By Kulbhushan Kain
I drive to and from Haridwar every week. As I drive, my mind always goes back to the 1960s. My father was consultant doctor at the Indian Institute of Petroleum at Mokhampur, which is on the highway that connects Dehradun to Haridwar. Sometimes it used to get dark after work – and many of his friends would tell him to be careful because of wild elephants and tigers on a desolate road which did not boast of street lights. It was as if Mokhampur was on another planet! Beyond Mokhampur lay Doiwala, Raiwala, Rishikesh and Haridwar. The roads were single, bumpy and non-existent during the monsoons .There were hardly any dwellings as one drove. But that was in my Dad’s car and during my Dad’s time.
More than 50 years later, I pass the same landmarks. It’s a struggle to weave ones way through the crowded highway. On Monday, I was caught in a traffic jam near the toll barrier, which reminded me of Delhi. We now have an airport enroute to Haridwar and one better know the timings of the flights in order to avoid the queues of cars ferrying people coming back or taking off to their destinations! Everything has changed.
But not history!
Haridwar is considered one of the seven holiest cities in India –“Sapta Puri”. The Garuda Purana lists these as Ayodhya, Maya (Haridwar), Mathura, Kashi (Varanasi), Avantika (Ujjain), Kanchi and Dwarka.
Surprisingly, very few people know about the history of Haridwar apart from the fact that it is a “sacred” city, where Hindus go to immerse the ashes of the deceased as also to take a dip in the holy Ganga to attain immortality. However, there is a lot more to the city.
It is said that King Bhagiratha brought the river Ganga from heaven in order to provide salvation to his ancestors. It is at Haridwar that the holy and mighty river enters the plains. Lord Vishnu’s footprint is set in the upper wall of Har-ki-Pauri which the Ganga touches at all times. Haridwar is one of the four places where the drops of Amrit supposedly fell into the Brahmkund from a pot (kumbha) of nectar which was created after the churn of the ocean (samudra manthan). The Gods and demons fought over the nectar in order to gain immortality and, in the tussle, the pot spilled at 4 places – and that is the origin of the four Kumbha Melas. The Kumbh Mela of Haridwar appears to be the original one, since it is held according to the astrological sign “Kumbha” (Aquarius). However, I may add that the story is inconsistent and varies. What is however irrefutable is that Haridwar is one of the 4 sites of the 12 yearly Kumbha Melas.
Another thing which most people seem unaware of is as to why Haridwar is spelt either “Hardwar” or “Haridwar”. The followers of “Har” (Lord Shiva), spell it as Hardwar because it is the gateway to one of Lord Shiva’s most revered temples at Kedarnath. The followers of “Hari” (Lord Vishnu) spell it Haridwar because it is the gateway to one of Lord Vishnu’s most revered temples at Badrinath.
Haridwar was ransacked by Timur the Lame in January, 1399. But as much as Timur showed scant respect for the holy city – Akbar revered it. According to Abul Fazl, who wrote the Ain-e-Akbari, Akbar drank water daily from the Ganga brought to wherever he was in covered pitchers by people specially posted at Haridwar. He called it the “water of immortality”. He also established a copper mint at Haridwar.
The famous Chinese traveler, Huang Tsang, who visited India in 629 AD, records Haridwar as “Mo-yu-la”, the remains of which can still be seen to the south of the city at Mayapur.
Guru Nanak Devji also visited Haridwar on Baisakhi day in 1504 AD, and he bathed at ‘Kushawart Ghat’, where the famous, ‘watering the crops’ episode took place. He offered water on the side opposite to where people were offering water to the Sun. When asked why he was doing so, Guru Nanak replied that it was the side on which his farms were!
There is a lot to see in Haridwar. There are the Panch Teerths – Gangadwara (Har Ki Pauri), Kushwarth Ghat, Kankhal, Bilwa Tirth (Mansa Devi Temple) and Neel Parvat (Chandi Devi).
Haridwar is the gateway to the “Chhota Char Dham” – Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. It may not be the capital and the biggest district in Uttarakhand but certainly is the emotional and religious capital of Devbhoomi.
Next time you are in Haridwar (or Hardwar), take a heritage walk of the city and after exhausting yourself – eat the amazing poorie with subzi with lassi at either Chotiwala or Mohanji Puriewalah!! And top it up with “doodh ke pedas” from any stall.
Lastly, take part in the famous Ganga Aarti at the Har Ki Pauri. The priests hold large fire bowls in their hands, the bells in the temples start ringing, the chants of mantras flow out in the air, and people float diyas with flowers in the river. The shadows reflect on the flowing Ganga which looks so beautiful that it cannot be expressed in words.
It’s a surreal experience.
(Kulbhushan Kain is an award winning educationist with more than 4 decades of working in schools in India and abroad. He is a prolific writer who loves cricket, travelling and cooking. He can be reached at email@example.com)