Ganga Sagar has a unique place in Hindu religion. It is the place where Ganga, the holiest of holy rivers meets the sea at the Bay of Bengal. For thousands of years people have been coming to this holy place to do tarpan of their near and dear ones who are no more. As per the shastras, the very purpose of bringing Ma Ganga to earth was salvation for the human beings.
According to legend, Raja Sagara did an Ashwamedh Yagya and his 60,000 sons went with the Ashwa (horse) to bring glory to their father. They reached Kapil Muni’s ashram where he was deep in sadhna. His sadhna was disturbed by the sons and in a fit of anger; he cursed the sons who were burnt to ashes. Time passed and later Bhagirath, the great grandson of Sagara, wanted to perform the shradh of his ancestors but there was no water available for the ceremony as the country was passing through a severe drought. Bhagirath prayed to lord Vishnu to allow the heavenly Ganga to come down to earth to which Vishnu agreed. Shiva agreed to hold Ganga in his hair when she comes to earth. The Ganga finally reached earth and Sagara’s sons reached salvation. The place where they reached salvation is known as Ganga Sagar and from here Ganga merges into the sea.
Ganga Sagar is an island 150 kilometers south of Kolkata and home to the largest gathering of Hindus annually anywhere in the world. Every year lakhs of people flock to Ganga Sagar to pray for salvation of departed souls who were near and dear to them. A dip at Ganga Sagar also means redemption for all wrongs. The place is considered so holy that there is a saying –
“Sare Teerath Bar Bar, Ganga Sagar Eak Bar”
“You can go to all the holy places, but a pilgrimage to Ganga Sagar equals them all.”
We flew to Kolkata on 24th morning and started by jeeps towards our destination. The journey was expected to take 4-5 hours. We reached Harwood ferry point near Kakdip in the late afternoon from where we had to take ferries to reach Sagar Island. There was a teeming mass of humanity at the junction, all waiting to board the ferry and we joined them. The ferry was packed with people and their belongings. People were feeding wheat balls to the fish and there were flocks of birds surrounding the ferry. The evening air was misty; the sea and horizon seemed to merge into one. It was mystical and magical. After a 20 minute ride we reached the Sagar Island. Another 30 minute journey by jeep awaited us before we could reach our destination.
We checked into Bharat Sevashram Sangha Ashram. By the time we reached, it was dark as we were late by a couple of hours from our estimated arrival time. Buoyed by the fact that we had finally reached, we were eager to go to the place where tarpan has been given for thousands of years. We started on foot towards the sea shore. It was nearly a kilometer away and by the time we started it was pitch dark. Walking with the help of cell phone lights and chanting the prayers, our group continued towards the sea shore. On reaching we found that the shore was also pitch dark but for a few lanterns.
A few of us took a dip in the icy cold water of the sea. We looked towards the horizon on the east side and remembered our ancestors with love and affection mingled with a deep longing. Each one of us has lost our dear ones during this journey of life and while we stood there, remembering our forefathers, we were overwhelmed with memories of a life time shared with our near and dear ones who are no more. We remembered our joys, our sorrows and realized how the bed rock of our identity is laid by the very people we have come to lay to rest. Standing there on the Amavasya night in the sea, looking at the endless horizon, each one of us was overwhelmed and filled with memories. Our loved ones seemed to have appeared around us and enveloped us in their love. In that state of near bliss mixed with heart wrenching sorrow for the loss we all had, we prayed to the God to bless our ancestors and to grant them salvation.
We prayed for all our near and dear ones, our past seven generations, for all those who had lived on this earth and needed salvation. We prayed for our own lost souls and asked for forgiveness for our sins. In the midst of the chanting of hymns and tarpan of water, we felt blessed. Blessed that our prayers have been answered and He has granted our wish. It was a divine moment, six-seven pundits chanting shlokas in the misty light of lanterns at sea shore, surrounded by our near and dear ones, and feeling His divine presence enveloping us. Each one of us had a deeply personal experience which slowly extended and we felt part of the universe.
Jab Mein Tha Tab Hari Nahin, Jab Hari Hai Mein Nahin
Sab Andhiyara Mit Gaya, Jab Deepak Dekhya Mahin
All the discomforts and disappointments of our journey so far were washed away and we felt electrified by the divine current. On the way back we visited Kapil Muni’s temple and prayed there. We slept in a dazed stupor dreaming of our near ones and reliving our experience.
A new dawn beckoned us the next day. Starting the day with Narayan kavach and Vishnu Sahastranam we proceeded towards Ganga Sagar once again to pray to the rising sun. Some of us indulged in the holy dip at Ganga Sagar before praying. The early morning beach was silver grey in color and seemed to merge with the sky. The sun rising behind the clouds gave a resplendent glow at the beach. The morning brought its own hope and possibilities. Buoyed by the sun’s blessing we proceeded to the ferry to return to Kolkata and proceed with our onwards journey.
The ferry ride on the way back was magnificent with the wind whispering promises and the heart filled with happiness and contentment for the tarpan completed yesterday. The birds continued to flock and surround our ferry giving us plenty of thoughts to marvel at the God’s creations. We proceeded towards Kolkata and the rest of the day was spent in travelling, first to Kolkata and then to Guwahati.
We reached Guwahati late at night. Everyone was very excited with the prospect of going to Kamakhya Devi temple the next day. Our travel wearied bodies needed rest and we retired in time to prepare for the next day.
We started the day early morning by assembling and praying to Maa Durga in her 10 forms. “Shakti” or power of Goddess Durga is known as Dasha Mahavidya. They also represent the 9 planets and our lagna respectively. The prayers ended with everyone hugging each other/ touching elder’s feet and marveling at the hope and serenity of the moment.
With loud cheers we started towards Nilachal hills where the temple is situated. Sh. K.N. Rao has mentioned in his books about the power of the Nilanchal hills and Kamakhya Devi Shakti peeth and sure enough the energy levels changed completely the moment we started climbing the hills. There were serpentine queues at the temple but the goddess herself was smiling benevolently at us and gave us unhurried darshan.
The Kamakhya Temple is a Shakti Peeth temple and is the main temple in a complex of individual temples dedicated to different forms of the mother goddess as the Dasa Mahavidya, including Bhuvaneshvari, Bagalamukhi, Chinnamasta, Tripura Sundari and Tara. The Kali represents Saturn, Tara represents Jupiter, Maha Tripura Sundari (or Kamakhya) symbolizes Mercury, Bhuvaneshvari symbolizes Moon, Chinnamasta represents Rahu, Bhairavi represents Lagna, Dhumavati represents Ketu, Baglamukhi represents Mars, Matangi represents Sun, and Kamala represents Venus.
It is an important pilgrimage destination for general Hindu and Tantric worshipers. According to the Kalika Purana, Kamakhya Temple denotes the spot where Sati used to retire and it was also the place where her yoni fell after Shiva danced with the body of Sati.
The place had very high energy level and an electrifying presence and we felt the presence of goddess Kamakhya in the mother’s form. We sat at the temple complex and prayed and also visited Bagalamukhi temple.
After climbing down from Nilanchal hills we moved towards the River Brahmaputra where Uma Nand temple is situated at Peacock Island. The Kalika Purana states that Goddess Urvasi brought nectar (Amrit) for Kamakhya and the Urvasi kunda is situated here. The presiding deity of the temple is Umananda who is considered the Bhairav of Maa Kamakhya. It is believed that worshiping here on the Amavasya day when it falls on Monday brings the highest bliss. It is said that when Shiva was in meditation on this hillock, Kamadeva interrupted his sadhna and was burnt to ashes by the fire of Shiva’s anger and hence the hillock got the name Bhasmacala. And sure enough when we remember Lord Shiva here, we see him in his Rudra swarup with his third eye clearly visible. When we reached the temple it was temporarily closed. The closing of a temple has different significations when this happens to people who want to recite mantras. It was a god sent opportunity for us and the temple pundits gave us permission to sit at the temple complex and pray to Lord Shiva. We recited Rudra Mantras which evoked powerful feelings. Later we went to Kaal Bhairav temple and chanted the Maha Mritunjay Mantra.
From here we went to Bhimeswar Dwadash Jyoti Ling Shiv Dham. This is a hidden Shakti peeth which very few people know about. It is situated in the midst of the jungles and has a rivulet flowing down which is known as The Ganga. It has natural shapes of the Lord Ganesh, Lord Shiva with Nandi, Maa Durga and Sun. The place was very peaceful and quiet and truly looked like the abode of Gods. It was time to start for our return journey and thus our pilgrimage which started at Ganga Sagar and took us to Kamakhya Shakti peeth and various other holy places ended.