Bageshwar: Finding a New Meaning of Liberation in Spiritual Rejoice
A tiny hill town, garlanded with hamlets, the confluence of two mythic rivers, ancient temples and their spiritual beliefs, garnered in the enticing lap of Kumaon hills – this is Bageshwar in a nutshell, but it is way ahead of this generalised brief description. A notable centre of Shaivism, Bageshwar is considered just next to Kashi in religious significance and holiness.
I had got the first glimpse of Bageshwar when heading towards Chaukori. Staying back in Bageshwar was not planned but when I entered the location, it exuded an unmatchable charm and I was quick enough to take the decision to stop by the place for an hour to understand it better and to rethink about my travel plan. I am always ready to rearrange my route during my travels if I come across sudden unexplored destinations, so as a traveller it wasn’t much of a surprise.
While planning my route for Binsar and Chaukori, I’d marked Bageshwar as just another small hill town in Uttarakhand with mythological, spiritual and religious significances. But on visiting the place, I realized that it gives a very transparent picture of local lifestyle, their beliefs and ways of life. The decision to stay back was hence, undoubtedly apt.
The pleasant picturesque frames of the place are striking! As I drove across the Gomti Bridge that leads to the crowded market area of Sangam Chowk Bazar – the lifeline of Bageshwar instantly hits a connection with the local fervour. In between this market area, a lane leads to the sacred Bageshwar Temple. At the confluence of the Sarayu and Gomti rivers, the temple stands with its effervescent grandeur.
The Significance of Bageshwar Temple
According to historical documentation, the present Bageshwar Temple was built by Lakshmi Chand, a ruler of the Chand dynasty in 1450 A.D, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is folklore that the idol of the Shiva Linga could not be installed since ages and whoever tried to do so either died or turned insane. Finally a pious man from the Palayan village, Sri Manorath Pandey who earned penance and got divine blessings from the Lord, was able to install the idol and since then, the temple was opened for worship.
Apart from recorded facts, the Temple of Bageshwar is also associated with myths and religious beliefs. Bageshwar finds mention in ancient Hindu scriptures, more particularly in Skanda Purana. There are two versions of popular myths. One says that Sage Markandya had worshipped Lord Shiva and the Lord appeared in the form of a tiger to bless the sage right in this place of Bageshwar. The other version of the legend says that Sage Vashist was asked by Lord Brahma to bring down river Sarayu on earth. When executing the orders of Brahma, he noticed that Sage Markandya, a devotee of Lord Shiva, was medidating on the proposed path of the river and hence, he could not bring down the river. He asked Lord Shiva’s help to intervene and the Lord plotted along with Goddess Parvati, to appear in the form of a tiger and a cow respectively in front of Sage Markandya. Lord Shiva in the form of the tiger started attacking Goddess Parvati, in the form of a cow, and the incident compelled Sage Markandya to break his meditation and leave the place to save the cow. As soon as he left, Sage Vashist brought down the Sarayu river to flow down this place. And Sage Markandya was blessed by Lord Shiva in the form of the tiger. Hence, the place was named Bagheswar (“Bagh” means tiger), that later happened to be known popularly as Bageshwar and the temple is believed to be built exactly on the location of the legend.
Significance of Sarayu River and Gomti River in Hindu Mythology
Both the rivers find mention in the Rig Vedas and other ancient scriptures and are hence, hailed as sacred. The river Sarayu is also described in the holy Ramayana as the river flowing through the ancient city Ayodhya, the kingdom of Lord Ram. Ayodhya is still a real town in present Uttar Pradesh and the faith of the people has strengthened through centuries. According to the Holy Scriptures, Sarayu is hugely associated with the epic events that shaped Hinduism or Sanatan Dharma. It’s on the banks of the Sarayu that King Dasaratha, father of Lord Ram, had accidentally killed Sharavan Kumar. It is also believed that the last rites of King Dasaratha were performed by Lord Ram on the banks of the Sarayu.
River Gomti, on the other hand, finds mention in the ancient scriptures as the daughter of Sage Vashist. The verses of Srimad Bhagavatam mentions that it is in this river that the sacred Gomti Chakras are found. Bathing in the waters of Gomti on Ekadashi is believed to wash away all sins.
It was around 11 am when I reached Bageshwar. Getting down at Sangam Bazar Chowk, I walked down the lane towards the Bageshwar Temple, also known as the Bagnath Temple. Since it is located right at the confluence of the two rivers, the blend of emerald and turquoise colour water looks beautiful. There are a number of Ghats having steps that lead to the water. The clear water offers a fair visibility till it gets deep. The place was mostly crowded with local people – some taking dip into the chilling holy waters and offering prayers at the confluence; some buying flowers and garlands to offer prayers in the temple; some sages or sadhus meditating near the ghats, enveloped with ash layers; while groups of people paying their last tribute to the dead in the ceremonial act, standing by the burning funeral pyres. It’s an amazing picture of life, death and salvation. After half an hour, I dipped my feet, washed my hands and face and moved towards the temple to pay a visit.
The main entrance of the Bagnath Temple is festooned with huge bells. The temple complex can be entered through multiple entrances. The main temple has the holy Shiva Linga installed which is daily worshipped by authorised priests. A sacred lamp is lit which remains lighted throughout the day and night and is never put off. The front yard also has various other ancient idols of gods and goddesses (from 7th -16th century), a sacred old tree and another small Shiva Linga.
Photography inside the main temple is not allowed yet tourists take pictures, with or without permission. But certain places should be given its due respect. Taking pictures while hiding mobiles and taking quick selfies in the absence of priests or authorities simply doesn’t make sense or etiquette.
The other side of the temple complex has temples dedicated to other deities and sages. The adjacent museum just opposite the temple can be visited to view statues and idols dating back to 8th – 10th century. The temple complex leads to a beautiful space with seating arrangements, overlooking the confluence of Sarayu and Gomti rivers. It offers an enchanting view of the mountains, hills, rivers, glimpses of the locality and local life, the Gomti bridge and the shoals of fishes in the river waters.
I clicked some pictures and spend some time on this yard before leaving the temple area. It was around 1:30 pm and I walked back to the market area to find a place for lunch. There are plenty of restaurants and small eateries throughout the Sangam Bazar Chowk and beyond. I was keen on having fish for lunch and crossed the Gomti Bridge to check out restaurants. Most of the bigger restaurants offer only vegetarian food while some small eateries offer both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes (only fish). I had two platters of fresh water fish fries along with local cuisine. And it was really good!
By the time I finished my platter clean, I had made up my mind to stay back at Bageshwar for the day. After lunch, I explored the market area on foot for about an hour and then went ahead to find a hotel. About 10 minutes’ drive from the Sangam Bazar Chowk, I checked in a hotel that offers comfortable stay. My room on the third floor was spacious with private balcony and all basic amenities were available including room service. The balcony offered a captivating view of the emerald waters of the Sarayu river. The murmurs of the river water carved some extraordinary moments. Some local kids were bathing in the water and it was a pleasure to watch them and their caricatures.
In the evening, I drove uphill to visit the Chandika Temple. Situated at the top of the hill, the view of the Bageshwar town is mesmerising from this temple complex. It’s windy and the chilling winds whip from all sides. The Chandika temple is dedicated to Goddess Chandika, a form of Goddess Kali. Beautifully lit, the small temple complex looks beautiful at night.
I got back to my hotel after two hours and placed my order for dinner. The hotel serves only vegetarian food and the food was delicious! It rained at night and I went off to sleep after checking out the news channels.
The Next Morning
It was a cloudy and misty morning. The colour of the river was changed. It appeared all muddy this morning. Sitting in the balcony, I enjoyed while sipping hot tea. The doorbell rang. My hot buttery ‘Aloo Paratha’ was here for my breakfast. Within an hour I was all ready to leave but not before visiting the ghats once again.
A few minutes on the ghats and one is transported to a world of contemplation and spiritual connection that is hard to detach from. Amidst the roar of the river water and the hustling crowd, a strange feeling of detachment and liberation sets in and on reaching a certain level of inner peace, one is suddenly shaken back to the reality with a surprising overdose of mental stability and silence. As I sat back on the steps of one of the ghats, I felt it strongly.
On the way, my next point of visit was Gauri Udiyar (8km) and Baijnath Temple (20.7km) before heading towards my next destination, Chaukori.
Other Places to Visit near Bageshwar
Bageshwar is also a starting point for a number of popular trekking routes to Pindari, Kafni and Sunderdunga Glaciers in Uttarakhand. Other places of interest near Bageshwar are Chaukori (47 km), Binsar (45 km), Kausani (39 km), Almora (73 km).
Where to Stay
There are a lot of private hotels, guest houses, tourist lodges and dharamshalas in Bageshwar. The government accommodation of Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) is 2 kms from the Bagnath Temple.
Best Time to Visit
The summers (April to June) are hot and humid and the monsoons (July to September) record heavy rainfall. Though most of the year, the weather is somewhat similar in Bageshwar as in the rest of the country, the winters (December to February) are extremely cold with temperatures dropping below freezing point. Heavy woollens are required during this time. However, October-November is a pleasant time to visit Bageshwar. If you want to witness the religious fervour of the place, then visit Bageshwar either during the ‘Uttarayani Fair’ which is held on the occasion of Makar Sankranti in January every year or during the ‘Shivratri Fair’ which is held in February or March, depending on the date of Shivratri. At this time, Bageshwar lends a mini picture of Haridwar and Kashi.