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Skanda Purana (Kartika Purana)
THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘ HOLY DIPS’ IN MARGASHIRSH
Continuing with the description of the significance of various months, Sutji said– ‘Once, while lord Vishnu was engrossed in his ‘yoganidra’ at Shwetdweepa, lord Brahma arrived there and requested him to describe the importance of Margashirsh. Lord Vishnu had told him that a devotee aspiring for unification with him, must observes austerities during this month. Describing the proper method of observing austerities lord Vishnu had said that one should get up early in the morning and after performing the ritualistic ‘achaman’, he should remember me by chanting my one thousand names. Next, he should take his bath according to the rituals mentioned in the scriptures, as follows– He should remove some soil from near the roots of tulsi plant and pluck few tulsi leaves. Holding both the things in his hand, he should chant either Gayatri mantra or the mantra, ‘om namo narayanay’, so that they become sanctified. While taking his bath, it is a must to eulogize Ganga in the following way- ‘ O Ganga! Though have manifested from Vishnu’s feet and hence called Vaishnavi. Myself being a devotee of lord Vishnu, you should protect me from all the possible sins I am likely to commit in my whole life.’ A devotee should say this prayer for seven times and take the same number of holy dips in the river. He should then put on tidy clothes and perform ‘tarpan’ in the names of all the deities sages as well as ancestors.
Continuing with his tales, Sutji said–’ Once, king Ambarish asked Narad about the reason why lord Vishnu had special liking for the hindu month-Vaishakh. Narad’s answer was that Vaishakh had been given special privilege by lord Brahma himself and is believed to fulfill all the wishes of a man. No other month is as dear to Lord Vishnu as Vaishakh. The sin raises its ugly head only till a devotee has bathed before sunrise in the month of Vaishakh but once he has taken his bath all his sins just disappears. This is also the period when all the deities are believed to dwell in all the rivers, ponds, lakes, apart from the holy rivers. Great significance has been attached to doing charitable deeds in this month, especially providing water to thirsty. Similarly, donating certain articles like umbrella, fans, shoes, all have their own importance. One who gets constructed an inn for the comfort of the travelers and provides water to them attains imperishable virtues. No charitable deed can ever match the virtue of donating food grains and one who accomplishes this great act can be aptly called a ‘Pita’ (Father).
Once, on being asked by sage Bhardwaj and few others about the grandeur of Ayodhya, Sutji replied–’ Ayodhya, a sacrosanct city is based on the bank of river Saryu. It is the very city where the famous king Ikshavaku ruled once upon a time. The term Ayodhya means unconquerable and consists of three root letters: a- symbolizing Brahma, y-symbolizing Vishnu and dh-symbolizing Rudra. It is a place where lord Vishnu has his abode for eternity and does not leave it even for a moment. According to the scriptures Ayodhya is based on Sudarshan chakra. It is well expanded in the radius of one yojan. Its eastern boundary stretches up to one yojan from a place called ‘Sahastradhan’. Similarly, the western front stretches up to one yojan from a place called ‘Sama’, the southern up to one yojan from the bank of Saryu and its northern boundary up to one yojan starting from the bank of river Tamsa. In ancient times, a brahmin named Vishnu Sharma had performed an austere penance at Ayodhya. Lord Vishnu had appeared after becoming pleased by him and had created a holy place by digging up the earth with his Sudarshan chakra. Anybody, who takes a holy dip in Chakrateerth becomes absolved of all his sins.
Once, Shaunak and few other sages asked Sutji as to how could a man become free from the bondage of the world. They also inquired whether there was an existence of any such holy place capable of liberating a man from heinous of sin.
Sutji replied–’ Ramteerth is supreme among all the places of pilgrimage. A mere sight of this holy place is enough to free a man from the bondage of this mortal world. Going on a pilgrimage to Rameshwar gives virtues similar to what is attained by performing all the yagyas. One, who takes a holy dip at Setu Rameshwar, attains to Vishnuloka. Merely by sleeping at the sea shore of Rameshwar a man gets absolved of heinous of sins like brahmhatya, etc. A man is blessed if his remains are consigned to the holy waters at Rameshwar after his death. Scriptures say that five types of sins are as grave as the sin of brahmahatya–
One, who criticizes sages
All the sages were curious to know about the holy places in the vicinity of Rameshwar. Sutji replied–Sri Ram replied went into exile accompanied by Sita, his consort and his younger brother, Laxman. Ravan, the demon king who ruled over Lanka deceitfully abducted Sita. Subsequently, Sri Ram befriended Sugreev and killed Bali, who harboured enemity against him. Sugreev sent monkeys in all directions to find out where Sita had been kept by Ravan. Later on Sri Ram reached Mahendra Parvat accompanied by Laxman, Hanuman, Sugreeva, Jambavan, Nal and may more brave warriors. They stayed for a brief period at Chakrateerth, where Vibhishan came to see Sri Ram. Eventually Vibhishan was nominated the king of all the demons by Sri Ram to the great displeasure of his brother Ravan.
Sri Ram and his army faced an uphill task of reaching Lanka for they had to cross the ocean, which lay as a great barrier between them and their destination. Samudra (ocean) revealed to Sri Ram that Nala had divine powers and whatever he would throw in the Ocean would not sink down but keep on floating. Nala tried to check the authenticity of Samudra’s statement by throwing a huge rock into the ocean, as he himself was not aware of his powers. To the sheer amazement of everybody present there the rock started floating on the surface of the ocean instead of sinking down. All the rest of the monkeys tried to emulate Nala’s feat by throwing huge rocks into the ocean and to their own surprise found that the rocks did not sink. This was how a bridge was built and across the ocean which made it possible for Sri Ram and his army to cross the ocean. Then length of Setu Rameshwar Bandh is hundred yojan and it is ten yojan broad. There are many holy places situated on the bridge prominent among which are Chakra-teerth, Paap-vinashan teerth, Sita -sarovar, Mangal- teerth, Amrit-watika, Brahma-kund, Hanumat- kund, Agastya-teerth, Ram-teerth, Laxman-teerth, Jaya-teerth, Laxmi-teerth, Agni-teerth, Shiv-teerth, Shankh-teerth, Yamuna-teerth, Ganga-teerth, Koti-teerth, Manas-teerth and Dhanushkoti teerth.
Describing how Sri Ram had installed Rameshwar linga, Sutji said–’ After killing Ravan, Sri Ram enthroned Vibhishan as the king of Lanka. While returning to Ayodhya he made a brief stop at Gandhamadan mountain. Since the thought of having killed a brahmin (Ravan) kept on tormenting him, he decided to atone for his sins. So, he installed the idol of Rameshwar linga at Rameshwar setu. Rameshwar linga is so sacrosanct that all the holy places, sages and ancestors are believed to exist within the temple premise of Maheshwar linga. Being installed by Sri Ram himself, this particular linga has special significance attached to it. One who goes on a pilgrimage to this holy place is certain to attain salvation even if he were a ‘Mlechha’ (born in a low caste).
Once, sage Vyas went to meet Yudhisthira, who requested him to describe the significance of Dharmaranya kshetra.
Sage Vyas replied– ‘ O king! Once, Dharmaraj-Yudhisthira did an austere penance to please lord Shiva. As usual, Indra became scarred because he thought that Dharmaraj was doing penance with the intention of acquiring Indraloka. He and other deities went to seek the help of lord Brahma, who did not have any clue. So, all of them went to Kailash mountain to seek Lord Shiva’s help. Since Shiva was aware of Dharma’s motive, he explained to the deities that there was nothing to worry about. But, Indra was not satisfied and the thought of loosing his kingdom continued to torment him.
Indra then instructed a beautiful Apsara named Vardhini to go to the place where Dharma was doing penance and disturb him by corrupting his thoughts. Vardhini went to the place where Dharma was engrossed in his penance and was successful in disturbing him. When Dharma opened his eyes he found a beautiful Apsara in front of him. Vardhini asked Dharma–’ O Lord! What is the objective with which you are doing such an austere penance? Being an embodiment of virtuosity yourself, you prevail in the whole world. So, in a sense you already the lord of the world – what else do you need?’
Dharma told Vardhini that he was doing penance with the objective of having a divine glimpse of lord Shiva. Vardhini informed him that Indra was scarred of losing his kingdom and hence had sent her to disturb his penance. Dharma was pleased by her truthfulness and wanted to reward her for that. Vardhini expressed her desire of having her abode in Indraloka for eternity and also of having a place of pilgrimage named on her. Dharma blessed her after which she returned to Indraloka.
Dharma once again engrossed himself in penance. Ultimately, Lord Shiva became pleased and appeared before him. ‘ Ask for any boon and it shall be bestowed to you’, said Lord Shiva. Dharmaraj replied -’ O lord! I want this place to be named after me. I also request you to grace this place by your presence.’ Lord Shiva blessed him and fulfilled both his wishes. This was how Dharmakshetra got its name. Subsequently, lord Shiva appeared in the form of Dharmeshwar linga in accordance with the second wish of Dharmaraj. After his penance was over, Dharma also had created a holy reservoir over there which is believed to absolve a man of all his sins.