Saturday, November 24, 2007

Balarama’s Pilgrimage (Part 3)

In this part we get a brief description of a few other holy places along the river Saraswati visited by Balarama. There is no story relating to any of these holy places as retold in Mahabharatam.


The first was called VinaSanam (destruction). It got the name because the river just disappeared, may be underground, at that point. It is heard that the reason was the river’s anger to some tribes of people who must have misbehaved with the river. There is no more detail available about the disappearance. Balarama touched the water of the river before it disappears at that point.


The next holy place the Yadava prince visited was called Subhoomikam (good earth). It is said that Apasara women enjoy themselves in the water discarding all their modesty. Balabhadra found a large number of Gandharva and Apsara women assembled there. The Yadava chief took his bath and offered valuable gifts to Brahmins there.


He next went to the pilgrimage centre called Gandharva Teertham (the holy place of Gandharvas). Balarama found several Gandharvas, both men and women, singing and dancing there. Visvaavasu, the great Gandharava sage, was with them. Balarama offered cows and other gifts o Brahmins there before proceeding ahead.


Then, he reached the Teertha of Garga. Garga was a sage of great learning, especially in astronomy. He observed the movement of celestial objects at the bank of river Sarasvati there. Hence, the place got that name. Balarama gave valuable gifts to the sages assembled and food to Brahmins there.


The place Balarama went next was called Sankhateertham. There was a tall mountain in the shape of a white conch shell at the bank of river Sarasvati near there. There was also a sacred fruit bearing tree next to that. Yaksha, Vidyaadhara, PiSaacas and Raakshasaas meditated there, eating only the fruit of the tree for days together. (All are celestial beings below the rank of the gods. The first two are of benign nature and the other two are demons). It is said that they all attained salvation as a result. Even to this day, pilgrims, including celestial beings, visit the place and observe fast eating only the fruit of that tree.

Saaraswatateertham, Dwaitavanam

The Yadava pilgrimage reached Saaraswatateertham next and then to Dwaitavam (the forest called Dwaitam). Balarama performed various austerities at those places.


The next holy place along the route was called Naagadhanvateertham at a great distance from there. It is said that the serpent, Vaasuki, lives there. The gods went there and made him the king of serpents with appropriate installation ceremonies. It is said that fourteen thousand sages live there at all times. There were a few other holy places along the route that Balarama visited as advised by the sages in his group.

Saraswati turns eastward

After a few days Balarama reached a place where the river turns eastwards. The story behind it is as follows. In the first epoch, called Krita, sages performed a great sacrificial ceremony called Satra that lasted twelve years in that place. Pilgrims arrived for the Satra in hundreds and thousands. Among them were celebrated sages known by the name of Baalakhilya, ASmakutta, Dantolookhali and Samprataakhya. Some among them fasted eating only leaves. Others stayed merely by drinking the river water. Yet others sustained themselves on air alone.

Those who came late started camping further and further to the east finding no place near the river bank. It is said that the river took pity on them and took a diversion eastwards passing through the places they encamped. Later, the river returned westwards and continued with its northward journey.

Balarama gave food and various gifts to all who were assembled there. He, then, proceeded to the holy place called Sapta Saaraswata Teertham (centre of the seven Saraswati rivers) which we shall cover in the next part.

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