India, a land of myths, has many places that had a connection with mythological characters. Some temples hold a story that makes them popular. Or there might be stories, and these temples might even have something to make the stories more believable. It is also the belief that attracts people towards the temple, just like the light that attracts a moth. Stories are not only associated with temples but also with few holy places. There are few holy places which have a certain history too. Few gained worldwide popularity while few have not.
If one starts to research the history of holy places in India, it might take a few years because one or the other districts have stories to tell. Stories that leave people wondering whether it truly happened or it is just a story. Well, stories in either way have been successful in attracting people. Here are five holy places in India that have stories of history related to mythical characters.
Tirupati is the wealthiest holy place in India. Deities from all over the world visit the temple in Tirupati. The temple is of the Lord Venkateshwara. The history of the temple involves two incarnations of the Lord Vishnu.
Centuries ago, when the earth sank into patal lok due to heavy rains and wind, Lord Vishnu took the incarnation of Varaha, whose tusks pulled the earth back. Varaha stayed on the earth for the welfare of people in Venkatadri. But, Varaha returned to Vaikunth, his place of abode at the beginning of kali yuga. This made Lord Brahma worried because he wanted the incarnation of Lord Vishnu on the earth. He asked Narada for help.
Narada advised Saint Brigha to test the triad i.e., Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. None of the three noticed him. This made him angry and kicked Vishnu in the chest. This made Lakshmi angry so, she decided to leave Vaikunth. Kolhapur in Maharashtra became her home. Vishnu left Vaikunth as well and stayed in Venkatadri. He incarnated as Srinivasa in that place.
The king of the place was Akasa Raja, whose daughter was Padmavati. Padmavati and Srinivasa fell in love with each other and decided to marry. Srinivasa took a lump sum of debt from Kubera for the marriage. The news of marriage reached Lakshmi so, and she reached Tirupati to confront Vishnu. Padmavati joined her. Lord Vishnu turned himself into a statue. Lord Shiva and Brahma explained everything to the ladies. They decided to stay with the lord. In this way, Lord Vishnu abides in Tirupati for the welfare of the people.
Kashi, a holy place located in Varanasi, is one of the oldest places on the earth. It is regarded as the spiritual capital of the nation. There are many stories associated with this place. One of them is the war between Brahma and Vishnu. They both wanted to know who is supreme, so they started a war. Lord Shiva created a light that pierced heaven and hell. He said that whoever finds the source of the light is supreme.
Vishnu took the form of a boar and started digging the earth. Brahma took the form of a swan and started flying towards the sky. Both were unsuccessful in finding the source. Vishnu accepted the defeat. But, Brahma lied that he found the source and asked the Ketaki flower to be the witness.
This lie infuriated Lord Shiva. He took the form of Kaal Bhairava. He cursed Brahma that he will never be worshiped on the earth. He even severed the fifth head of the Brahma. But, the head stuck to his left hand. Efforts to remove the head were failed. He wandered on the banks of the river Ganga and dipped his hand in the river. The head came out on its own. This place became popular as Kashi.
The temple of Shiva in Kashi is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas. There is another myth i.e., eagles do not fly over the city, and lizards do not make a sound. They were cursed because they helped Hanuman to find linga for prayer. But, Hanuman didn’t take the permission of Kaal Bhairava.
Kedarnath temple is a holy shrine of Lord Shiva. Kedarnath means ‘the lord of the field’. Nara-Narayana requested Lord Shiva to dwell in Kedarnath. He agreed to their request and made this place his home. After the Kurukshetra war, sage Vyasa advised Pandavas to seek forgiveness from Shiva for killing their whole kin. So, they came to Kedarnath in search of Lord Shiva.
Shiva was unwilling to forgive them; he took the form of a bull and hid among the cattle. But, the Pandavas found him. He tried to sink into the earth. But, Bhima caught him by his tail. Though he caught the tail, he could only manage to get hump of the bull.
Body parts of the bull showed up at different places. Hump was found in Kedarnath. The Pandava brothers built the temple in Kedarnath. The navel emerged in Madhya-Maheshwar, two forelegs that appeared in Tunganath, the face in Rudranath, and the hair in Kalpeshwar. These are collectively called the Panch Kedar – the five sacred places. There is a pillared hall in front of the temple, which has images of Parvati and all the five Pandavas.
Kedarnath is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas. There are statues of all the five Pandavas, Draupadi, Nandi, Lord Krishna, and Virabhadra in the first half of the temple. Behind the temple, there is the samadhi mandir of Adi Shankara. This temple is open only between April and November because of the extreme climatic conditions.
Badrinath is a town in Uttarakhand. The temple in Badrinath is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The idol in the temple is a black stone one, which is believed to be a self-manifested idol. The temple and the place are one of the Char Dham pilgrimages. Mata Murti ka Mela is the most prominent festival celebrated in Badrinath. This festival signifies the descent of the goddess Ganga.
Ancient religious texts like Vishnu Purana and Skanda Purana contain information about the temple. There are two mythical stories related to this place. Lord Vishnu sat in this place for meditation. The weather turned hot. So, Lakshmi protected him by taking the form of the Badri tree.
This place became so popular that saints, pilgrims, and sages started to meditate in search of enlightenment. Badrinath was re-established by Adi Shri Shankaracharya to revive the prestige of Hinduism and unite the nation in one bond. It is also believed that the Pandavas and Draupadi ascended the slopes of a peak called Swargarohini near Badrinath during their last pilgrimage.
Swargarohini is known as the ‘Ascent to Heaven.’ Another story is that Nara and Narayana chose Badrinath to spread their religion. They came across the other four Badris of the Pancha Badris. They finally found the hot and cold spring behind the Alaknanda River and named it Badri Vishal, which later became Badrinath.
Gangotri is a town in Uttarakhand. It is believed to be the seat of Goddess Ganga. There is a temple of Goddess Ganga in Gangotri. It is closed after Diwali and opened on Akshaya Tritiya. There are two mythical stories associated with Gangotri. One is the story of king Sagar.
He started Aswamedha Yagna after slaying all the demons on the earth. The horse was supposed to cover the whole earth. It was accompanied by 60000 sons born to Queen Sumati and one son Asmaja born to Queen Kesani. Lord Indra feared that if the horse covers the whole earth, then he will lose all his powers and throne. So, he tied the horse in the ashram of Kapil Muni. This sage was engrossed in deep meditation.
On finding the horse tied, princes became agitated and stormed the ashram. This made the sage angry. When he opened his eyes, all the princes turned into ashes within a fraction of seconds. King Bhagiratha, the grandson of King Sagar, meditated to please Goddess Ganga. The goddess descended from the head of Lord Shiva to cleanse the ashes of the ancestors of the king Bhagiratha and to liberate their souls.
Another story is related to Lord Brahma. Ganga took birth as a young woman out of the water vessel of Brahma. The water in the vessel was the water collected after washing the feet of Vishnu, who incarnated as Vamana to slay a demon. These stories made the place a pilgrimage.
There are other holy places and pilgrimage sites, too—each with their own mythical story. We can never learn about the future but, we can learn about our history by visiting holy places and pilgrimage sites because history is what made us and is part of us.