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The Panchakroshi Yatra of Kashi

In the Prashon­ot­tara Rat­na Mali­ka of Adi Sankaracharya, it is beau­ti­ful­ly men­tioned that there are only two places to be. In the midst of good peo­ple or in Kasi. Such was the impor­tance giv­en to Kasi/Varanasi.


Visualising a city as a Mandala

One can visu­alise a city through its var­i­ous maps. For exam­ple one is famil­iar with a phys­i­cal map show­ing the net­work of water bod­ies, soil ter­rain and forests and a polit­i­cal map high­light­ing impor­tant dis­tricts, gov­ern­ment build­ings and admin­is­tra­tive cen­tres.

Sim­i­lar­ly one can visu­alise a city or space in terms of its tem­ples, teertha stha­las and places of spir­i­tu­al sig­nif­i­cance. One finds descrip­tions of them in the Ramayana, the Mahab­hara­ta and the Puranas. The Skan­da Purana for exam­ple con­tains the mahat­miyas of var­i­ous teertha stha­las spread across the Bharat­var­sha from Kedar­nath, Badri­nath, Ayo­d­hya, Mathu­ra, Varanasi to Ujjain, Puri, Tiru­pati, Rama Setu to Dwar­ka, Girnar and more. Chap­ters are ded­i­cat­ed describ­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of every tem­ple, the sto­ry behind its com­ing into being, how to wor­ship as well as the ben­e­fits of vis­it­ing them. These teertha stha­las have a con­tin­u­ing tra­di­tion where count­less rishis and bhak­tas have done penance and built tem­ples.

The puranas also men­tion var­i­ous yatras that one can under­take in these stha­las. With­in a region, mul­ti­ple yatras or cir­cuits are described with its own sig­nif­i­cance: yatras ded­i­cat­ed to Shi­va shrines or nav­a­gra­has or Rudras or Devi and so on. It is like explor­ing the same teertha stha­la through dif­fer­ent lens­es. For exam­ple, in Varanasi, more than 15 yatras are men­tioned: the Vinaya­ka Yatra in Varanasi cov­ers the 56 impor­tant shrines of Lord Vinaya­ka and is spi­ral in shape con­verg­ing to Shree Kashi Vish­wanath Tem­ple, The Aditya Yatra of Varanasi is a yatra of the 14 impor­tant tem­ples ded­i­cat­ed to Adityas in the shape of an isosce­les tri­an­gle. Each yatra is a unique expe­ri­ence and holds a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for the sad­ha­ka. One of the most fol­lowed yatra is the Pan­chakroshi yatra of Varanasi which has a long his­to­ry asso­ci­at­ed with it.

Yatras are an inte­gral part of the sanatana dhar­ma and have been per­formed by pil­grims since aeons. The study of these routes or yatras has been a sub­ject of mod­ern research to under­stand their geo­met­ric pat­terns as well as astro­nom­i­cal align­ment. Inter­est­ed read­ers may refer to the ref­er­ences for more details.

Fig 1: Yatra of the 14 Adityas in Kashi. Most of them lie on an isosce­les tri­an­gle. Lines drawn From tem­ple 7 to oth­er tem­ples indi­cate the posi­tion of sun­rise as vis­i­ble from tem­ple 7 around 14th of every month; thus mak­ing them aligned like a sun­di­al!

Fig 2: Kasi Man­dala show­ing the span of Kashi to be of 5 krosa radius At the cen­tre is the Mad­hyames­vara tem­ple very close to the Shree Kashi Vish­wanath tem­ple. The oth­er radi­al point is Del­hi Vinaya­ka Tem­ple. The Pan­cakroshi Yatra route fol­lowed today is also marked in bold.

Fig 3: Com­par­ing the Kashi Man­dala (in cir­cle) to the mod­ern city of Varanasi (high­light­ed in white)

Significance of Kashi

Kashi means the illu­mi­nat­ed city and is one of the most sacred of all holy places. In the Skan­da Purana, Mahar­ishi Vyasa describes Kashi to be a cir­cu­lar man­dala, of 5 krosa radius (1 krosha/kosa = 2.2 miles or 3.52 km) with Kashi Viswanath tem­ple in the cen­tre. Kashi, locat­ed on the banks of Ma Gan­ga gets its oth­er name Varanasi from the two rivers which flow through its north and south Varana and Assi before they merge into Ma Gan­ga.

Lord Shi­va for­ev­er resides in his favourite Kashi also called Anan­da­van. Even dur­ing pralaya at the end of the Kalpa, Lord Shi­va does not leave his Kashi. It is said one who leaves his body in Kashi attains to muk­ti and Lord Shi­va him­self utters the mantra in the person’s ears. All holy teerthas are said to reside in Kashi, includ­ing the twelve jyotir­lin­gas. Count­less saints have lived here, per­formed tapas and spread the knowl­edge and glo­ry of the Lord. Once can find ashra­mas of the saints includ­ing Mahar­ishi Agastya, Mahar­ishi Kapi­la and so on, as also those of Kabir and Tul­si­das.

The Panchakroshi Yatra of Kashi

The Pan­chakroshi Yatra has been of tremen­dous sig­nif­i­cance in our iti­haasa-purana. Lord Rama per­formed this yatra for his father King Dasaratha and again after return­ing from Lan­ka. The Pan­davas have also per­formed this yatra and the Shi­va lin­ga estab­lished by them is also one of the major pil­grim­age site. The Yatra has been described in the Kashi Khan­da of Skan­da Purana and has been referred to in sev­er­al oth­er puranas and texts includ­ing by Tul­si­das.

The Yatra cov­ers a dis­tance of about 75 km cov­ered by devo­tees on foot. The most com­mon times for the Yatra are autumn, cold and spring sea­son. There is spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance of per­form­ing the Yatra in Purushot­ta­ma maasa. On the night of Shiv­ara­tri, thou­sands of devo­tees are seen per­form­ing the yatra. The Kashi Rahasya in Brah­mavaivar­ta Purana describes five ways in which one may per­form the Yatra depend­ing on the num­ber of days one takes to per­form it – from one to five.

Shree Kashi Vish­wanath Tem­ple

Devo­tees after tak­ing a bath at the Manikarni­ka Ghat begin their jour­ney at the Kashi Vish­wanath tem­ple by tak­ing the fol­low­ing sankalpa to puri­fy them­selves (from the Kashi Rahasya):

In Kashi, com­mit­ted sins by talk, body and thought, By know­ing­ly or unknow­ing­ly,

To get relief from them and for the well being. Wor­ship­ping Pan­cakroshi lingam form; And Infi­nite Light-form; Where live Par­vati and Shi­va, Lak­sh­mi and Vis­nu Dhundi­ra­ja and Fifty-six Vinayakas And twelve Suns, Nar­simha and Kesavas.

Three forms of Rama and Krish­na, Fish and Tor­toise forms Vish­nu, Var­i­ous incar­na­tions of Shi­va and Vish­nu where installed.

And where live var­i­ous forms of Gau­ri; To do the jour­ney I take the vow and pray to Siva and His con­sort. I would do the Pan­chakroshi Yatra by sacred rules; As liked by you, O Supreme Lord! Give me strength and peace.

The typ­i­cal jour­ney involves halt­ing at five sta­tions dur­ing the five nights. Dharamsha­las and com­fort­able guest hous­es have come up at these halts for the ease of devo­tees at these places.

The first night halt is at Kar­dames­vara Tem­ple: This lingam is said to be installed by Sage Kar­dam, father of Mahar­ishi Kapi­la, the founder of Sankhya phi­los­o­phy. Devo­tees take bath in Kar­dam kund in the tem­ple com­plex and wor­ship the lin­ga by offer­ing five grains: bar­ley, pad­dy, wheat, mung and urad dal along with white sesame, bil­va leaves and tul­si.

The Kar­dames­vara Tem­ple on Pan­chakroshi Yatra

The sec­ond night halt is at Bhi­macan­di Tem­ple. Bhi­macan­di refers to the form of Devi show­ing her strength (Bhi­ma) before her mar­riage with Lord Shi­va. She is also one of the patron deities of the ter­ri­to­ry

The third night halt is on the banks of riv­er Varana at Rames­varam. Here the Siva lin­ga was installed by Lord Rama him­self. Devo­tees take a dip in the Varana riv­er and at night, spe­cial dec­o­ra­tion and arti are per­formed at the tem­ple of Rames­varam.

The fourth halt is at the tem­ple estab­lished by the Pan­cha Pan­davas. Here there are five Shi­va lin­gas and Nan­dis with each of them, in decreas­ing order of size estab­lished by the pan­cha pan­davas. Devo­tees wor­ship the lin­gas as well as take a dip in the Drau­pa­di Kun­da near­by.

The final night is at Kapi­lad­hara, the tem­ple of Kapi­la Muni, the founder of Sankhya phi­los­o­phy. Devo­tees per­form anna daana to brah­mins here in the evening. The next day, devo­tees vis­it the beau­ti­ful Adi Kesa­va tem­ple ded­i­cat­ed to Lord Vish­nu, take a dip at the Manikarni­ka Ghaat and a com­plete their yatra where they began, at the Kashi Vishvesh­wara tem­ple.

All along the route, one hears the devo­tees chant­i­ng:

“Hara Hara! Mahade­va Shamb­ho! Kasi Vish­wanatha Gange Mata Par­vati sange!”

“Hail to Mahade­va, Shamb­ho resid­ing in the city of Kashi with Ma Gan­ga and Ma Par­vati”

There are 108 shrines on the route ded­i­cat­ed to Lord Shi­va, Vinaya­ka, Shak­ti Devi, Lord Vish­nu and oth­ers. Each shi­va lin­ga estab­lished on the route has a sto­ry behind it. Some are major tem­ples, oth­ers are small shrines or mur­tis in com­pounds. The recent project to build the Varanasi cor­ri­dor has helped declut­ter many shrines and give them due space. One can refer to the full list of 108 shrines in the ref­er­ences. Going through the list, one gets a glimpse into the holy city of Kashi.

Ref­er­ences:

  1. The Kashi Khan­da of Skan­da Purana gives a detailed account of the var­i­ous tem­ples and yatras in the holy city of Varanasi.

  2. The Kashi rahasya in Brah­mavaivar­ta Purana describes the sto­ries and sig­nif­i­cance asso­ci­at­ed with the Pan­cakroshi Yatra in great detail

  3. There has been a lot of research done in map­ping the Yatras of Varanasi and under­stand­ing their larg­er sig­nif­i­cance from both the design as well as cos­mic per­spec­tive. In par­tic­u­lar, read­ers may explore the works and pub­li­ca­tions of Prof. Rana P.B. Singh from Banaras Hin­du Uni­ver­si­ty, in par­tic­u­lar his book “Towards the Pil­grim­age Arche­type. Pan­chakroshi Yatra of Banaras”

  4. There have been ear­li­er maps of the Kashi Man­dala also in the 1800s and a recent project by Hei­del­berg Uni­ver­si­ty has made them dig­i­tal. link dig­i­tal here. One can see the var­i­ous tem­ples of Kashi and the Pan­chakroshi route in it: Varanasi Research Project – Visu­al­ized Space, Uni­ver­si­ty of Hei­del­berg: http://benares.uni-hd.de/map.htm

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