Panch Prayag 2022

Dev Bhoomi, Uttarakhand is not just home to the popularly known Chardhams of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath, but it is also home to the origin of three major sister rivers of India – Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswathi. One could argue that the Chardhams came into existence because of these river systems and hence have played a pivotal role in giving rise to and for the continued sustenance of our Hindu Civilization, which gave rise to Sanatana Dharma.

The five revered sites in Uttarakhand where five rivers merge with Alaknanda to ultimately form the holy river Ganga are called Panch Prayag (Pañcha prayāga). It was fascinating to learn and photograph these 5 prayags. Here is a small note on these fabulous five.

  1. Vishnu Prayag : Dhauli Ganga merges into Alakananda : 1372 m (4,501 ft)
  2. Nand Prayag : Nandakini merges into Alakananda : 914 m (2,999 ft)
  3. Karna Prayag : Pinder Ganga merges into Alakananda : 860 m (2,820 ft)
  4. Rudra Prayag : Mandakini merges into Alakananda : 690 m (2,260 ft)
  5. Deva Prayag : Bhagirathi merges with Alakananda to become Ganga : 830 m (2,723 ft)

Alakananda river :

Alaknanda descends from the foot of the Satopanth and Bhagirath Kharak glaciers near the Nanda Devi parbat, cascades over a length of 229 km (142.3 mi) encompassing the five prayag’s, and is joined at Dev Prayag by the Bhagirathi, to form the mainstream of the Ganges. It flows down south towards Rishikesh and Haridwar, two holy places on the bank of the Ganges in Uttarakhand.

Satopanth is a triangular lake, which is located at a height of 4,402 m (14,442.3 ft), above msl and named after the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara. Whereas Nanda Devi is the second-highest mountain in India, after Kangchenjunga, and stands towering at 7,816 m (25643.04) above msl, also located in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. It is the 23rd-highest peak in the world.

Nanda Devi which means “Bliss-Giving Goddess”, is regarded as the patron goddess of the Garhwal and Kumaon Himalayas. In acknowledgment of its religious significance and for the protection of its fragile ecosystem, the Government of India declared the peak as well as the circle of high mountains surrounding it—the Nanda Devi sanctuary—off-limits to both locals and climbers in 1983. The surrounding Nanda Devi National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

As we read in the Gangotri 2022 post, Shiva entraps Ganga, as she descends onto earth, in his jate and releases just 1/6 of her to earth. Other authors put this number as 1/12th as well. As per other puranas, Alakananda is supposed to be yet another stream that Shiva released from the Ganga that descended onto Earth.

Vishnu Prayag :

Dhauli Ganga originates from the Niti Pass, and after traveling a distance of 25 km from its source to the Vishnu Prayag, joins Alakananda and this confluence is called Vishu Prayag. Alakananda, from Badrinath to this point, is called as Vishu Ganga as well.

Dhauli ganga on the left is joining Alaknanda / Vishnu Ganga river on the right hand side

Alakananda on her way to Nand Prayag

The archway to the sangam and the temple complex at Vishnu Prayag

Vishnu Narayan temple at Vishnu Prayag

Legend narrates the penance offered by sage Narada to god Vishnu at this confluence. An octagonal-shaped temple – located near the confluence – dated 1889, is credited to Maharani of Indore – Ahalyabai. Though it was built to worship a Shiva linga, it currently houses small temples for Vishnu, Narada and Shiva as well. A stairway from this temple leads to the Vishnu kund, at the confluence of the rivers.

Nand Prayag :

About 70 km downstream from Vishnu Prayag, we get the second prayag: Nand Prayag, where the Nandakini which originates from the glaciers below Nanda Ghunti in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, meets the Alakananda river. Nandakini is one of the 5 tributaries of the Ganga and terminates at Nand Prayag.

Nandakini is on the right hand side, where as Alakananda is on the left

Gopala temple at Nand Prayag

Karna Prayag :

Just about 21 km downstream, we get the third of the prayag’s: Karna Prayag, where the Pindar River that originates from the Pindar glacier, below the Nanda Devi Mountain range, merges into Alakananda.

The epic Mahabharata narrates that Karna did penance here and earned the protective gear of Kavacha and Kundala from his father, the Sun god, which gave him indestructible powers. The name of the confluence is thus derived from the name of Karna. There are references to this site in Meghaduta, a Sanskrit lyrical poetic drama written by the legendary poet Kalidasa, which attributes that Satopanth and Bhagirath glaciers joined here to form the Pindar River. Another classic work by the same author called the Abhijnana-Shakuntala also mentions that Shakuntala and King Dushyanta’s romantic dalliance occurred here. It is also mentioned that Swami Vivekananda meditated here for eighteen days.

We are on top of the Pinder river as she joins Alakananda coming from the right hand side of the image

Alakanada continues on her journey towards Rudra prayag, towards the left side of the image

Rudra Prayag :

Another 23 km downstream, we get the fourth prayag: Rudra Prayag, where Alakananda coming from Badrinath joins Mandakini which comes from Kedarnath. Mandakini river, which emerges from the Corabari Glacier and merges with Basuki river at Sonprayag, travels around 82 km before she herself merges into Alakananda at Rudra Prayag.

Lord Shiva performed tandava-nritya here. Tandava is a vigorous dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation, and dissolution. Shiva also played his favorite musical instrument the Rudra veena here. By playing the Veena, he enticed god Vishnu to his presence and converted him to water. Thus, the name of the place is called Rudra Prayag.

Another purana narrates that sage Narada had become conceited by his Veena playing skills. The gods requested Krishna in order to set things right. Krishna told Narada that Shiva and Parvati were impressed by his musical talent. Narada was taken in by the praise and immediately set out to meet Shiva in the Himalayas. On the way at Rudra Prayag, he met several beautiful damsels called raginis (musical notes) who were disfigured, and the reason for such disfigurement was squarely attributed to Narada playing his Veena. Hearing this, Narada felt humbled and surrendered before Shiva and decided to devote himself to learning music as a disciple of Shiva.

The idols of Lord Shiva and Goddess Chamundeshwari are worshiped in the temple at the confluence. It is believed that to master the mysteries of music, Narad Muni worshipped Lord Shiva, who appeared in his Rudra Avtaar (incarnation) to bless Narada and one can see the Narada shila near the confluence.

Mandakini is on the left hand side, where as Alakanada is on the right hand side of the image

Temples of Lord Shiva, with Narada and another temple for all the Shakti devi’s, including Godesses Chamundeshwari are found towards the upper portions of the confluence.

The big rock on the right hand side of the last set of stairs, is the Narada Shila.

Deva Prayag :

66 km downstream, we get to the 5th and the last of the Panch Prayag’s – Deva Prayag, which is the confluence of the two holy rivers, the Bhagirathi – the chief stream of the Ganges and the Alaknanda. The holiness of this place is considered equal to the famous Triveni Sangam confluence at Prayag Raj (Raja of all Prayags) where the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers merge. From this point on, she is called as Ganga.

The confluence got the name tag ‘Dev’ from a Brahmin called Deva Sharma who performed “rigorous religious austerities” here and was blessed by Rama, Vishnu’s incarnation and hero of the epic Ramayana. There are two Kunds on the banks of the rivers that join here: the Vasistha Kund on the Bhagirathi and the Brahma Kund on the bank of the Alakananda. Legend also mentions this site being Vishnu’s navel and that Brahma meditated here as well.

The many legendary kings who did penance here were, Rama – to atone for his sin of killing the demon-king Ravana, a Brahmin. Purana also states that Vishnu entreated the demon-king Bali for 3 steps of land here. Legend also states that Rama, before attaining salvation, vanished from here. Vaishnavites consider it as one of the 108 Divya Desams (sacred abodes of Vishnu) for undertaking a pilgrimage during their lifetime.

A famous temple dedicated to Rama called the Raghunath Math is located above the confluence. A 15 ft high, black granite image of Rama is worshipped here as the central icon. It is believed to be installed in the temple about 1250 years ago. A Shiva temple is also located nearby.

[Legend source: WikiWand]

Bhagirathi (from Gangotri) is on the left hand side, where as Alakanada (from Badrinath) is on the right hand side of the image

Raghunatha math and Shiva temple at the top of the confluence

Bhagirathi, which flows in rapids with strong currents meets a much calmer river in the Alaknanda

The legendary, live-giving Ganga flows a further 80 km to Rishikesh or around 95 km to Haridwar, nourishing every single life that she comes in contact with.

Namaskaragalu :

That brings us to the end of this Panch Prayag yatra. I offer my humble salutations to all the life-giving, civilization-nourishing rivers mentioned above, of which I knew nothing about before I went on my Chardham yatra. Jai Ganga maa !!! Om Narayana Namaha !!! Om Naham Shivaya !!!