Monday, 19 December 2011

Pandavas go on a Theertha Yatra. Mahabharata 76

The story meanders. Perhaps sage Vyaasa wanted to give Panadavas, especially Yudhisthira and us a break. Yudhisthira has a tough time, troubled by his own sense of guilt and the grim faces of his brothers and especially Draupadi; also the frequent impassioned pleas by both Bheema and Draupadi to rethink his decision.

Surely the novelty of living in a forest would have palled after a while. I would bet that being surrounded by rishis would have its own share of challenges, innumerable poojas and rituals at the ashram. Not sure whether the concept of satsang was already in vogue. To be a part of it, day after day for twelve years, (It is in fact 4380 days!) especially for a khsatriya is unimaginable. There is also no mention of Rakshasas attacking the ashrams. This at least would  have kept the Pandavas busy.

Theertha Yatra was indeed a good idea, an absolute must to maintain their sanity. As I think back, in my child hood days, members of joint families were permitted to get away only on a theertha yatra. A good break for the mother-in-law as well as the long suffering daughters-in-law. Trips would be longer, ardous but well worth it.

We have an impressive tradition:
It is said that there are more than 5 millions of theerthas in India as per SkhandaPurana. All these places have great religious and spiritual significance and each one of them is capable of liberating a man from all his sins and providing a direction towards Moksha. Some of these places are located on the banks of sacred rivers like Ganga,Sindhu,Saraswathi,Yamuna,Godavari,Narmada,Kaveri,Krishna andThungaBhadra. It is said and believed that these sacred rivers have taken birth from the sacred  foot  of  Lord Sri Hari. 
Prominent among them are 108 Divya Desams related to Lord Maha Vishnu out of which eight self manifested (swayam Vyaktha Kshethras) holy places viz., Sri Rangam,Tirumala, Sri Mushnam, Thotadri, Salagram, Pushkara, Badrinath and Naimisharanya,108 Divya Desams related to Lord Siva out of which Twelve Jyothirlinga Kshetras and five Pancha Bhootha linga Kshethras, 51 Shakthi Peetas of Goddess Shakti out of which very prominent Ashtadasa Shakthi Peetas (18), prominent places like Dwaraka,Ayodhya, Mathura, Kanchi, Puri, Haridwar, Kurukshetra, Kasi,Prayaga, Gaya, Kshetras related to Lord Sri Rama, Lord Vinayaka, Lord Subramanya, Lord Hanuman, places attached to the significance of saints like Mantralayam (Sri Raghavendra Swamy),Udupi (Sri Madhwacharya) etc., and  the  list  goes  on. (Courtsey
The story of their pilgrimage is about places they visited and their importance. Here are a few nuggets:
Restless and bored Pandavas decide to go on a pilgrimage.They visit Naimisharanya and other places and arrive at the ashrama of reknowned Agasthya. Some of his feats are amazing!

Agasthya visits Illvala. He is welcomed and a goat is killed for his meal. The goat is actually Illvala's younger brother. The ploy is to feed the guest and then the brother is called out. He  breaks through the guests' stomach and the dead guest would then be their meal! This gambit does not work with Agasthya as he eats and digests even before the brother is called out.
Rakshasas hide in the occean and come out in the night and raid rishi's ashram and eat them. At the request of the devatas, Agasthya  drinks up the ocean and the devatas seek out the demons and kill them.

 Sagara's sacrificial horse goes missing in the dry ocean and his 60,000 sons dig a hole right down to the netherworld to rescue the horse and get burnt by the power of sage Kapila. Much later Bhageeratha from the same 'vamsha' performs a great penance and  river Ganga comes down to earth. The ocean fills up again and the ashes of his forefathers are immersed in water and they are able to go to svarga.

The Vindhya range of mountains stop growing at the request of Agasthya. He requests Vindhyas to wait for his return before they grow again and as Agasthya never returns, so they stop growing. (Interesting as Himalaya is said to be growing even today!)

There is the story of Rhushyasringa who brought rains where ever he went. His father, a mysogyinist had brought him up without the help of women and the boy had even grown up without  seeing them. Finally, he is enticed by a woman to visit a country which had no rains and brings rain immediately. Predictably he marries the daughter of the king. (I remember seeing a movie about him with my grandmother more than sixty years ago!) 

There are many more. Most of these are strange, paranormal stories of interactions between gods and humans.  Stories of gods testing humans abound, especially of those who are known to follow dharma with sincerity.

 Some are even absurd. A story where the winner of a debate kills the loser by drowning him in the river! He is in turn is killed by a relative of the dead debater, again  after being defeated in a debate.

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