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Manikaran, Himachal Pradesh
Thirty-Five miles off Highway 21, deep in the Parvati Valley lies Manikaran, a small but very significant religious town. The winding road takes visitors past terraced rice fields, shanty tea stalls, herds of goats, and amazingly, little car traffic. Sadhus making their pilgrimage to the sacred temples pass by like ants marching to a beat we are not able to hear. Eventually, they will find themselves in good company at the Shiva Temple, located on the banks of Parvati River.
A small outlying strip of shopping stalls, street merchants, and eateries greet the tourists they are marketed toward before reaching the actual town of Manikaran. Coffee bars with internet access gave me an idea I was heading into prime tourist territory. Within minutes I had my confirmation. Several large, dusty parking lots handle the influx of cars and buses bringing both Indian and foreign visitors. First impressions had me comparing this town to a mini-Rishikesh. Quickly I was out of the car and onto the short span bridge over the Parvati River to see the action. Like any area that welcomes large amounts of followers, Manikaran is overwhelmed with merchants eager to sell you fruit juice, camera film, Taj Mahal purses (tacky), meals, and really just about anything else. It’s easy to look past the crowded, narrow lanes if visiting during off times. Luckily there were no festivals marked for celebration on this day. Along with my friend Rakesh, I was able to breeze down the zig-zag lanes after a brief visit to the Ram Temple.
The Shiva Temple is as good as it gets, far surpassing my expectations. As promised, sadhus were cooking rice and dal on the edge of the hot springs. And hot they are. Walking along the wooden planks laid on the ground near the springs is a trick in itself. My advice? Walk quickly! Thanks to the lack of crowds we were able to lazily walk about the temple as I snapped pics and asked questions. Just steps away, also built on the river banks, is Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurudwara. This Gurudwara is particularly famous, attracting a decent throng of visitors during my brief look at the town. Entering the temple was aborted as my time was running short before moving on for the day. Multiple walking hikes lead off from Manikaran with ample local agencies present for booking and information gathering. To properly see Manikaran, it’s advisable to arrive in the evening, bunk at one of a glut of hotels here, and rise early the following morning. Numerous restaurants offering Continental, Chinese, Indian, and even some Tibetan fare are littered throughout the market as well as the tourist strip a few kilometers away. Bus service is plentiful, dropping riders within an easy walk of the main attractions. It may be a tourist trap but it’s oh so worth the trek. Do one thing. Play tourist by stopping at the German Bakery to grab yourself a chocolate croissant you’ll never forget.
Introduction to Manikaran and its history
In the wanderings of Lord Siva and Goddess Parvati in the forests of the Himalayan ranges, they came to a place now called MANI KARAN. The mountain–locked area, the lush green patches, and the forests charmed them and they decided to stay there for some time. For long eleven hundred years, they remained at this place. At one time, when the Lord was relaxing with the Goddess, in the beautiful waters of a stream running by the side, the ‘MANI’ (Jewel) in an ear-ring of the goddess dropped somewhere. Parvati was much distressed and there was a thorough search but efforts to find out the jewel failed. Lastly, the Lord ordered his attendants, to trace out the jewel, wherever it may be. That was also unsuccessful. Lord Siva got enraged, as a result of which his third eye opened. With the opening of the third eye of the Lord Siva, a very ominous event, there was a great commotion, all over the universe. The entire universe was much too upset and apprehended a great calamity.
Shesh Nag, the serpent god, was approached. In order to subside the anger of Lord Siva Shesh Nag hissed and hissed and there was a flow of boiling water passing over the area and out came a number of precious stones of the type which was lost. Lord Siva was pacified. The water still continues to be hot. Before the earth-quake of 1905 affecting this area also, it is said, that this boiling water used to rise, to about ten feet height. There are several temples in the Mani Karan village. The most important is that of Lord Raghunath. The Pandas (priests) of the village claim that the idol of Rama was brought from Ayodhya and installed in this temple by the Raja of Kulu. This lacks a historic confirmation. There was also an idol of Lakshman the younger brother of Lord Rama Chandra. This has now disappeared. On the left-hand side of the Lord is the idol of goddess Sita. The temple is very old and on one of the stones in its wall, the history of the temple is written which is not legible.
There is another very old temple of Lord Siva, which got tilted during the earthquake of 1905. The great prestige with which Mani Karan is held is seen by the fact that the Devatas of Kulu valley pay regular visits to Mani Karan. The followers of the individual deities at different places are carried ceremoniously in a procession to Mani Karan on specified auspicious days. The visiting deities are given a ceremonial bath. The second chapter of Brahm Puran recites the story of Mani Karan as given above. The place is described as one of the hot and cold waters and the divine pair had repaired there for water sports (Jal-Krida). Fragrant and attractive flowers graced the place and by a bath, at the Sangam (confluence) one is eternally blessed. The Brahm-Puran enjoins the pilgrims to pass a night awake at Mani Karan and do puja (Raat-Jagran). Thereby the pilgrims obtain the full virtue of the world. The story of the loss of the jewel and the frantic search and ultimate recovery is vividly described. The tract is Lord Siva’s own and a pilgrimage at this place is adequate and one need not visit Kashi (Varanasi) and other places of pilgrimage. The place is also held sacred by the Sikhs. The Janam Sakhi (Twarikh Guru Khalsa) by Giani Gian Singh mentions the visit of Guru Nanak Dev to this place.
It has been mentioned that accompanied by his disciple Bhai Mardana, the Guru reached Jwalamukhi temple after visiting Kalanaur, Gurdaspur, Dasuya, Triloknath, Palampur, and Kangra. The Guru then proceeded towards Mandi and after visiting Chamba and Kulu he came to Bijli Maha- dev. At all these places Guru Nanak Dev had preached. Then he came to Mani Karan. The Janam Sakhi (Autobiography of Bhai Mardana) mentions the miracles did by the Guru. The Guru came to Mani Karan along with his Five Piaras (followers). On examination it is understood the Mani Karan hot spring is said to have got Uranium and other radioactive minerals Brahm Puran mentions: “On the western side, there are tanks of hot and cold waters called Vishnu Kund. They are capable of showering generosity. By having a bath in these tanks, human beings go to Heaven (Vishnu Lok). Lord Brahma created the eastern side of the area in ancient times. It is famous for a river called Brahma Neel. By taking a bath in this river, all evils of human beings vanish. One, who does not worship here, never feels at rest.
One month, seven days, or even three days bath, in the Vishnu Kund is sufficient to attain salvation. There is no doubt about that, anybody who dies, in any corner of this area, gets released from the worldly bondage. On the northern side, there is a mountain, which is named Harinder. Merely a look at this mountain will make a person free from all evils and on the south is the Parvati River which everybody. By taking bath here and by drinking water of the place, people go to Heaven, this is said of the Mani Karan tract since times immemorial. It is just like Kashi Kshetra. There is no doubt about it. Out of all sectors (Piths) of the country, this sector which is called ‘Kulant Pith, is the superior most. Here, the most sacred place of pilgrimage is Mani Karan, and in it, the ‘Vishnu Kund’ is the purest of all. Lord Sankara is mightily pleased to stay here. This is absolutely true. No other tank in the world could be purer than these high rising tanks. Even a drop of water from the tanks will make one free of all evils. Narad, on account of the influence of the Sankara’s eye, this sacred place, causes the disappearance of anger and evils. One who eats the food cooked in this boiling water goes to the Vishnu Lok (Heaven).