region were that people were rich and contented and unaffected by any poll-tax or official restrictions. Only those who farmed on the land owned by the king would pay a land tax and they were completely free to go and come as they pleased. The king governed without resorting to capital punishment, but criminals were punished via fines according to their crimes. Those who committed high treason (a crime of the highest degree) would have their right hand cut off. The residents of this country did not kill living creatures, drink wine or eat onion or garlic. Although those with the title of, “chandalas” or “evil men” did. Chandalas would enter the town by announcing their presence by hitting a piece of wood. These people held the occupation of fishermen or hunters. The monks were lavishly treated by the king and devoted themselves to reciting scriptures or sitting in meditation. When a travelling monk arrived, they carried their robe and alms-bowl (Fa-hsien, 36).

Faxian’s records of his travels have undoubtedly played a key part in introducing a further understanding of Buddhism and Hinduism to the Chinese culture. From a country rich in Buddhists and poor in monastic understanding, it would be Faxian who would venture out further than North India into Central India where he would obtain and translate the Maha-samghika-Vinaya and bring back the Sanskirt text of Mahisasaka-Vinaya as well as numerous other Vinaya texts unknown to China. His journey was, therefore, a huge success. The list of counties that he travelled to were extensive and each country had its own story to tell. In the Northern parts of India, the countries all practiced religion but in different languages. Central India came with stories and claims of the Buddha’s travels through Central India. All of these can be considered to get a glimpse of what life was like in the fifth century.


Waugh, Daniel (1999) “The Journey of Faxian to India.” The University of Washington. Accessed January 29, 2020.

Li, J., and Dalia A. A. (2002) Lives of great monks and nuns. Berkeley: Calif. Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research.

Fa-hsien., and Li Yung-hsi (1957) A Record of the Buddhist Countries. Peking: Chinese Buddhist Association.

Related Topics for Further Investigation.


Monastic rule







Central India

Middle Kingdom

Buddhism in China



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic.

Article written by: Bennett Kubitz (February 2020), who is solely responsible for its content.

The Tirupati Temple

The Tirupati Temple is the richest Hindu temple in India. It is said to be among the wealthiest religious institution in the world only second to the Vatican (Sinopoli 165). The temple is located in the seven hills of Tirumala; this is primarily why the deity that resides on this hill, Sri Venkatesvara, is nicknamed “the God of Seven Hills.” The seven hills are believed to be a symbol of the seven hoods of the serpent deity, Adisesa. The Tirupati temple is said to be the most sacred place for all Hindus, and attracts the largest number of visitors of any temple in India (Harinarayana 76). Around the hills there are four streamlets that are believed to be sacred waters. These waters form a reservoir and provide for the needs of those who live in Tirumala. Early on, the Tirupati Temple was relatively difficult to visit. The location was not made for easy mobility being nestled in the middle of abundant forest at an elevation of approximately 1000m above sea level (Narayanan 2018). The forest was much denser a century ago than it is today. This is because of the poor care and inhabitants of the village making room for living space.  It was not until later development that integrated paths and other facilities were built that allowed for ease to travelers. Hundreds of buses, cars and a variety of other motor vehicles travel these roads each day. In a given day, approximately 50,000 to 100,000 people enter the temple grounds to achieve a glimpse of the glory of the temple and experience the God of the Seven Hills (Reddy 20).

Tirumala was most famous for its glory in a period of 200 years between the fourteenth and sixteenth century. Many pilgrims from South India traveled long distances to worship the deity. Between 1940 and 1975, there was a boom in infrastructure around the Tirupati Temple. People began to build hotels, housing, shops and bus stations to accommodate the pilgrims. There is a queue system that has been implemented and that is consistently being improved at the Tirupati Temple to make worship easier for the many devotees that travel to the location in the far-away hills (Reddy 24).

Venkatesvara is said to be a manifestation of Visnu that resides in the temple. Temples dedicated to this deity have also been built in many other countries including the United States, Canada and Australia. Venkatesvara is very distinctive in his representation. Statues in temples are always depicted in standing posture, at roughly 5 to 7 feet tall, which is contrast to Visnu who is most often portrayed in a seated position. He carries a conch on his left shoulder and on his right he carries a wheel, similar to many other representations of Visnu. He may also be seen with his left arm pointed straight down with his left hand curving slightly inward. This is a hand gesture (mudra) intended to summon his devotees to come and follow him. The right hand is shown by a flattened palm, facing the devotee with fingers pointing to the ground. This gesture is known to be “favor giving” and is called varadamudra. The intention behind this mudra is to indicate the desire to provide his devotees with anything and all that they yearn for.

Venkatesvara can also often be seen with a thick white forehead marking called “namam” in the shape of a V. This marking is said to cover his eyes to shield those from the intensity and strength of his gaze. Many devotees travel to Tirupati just to see and be seen by this mysterious and powerful gaze. While Venkatesvara is connected to Visnu, he also carries presence of Laksmi as well. This is symbolized by two garlands of flowers that hang around his chest with her image placed on the inside on top of his heart. Her name is also encrypted on the right side of his chest.

Because of the growth in belief of Sri Venkatesvara throughout history, the temple began to earn more abundant offerings given by the devotees. These usually were offered in the forms of cash and gold (Harinarayana 76). Beginning around the 10th century there are recorded donations of land and jewelry as well to the lord of the hills. Another popular gift given to the god of the hills is that of hair (mundana). This stems from a well-known tale about Sri Venkatesvara, that tells about his experience “falling into a debt trap in order to make a dowry for his marriage with a local girl named Padmavati in Tirupati” (Kumar 235). Many devotees believe that he continues to pay this dowry in interest, and in the donation of their hair they help to pay for some of that interest on his behalf. Because of this, he has been nicknamed “a deity who lives on the interest paid by devotees.”

The ways of prayer that are practiced in Hindu temples ordinarily include offerings of flowers, coconuts, cash, or gold. These items are offered to the gods so that one may stand before them to worship for a few seconds or minutes depending on the crowd. In the Tirupati Temple there are 5 sacred performances practiced to honor Sri Venkatesvara: the Nityotsavams, the Vaarotsavams, the Maasotsavams, the Pakshotsavams, and the Samvatsarotsavams. All together these are named Utsavams. These religious performances are all distinguished by the increments in which they are performed. Nityotsavams are performed daily, Pakshotsavams are once in a fortnite, Maasotsavams are once a month, Samvatsarotsavams are once a year, and the Vaarotsavams are performed only on specific days of the week (Reddy 105). There are also rules and regulations in which each ritual must be performed, these are known as agamas. All sacred performances done to worship lord Venkatesvara must align with the rules specified by the Vaikhanasa Agama.

Daily morning practice at the Tirupati Temple begins with worship at 2 am, when the deity is woken with offerings of sugar, milk and butter. Within an hour following this, the cleaning and bathing ritual (tomala seva) is performed and is concluded with koluvu, which translates to “holding the court”. While verses from Sanskrit and Telugu hymns are performed and read, it is important for the pilgrims to inform the deity of his many incomes. There are three types of daily worship that Sri Venkatesvara receives. These include, reciting the 1,000 names (sahasranama arcana) and two separate types of praise (archana). Only the priest carries out the duty of reciting Venkatesvara’s 1000 names, followed by the second archana that includes the reciting of 108 names of Venkatesvara from the Vardha Puran. This is concluded with worship participated in by the devotees and Sri Venkatesvara is put to rest in the evening with a ritual called ekanta seva (Kumar 237).

While the week is already hectic with the many consistent daily rituals (nityotsavams) that are practiced, there is also other sacred practices throughout the week that takes place. Special worship is held on Mondays, 108 golden lotuses worship on Tuesdays and the bathing of Venketvara with the pouring of thousands of pots of water is on Wednesday. On Thursdays food and flowers are generally offered, and on Fridays new clothes and baths are given. While each of these rituals take place, there is a reciting of Tamil and Sanskrit verses in the inner walls of the temple. Outside the temple walls Telugu verses of Annamayya are read instead.

            A large portion of the political and social identity of the Tirupati Temple can be tied back to craft producers during the Vijayanagara period. There are detailed inscriptions found in Tirupati on the temple walls that are directly related to these craft producers. Much of the wealth also comes from the abundance of royal and elite patronage that is prominent in the history of the temple (Sinopoli 165). The crafts people referred to are often land-owners, temple donors, officials, poets and bards. These groups likely were tied to royal households and inherited considerable amounts of wealth. Inscriptions prove that large amounts of gold coins were often donated to the temple treasury and intended to fund temple festivals (Sinopoli 167).

Often temple offerings were also distributed to local artisans, to ensure the growth and prosperity of the people. As the status and importance of the temple began to rise, rulers began to provide endowments to support these rural activities. The support of agriculture became much more important with the rise in pilgrims visiting the temple and wishing to provide offerings of food and requiring accommodation for their stay. The state had a major hand in the distribution of funds and prioritized the wealth to increase irrigation works which in turn allowed for a growth of villages in the surrounding area. Much of these villages were also declared tax free by the state, in lieu of the provision of food offers specified for particular festivals (Stein 180).

            Currently, technological advancements continue to open up opportunities and advancement in the Tirupati Temple. It was not until recently that temples have begun to utilize the use of technology to ensure simplicity in administration and meet the needs of pilgrims (Venkatesh and Pushkala 39). The Tirupati Temple normally operates for approximately 20 hours a day, and reduces hours for certain rituals. Because Tirupati sees as many as 100,000 people within a day, organization of the crowds is imperative to the safety and satisfaction of pilgrims. To ensure these things, Tirumala Tirupati Devasathanam (TTD) introduced new IT solutions such as the installation of over 700 CCTV cameras and the implementation of biometrics for queue management in order to reduce wait times by allocating time slots for pilgrims. By introducing key technological features Tirupati has emerged as a role model for other municipalities in the country (Venkatesh and Pushkala 41). Though there have been many changes and advancements to the Tirupati Temple throughout the years, the richness of the culture and celebration of the history will always remain consistent.


Harinarayana, T.  (2014) “Efficient way of Darshan of the Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati/Tirupati Balaji Temple.” Journal of Business Management & Social Sciences Research 3, no. 2 p. 76-81.

Kumar, P. Pratap (2013) Contemporary Hinduism. Durham: Acumen.

Narayanan, Vasudha (2018) “Venkatesvara” in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online

Reddy, Vembuluru Narayana (1987)“Sacred Complex of Tirumala Tirupati – An Anthropological Study.” Sri Venkateswara University p. 20-105.

Sinopoli, Carla (2008) “Identity and Social Action among South Indian Craft Producers of the Vijayanagara Period.” Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association. Volume 8, Issue 1, p.161-171.

Stein, Burton (1984)  “The State, the Temple and Agricultural Development.” All the Kings Mana: Papers in medieval South Indian History, Madras p.179-181.

Venkatesh, K. A., & Pushkala, N. (2018) “Digital entrepreneurship: the technology deployment in internationalization speed in the digital entrepreneurship era and opportunities-Tirumala Tirupati Devasathanam (TTD).” International Journal on Recent Trends in Business and Tourism2(4), p.39-42.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Vijayanagara period

Tomala seva




Vaikhanasa Agama

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic,_Tirumala (Film Documentary)–121-28651.html

Article written by: Grace Krause (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Pustimarg in the Bhakti Movement

The Bhakti Movement is a Hindu movement of devotional worship that took place between the 9th and 17th centuries. Bhaktiwas initially elaborated upon in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu text, prior to the first century (Novetzke 257). During this time, the doctrine’s attitude towards ritual worship deviated from that which was upheld in Hindu orthodoxy and worked to undermine the religious authority of the priestly Brahmin class. It was not until India had undergone a period of great sociopolitical and economic reformation that the philosophy of bhakti grew in popularity and spread throughout the Indian subcontinent. The Bhakti Movement is a movement tied not only to religion, but to Indian culture as a whole. Today, the movement is largely discussed in terms of the literature produced during this time, known as bhakti poetry. The general message of loving devotion that is expressed in this poetry reflects the experiences of common people in their culture and society (Pandey 129). While the poetry is an integral component in the history of the Bhakti Movement, the social world that foreshadowed the revival of bhakti must not be ignored.

The wide acceptance of bhakti is complex involving a web of interconnections between the religious, economic, and political spheres of India’s culture, and the social stratification that occurred during the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526 CE). Changes in each realm of society contributed to the escalation of discomfort with Indian life, ultimately leading to the proliferation of bhakti. The Delhi Sultanate was an Islamic Empire, characterized by Muslim conquest of India that unified the subcontinent under a single sovereign state. This political reformation triggered civil conflict among feudal lords and intensified marginalization of Indian workers and common people. The increasing discontentment with Indian life eventually worked to undermine the authority of the Sultanate, and by the declining years of the Empire, many small feudal states asserted independence from Delhi (Pande 215). The economic sphere of India was arguably where the most change occurred, producing an economy that was infinitely superior to the previous. Changes such as improvement in technology, expansion in towns, and advancements of craft production and commerce called for a surplus of merchant and artisan workers. The high demand for workers belonging to the Vaisya class allowed these people to benefit  in terms of wealth and power; however, the social rigidity of the Hindu caste system remained unchanged. Therefore, the Sultanate created a social stratification in which the most wealthy and economically powerful members of society were excluded from the uppermost religious echelons (Pande 216). The social sphere was characterized by oppression of lower caste individuals, known as Candalas, or ‘untouchables’ (Pande 216). Attitudes embedded in orthodox Brahminism, which held supreme religious authority at the time, allowed this social oppression to flourish. Prior to the reign of the Sultanate, orthodoxy held that the Brahminclass were the only people to receive education of the Vedas, as well as lessons in reading and writing Sanskrit. Because Hindu ritual worship required recitation of the Vedas, the Brahmins were able to monopolize the religious sphere in India and thus maintain their status quo (Pande 216). The Candalas were completely excluded from their culture’s religion, as orthodox Brahminism regarded them as ritually impure and deemed them incapable of achieving spiritual liberation. The synthesis of civilizations resulted in the accumulation of social unease across the castes, and bhakti provided these marginalized members of society with a liberative platform to let their voices be heard.

The Bhakti Movement gave rise to a number of bhakti sects. To provide a more comprehensive illustration of bhakti ideology and the movement’s ties to a transitional society, this article will focus on one community in particular, the Pustimarg. The Pustimarg, or “Path of Grace”, is a Krsnaite devotional community that sustains a philosophical system of Pure Non-Dualism, suddhadvaita (Saha 302). This school centralizes devotion to Krsna, the Hindu deity of love and compassion, as the means to salvation (Saha 307). Vallabhacarya, also known as Vallabha, is identified as the founder of the Pustimarg, establishing the school in the 16th century (Saha 299). Vallabha lived through the chaos of the Sultanate’s disintegration and rise of the Mughal Empire (Saha 302). According to Vallabha, he received a message from Krsna to administer the brahmasambandha-mantra (Saha 303). This mantra became key to the Pustimarg as its administration acted as an initiation to one’s pursuit of a devotional life on the path of grace. Evidence of the Pustimarg institutionalization as a response to the pandemonium in India can be found in the Srikrsnasryah, a written account by Vallabha. His work also provides possible evidence for how the fall of the Delhi Sultanate and rise of Mughal Empire influenced the trajectory of his travels (Saha 305).

Vallabha travelled around India and spread his philosophy in various cities. There are many reasons to account for the great success and acceptance of the Pustimarg. One reason may be the fact that his philosophy was not of a radical nature for its time. Certain similarities have been identified between Vallabha’s philosophy and the Bhagavad Gita, pointing to the Pustimarg’s possible inspiration (Saha 304). Another factor may be due to the target areas where Vallabha travelled. It seems as if he travelled to target areas where patronage of Hindu institutions was weakest and social instability was greatest (Saha 306). The Pustimarg also outlined a means of salvation that transcended the class system and was accessible to everyone, contrary to traditional Hinduism, which requires a Brahmin priest to perform any religious worship to the deities. It also emphasized the compatibility between pursuit of worldly duties, such as pursuit of wealth, so long as one channels it towards the cultivation of a “single-minded devotion to Krsna” (Saha 307). For this reason, the Pustimarg carried a message that resonated most deeply with the dominant Baniyacommunity (Saha 312). The Baniyas were a Gujarati mercantile community who, due to the Sultanate Empire, served as the economic backbone of society (Saha 307). This period was particularly unsettling for the merchants of society as their livelihoods were dependent upon social, political, and economic stability, making any form of social conflict detrimental to their survival (Saha 308).  Vallabha’s ability to appeal to the dominant wealthy class is fundamental to the Pustimarg success as it provided financial support to guarantee material and physical well-being of this particular Bhakti community (Saha 310). Vallabha also appealed to the marginalized members of lower classes, offering these oppressed people of society a sense of community and freedom to worship. While the Path of Grace transcended the caste restrictions in a religious sense, it still upheld the varnasramadharma system in a social sense.

As mentioned previously in this paper, the Bhakti Movement is largely interpreted as a literary movement in which poet-saints of lower ranking castes transcended the limitations preserved by the orthodox Hindu notion of ‘Brahminhood’ and were able to speak on the sociopolitical oppression engrained in Indian culture. In turn, the poetry and songs of bhakti devotion worked to spread the idea that a reform of social democracy was in order. It was the preaching of these devotional songs that unified the marginalized members of society and gave shape to the idea of an egalitarian society (Pande 218). In the past, education was limited to Hindus belonging to the Brahmin class. This class alone understood Sanskrit and thus held religious authority to perform Vedic rituals and rites. The steady increase of cultural awareness brought about by the Bhakti Movement triggered a linguistic reform in which several vernacular languages were developed, reducing the power held by the hierarchy. For the first time, the gap was bridged between Sanskrit and common everyday language. Although expression varies, the general theme of bhakti poetry is distinguished by its expression of rebellion against the feudal-system and priests and themes of love and devotion (Pandey 206). A contributing factor to the success of this poetry is that their stories are “born out of the idealized tradition of Sanskrit poets and are popular takes on public life” (Pandey 135).

It is clear that the Bhakti Movement marks a period of great transition in nearly all realms of society. However, it would be incorrect to assert that bhakti is a socially progressive philosophy. As discussed in the sections above, the accumulating discontent across the Ksatriya, Vaisya, Sudra, and Candala castes called for an egalitarian reform, and the Bhakti Movementwas the answer. Despite the movement’s considerable success in democratizing the caste-bound religious limitations, the austerity of the varnasramadharma system in India is still prevalent today. Why did such a widely accepted and powerful movement fail to effect social change? The answer to this question may be tied to the ambiguity of the word ‘Brahmin’ as it appears in bhakti poetry (Burchett 130). In subtle ways, the poems and songs of bhakti saints actually reinforce the social hierarchy and preserve the notion that Brahmins possess “a social identity of higher purity and value than any other” (Burchette 116-117).  In a social context, ‘Brahmin’ refers the identity of the class that one is born into. In a spiritual context, the members of this class, ‘the Brahmins’ are identified as the spiritual ideal. The poet-saints work to break down the notion that ‘Brahminhood’, pure spiritual conduct, is not a function of caste but rather a mindset of devotion; however, ‘the Brahmin’ is still regarded to as the spiritual ideal in these texts (Burchette 130). In this light, bhakti can be seen to emphasize the inherit inferiority and superiority of the classes. The Bhakti Movement’s impact on society is not so much radical changes but rather modest modifications. These small adjustments helped to reduce ridged caste attitudes and make norms more flexible, but at the same time they made those norms and attitudes more durable (Burchette 126).

The Bhakti Movement was influenced by several interconnected elements of India’s sociopolitical and economic climate throughout the 20th century. By tracing the history of Vallabha’s Pustimarg community, it is clear to see the reasons behind this philosophy’s appeal and the significant ties to the period when it flourished. Devotional worship to Krsna granted civilians a sense of security and control during a period of great social unease and strife. The works left behind from the poet-saints provide evidence for the Bhakti Movement as a call for an egalitarian and democratic reformation in the social world. However, because the Hindu class system and religious system are inextricably linked through the notion of Brahminhood, the movement only resulted in relief from caste distinctions in the religious sphere. Nonetheless, by democratizing worship and offering a path to liberation that was fit for the householder’s life, bhakti revolutionized Hinduism as it is known and practiced today.


Burchett, Patton. (2009) “Rhetoric in the Hagiography of ‘Untouchable’ Saints: Discerning Bhakti’s Ambivalence on Caste and Brahminhood.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 13: 115-141. Accessed February 2, 2020.

Latif, Shaikh A. (1993) “The Indian Elements in the Bureaucracy of the Delhi Sultanate.” Proceeding of the Indian History Congress 54: 158-162. Accessed February 2, 2020.

Pande, Rekha. (1987) “The Bhakti Movement -An Interpretation.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 48: 214-221. Accessed January 29, 2020.

Pandey, Manager, and Tyagi, Alka. (2001) “Bhakti Poetry: Its Relevance and Significance.” Indian Literature 45: 129-138. Accessed February 1, 2020.

Saha, Shandip. (2006) “A Community of Grace: The Social and Theological World of the Pusti Marga vrata Literature.” Bulletin of School of Oriental and African Studies 69: 225-242. Accessed February 2, 2020.

—. (2007) “The Movement of Bhakti along a North-West Axis: Tracing the History of the Pustimarg between the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 11: 299-318. Accessed January 29, 2020.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Delhi Sultanate

Mughal Empire


Baniya Community




Hindu Caste System

Bhakti Poetry

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Josi Koerber (February 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.


Agehananda Bharati said that if you were to ask any Hindu which city they regarded as the holiest in India, they would not hesitate to name Banaras, just as a Muslim would not hesitiate to name Mecca (Hertel & Humes 1). Banaras is a very sacred Hindu city in Northern India which is dedicated to Siva, who in Hindu literature is responsible for the creation of the world, along with the other gods Visnu and Brahma (Bedi & Keay 1). Humans have inhabited Banaras since 1000 BCE, making it one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world (Singh & Rana 31). Banaras is located on the bank of the Ganges river which itself is considered to be the holiest of India’s rivers. There are over a million people tightly packed into the city and the buildings stand in such close proximity that there is barely even any room for the sun to shine (Bed & Keay 1). There are many reasons why Banaras is such a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists alike. Some prominent attractions include the Ganges river, the abundance of temples and lingas, and the belief that 330 million deities dwell in the city (Hertel & Humes 1). Although Banaras is revered for these things, it is important to note that it is the city of Banaras itself, which is said to predate even the gods, that renders the city sacred, not what is found within it (Hertel & Humes 1). Throughout history, Banaras has also been known also as Kasi (“The City of Light”), Avimukta (“The Never Forsaken”), and Varanasi.

            Mythological sources state that Varanasi had been an Aryan settlement since the post-Vedic period (around 1500 BCE) (Singh & Rana 31). By the 2nd millennium BCE, Varanasi was not only known as a place of learning, but it was also famous for its industrial centre which manufactured fabrics, perfumes, sculptures, and more (Varanasi 2020). Kasiis the name of a Northern Indian Kingdom that Varanasi was the capital of during the 6th century BCE, which is when Buddha gave his first sermon nearby at Sarnath (Eck 2005: 778). During the three century long Muslim occupation beginning in 1194, Varanasi declined and many of the Hindu temples were subsequently destroyed (Varanasi 2020). Then under British rule in the 18th century, Varanasi became an independent kingdom (Varanasi 2020). For centuries Banaras was a forest which stretched beyond the urban centre or the “city”, and until the 12th century, the heart of modern-day urban Banaras was all forest with temples and shrines scattered throughout (Eck 2005: 778). The modern-day city is still considered a centre of Hindu learning as it was throughout the previous decades. There are many Brahmin scholars (pandits) who continue traditional learning, and the city has three universities, including the well-known Banaras Hindu University (Varanasi 2020). Banaras lacks authentic ancient buildings due to many of them having been destroyed over the years, namely during the Muslim period. These destroyed Hindu temples have been rebuilt multiple times – for example the Vishvanatha (Golden) Temple, one of the most famous temples dedicated to Siva, has been rebuilt 3 times. In fact most of the impressive places of worship in Banaras actually are Muslim mosques (Bedi & Keay 13).

The mythology of Banaras which describes Siva’s connection to the city, according to most texts, is that Banaras is where Siva’s pillar of light broke through the earth and pierced the sky, which gives rise to the name Kasi(“The City of Light”) (Eck 2005: 778). Another Hindu myth describes how Siva populated the city of Banaras with the whole pantheon of gods (Eck 2005: 779). The story describes how Siva wanted to settle in the city with his wife Paravati, so he sent down gods one-by-one to overthrow the king, but they all lost and yet were so infatuated with the city they stayed there. So, when Siva finally overthrew the king with the help of Visnu, all the gods including himself chose to inhabit the city permanently (Eck 2005: 779).  Hindus believe that Siva lives in Banaras and protects it, and it is common for Banarsis to believe that Siva dwells in everything in the city, even the pebbles: “Kashi ke Kankara Shiva Shankara” (the very pebbles of Kasi are Siva) (Singh & Rana 30). It is also believed that those who live in Banaras are themselves a form of Siva (Singh & Rana 30). All over India Siva is worshipped in the form of lingas which are said to guide Hindus to nirvana (Bedi & Keay 6) .Yet in Banaras, the city itself is sometimes seen as one big linga because of Siva’s pillar of light (Bedi & Keay 6). Banaras is said to possess 100,000 lingas, andmany of them have been carefully described and enumerated (Bedi & Keay 6).

The city is also known as Avimukta because in the puranic literature Sivasaid “Because I never forsake it, nor let it go, this great place is therefore known as Avimukta (‘never forsaken’) (Singh & Rana 29). This name comes from the myths that the city was never abandoned, by humans and deities alike, even during cosmic dissolution (Singh & Rana 29). Many Hindus who were born in Banaras will identify as a Banarsi even if they had long since moved away (Hertel & Humes 1). Pilgrim’s who have visited the city once have been known to identify themselves as a citizen of the city, saying that they feel settled elsewhere (Hertel & Humes 1).

            The Ganges river has a strong personal connection with Banaras due to the fact that it is said to have “fallen from heaven upon the head of Lord Siva, who tamed the goddess-river in his tangled ascetic’s hair before setting her loose to flow upon the plains of North India” (Eck 2005: 778). Hindus believe that the Ganga river purifies everything it touches (Peterson 3274), and in Banaras the smaller rivers called the Varanaand Asi merge with the Ganges, giving rise to the name Varanasi; there are also many kunds (sacred ponds) in the city (Hertel & Humes 3). The great stone steps are known as ghats which lead pilgrims from the city to the river to bathe, and on an auspicious day as many as 30,000 pilgrims may be up at dawn attempting to bathe in the Ganga (Bedi & Keay 7). Bathing in the Ganges in Banaras is said to be especially auspicious due to the fact that the water touches the bank of the holy city (Hertel & Humes 3).

Banaras welcomes more than a million pilgrims each year who go to experience a full range of rituals that are associated with daily, annual, and life cycles (Hertel & Humes 3). The Nitya Yatrais the daily pilgrimage which many devout Hindus perform, beginning with bathing in the Ganga in the morning, followed by worship at various temples (Singh & Rana 55). There is also a weekly pilgrimage, the Vara Yatra, and a monthly pilgrimage, the Masika Yatra, and a seasonal pilgrimage, the Ritu Yatra, and many more that range in duration and intensity (Singh & Rana 55). The most prominent rituals which take place in Banaras are the death rituals.

The Ganga in Banaras at Dawn

            “Kashyam maranam muktih” – ‘Death in Kashi is liberation’ (Eck 1983: 325). Banaras is known to be an auspicious place to die, making death rituals very prominent in the city. Many elderly Hindus go to Banaras to die in special hospitals because it is believed that by doing so, they will receive the blessing from Siva which he gives to all who die in the sacred city (Hertel & Humes 3). According to most texts it is not death itself that grants liberation, instead it is Siva who whispers in the ear of the deceased the taraka mantra, which tells the secret of enlightenment (Bedi & Keay 12). This secret enables the newly deceased to cross over the waters of samsara to the far shore of nirvana, which is also why Banaras is known as a tirtha, or a crossing place (Bedi & Keay 12).There are two cremation ghats in Banaras, the Manikarnika and Harishchandra. Manikarnikais the more popular of the two, known as the sanctuary of death, which is at the centre of the city along the riverfront where the cremation fires are eternally burning (Eck 1983: 324). Hindus believe that the deceased will remain in heaven for as long as their ashes are kept pure in the Ganges river (Parry 24). The fact that the cremation ghats are within the city of Banaras differs from the rest of India where the cremation grounds are outside of city limits as it is seen as polluting, whereas dying and being cremated in Banaras is seen as a blessing (Eck 1983: 4). In these cremation ghats, more than 38,000 deceased Hindus are cremated per year (Singh & Rana 30). After the corpses are cremated, it is said that it takes twelve days for a soul to reach the distant shore of nirvana, which is an anxious time for the deceased family full of prayer with their Brahmin priest (Bedi & Keay 13).

Cremation Ground in Banaras

            The city of Banaras is known as the holiest city in India for a multitude of reasons. The mythology which describes Siva’s connection to the city and the rich history of the city itself shows that Banaras is an old and sacred place. Between the pantheon of gods who reside within, the bathing ghats at the Ganges river, and the temples and lingas, Banaras is a key destination for pilgrims. The rituals associated with daily, annual, and life cycles attract pilgrims and tourists alike to observe and partake in, notably the death rituals. Hindus flock from all over India to die in this city so at their time of death they will be instructed by Siva on how to reach liberation, taken across the rough waters of samsara to the “far shore” of nirvana.


Bedi, R., & Keay, J (1987) Banaras, city of shiva. New Delhi: Brijbasi Printers Private Limited.

Eck, Diana L. (2005)  “Banaras.” Encyclopedia of Religion 2:778-779. Accessed January 28, 2020.

Eck, Diana L. (1983). Banaras: City of light. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Hertel, B. R., Humes, C. A., & Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (1998) Living banaras: Hindu religion in cultural context. New Delhi: Manohar.

Parry, J. P (1994) Death in banaras. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Peterson, Indira Viswanathan (2005) “Ganges River.” Encyclopedia of Religion 5: 3274-3275. Accessed 1 Feb. 2020.

Singh, R. P. B., Rana, P. S., & Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute (2002) Banaras region: A spiritual & cultural guide. Varanasi, India: Indica Books.

“Varanasi”. Encyclopædia Britannica, s.v. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020. (accessed January 28, 2020)

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Ganges River


Hindu Mythology



Sacred Places

Gods and Goddesses

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Michelle Karbashewski (February 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Katha Upanisad

            The origin of the Katha Upanisad is disputed. Scholars are undecided whether this Upanisad is associated with the Yajur-Veda, the Sama-Veda or the Atharva-Veda. There is however, a story of Nichiketa (the protagonist of the Katha Upanisad) in the Brahamana of the Taittiriya Yajur-Veda, so it may be likely that the Upanisad is from the Yajur-Veda, but we do not really know(Nikhilananda 67). The Upanisad is composed in two chapters or adhyaya, each made up of three sections or vallis. It is disputed whether the first adhyaya was written well before the second, therefore negating the necessity of the second. The dispute is due to literary variances, such as metre, grammar, language, and thought (Muller, introduction xxiii). Muller goes on to say that “we know so little of the time and the circumstances when these half-prose and half-metrical Upanisads were first put together, that I should hesitate before expunging even the most modern-sounding lines from the original context of these Vedantic essays.” (Muller introduction xxiv).

            The first valli of the Upanisad tells the story of a rsi named Vajasravasa who performs a sacrifice wherein he must sacrifice all of his possessions. His son, Nichiketa, points out that as he also is property of his father he too must be sacrificed. Vajasravasa becomes angry with Nichiketa, and perhaps out of fear of losing his son, he hesitates. Nichiketa has to prompt his father three times before Vajasravasa, in order to stay true to his word and complete the ritual fully, angrily declares he will sacrifice his son to Yama, the god of death. Nichiketa travels to the abode of Yama and after three days of solitude, Yama arrives. As compensation for his waiting, Yama offers Nichiketa three wishes. The first wish is to appease his father’s anger and to return joyfully to him, the second is lifelong morality (that he can live the rest of his life morally upright) (Deussen 270), and the third is to know if there is a part of the body (Atman) that is immortal and lives after death (Nikhilananda 68). The first wish is granted easily, Yama says Vajasravasa will sleep peacefully and be free from anger (Muller 4). Yama fulfills the second wish by teaching Nichiketa a fire sacrifice and then naming the sacrifice after the boy. It is said in verse 17 of the first valli, that when one learns this sacrifice and learns “all that is born of Brahman, which is venerable and divine, then he obtains everlasting peace.” (Muller 5). For the final wish, Nichiketa has to implore Yama who admits that even the gods have doubts about death. Yama tries to entice his guest to choose wealth, prosperity, women, land or the whole earth rather than ask about death. Nichiketa persists, stating that no amount of worldly possessions compare to knowing about the eternal soul. As the god of death, Yama knows that if Nichiketa achieves liberation (moksha) he will be out of his reach, whereas if Nichiketa succumbs to the temptations, he would die and be trapped by Yama (Kath. Up. II.6).

            This is where the second valli starts, and Yama begins his teaching. He starts by differentiating between what is good and what is pleasant. Wise men pursue what is good, fools pursue what is pleasant. Evidently Nichiketa is a wise man for pursuing what is good and dismissing what is pleasant when offered. It turns out, Yama is pleased to have such a wise guest enquiring of him (Chakravarti 97). Yama articulates the existence of Atman in this single verse:

“He (the Atman), difficult to be seen, full of mystery, the ancient primeval one lying concealed deep in the cavern,- He who, with self surrender or devotion, comprehends that Atman in one’s own innermost self as God, leaves behind (goes beyond) joy and sorrow” (Deussen 283).

Atman or The Self is described as invisible and small. It is hard to obtain if taught by an “inferior man” (Muller 9). Since Nichiketa is being taught by Yama, the god of death, he is fortunate to have a skilled teacher and he successfully acquires this knowledge. The concept of ‘Om’ is then introduced by Yama. Described as meaning Brahman, and “[anyone] who knows that syllable, whatever he desires, is his.” (Muller 10). Atman is described according to its own essential nature (Deussen 272). It is eternal, uncreated, incorruptible, and immortal. One cannot attain it through the Veda, nor understanding, nor through learning. One must be chosen by the eternal Self in order to gain the eternal Self (Muller 11). There is a call to morality at the end of this valli. Yama states that in order to obtain the Self, one must turn from his wickedness, one must be tranquil, and subdued. Otherwise one cannot receive the Self even by knowledge. Action precedes reception.

            The third valli emphasizes Atman in the physical body and returning out of it (Deussen 272). In verse 3 Atman is described as a rider in a chariot, the body as the chariot itself, and the senses as the horses of the chariot. The union of these three elements forms one into an ‘enjoyer’ (Deussen 287). Because this may take place inside of an individual (as stated in valli II, one must be chosen by the Self) this has ethical implications for that individual. One must be wise and use his intelligence properly, and if he fails to do so, he will remain trapped in the cycle of death and rebirth, (samsara). But if one is wise, and self-controlled, he will “reach the end of his journey,  and that is the highest place of Visnu” (Muller 13). Yama then describes Purusa as the highest goal; there is nothing beyond him, he is the final goal (Deussen 288). All beings are indwelt with Atman, which is concealed from view, and can only be obtained by the upright. Yama then dismisses Nichiketa to pursue this highest goal. It is a difficult path that he must depart on but to get to the end “he becomes full of glory in the world of Brahman” (Deussen 290).

            Atman as the subject of knowledge is the focus of the fourth valli. It denies that there are differences between beings,  asserting that everything is part of Atman. Verse 10 states: “he who sees any difference here (between Brahman and the world), goes from death to death” (Muller 16). This denial of plurality must be central to achieving Atman, otherwise one will not escape samsara. Atman exists whether one is awake or asleep, it is great and all pervading, even the gods are connected to Atman. One who knows Purusa will not feel alarmed at anything, as rain falls down on a mountain and scatters down all sides, so does a man who does not know Purusa. However, pure water poured into pure water remains pure (Deussen 293). Again, asserting that one must be in a sense, righteous before one can understand or attain Atman.

            The fifth valli continues to expound on the omnipresence of Atman.

“He (Brahman) is the swan (sun), dwelling in the bright heaven;he is the Vasu (air), dwelling in the sky; he is the sacrificer (fire), dwelling on the hearth; he is the guest (Soma), dwelling in the sacrificial jar; he dwells in men, in gods (vara), in the sacrifice (rita), in heaven; he is born in the water, on earth, in the sacrifice (rita), on the mountains; he is the True and the Great” (Muller 18).

This verse references the Rgveda 4.40.5, it is almost a direct quote, the original meaning of which was unknown, it is here applied to Atman (Deussen 293). Atman is described as the essence of life, even more important than the breaths humans take every second of every day (Kath. Up. V.5). After death, one’s fate is determined by his actions and knowledge. He may return as another human, or he may “migrate into plants” (Deussen 294). However, the presence of Atman is independent of one’s actions. Atman is always working, even if one does not know they possess Atman. Yama uses three similes to illustrate the omnipresence of Atman, and show that despite being present in all creatures, Atman also exists independently from all creatures. It is as light penetrates all space and clings to all the forms in that space. Or as air is all around us, and also within us, and as the sun exists, it is free from imperfections, so too is Atman. In the transcendent place where Atman dwells, nothing shines. Not the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars. “He alone shines; all else takes its splendour from him, the whole world shines by his splendour” (Deussen 296).

            The banyan tree is a famous tree that looks as though its roots are growing upwards into the sky, and its branches downwards into the Earth. This is the way that Yama describes Brahman in the sixth and final valli, as a transcendent tree that reaches its branches down from the transcendent place to this world, and into all beings (Deussen 296). Yama goes on to talk about fear of prana (vital breath), which has been interpreted as analogous to ‘fear of God’ in Christianity. However that is not entirely accurate, as ‘fear of God’ is a fear of the divine that exists outside of oneself, whereas prana exists in all objects, animate and inanimate. To fear Brahaman within oneself is to fear the only thing. Yama is saying that those who fear the manifestations of Brahman; wind, water, fire, the sun, and even death are those that are unaware of the existence of Brahman and will remain trapped in the endless cycle of rebirth. (Deussen 296-297).Yama then emphasizes again how Brahaman cannot be sensed, but only attained through devotion or yoga. The valli ends with an assertion that one who achieves unity with Brahman will gain immortality. After one has relinquished all desires and fears, then he becomes liberated, then he becomes part of the one. It is asserted that the remaining 3 verses in the Katha Upanisad are there as an appendix(Whitney 111). After his time spent with the god of death, Nichiketa departs, having been enlightened, obtaining Brahman, and likewise “another who is thus knowing as to the self” (Whitney 112). Yama concludes the final verse with a request for the two of them to continue to be united with Brahman. As he said previously, even the gods are part of Brahman, and now that Nichiketa is as well, and the boy is free from death, perhaps the god now sees them as equals when he says “let us not be at odds” (Whitney 112).

Bibliography and Further Recommended Reading

Deussen, Paul (1980) Sixty Upanishads of the Vedas. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Chakravarti, Sures Chandra (1979) The Philosophy of the Upanishads. Delhi: NAG Publishers.

Muller, F. Max (1975) The Upanishads. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

(1963) The Upanishads. Translated by Swami Nikhilananda. New York: Harper & Row publishers.

Whitney, W. D. (1890) “Translation of the Katha Upanishad.” Transactions of the American Philological Association Vol. 21 88-112

Related Topics for Further Investigation










Taittiriya Upanisad



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Graham Jantz (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Amarnath Pilgrimage and Temple

This Amarnath temple is a sacred place in Hindu religion today. It provides a place of worship to Siva and the ice Lingam that is representative of him. Pilgrimages are important to Hindu tradition because they provide a source of spiritual fulfillment and the opportunity for liberation at a later stage in one’s life. The Amarnath pilgrimage allows pilgrims to become one with the absolute power Siva, who is an important deity in Hindu tradition (Banyat 2014).

Amarnath is a cave located in Kashmir, known as Pir-Vaer (abode of saints) and is regarded as a holy and sacred shrine which is highly regarded in Hinduism (Shah 58). It sits at 12,729 ft above sea level and the cave itself is 17 meters deep and 14 meters high with a wide entrance. The cave features a self-formed ice Lingam which is symbolic of an immortal Siva, it grows and diminishes with the moon. Smaller surrounding icicles are representative of Siva’s consort. In the ritual of worshiping this Siva-Lingam, pilgrims first must wash themselves. They then apply clay to their foreheads and wear all white clothing. They make offerings of candles, candy, etc. and shout chants in worship of Siva (Hassnain 18,20).

This pilgrimage occurs once a year during the Hindu month of Sawan which is at the end of July and beginning of August, a month with complete dedication to the lord Siva. It is not reserved for a single caste or ranking, and different caste can be seen travelling and gathering on the pilgrimage. During this month of Sawan pilgrims will camp at base camps and travel generally on foot during day (Shah 62).  The route pilgrims take begins from Pahalgam and then travels through Chandanwari, Waojan, and Panjtarni before finally reaching Amarnatha. During the passing from Waojan to Panjtarni each pilgrim must throw two pebbles at the Nagarapal boulder in order to beat the demon. Then at Panjtarni stream they will participate in a purifying bath and pitch a tent for one night before being able to enter the temple. There is a shorter route which begins at Sonamarg and goes through Baltal and Sangam before ending at the Amarnatha cave. This route is more dangerous because you must cross an avalanche of glacier (Hassnain 18-19). Pilgrims going through Baltal will often take helicopters or travel on foot and employ labourers to help them make the travel. This forms a community of closer social interaction between locals and pilgrims. At the base camps there are positive connections between locals and the pilgrims where both show hospitality, kindness, and helpfulness to one another. Temporary small hotels (dhaba)and free food stalls (langgar) owners will even provide free food to the base camps to be granted the good will of Siva (Shah 66-70).

Siva is regarded as the Lord of Yogis and is known as a god in a peaceful state often depicted in a seated position (Shoemaker 31). The lord Siva is the reason why pilgrims make the trip to the Amarnath temple. Siva is a god who represents faith, brotherhood, and relations among visitors at the temple (Shah 61-62). Siva comes from an absolute which was divided into three parts, Brahma, Visnu, and Siva, which are known as the creator, preserver, and the destroyer; these three gods make up a Hindu holy trinity. Siva is the creator god but is also associated with death. Siva is worshipped through the Lingam which brings desirable objects and release from bondage of actions. The Linga is the source and dissolution of the three powers and neither the beginning nor end of the universe (Wayman 27). Siva is also a symbol of fertility and, as a Linga, is worshiped for fertility (Jacobsen 242). This worship of Siva as a Lingam is to be done at sacred places such as the Amarnath (Hassnain 11).

Amarnath is regarded in Hindu mythology as a cave that was approached by Siva and his wife Parvati. Parvati is a maiden who fell deeply in love with the beggar Siva and got married. The night of their marriage is called Shivrati, which is one of the biggest festivals marked by snowfall (Hassnain 17). Parvati is known as the supreme power and mother of the universe in Hinduism. Tradition tells that Siva told the secret of salvation to Parvati at Amarnath, and this talk is written in the Sanskrit manuscript: Amaresvara Mahatmya. Parvati asks questions and the lord Siva answers them. This talk was said to be overheard by two servants who were turned into two white pigeons, which can be seen flying by the temple (Hassnain 10-16). It is believed in Hindu mythology that Siva gave up everything but his soul before approaching the cave because it is the highest spiritual journey one can take. This is why pilgrims cannot experience true absolute reality unless they abandon vehicles and complete the journey on foot as Siva did. In 1895 the Maliks were the ones who managed the pilgrimage. They were to ensure everything went smoothly and were there to carry the sick and wounded. In return they would receive one third of the offerings made at the shrine (Shah 62). This no longer takes place and the shrine is now in control of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), who have been disrupting forest lands on the pilgrimage travel route (Navlakha 18).

Throughout the years there has been a variety of environmental, health, and security concerns regarding this pilgrimage. Environmental concerns are particularly a problem around Pahalgam. This is due to pilgrims defecating into the river and tossing non-degradable items such as plastic into the river as well which harms the overall water quality. Another problem within this particular area is the pollution that is caused by transport vehicles carrying pilgrims and transporting goods (Navlakha 2008). Batal base camp is also raising ecological concerns because of the health threats it is causing to the locals and pilgrims. Both groups pollute the air, water, and soil because of the lack of mobile latrines and bathrooms available to them. No level of hygiene is maintained, and the camp site is kept filthy and unsanitary for pilgrims and locals (Shah 71). The main concern is if certain environmental precautions cannot be followed these sites will continue to be polluted and bring a bad name to Kashmir itself. Another concern is due to the narrow roads pilgrims travel on and because of the large numbers of people wider paths are required for safe traveling. Security agencies are kept in place to prevent terrorist attacks which have occurred in the past and to protect pilgrims. They help to provide tents, food, and management at base camps and supervise the movement of pilgrims along the path (Shah 68). However, many locals raise concerns that these authorities and Horse pullers (ponny wallas)will beat pilgrims on the route to the cave (Shah 69). Large numbers of security forces are required to accommodate the large number of increasing pilgrims which causes a higher level of environmental damage (Navlakha 2008). A major health concern regarding this pilgrimage is the amount of altitude sickness and non-traumatic surgical disorders reported. Increased awareness of these health conditions, pre-travel evaluations, and infection controls are all things that can be done to prevents these sicknesses from taking place on pilgrimages (Banyat 2014).

There has been controversy between militants and the pilgrims at Amarnath. In 2006 there were two separate attacks that took place both involving militants harming the pilgrims. June 21, 2006 and July 15, 2006 militants threw grenades on routes that lead to Amarnath and in one case killed one civilian and injured six others (Andley 4-5). In 2017 a group of pilgrims were attacked by terrorist and 7 were killed (Nair 2017). This pilgrimage has been the target of several different terrorist attacks over the years raising concerns of civilians.

References and Further Recommended Reading

Andley, Priyashree (2006) “Major Terrorist Attacks in Jammu & Kashmir” Institute of Peace

and Conflict Studies. 1-5. Accessed on February 22, 2020.

Banyat, Buddha (2014) “High Altitude Pilgrimage Medicine.” High Altitude Medicine &

Biology. 15:4: 434-439. Accessed on February 22, 2020. Doi: 10.1089/ham.2014.1088

Hassnain, Miura Y., and Vijay Pandita (1987) Sri Amarnatha Cave, the Abode of Shiva. New

Delhi: Hardev Printers.

Jacobsen, Knut A. (2004) “The Child Manifestation of Śiva in Contemporary Hindu Popular

Prints.” Numen. 51:3: 237-264. Accessed on February 22, 2020.

Nair, Sandhya (2017) “Palghar bandh to protest terrorist attack on Amarnath pilgrims” The

Times of India. Accessed on February 22, 2020.

Navlakha, Gautam (2008) “State Cultivation of the Amarnath Yatra.” Economic and Political

Weekly 43:17-18. Accessed on February 22, 2020.

Shah, Rashid, Adfer (2013) “Case of Holy Amarnath Pilgrimage” The Tibet Journal 38.3: 57-85.

Accessed on February 22, 2020.

Shoemaker, Marla (1981) “Manifestations of Shiva” Art Education 34.3:30-32. Accessed on

February 22, 2020. doi:10.2307/3192492.

Wayman, Alex (1987) “O, That Linga!” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

68:1/4: 15-54. Accessed on February 22, 2020.

Related Topics for Further Investigation






Amaresvara Mahatmya



Noteworthy Websites Related to The Topic

Article written by: Madison Irving (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for this content.

Basava: Founder of the Lingayat Sect

Basava (Basavanna) was an Indian twelfth-century philosopher, poet, statesman and the founder of the Lingayat sect which originated as a reactionary and oppositional force against Hinduism in the twelfth century (Leslie 1). Basava is regarded as a Lingayat saint in the Siva-focused Bhakti movement as well as a social reformer during the reign of the Kalyani Chalukya and Kalachuri dynasty (Leslie 2). Basava was born in 1106 CE named in honor of Nandi (carrier of Siva) and was devoted to the Hindu deity Siva (Samanta 1). Basava spent his early life growing up in the Hindu temple of Kudalasangama, where he spent twelve years undergoing studies. Basava would go on to marry a cousin from his maternal side of the family (Somanatha 57). Basava’s father in law was the provincial prime minister of the Kalachuri king. Due to familial connections, Basava would find work in the court of the king as an accountant for a time before he would eventually replace his father in law as chief minister (Somanatha 64). Now that Basava was chief minister of the kingdom he sought to use the treasury to initiate social reforms and a religious movement focused on reviving the worship of Siva, thus giving birth to the Lingayat sect of today.

Basava’s life and ministry were detailed by numerous hagiographies and various writers before and after his death, such as Hirihara who wrote Basavarajadevara Ragale, Shadakshari who wrote Basavaraja Vijayam, and Bhima Kavi who wrote the Basava Purana (Samartha 3). All these works were written centuries apart from one another which has illustrated some unique similarities and contradictions among the literature, some of which pervade the typical hagiographic tradition. Many poets recorded a theme of viewing Basava as a divine incarnation from heaven itself; however, there are a few discrepancies that result in conflicting contradictions as is expected with religious texts (Samartha 3). Since the authors had been committed to the affirmation of Basava’s divinity and incarnation they found it difficult to portray the humanity of Basava and thus focused on a simplistic and pious account of Basava’s history which limited it to mainly ideological differences during his upanayana (rites of passage) (Samartha 4).

Detailed in the Basava Purana, is Basava’s early life and most prominently, the refusal of the thread ceremony during his upanayana and an argument with his father. In this excerpt, Basava questions his father’s worship of Siva, declaring him to be a fool. Basava argues that, once a person has been purified in a previous, birth it is degrading to become twice born in the current life (Somanatha 56). Basava believes that his father is trying to drown him in an ocean of karma and argues that once someone has gone beyond caste and lineage why should you once again become dependent on caste clan by undergoing a thread ceremony (Somanatha 56). Basava’s father is outraged by the disobedience of his son. He exclaims that the Agamas (religious texts) prescribe sixteen rituals for purification, and if missing even one of these rituals a man will have no place among the first rank of the highest caste (Somanatha 57). Basava’s father ultimately mentions that Basava’s failure to complete his thread ceremony would result in the destruction of the family. Furthermore, Basava’s father mentions that if he does not complete the ritual, they will be forced to disown him from the family in fear of being viewed as immoral savages (Somanatha 57).  Basava is outraged and says that his father has failed to recognize the differences between devotion and Brahminism, exclaiming that they are different teachings with different gods, mantras, and preceptors (Somanatha 58). Basava exclaims that a brahmin must worship all the gods and if he fails to, he is no longer a brahmin and if one does worship all the gods then devotion is dead (Somanatha 58). Basava states that devotion is like the stability of married women while Brahminism is the path of harlots (Somanatha 58). In closing, Basava states that if his father continues with his Brahminism he will be meaningless to him and declares Siva to be the true path to devotion (Somanatha 58).

Detailed in the Basava Purana, are the recollections of Basava’s adulthood and most prominently, Basava’s rise to power as the commander in chief of King Bijjala. Following the arguments with his father, Basava and his sister Nagamamba decided that it would not be wise to stay home any longer and went to seek shelter at the house of his friend, Phanihari (Somanatha 59). It was during this time that Basava met Baladeva, who was King Bijjala’s treasurer and commander of the army (Somanatha 59). It was said that Baladeva had promised that he would marry his daughter Gangamba to a devotee of Siva and not give her to a bhavi (one who sits below the throne) (Somanatha 59). It is not entirely clear how Basava ended up meeting Baladeva; however, he was eventually married to Baladeva’s daughter Gangamba. After marriage and completing all the necessary rituals, Basava would travel to Kappadisangamesvara, where he received high praise from the occupants for his devotion (Somanatha 61).

 Upon Baladeva’s death, King Bijjala gathered a council of Baladeva’s friends and family seeking a replacement for the position of commander in chief (Somanatha 64). During this council, Basava was suggested as a replacement due to his humble speech, purity, and mastery of arts (Somanatha 64). King Bijjala was ecstatic about Basava as a replacement for Baladeva and immediately sent ministers and advisors to meet Basava and offer him the title of commander in chief (Somanatha 64). Basava would receive high praise from the advisors sent to meet him regarding him as a lord above all, far above even the king (Somanatha 65). Basava would accept their offer thinking about the welfare of devotees (Somanatha 65). Basava would eventually reach the city of Kalyana in southern Kalachuri, where he received immense praise from all, declaring him to be on the pure path of Siva (Somanatha 66). Basava was viewed as an incarnation of heroism, a destroyer of evildoers, a destroyer of sin, and one that had transcended the darkness of ignorance (Somanatha 66). It is described that King Bijjala then joyfully gave Basava authority over his entire realm including an immense army and treasury (Somanatha 66). Basava was then tasked with the welfare of the entire empire and lord of King Bijala’s life and wealth (Somanatha 67). As Basava garnered great renown he also garnered growing popularity among the masses. Basava made an immense amount of vows to regard every devotee of Siva as Siva himself (Somanatha 68). These vows were then reciprocated by many devotees (Somanatha 68). Eventually, due to his spreading renown, many devotees sought to see Basava in person to verify his devotion and garner devotion themselves from his presence. During this time, Basava further showed his devotion to Siva and character that was renowned among the masses.

The poetic hagiographies and Basava’s own vachanas (sayings) are the majority of sources that reconstruct the life of Basava all with different methods such as orally or in manuscripts and inscriptions (Samartha 2). In these hagiographies such as the Basava Purana, they consistently regard Basava in a semi divine way and reflect how Basava’s life and actions were interpreted by the masses during their respective times (Samartha 2). Despite their obvious exaggerations, these hagiographies provide vital geographical and biographical information which is especially useful when exploring the Lingayat sect of today which Basava is credited for founding (Samartha 2). From the information in Basava’s hagiographies, his philosophy and values can be interpreted as teachings for the Lingayat sect (Samartha 13). By portraying Basava in a semi divine incarnation, the hagiographic poets set out to solve the problems of society with the support of the masses (Samartha 13). They did this because it was difficult for people to follow the teachings of someone who was merely a human (Samartha 13). As a side effect of this, many aspects of Basava’s life that showcased his humanity were lost (Samartha 13). Regardless of the contradictory and confusing hagiographies, Basava eventually went on to champion the tradition of Lingayat Hindus through his values of equality and social reform which serve as his legacy.

            The Lingayat sect refers to the worshippers of the Hindu deity Siva. The Lingayats are a large sect of Hinduism that can still be found today that reside in the Kannada speaking region of southern India (McCormack 1). Two prominent features of Lingayats are the wearing of lingas which are a symbol of Siva and the strict practice of vegetarianism (McCormack 1). Lingayats recognize the religious leading of Basava who they credit for leading the Lingayat movement in the twelfth century that focused on overcoming caste exclusiveness and focusing on social reform (McCormack 1). This ideology of social reform is the direct rejection of the caste system used in India which separates people into different classes. Basava had previously spread his ideas through his poetry and the introduction of new institutions that ignored the caste system such as the Anubhava Mantapa which was a place that welcomed all men and women from varying castes to discuss spirituality (Schouten 2). All was going well until the new king, King Bijjala II began to disagree with the ideals of Basava, particularly regarding Basava’s belief of dissolving the caste system (Schouten 3). Under King Bijjala II’s rule, Lingayats became increasingly repressed causing some to relocate (Schouten 3). This Lingayat repression eventually came to a head when King Bijala II was assassinated by Lingayats (Schouten 5). The assassination of the king created animosity between Jains (King Bijala II) and Lingayats which resulted in the majority of Lingayats relocating into different regions of India and taking the teachings of Basava with them (Schouten 6). After the death of Basava, the old ideals began to fade and Basava’s nephew Channabasava began organizing some of the scattered Lingayat population and moving them towards the mainstream Hindu culture (Schouten 14). Eventually, in the fifteenth century, a Lingayat revival would occur in northern Karnataka in the Vijayanagara Empire. It is theorized that the Lingayats were likely a reason for how the Vijayanagara succeeded in territorial conquest against the Deccan Sultanates (Schouten 15). Due to their success, a Virasaiva family and eventual dynasty were appointed governance over the coastal Karnataka Kanara region where they built major shrines and seminaries of Lingayatism (Schouten 15). It is through this rebirth that the Lingayat sect once again grew to prominence and the teachings and legacy of Basava were reinvigorated.

There exist numerous interpretations that explain the life of Basava, these varying interpretations have resulted in a mixture of contrasting and similar literature. The legacy of Basava survives to this day due to his poetry and teachings that live on today in the form of the Lingayat sect. The Lingayat credits Basava as their founder and as such takes a great deal of inspiration from his teachings.


Leslie, Julie (1998) “Understanding Basava: History, Hagiography and a Modern Kannada Drama.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. 61(2), 228-261. Accessed February 2, 2020. doi:

McCormack, William (1963) “Lingayats as a Sect.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 93(1), 59-71. Accessed February 2, 2020. doi:10.2307/2844333.

Samanta, Priya (2006) “Basava: A Social Reformer.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 67, 1066-1066. Accessed February 2, 2020. Retrieved from

Samartha, M. (1977) “Basava’s Spiritual Struggle.” Religious Studies. 13(3), 335-347. Accessed February 2, 2020. doi:

Schouten, Jan (1995) Revolution of the Mystics: On the Social Aspects of Vīraśaivism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Somanatha, Palakuriki (1990) Siva’s Warriors: The Basava Purana of Palkuriki Somanatha. Translated by Velcheru Rao and Gene Roghair. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Article written by: Corey Hironaka (Feburary 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.


The myth cycle of Siva in the pine forest is a dynamic and complex narrative, often viewed from a Western lens as paradoxical. Not only the narrative, but also Siva himself, is commonly viewed as inconsistent, as much of what he represents can be seen as opposites; such as his role as both creator and destroyer (O’Flaherty 1969a: 303). Whether this view derives as an aftereffect from the translation of the text from Sanskrit to English, or from an overly simplistic interpretation of Siva mythology, Siva should not be understood to reside consistently on the either end of a spectrum, but should rather be considered more appropriately as existing in his “dual nature” (O’Flaherty 1969a: 306). Siva must be thought of not in terms of concrete opposites, as either black or white, but as a fluid development. Handel and Shulman (211) state that “the god who breathes in is the same god who breathes out… he is never not in process”. Siva should be regarded in this sense; he should not be observed as static.

Hindu mythology is a reflection of the Hindu worldview, offering readers a look into the complex history, social norms, rituals and belief systems of Hinduism (O’Flaherty 1981:1). It is diverse; there are often many variations and many meanings in each myth cycle. Meaning in Hindu mythology should not be understood from a singular viewpoint, but should be understood on multiple levels and within multiple contexts, understanding that there is not one singular meaning in each myth cycle (O’Flaherty 1981:2). Understanding this, along with the dual nature that O’Flaherty references, is crucial to understanding the pine forest myth cycle, specifically in regards to Siva’s seemingly conflicting traits of asceticism and eroticism, which are heavily presented in the narrative.    

The pine forest myth cycle has many variations, however, there is a fairly consistent storyline that most variations follow. The most common understanding is that the deity Siva enters the forest of pines begging for alms. The wives of the sages who live in the forest see him walking around, naked and ithyphallic, and are very attracted to him. In much the same way, the sages are attracted to Visnu, who had transformed into a beautiful woman. When the sages realize that their wives are full of lust for this beggar, whom they did not know was Siva at the time, they become upset. They proceed to attack him, both in the physical sense, as well as curse him, which causes his phallus to fall off. However, after realizing that the man is Siva, they begin to worship the fallen linga, and Siva teaches them how to obtain moksa. This overview is very simplistic, and does not do justice to the complexities and controversies existing within the different variations of the text.

In her book, SIVA The Erotic Ascestic, O’Flaherty outlines three broad groupings under which differing variations of mythology can be categorized. Firstly, the idea of Siva as a “false ascetic” (1981:173), whose purpose for being in the forest is to seduce the sages’ wives for his own pleasure. He is depicted in these versions of the narrative as very aroused and erotic, and in some tellings, Siva even forced himself upon the sages’ wives (or daughters, in certain narratives). This lust that Siva has for the women is sometimes explained by him being unsatisfied with his sexual relationship with his wife (O’Flaherty 1981:173-175). This presentation of Siva as a false ascetic focuses primarily on one extreme of his seemingly contradictory traits, as both erotic and ascetic. Secondly, O’Flaherty presents Siva as the “passive ascetic” (1981:173). This title encompasses narratives that portray Siva not as the seducer, but as the one being seduced. In these variations, the wives fall in love with him soon after seeing him in the forest. However, despite the wives often blatant desire for him, he disregards their advances. In one account of the narrative, he does not notice them because he is busy meditating, and in another account, he avoids their advances by physically running away from them (O’Flaherty 1981:175-176). The narratives under this category clearly portray Siva as opposite to the seemingly unashamed erotic persona previously examined, and highlights instead the other end of the spectrum, showing him as completely ascetic and without desire for the sages’ wives. Thirdly, O’Flaherty offers a categorization that she titles “The apparent lust of the ascetic Siva” (1981:178). Presenting a balance between the two extremes, Siva is observed within this category as pretending to be lustful, while really remaining ascetic. Interpretations of his purpose in this manipulation often correlate back to the sages. It is commonly seen as Siva attempting to present the sages with a crucial message about their wives’ impurity, and he masquerades as lustful in order to seduce them, and illustrate how unfaithful they are to their husbands. In other versions of the myth, the sages’ power is held within the chastity of their wives, and by seducing them, Siva is able to take power from the sages in order to use it against his enemies (O’Flaherty 1981:178-179). Ultimately, Siva is using an erotic means to seduce the wives that does not reflect his true intentions or desires, leaving him as both erotic and ascetic.

Cola bronze depicting Siva as the naked mendicant who attracts the wives of the Pine Forest sages.

The pine forest myth cycle presents many sexual symbols which can be observed both directly and indirectly, regardless of which variation of the narrative is being examined. In this myth collection, Siva is consistently presented wandering the forest completely nude, with an erect phallus, which in many variations of the narrative falls off as a result of being cursed by the sages. In many shrines dedicated to Siva today, it is not uncommon to see a linga statue, which is a common symbol used to represent Siva. The sages worshipping the fallen linga after realizing the true identity of the beggar is often thought of to be the origination of linga worship (Handelman and Shulman 33). Further sexual symbolism can be seen when Siva uses sexual mannerisms as a way to teach the sages a lesson about chastity and lead them to enlightenment (O’Flahery 1981: 204). Again, there is a sense of balance between the opposing ideas of eroticism and asceticism, as Siva’s methods of teaching appear to contradict the message he is trying to present. Another meaning that can be interpreted from certain variations of the text offers that Siva was intending the show the sages that they must give up their tapas, which are obtained through strict purity,and instead focus more on their wives (O’Flaherty 1981:200). Again, this interpretation centers around balancing purity and sexuality, as it presumes that while the sages are attempting to be liberated through purity, they are too extreme, and by doing so they are neglecting other important areas of their life. The sages, who focus intently on purity, are somewhat ironically liberated through linga worship at the end of the narrative (O’Flaherty 1981:201), which points further to the importance of balance.

The sexual nature of the myth cycle is not just seen in obvious, overt symbolism. In fact, the entire narrative is based around erotic conversations and connotations. Early on in many variations of the narrative, it is stated in some form that Siva is very handsome and that the sages’ wives are very physically attracted to him. In the same way, Visnu helps Siva by transforming into a beautiful woman in order to seduce the sages (Handelman and Shulman 5). With both the sages and their wives being seduced by the gods, Siva and Visnu reunite, and when the sages recognize that their wives are being unfaithful to them, they become angry. In this version of the narrative, when they attempt to fight Siva, they lose their tapas, which they had dedicated much time and effort into gaining through purity. Eventually, they become wiser and apologize to Siva, and he directs them to return to their tapas, as they had learned the lesson he went to teach them (Handelman and Shulman 10-14). This blending of eroticism and ascetism shows the balance of Siva’s being, illustrating again that he does not fall to one extreme, but most often exists as both natures, in a balance. The linga is frequently seen as an erotic symbol, but when looked at more closely, is also a representation for chastity. The idea of chastity connects with concepts of self control and discipline, and the erect phallus represents the containment of semen, which is a symbol itself of chastity. Therefore, Siva’s chastity is not in conflict with his eroticism, but is rather complimented and strengthened by it, allowing chastity and sexuality to coexist (O’Flaherty 1969a:308-309).

This myth cycle is important in the Hindu tradition, as it draws on prevalent concepts in Hinduism such as sexuality and chastity. As seen in the narrative, sexuality and chastity are not viewed as opposing forces in Hinduism; they are not opposites, but are thought to work together, and are connected (O’Flaherty 1969a:311). Just as Siva represents two concepts that appear contradictory, a Hindu’s role and responsibilities in society are often seen as conflicting, and this myth cycle offers guidance to the Hindu reader on how responsibilities need to coexist, and cannot all be obtained independent of one another. O’Flaherty (1981:38) explains how the responsibility of the sages to be chaste but yet still devoted to their wives presents an ideal that is not realistic. In the same way, the societal demands for Hindus to be both involved in their family life in the householder stage but yet also fully dedicate themselves to seeking god as a renouncer cannot be attained. One application for Hindus that can be drawn from this myth cycle is the importance of balance, and recognizing how two ideals must coexist.

            Mythology plays an important role in Hinduism, and it has been argued that the lessons found in the mythology of Siva specifically “lie at the very heart of Hinduism” (O’Flaherty 1981:1). The depth offered in Hindu mythology is complex and layered, as is evident in the pine forest myth cycle. Under further examination, the seemingly opposing forces at play act to balance each other, and it is evident that what may at first appear paradoxical can exist as complimentary. Although Siva represents many opposing forces in different myth cycles, he most clearly represents erotism and asceticism in the pine forest myth cycle. Despite the fact that there is not one singular clear meaning or interpretation of the narrative, but rather many alternative forms that differ greatly from each other, there are evident overarching themes that remain consistent throughout the myth cycle. From a Western perspective, there is often a misconception that Siva is an inconsistent deity (O’Flaherty 1969a: 303). The mythology of Siva, although complex, should not be viewed with the intent of finding one singular meaning or interpretation, but needs to be viewed with an understanding of the complexities and variations that exist.


Clothey, Fred W., and Bruce J. Long (1983) Experiencing Siva: Encounters with a Hindu Deity. Columbus: South Asia Books.

Handelman, Don, and David Schulman (2004) Siva in the Forest of Pines: An Essay on Sorcery and Self knowledge. New York: Oxford University Press.

O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley: University of California Press.

— (1969a) “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Śiva. Part I.” History of Religions, 8:300-37. Accessed January 29, 2020.

— (1969b) “Asceticism and Sexuality in the Mythology of Śiva. Part II.” History of Religions, 9:1-4. Accessed January 29, 2020.

— (1971) “The Submarine Mare in the Mythology of Śiva.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1:9-27. Accessed January 29, 2020.

— (1981) Siva, the Erotic Ascetic. New York: Oxford University Press.

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This article was written by: Kayley Grasmeyer (Spring 2020) who is solely responsible for its content.