HARIDWAR 1 The river as my templeBy Sanjay Misra and Veeresh Malik with inputs from Prerna Singh and Suraj WadhwaHar, Har Gange! This celebratory exhortation has been the cry of the devout from time immemorial, shouted with gusto while taking a plunge of faith into the pleasantly cold waters of jeevan dayini (the giver of life), moksha pradayini (bestower of salvation) Ganga at Haridwar. Visiting a temple is in itself secondary here. The age-old ritual of taking a bath in the fast-flowing holy river takes precedence over everything else for pilgrims.
The hypnotic beauty of the Ganga seems to bring time to a standstill. Most visitors stop by here en route to a longer stay in upstream Rishikesh. Haridwar, however, remains the base for those with ritual commitments. Indeed, Haridwar and Rishikesh appear to reflect the mood of the river as she flows past them: Haridwar is the embodiment of fervour and energy, Rishikesh of calm and introspection.
Legends and mythology
Haridwar is the dwar (door) to Hari (Vishnu). It was old even before many of the world's ancient towns were born, and finds mention in the Vedas and Upanishads. It was then called Mayapuri, one of the seven sacred Mokshapuris. Legend has it that Haridwar was one of the sites where the nectar of immortality fell when the ocean was being churned. To mark this event, the Kumbh Mela is held here; the last Maha Kumbh in Haridwar was in 1998 and the next one is due in 2010.
The wise Vidura, uncle and counsel of the Pandavas, studied under Maitreya Muni here. Also called Kapilasthan, Haridwar is where Kapila Muni performed penance. It was near Haridwar, in the kingdom of Kankhal ruled by Daksha Prajapati, that Parvati was born as Sati, and the ill-fated Brihaspati Yagna was held.
It's believed that Raja Shwet prayed to Lord Brahma at Har ki Pauri. Pleased by his devotion, Brahma granted him a boon. The raja wished that the site should thereafter be known by the lord's name and that he should reside there along with Vishnu and Shiva, granting the sacredness of all tirths to it. The pool of water at Har ki Pauri thus came to be called Brahmakund. All those who bathe here are said to have been blessed by the holy trinity. This is also where the beautiful aarti of Gangamaiya takes place.
Architecture and antiquity
The most sacred site, the Har ki Pauri, was built by King Vikramaditya in honour of his brother, the saintly poet Bhartruhari, who is said to have meditated here. The Bhartruhari Smriti reveals that Raja Vikramaditya first built the steps and then the Brahmakund next to the site.
The Archaeological Museum of the Gurukul Kangri Vishwa Vidyalaya has a collection of artefacts from sites around Haridwar, dating back to 3500 BCE, including remains of temples, coins and pottery. It is also known that Emperor Akbar insisted on drinking Ganga jal drawn only from Haridwar! As such, even mythologically, there is no single presiding deity or ancient `core' temple in Haridwar. The Ganga herself is both the deity and the temple.