3:02 AM

The Essence of Puranas – Skanda Purana -2

Posted by gopalakrishna

The Essence of Puranas – Skanda (Kartika)  Purana

Some Tirthas and Kshetras of repute
Nandiswar narrated to Markandeya that besides the Gupta Kshetra, Bharat is dotted with innumerable Tirthas and Punya Kshetras all over. The major Siva Pradhan (Siva-Oriented) Kshetras include ‘Varanasi’ where Avimukta Maha Deva, Visalakshi, Annapurna, Kapala Mochana Tirtha, Kala Bhairava Nivas and the Jeeva Ganga were the highlights;     
‘Gaya’ Tirtha is well reputed as a Holy Place for performing ‘Pinda Pradaan’; ‘Kedar’ where Shankar is present in the Form of Mahisha fulfilling human desires; ‘Badarikashrama’ where Devi Parvati and Maha Deva worship Vishnu in the form of Nara Narayana; ‘Naimisharanya’where Maha Deva was known for destroying Tripurasura; ‘Amaresha’Kshetra where Siva is in the form of ‘Omkareswara’ and Devi Parvati as ‘Chandika’; ‘Pushkar Maha Tirtha’ where Rujogandhi Siva and Puruhuta named Devi reside; ‘Ashadhi’named Tirtha Sthaan where ‘Ashadh Mahadeva and Rati Devi stay; ‘Dandi-Mundi’ Tirtha where Mundi named Rudra and ‘Dandi’ Devatha inhabit; ‘Aralakeswar’ Kshetra is the abode of ‘Sukshma’ Siva and ‘Sukshmi’Girijakumari; ‘Kurukshetra’ where ‘Sthanu’ Deva and ‘Sthanupriya’ Devi stay; ‘Kankhal’ where Siva in the form of ‘Ugra’ and ‘Uma’ named Devi are housed; ‘Attahaas’ Tirtha is the Place where Surya Deva worships; ‘Srishaila’ is a popular Kshetra worshipping ‘Mallikarjuna’ and  ‘Bhramaramba’, where Brahma did penance for Siddhi before taking up Creation of human beings; ‘Kalahasti’ on the banks of River ‘Suvarnamukhi’ displaying ‘Kalahasteswara’ and ‘Bhringamukharalika’ (Jnana Prasunamba) where Veda Vyasa worshipped; till date Pujas are performed to appease Rahu and Kethu Devas among the ‘Navagrahas’; ‘Kancheepura Kshetra’ where ‘Devi Kamakshi’ performed Tapasya under a Mangoe Tree to ‘Kamashasan’(Ekambareswar); ‘Vyaghrapuri Tirtha’ near Tillinanam where Siva is present as famous ‘Nataraja’ in the dance form at Chidambaram, where Maharshi Patanjali did his ‘upasana’; ‘Sethubandhana’ / ‘Rameswara’where Sri Rama and Devi Sita returned from Lanka after killing Ravanasura and Sita set up a Sand Linga, since Hanuman Deva was unable to bring a fascimile of Kasi Visveswara on time; ‘Soma Tirtha’where ‘Somnath’is present; ‘Gokarna Kshetra’ where Bhagavan Gokarneswar is present; ‘Brahmapura Kshetra’ on the banks of Pushkarini where Brahma established Parama Siva; ‘Tripuranthak Kshetra’ where the Three Eyed Siva demolishes the devotees’ fear of ‘Naraka’; ‘Prabhasa Kshetra’where Sri Krishna and Balabhadra worship ‘Chandrardha Sekhar’; ‘Jaalandhar kshetra’where Andhakasura was killed by Siva and Jalandhar did Tapasya to become the Head of ‘Shivaganas’; ‘Jwalamukhi’ Sthaan ( Place) where Devi Jwalamukhi worships ‘Kaala Rudra’; ‘Triambakeswar’ on the banks of Godavari River where Kartikeya secured the Shakti to kill Tarakasura and so on.
Arunachala ‘Mahatmya’
Both Brahma and Vishnu witnessed one ‘Agni Sthumbh’ (Pillar of Fire) which was dazzling to eyes and emanating extraordinary heat, without beginning or end. Brahma’s Four faces recited Vedas and He performed ‘Manasik Puja’ (Worship by mind) and so did Lord Vishnu. Bhagavan Siva appeared and was pleased by their eulogies; they requested that His huge Form of Fire of unbearable radiance and heat be please reduced as a Siva Linga so that worship became possible to all including themselves, Devas and human beings.
The gigantic form of the Fire Pillar then got converted as a ‘Sthavara Linga’ at Arunachal. Most interestingly, even at the time of ‘Pralaya’ (Great Dissolution), the entire Universe was submerged in water and there was no trace of Earth visible, the Land of Arunachala was never even touched! This Place is in the South of Bharat and Arunachal (Tiruvannamalai) is in the form of Mountain Range comprising the ‘Pancha Mukhas’ or the Five Faces of Lord Rudra viz. ‘Tatpurusha’, ‘Aghora’, ‘Sadyojata’,’Vamadeva’, ‘Eshana’ which are visible till date. Nandikeswara told Markandeya that this Sacred Region is like the heart of Devi Prithvi. This Arunachal is expected to be Parameswar Himself and a fourteen kilometre distance surrounding the Mountain is as good as a complete ‘Pradakshina’ (Circumambulation) of Lord Siva. A large number of persons perform the Pradakshina on every full moon night barefooted and Pournami of Chaitra Month is a very special day as over hundreds of thousands throng the Temple and the Mountain displaying sincere devotion from all over the World. A ten day long celebration culminating on the day of Karthika Deepam or lights day is a massive crowd puller; on that evening a huge lamp is lit in an open vessel with three tons of ghee from the mountain top. Among the ‘Pancha Bhutas’ (Five Elements), viz. Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Sky,  the Fire is the symbol of Arunachaleswar as a corollary of the Agni Stumbh referred to as above.(The ‘Tiruvannaikavil’/ ‘Jalakantheswara’ Linga represents Water, Kancheepuram / Ekambareswara Linga the Earth, Kalahasti represents Vayu and Chidambaram represents Akash or Sky).
Nandikeswar told Markandeya that at the commencement of ‘Ayanas’ (Fortnights) or Vishuvyog times, worship to Arunachal Linga would be very propitious. Early morning puja is performed with ‘Tulasi’ leaves, the mid-day puja with ‘Amalataasa’ and Bel flowers in the evening. By chanting the ‘Aghora Mantra’viz. Aghorebhyothaghorebhyo Namasthey Asthu Rudra rupebhyaha/Tat Purushaaya Vidmahe Maha Devaaya dhimahi, tanno Rudrah Prachodayat/ a devotee performs ‘Abishekam’ (bath) with thousand ‘Kalasas’ (vessels) full of water. On ‘Sivaratri’, special puja is done with Bilvapatras by chanting ‘Shata Rudreeyam’, observe ‘Jaagaran’ (night long worship) and Puja with lotus, Ganera and such flowers as well as please the Lord with hymns, instrumental / vocal music and ‘Tandava’ (dance). The same kind of Puja is performed on birthdays, House warming, travel and such other Special occasions.Nandikeswara informed Markandeya further about Devi Parvathi’s Tapasya to wed Lord Siva, their happy union and the birth of Ganesh and Skanda. Meanwhile, a demon duo named Shumbh and Nikumbh obtained the boon of invincibility from Brahma Deva and distressed Devas, Sages and virtuous human beings. Vishnu accompanied by Devas approached Maha Deva and He assured quick action against the demons. Parvati who was of dark complexion, desired to please Siva, discarded her dark skin and assumed the form of Kali Kaushiki. As she was doing penance at Vindhya Mountain, the demon brothers desired to marry her and she killed both of them. Subsequently, she was attracted by the scenic beauty of Arunachala and performed Tapasya at the Ashram of Sage Gautama. She kept Devi Durga to stand guard and also appointed Subhaga and Dhundhukumari to watch in all directions while she was in penance. At the same time, Demon Mahishasur created havoc in Devaloka and dethroned Indra and Devas. He heard about her beauty and sent an emissary to propose a match with her and Devi Parvati’s representative had literally thrown him out. Mahishasur declared war. Powerful Danavas like Karaal, Dhurthar, Vichasunu, Vikaraal, Durmukh, Chanda, Prachanda, Mahamouli, Vikatekshan and Jwalasya were among the mighty demons that were lined up in offence.As there was considerable sound and confusion, Parvati Devi’s Tapasya was disturbed and instructed Durga Devi to terminate the demons. Being in a lonely cave on Arunachal Mountain Durga Devi seated on a Lion and jumped onto Earth like Kalika and made frightening sounds. She created from her body crores of ‘Matruka -ganas’ who made such mayhem and slaughter of the Demons. Chamundi Devi slashed the heads of Chamunda and associates and finally Mahishasura entered the fray. Durga Herself jumped down from the Lion and by her several hands killed Prachanda with Her Plough head; Bindipipal with chamara; Mahamoulika with her knife, Mahahunu with her kirpaan; Ugravakta with her Kuthar, Vikatakshak with Shakti, Jwalamukh with her mudgar and so on. As Mahishasura made his last bid on Durga Devi, the former looked to have controlled her for a while as he was changing his forms as a lion, tiger, Varaha, Elephant or Mahisha and his Original form. Finally however, Devi Durga overpowered and destroyed the Devil ‘Mahishasur’ who was felled with a huge sound of a thud and there were innumerable cries of joy and relief world wide.Devi Durga held the Demon’s head in one hand, sword in another and greeted Devi Parvati who praised the Vindhyanivasini Durga. Gauri asked Durga to wash off her hands with blood and Durga broke a mountain boulder with her powerful hands to create water reciting the Mantra, ‘Namah Shonadrinathaya’ and the waterbody so formed had become popular as ‘Papanashini’Tirtha eversince. Thereafter an extraordinary ‘Jyoti’ came to be viewed from the top of the Arunachala Mountain on every Kartika Pournami Sandhya (evening) without any oil, cotton, and firewood and thus the tradition had been carried on (on a man-made basis, of course) to signify this Holy Happening and the Maha Deep continued to be viewed by devotees doing ‘Giri Pradakshinas’. While doing the circumambulation, devotees are advised to recite: “My Namaskars (Greetings) to Siva who stays at Merugiri and Kailasa; to Siva who is the son-in-law of Himachal; to the merciful Arunachalanatha who is worshipped by Siva the mid-day like Sun, besides various Devatas like Varuna and Vayu; to Siva on whose head are positioned Ganga and Chandra as ornaments; to Siva whose ‘Maya’makes us feel that your Swarup is confused as that of Narayana; to Siva who performs the magnificent Siva ‘Thandava’(Dance) and creates ripples of happiness all over the Universe; to you Shambho, Siva, Eshana, who is worshipped by Devas, Gandharvas, Siddhas and Vidyadharas; to Siva the ‘Janmadata’ of Ganesha and Kartikeya; to Siva who is the husband of Devi Parvati; We are beholden to You to bless us and relieve us of all our physical, mental and ‘Daivika’ problems beyond our control.” Siva blessed Parvati to be present at Arunachal by the name of Apeethastani since she left Kartikeya to perform Tapasya without feeding milk to him! Nandikeswar narrated to Marandeya the background of Vrajangada the King of Pandyadesha and how he became a staunch devotee of Arunachaleswara. The King was pious, charitable and Siva worshipper. Once he went by his horse for hunting deep inside the Arunachala forest and ran after a ‘Kasturi Mriga’ (Deer like animal), without being aware that the King had made a ‘Pradakshina’ of Arunachal. As Kasturi Mrig ran fast and was untraceable, the King stopped for quenching his thirst at a nearby pond; on return, he found the horse missing. He saw however a strange happening as two Celestial Beings came down from the Sky and recounted that they were two Vidyadharas, named Kanthishali and Kaladhara who were cursed by Sage Durvasa as they plucked flowers from the Sage’s garden and became the Kasturi Mrig and the King’s horse; the Sage was merciful to relieve them of the curse subsequently that a King would ride one of the accused as a horse and chase another as Kasturi and when a full Pradakshina was performed by the King, the horse and Kasturi animal, then the accused would get back their original positions as Vidyadharas.On hearing the entire background, the King became such a strong devotee of Arunachaleswara that he did considerable works in the Temple Complex  and was wholly devoted to the promotional tasks of the Arunachalapathi. Once when Sage Agasthya and his wife Lopamudra visited the Arunachala Tirtha, they complimented the devotion of the King. Considering the dedication to the Tirtha, Bhagavan Siva gave darshan to the King and informed him that he was in his earlier birth Lord Indra but since he did an indiscretion on Kailasa top out of egoism he was cursed but since he was sincerely dedicated as Siva Bhakta, He was pleased to secure Indra’s original position. Thus Nandikeswar commended the unparalelled ‘Mahatmya’ of Arunachala Tirtha.
Venkatachala ‘Mahatmya’
In the ‘Vaishnava Khanda’ of Skanda (Kartika) Purana, Varaha Deva gave ‘Upadesha’ (instruction) of the Sacred Mantra Om Namah Shri Varahaya Dharanyu Uddharanaya Swaha to Bhu Devi and its significance; the Mantra fulfills all desires and leads to liberation. A Manu called Dharma recited the Mantra persistently and attained Moksha;Indra chanted it and regained his throne that was occupied by demons therebefore and Anantha the Chief of Serpents secured such extraordinary strength as to hold the weight of Prithvi (Earth) on his hoods.
Bhu Devi expressed her gratitude to Varaha Deva to have saved from the grip of Demon Hiranyakasipu as also taught the Great Mantra. She admired Varaha Deva for providing the power and perseverance to hold the weight of huge mountains and desired Him to describe to her the names of some of the illustrious Mountains the weight of which was borne by her. These include Sumeru, Himachal, Vindhyachal, Mandarachal, Gandhamadhan, Chitrakoot, Malyavaan, Pariyatrik, Mahendra, Malay, Sahya, Simhachal, Raivat and Anjana; in the South of Bharat the most significant are Arunachal, Hasthiparvat, Grudhrachal, Ghatikachal and most importantly the Narayana Giri or Venkatachal which possesses the Seven Tirthas in the Mountain Range viz. Chakra Tirth, Daiva Tirth, Akasha Ganga, Kumaradhari Kartikeya, Papanashani, Pandava Tirha, and Swami Pushkarini. Varaha Deva affirmed that in Krita Yuga, the most important Mountain Range was that of Anjanagiri; in Treta Yuga it was Narayana Giri; in Dwapar Yuga was Simhachal and in Kali Yuga again the most sacred mountain range is Venkatachala. In Magha month when Surya Deva is in Kumbha Rasi on Purnima day coinciding with the Makha Star, Skanda worships Venkateswara on the banks of Swami Pushkarini Tirtha at the noon time and devotees performing ‘Snaan’ and Puja as also ‘Annadaan’ are blessed by the Lord. Similarly, Snaans, worships and charities at Venkatachal are highly beneficial on the auspicious timings when Surya is in Meena Rasi on Purnima with Uttaraphalgini in Thumbha Tirtha; when Surya is in Mesha Rasi on Purnima with Chitra Star in Akasha Ganga at early mornings; when Surya is in Vrishabha Rasi in Visakha Shukla / Krishna fortnights on Dwadasi Sunday / Tuesday at Pandava Tirtha on evenings; on Sundays of Shukla / Krishna fortnights, coinciding Saptami at Papanashana Tirtha; on Brihaspati / Vyakteeta Yogya, Star  Pushya / Sravana Mondays etc;  
Varaha Deva described to Bhu Devi that Emperor Akash decided to perform a Grand Yagna on the banks of Arani and while tilling, he found a girl child and as he was issueless, brought her up as their own, named as Padmavati. Once Sage Narad met Padmavati as she was grown up as an eligible bride and predicted that she would be the wife of Lord Srinisasa of Venkatachal. Almost immediately she met a Stranger in the Royal Garden and introduced himself as Anant or Veerapati from Venkatachal Mountain and that he was hunting a wolf. Padmavati’s companions rebuffed Ananta Deva that hunting was prohibited in their garden. Anantha returned but desired intensely that Padmavati should become His life partner and sent Vakulamala to the court of Emperor Aakash to negotiate their wedding. The Emperor had no bounds of joy and the holy wedding of Lord Venkateswara and Padmavati took place in style and grandeur when Devi Lakshmi was present to make Padmavati happy and comfortable, whereafter they all resided in Tirumala bestowing boons to lakhs of Devotees till date.  Varaha Deva narrated the background of Padmavati’s earlier birth asVedavati to Bhu Devi. Vedavati was a companion of Devi Lakshmi and when the latter became Rama’s spouse as Sita, she left for forests to perform Tapasya, but demon Ravana misbehaved with her and she ended her life by jumping into fire and cursed Ravana that his entire clan would be wiped out because of a woman. Sita was abducted by Ravana by creating such circumstances that Maricha was converted as a Golden Deer; Sita took fancy for it and prevailed Sri Rama to chase the animal which deceitfully wailed as though Rama was in trouble and Lakshmana had to leave Sita alone even by drawing a Lakshman Rekha that none could cross. The vily Ravana dressed as a Tapsvi revealed his real form as soon as she was prevailed to cross the fiery Lakshman Rekha and forcibly took her to Lanka. After Rama killed Ravana, there was ‘Agni-Pariksha’ (Proof of Purity / by Fire), Sita came out unscathed. But the real fact was that Agni Deva hid real Sita in Patala and Agni’s wife Swaha assumed the role of Maya Sita; in fact Vedavati’s earlier birth was of Swaha Devi! Thus, Vedavati / Swaha turned to Maya Sita was Padmavati.
Devi Prithvi enquired of Bhagavan Varaha as to where and how to secure the ‘Darshan’ (Vision) of Lord Venkateswara and the former replied that He would mention of those future happenings as recorded in the past. There was a Nishad (Hunter) in Shyamak Jungle named Vasu and his wife Chitravati and Son Vira. Nishad was the Chief of his clan living honestly and peacefully by eating cooked rice and honey. Both his wife and he decided one day to go to a nearby forest to search for additional stock of honey and entrusted the responsibility of looking after his followers and daily chores to Vira, their son. The daily practice was that the family cooked rice and mixed with honey, offered the same as Naivedya to Venkatachalapati and ate the Prashad. But, Vira in their absence for the day offered some portion of the honeyed rice into Agni, some to tree bushes and the rest was consumed. On return from the other forest, Vasu became furious to learn that no offer of the honeyed rice was made to Venkatachalapati but gave it away as described above. Vasu felt agitated and remorsefully guilty and even tried to kill his son for what was considered as Sacrilege.Lord Ventatachal appeared before Nishad in full glory with His four hands, fully ornamented and armed and stopped Vasu from harming his son; he was completely taken aback. The Lord said that the acts of his son Vira were infact worth emulation and not condemnation for he did a homam (Offering to Agni); homage to Nature and only the remainder was consumed with dedication as ‘prashad’. Nishad was so happy that he heard this from Bhagavan Himself!
Varaha Deva also narrated an incident related to King Thondaman and Nishad. As an ideal Prince, he imbibed all the qualities required of a King, viz. of nobility, intellect, valour and devotion to Almighty. Once he took King’s permission for hunting in Venkatachal forests, chased an elephant, crossed the River Swarnamukhi and reached the Ashram of Brahmarshi Suka and an Idol of Goddess Renuka nearby. As he proceeded further, he found a ‘Pancharangi’ (Five Coloured) Parrot screeching the name of ‘Srinivasa, Srinivasa’ and followed the bird till the mountain top. There he met Nishad who informed that the parrot was very dear to Suka Muni as also to Bhagavan Srihari and hovered around the Pushkarini Tirtha; by so saying the Nishad desired to have a Darshan of the Lord and the Prince too accompanied him.Thondaman was indeed thrilled with the Darshan and witnessed the ‘Naivedya’ of Cooked rice and honey performed by Vasu Nishad. He was overpowered by the magnificent experience of the Lord and thereafter met Suka Muni and secured his blessings that soon he would become a King after his father’s retirement and serve Srinivasa for long time to come. A few days after Thondaman’s return to his Capital, he was made the King and started settling in his throne. Suddenly after a few months, Vasu the Nishad approached the Palace in an agitated manner and told the King that he dreamt chasing a ‘Varaha’ which entered a thick bush, that he started digging up and swooned, that his son was also near him, that the Varaha entered his mind and body and made him say the following: ‘Nishada! You must reach King Todarman and ask him to perform ‘Abhishek’ with lots of milk to a ‘Shila’ (Stone) underneath this thick bush, pull it out and ask a ‘Shilpi’ (Sculptor) to prepare an Idol of my features with Bhu Devi on my left lap, set up plants of Tamarind and Champa as are loved by Vishnu and Lakshmi repectively and invite learned Sages and Brahmanas to attend a grand function to be hosted by Tondaman and wait for my further instructions.The King followed the instructions as conveyed by Nishad and called Sages and Brahmanas to a Grand Puja of Varaha Deva and Bhu Devi through an underground passage and continued the daily practice of taking bath, worshipping the Murthis of Varaha and Bhu Devi  and arranging ‘Prashad’ or the left-behinds of Naivedya to Brahmanas and visitors.As this practice got routinised and the interest of Bhaktas snow- balled gradually, a Brahmana stranger approached the King that he was on way to Kasi, Prayaga and a few prominent Tirthas but his wife was unable to travel as she was in the family way; he requested the King to provide accommodation and food to his wife and generally supervise her welfare. The Brahmana returned very late after several months but unfortunately the wife had a miscarriage and died just a couple of days before the return of the Brahmana after visiting several Pilgrimage Centers and Tirthas.The King got frightened at the tragedy as he gave a surety to the Brahmana’s wife and approached Srinivasa, who instructed that the Queens as well as the body of the Brahman’s wife should be made to take bath in the Asthi Sarovar Tirtha and as the queens took dips in the holy water and came out, the Brahmana’s wife too would emerge. The Brahmana was thrilled at the miracle witnessed by co-devotees!
Raja Todarman followed the practice of worshipping Srinivasa with golden lotuses daily. He found one day some Tulasi leaves pulled out from muddy plants and wondered how this indiscretion happened. As the King was wondering about this, there emerged a voice saying: “There is a pot maker (Kumhara) who also did daily Puja to me with the muddy Tulasi leaves from his house and that I have accepted his worship too!” The King reached Kurmapuri in search of the Kumhara, who replied to the King that he never ever did any puja to Srinivasa! But when the King said that there was a voice which said these words, the Kumahara and his wife recalled the voice of Srinivasa in their earlier births that as and when a King would knock their hut, and then a Pushpa Viman would arrive to pick them to Vishnuloka! Indeed that had just happened! The King returned to Venkateswara Temple to perform worship again after this unusual happening and Srinivasa appeared before Tondaman and bestowed him the blessing of a lasting Abode of bliss.
Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu of Pandavas, was no doubt a noble and virtuous King, but unfortunately did the unpardonable sin of hanging a dead serpent around the neck of Samika Muni who was in deep Tapasya and his son Shringi cursed Parikshit that he would be dead within a week as a result of a snake bite.Takshak was assigned the task of killing Parikshit but Brahmana Kashyap who could indeed have prevented the tragedy and even demonstrated his ability to do so, was won over by dubious means by Takshak and Kashyap who did the sin was sought to be washed off by a bath in Swami Pushkarini and worship to Lord Srinivasa, as advised by Shakalya Muni. Indeed the sin of Kashyap was eradicated by the Grace of Lord Venkateswara.
Another illustration of the Sanctity of Snaan in Swami Pushkarini was given by Sutha Maha Muni to Rishis at a Congregation at Naimisharanya (The forest of Naimisha). A King of Chandravamsa called Dharma-gupta was a rare example of nobility and virtue. He went hunting and by the evening desired to perform the Puja of Gayatri and was delayed to late hours and had to stay back on a tree. A lion came running after a wolf and ascended the same tree; it asked the King not to worry and would not hurt him in any way. It asked the King to come to an understanding that it would sleep off half night and he might sleep off the other half. The lion tempted the wolf to drop the King down and share a good portion of the King. The wolf rejected the proposal outright as ingratitude was a far heinous sin than the ‘Panchapatakas’ or the Five known major sins. During the other half of the night when the King was to guard the wolf, the lion gave a similar proposal to him; he accepted and tried to drop the sleeping wolf. But luckily, the wolf was saved and preached the King against ingratitude and gave a curse to the King to become a mad man. It said that he was a Sage, named Dhyanakashtha, who could take any form and told the lion that in his earlier birth he was a Minister in the Court of Kubera and was cursed by Gautama Muni to become a lion as he was standing naked in the Sage’s garden with his woman. As regards Dharmagupta’s curse for ingratitude, Sage Jaimini suggested a bath in the Sacred ‘Swami Pushkarini’on Venkatadri on the banks of River Suvarnamukhi, followed by worship of Lord Venkateswara. Suta Maha Muni described that those who purify themselves in the Pushkarini would surely avoid hells named Tamisra, Andhamisra, Rourav, Maha Rourav, Kumbhipak, Kaalsutra, Asipatravan and such others.On the other hand, the devotees attain the ‘Punya’ of performing Aswamedha Yagna and achieve Buddhi (Intellect), Lakshmi (Wealth), Kirti (Fame), Sampatthi (Prosperity), Gyan (wisdom), Dharma (Virtue), Manoshuddhi (Purity of mind) and Vairagya (Other Worldliness). Krishna Tirtha is a Tirtha named after a deeply devoted Brahmana whose Tapasya was so severe and extensive that his body developed mole-hills (Valmikas) and Indra rained forcefully to wash off the mud. Lord Srinivasa was impressed by the relentless and highly dedicated devotion and blessed him with His Darshan, created a Tirtha after his name, declared that those who have the fortune of bathing in it would become as learned and focussed and bestowed Salvation to him. Papanashana Tirtha is such a powerful place that even merely uttering its name, sins of the past and present get vanished. There was a Brahmana named Bhadhramati who had enormous knowledge of Vedas and Scriptures but was acutely impoverished having six wives and several children. His each day was a harrowing experience of poverty with several mouths to feed. One of his wives named Kamini told him one day that her father met Sage Narada who described Tirtha called Papanashana lying on the Venkateswar Mountain cluster was a big draw and a bath, preferably after giving away a small token ‘bhudaan’ to a deserving Brahmana followed by a darshan of the Lord would abolish poverty, and fulfil all human desires. This emboldened Bhadramati to travel along with his family to the Srinivasa Mountain. He was fortunate to obtain on way a token of five feet of land. The entire family took bath in the Papasahana Tirtha and gave away charity of the five feet of land to a deserving Brahmana. Bhagavan Vishnu had instantly appeared before Bhadramati; the latter was extremely thrilled at the darshan and eulogised Him as follows:
‘Namo Namasthekhila karanaaya,
Namo namesthekhila paalakaya/
Namo Namestheyemara nayakaya
Namo Namo Daithya vimardanaya/
Namo Namo Bhakthajanapriyaya,
Namo Namah Paapavidaaranaya/
Namo Namo Durjananashakaya,
Namasthesthu Tasmai Jagadeeshvaraya/
Namo namah Karanavamayaya,
Shri Shankha chakraasi gadaadharaaya,
Namasthesthu tasmai Purushottamaya/
Namah payoraasi nivaasakaaya,
Namasthesthu Lakshmi pathayavyayaya/
Namasthesthu Suryadyamitha-prabhaaya,
Namo Namah Punyagathaagathaaya/
Namo Namokyenduvilochanaya,
Namasesthudey Yagna phalapradaaya/
Namastesthu Yagnaangavilochanaya,
Namasthesthu thye Sajjanavallabhaaya/
Namo namah Kaarana Kaaranaaya,
Namesthesthu Shabdaadi vivarjitaaya/
Namasthethutheybhheshta sukhahpradaaya,
Namo Namo Bhakta -manoramaaya/
Namo namasthedbhuta karanaaya,
Namasthestuthy Manda radhaarakaya/
Namasthestuthey Yagnavarrahanaagney,
Namo Hiranyakshavidaarakaya/
Namasthesthuthy Vaamana rupabhaaje,
Namasthesthuthey Kshatrakulaanthakaaya/
Namastheshuthey Ravana mardanaaya,
Namasthesthuthey Nanda sutaagrajaaya,
Namasthey  kamalaakaantha Namasthey Sukha daayiney,
Ashritarthi nashiney tubhyam bhuyo bhuyo Namo namah/’.
As Bhadramati praised Lord Srinivasa, He blessed him to enjoy full-swing prosperity to him and family and attain Moksha to him thereafter. ‘Akashaganga Tirtha’ was well known for bestowing boons to the highly erudite and dedicated Brahmana. He did Tapasya of rigorous nature on the banks of Akashganga by standing with ‘Panchagni’ (Five flames) around him during the hot summer mid-days and under the sky in heavy rains fully exposed chanting the Ashtakshari Mantra ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’; he ate dry leaves fallen from trees for years together, for some years by drinking water and many other years by consuming air only. Finally, Bhagavan appeared and the brahmana who was almost dying with the severity of his Tapasya became fully normal and healthy instantly.He received the boons that the Place of Akasha Ganga where he had the fortune of discovering Vishnu in person would be an Eternal water-spring and those who performed ‘Snaan’would change his entire life style and become an ideal Bhakta and at the end they would have no other birth and would get salvation.
In an another context, Akash Ganga was  immortalised as the Tirtha where Devi Anjana executed penance, since she and her husband Vayu Deva were not blessed with a son. Vishnu Bhakta Sage Matangi directed Anjana Devi to reach River Suvarnamukhi, far south of Vindhya Mountain, reach Vrishabhachal on whose top was situated the famous Swami Pushkarini, worship Varaha Deva and Venkateswara, proceed to north, find Akashaganga and perform Snaan in a formal manner along with Vayu Deva. The Sage confirmed that if the couple did so, a Son of unparalelled prowess and ‘Swami Bhakti’ (Loyalty to the Master) would be born, to be called Hanuman who was invincible by Devas, Raakshasas, Sages, Brahmanas, Celestial and human beings. As Anjana Devi followed the insructions to the last letter and spirit, Bhagavan Venkateswara appeared before her and blessed that such a Son would be born that his parents would indeed be proud of and play a pivotal role in Treta Yuga as the most powerful personality of ‘Siva Amsa’.
Besides the above, Venakatachal has quite a few other Tirthas like Chakra Tirtha where a Maha Muni Padmanabha prayed to Srinivasa to chase away the dread of Rakshasas and Bhagavan stationed His Sudarshan Chakra known for dispelling the fear of Evil Spirits; Varaha Tirtha, Pandu Tirtha, Tumba Tirtha, Kapila Tirtha, Kumara Tirtha, Jaraharaadi Tirtha Traya, Phalguni Tirtha, Deva Tirtha, Jabaali Tirtha, Sanaka Sanandana Tirtha, Asthi Sarovara Tirtha, Kataha Tirtha and Manvadyashtottara Tirtha.

Eight-folded approach to Venkateswara
Sage Suta prescribed an eight-fold Bhakti Route to Lord Venkateswara:
1)To display and ensure ‘Sneha Bhava’(feeling of friendship) towards His Bhaktas (devotees);
2) To perform service to ‘Bhagavat Bhaktas’and satisfy them;
3) To perform Puja to Bhagawan with sincerity;
4) All the actions of the Self are to be targetted to Bhagavan;
5) To generate Bhakti and love in the eyes and other ‘Jnanendriayas’of one self towards Venkateswara;
6) To hear and cogitate about the ‘Mahatmya’of the Lord and accord importance to whatver is said, described, sung or taught about the same;
7) To keep the name of Srinivasa on one’s lips, thoughts and heart always and
8) To dedicate one self to Lord Venkateswara and take absolute and comprehensive refuge in Him.
Those who are fortunate to have even a glimpse of the fantastic Idol of Venkateswara do experience the awe and satisfaction that leaves behind a lasting familiarity and nearness.Those who think of Srinivasa, either out of curiosity, or greediness, love of materialism, or fear or casual occurrence undergo a definite transformation of outlook, approach to life and morality. If such casual approach has a multiplier effect, could one imagine the far reaching impact of the Eight-folded dedication! As Fire is capable of pulling down a huge mansion within minutes, the stock-pile of sins gets ablaze into ash as fast, provided one takes the shelter of Srinivasa. Human life, which is indeed difficult to secure compared to myriad forms of creatures ranging from animals to insects, is stated to be well spent and appropriately lived through, if one takes asylum of that Supreme Power which is ‘Avyaktam’(Unknown), ‘Shasvatham’(Everlasting), ‘Vishnum’(All Pervading), ‘Anantham’ (Endless), ‘Ajam’(Unborn) and ‘Avyayam’( Never Spent out), called Venkateswara!
Eight-folded approach to Venkateswara
As Lord Varaha liberated Bhu Devi from the depths of Rasatala from the clutches of the Demon Hiranyakashipu and Bhu Devi gained normalcy, Lord Brahma resumed the task of Creation again but wondered as to how humanity could be saved from the three major hindrances to life viz. ‘Adhibhoutika’or pertaining to the Physical body, ‘Adhidaivika’ related to occurences created by Almighty like earthquakes or famines and ‘Adhyatmika’ (Spiritual issues).
He prayed to Lord Narayana for guidance and the latter directed Brahma to visit Purushottama Kshetra on the Sea shore, where Lord Shyama Sundar settled in the form of wooden Idols along with His Brother Balabhadra and Sister Subhadra as also the Sudarshan Chakra and provided solace to humanity from ignorance, lack of direction and discontentment.  Brahma reached there as advised by Vishnu and while performing Tapasya got into such a deep and long trance that he was even negligent of the duty of Creation. For a while the Cycle of Life and Death got disturbed as there was no ingress and egress from the Universe. Yamadharma Raja approached Bhagavan Vishnu along whom Devi Lakshmi was seated too. Devi Lakshmi replied that if the reference being given by Yamaraja was to the current issue of the Cycle of Life being disturbed, then it was not posible for Vishnu to leave the Purushottama Kshetra. The Sins of human beings, animals and birds would continue to be burnt off at the Purushottama Kshetra, which was the only hallowed Region unaffected by the Great Deluge (‘Pralaya’); even Sage Markandeya who was blessed by ‘Paramatma’to achieve immortality for Seven Kalpas had to struggle through the rough waters, till he reached the Purushottama Kshetra where the Divine Tree ‘Akshay Vat’ was the lone survivor on top of which was Vishnu in a miniature form and advised Markandeya to swim somehow to reach that spot! It was ‘Kaal’ (Vishnu) as a child who rescued the Sage and the belly of Kaal was bottomless.Lakshmi Devi who was present too there witnessed all these happenings.Brahmarshi Markandeya who had the unique honour of receiving refuge from Vishnu was grateful to the Kshetra and materialised a Water reservoir with the help of Sudarshana Chakra, immortalised as ‘Markandeya Kund’. The Sage established a Markandeswra Linga, which was basically of the form of Narayana as also known as Yameswar where Yamaraja was controlled from Mrityu owing to the Sanctity of the Kshetra. Bathing in the Markandeya Kund and worship of Markandeswara Linga is stated to equal the fruit of Aswamedha Yagna.
Devi Lakshmi continued her explanation to Yamadharma Raja that the Purushottama Kshetra was of a conch shape whose North West was dominated by Shankara and the North East by Neelakantha and the Central Portion of a distance of a mile or so was of Narayana. Nearer the Shankara Tirtha is situated the Kapala Vimochana Linga and the third part of the conchshell was of Adya Shakti Vimala Devi. In the Nabhi Sthaan or the Central Region are situated the ‘Vat’ (Tree) and Bhagavan Purushottama.Thus the Three Portions of the Purushottama Kshetra are popular as Tirtha Raj. There is also a Rohini Kund, the waters of which relieve sins and constiteted the tail-end of the Pralayakal water! At the southern tip of the Conchshell is situated Narasimha whose darshan itself is an instant sin destroyer. There are ‘Antarvedi’ (underlying) Eight Shaktis which are stated to be providing security at the Purushottama Kshetra viz. Devi Mangala in the roots of the Vata Tree, Devi Vimala in the West, Devi Sarva Mangala in the rear lower portion of the Conchshell, on the northern side Devi Arthashini and Devi Lamba, Devi Kalarathri in the Southern side, Devi Marichika and Devi Chandarupa in the East. Also, Bhagavan Siva assumed Eight Linga Rupas viz. Kapalamochan, Kshetrapal, Yameswar, Markandey -eshwar, Eshana, Bileswar, Neelakantha, and Vateswar. If these Lingas are visioned, touched or worshipped, the devotees have access to Moksha Marga (The Road to Salvation) and if they die, their life-end is tied up with Bhagavan Siva directly without any intervention fromYama Raja.
Sage Jaimini told the Munis at Naimisharanya that King Indradyumna, an ardent devotee of Vishnu was keen in having a ‘darshan’ of the Idol of Neela Madhava at the Temple situated in the Nilachal Mountain’s cave, on the coastal side of East Bharatavarsha, in the Utkal Region. The King asked his Priest to ascertain the route and arrange for the trip. One of the Pilgrims who returned from the famed Temple in the foothills of Nilachal Mountain (who perhaps was Bhagavan Jagannatha Himself) described the route to the Royal Priest that the Temple was in Purushottama Kshetra near a holy pond known as Rohin adjacent to a place called Odhra and that there was a Temple of Vasudeva besides which there was a hermitage called ‘Shabardeep’ leading to the path of Jagannath Temple. The Royal Priest’s younger brother Vidyapati was approved by the King to make an initial trip so that the King would perform the ‘Yatra’ (expedition) subsequently.Vidyapati and party undertook a tedious and tiring journey to the Ekamvaran forests at the foothills of Mountain and at the Shabardeep hermitage met Vishvavasu. Both Vidyapati and Vishvavasu visited the Place after a steep ascent of the Mountain and finally reached the Rohin Pond and after a bath had Darshan of Neela Madhava. Vidyapati was overwhelmed by the thrilling experience of Jagannatha’s Darshan and prayed to Him to his heart’s content. Vidyapati was told by Shabar Vishvavasu that several Devas frequented the Temple and brought expensive gifts and garlands to the Lord; when Vidyapati returned back to King Indradyumna the former showed the flowers which  never withered as they were celestial! But Vishvavasu gave the disheartening news to Vidyapati that the latter would not be able to have a darshan of Neela Madhava, although something better might happen! Vidyapati was advised not to disclose this fact to the King on his return to the Kingdom as the King might be highly discouraged. Even as Vidyapati returned and was describing the rapturous darshan that he had of Neela Madhava, Sage Narada appeared and desired to accompany the King on his way to the Purushottama Kshetra. The King and his large entourage set for the journey and reached the banks of River Mahanadi for an overnight stay before proceeding to the Jagannatha Temple next morning. The King of Utkal informed the senior King Indradyumna that there was a very heavy sand storm and the Idol of Neela Madhava was underneath a huge heap of debris.Luckily Sage Narada was with Indradyumna and consoled the latter and assured him that Lord Jagannatha was extremely merciful and that something memorable would happen! Next morning the King’s full entourage crossed River Mahanadi, worshipped Lord Purushottama at ‘Eakaamrechhetra’ and further proceeded to Kotishwar Mahalaya to perform Puja to ‘Tribhuvaneswara’. The latter appeared before Sage Narada and instructed that  King Indradyumna should perform hundred ‘Yagyas’; that Lord Jagannatha would manifest Himself from under the debris; that a Vata Tree with four branches would have to be carved out by Viswakarma the Celestial Artist as Four Idols of Lord Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra the sister of the former brothers and ‘Sudarshan Chakra’; that He (Tribhuneswara) along with Devi Durga would be present at the top entry of the conchshell shaped Purusha Kshetra; that Lord Brahma would install and consecrate the Holy Idols for the everlasting benefit of generations ahead and the dream and perseverance of King Indradyumna would become fruitful. Sage Narada assured that Lord Tribhuvaneswara’s instructions would be followed in full letter and spirit. From there the caravan moved to Nilakantha Mahadeva and worshipped Mahadeva and Durga. The King was anxious to reach the Place where Lord Jagannatha was under the sand; he prayed to Him as though he could visualise the Idol and there emerged a voice from the rubble assuring the King that he would soon have His appearance. Since the first task to be performed was to organise the hundred Yagnas as directed by Tribhuvaneswara, Narad was anxious to take up the construction of the Temple of Lord Nrisimha as that was the Place to complete the Yagnas. Sughat, the son of Viswakarma completed the construction of the Temple within five days, while Vishwakarma made the Idol of Nrisimha which was installed by Narada. Thereafter the task of carving wood for the four major Idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan Chakra was taken up and a Celestial voice came saying that the Idols would emerge on their own, that the oldest worker be sent inside the Main Gate which should be closed till the job was over, that the sound of drums be kept on continuously till the job was going on inside to cover up the sounds from there, that if somebody heard the sounds from inside he would be irrevocably deaf, and that somebody saw what was happening inside that person would be blind for ever. On the fifteenth day, a Celestial Voice emerged that all the Idols were manifested. Thereafter the heavenly voices kept on giving instructions about the colour schemes of the Idols ( Deep blue like clouds for Jagannatha, white for Balabhadra, red like rising Sun for Subhadra and deep red for Sudarshan), the ornament details and so on. As the Idols were getting ready with all finishing touches, Indradyumna was in trance and asked Jagannatha for nothing excepting salvation from the mortal life.Narada, the King and the entire entourage entered the Sanctum Sanctorium chanting ‘Dwadasaakshara Mantra’ (Om Namo Vasudevaya) in praise of the Lord Jagannatha, ‘Purusha Suktam’ addressed to Balabhadra, ‘Sri Suktam’for Subhadra and appropriate Vedic Mantras for Sudarshana Chakra. Narada visualised the various articles required for the Consecration Ceremony and were secured by the King. A Palace was built for Brahma and three Chariots were readied for the three Deities; the required number of horses-sixteen to Jagannatha, fourteen to Balabhadra and twelve to Subhadra-were readied too. The mast on top of the Chariot of Jagannatha was made with Garuda Vahan (The Lord’s Carrier), that of Balabhadra had a plough, and of Subhadra’s chariot was a Lotus. Indeed the King was so fortunate that the wherewithall for the Function was instantly procured by Sages and Devas! Finally, at the ‘Muhurat’time, Lord Brahma performed the Consecration on Suddha Visakha Ashtami on Thursday with Pushyami as the Nakshatra, as witnessed by Devas, Yakshas, Kinnaras and Maharshis! The famous nine day Ratha Yatra commenced on Suddha Ashadha Vidiya and returned from the banks of Bindu Tirtha on the eighth day.
Sage Jaimini explained that Lord Brahma clarified to Raja Indradyumna about a doubt as to why Jagannath assumed the Wooden Form of Idols.  The ‘Daru’ (Wooden) Idols represent ‘Duhkha vidarana’ or destroying of distress and bestowing of endless happiness; as Srihari is ‘Darumaya’ He therefore manifested in wooden form. At the time of ‘Srishti’ (Creation) following Pralaya, ‘Parabrahma’ (The Supreme Being) manifested in the Form of Vedas or the mix of ‘Sabda Brahma’ and ‘Artha Brahma’. Bhagavan Balabhadra is of Rig Ved Swarup, while Subhdra is of Yajur Veda Swarup. Nrisimha is of Sama Veda Swarup and Sudarshan is of Atharva Veda Swarup. If a composite view is taken, the Deities thus represented all the Veda Swarupas and Jagannatha is the sum total and likewise all these forms are Jagannatha Himself. The ‘Vata Vriksha’ on the Sea Bed at the time of Pralaya was thus the depiction of Bhagavan and the Wooden Idols made out of the Tree are His Symbols!

Badari Kshetra Mahatmya
Kartikeya asked Maha Deva as to how human beings with their limited understanding of Spiritual matters especially in Kali Yuga could ever imagine of securing the Four Featured Desires of Samsara viz. Dharma (Virtue), Artha (Prosperity), Kama (Fulfillment of Desires) and Moksha (Liberation). Bhagavan Siva’s ready reply was that there were several holy Tirthas and Kshetras dotted all over Bharata Varsha which could transform the outlook of a human being and imbibe piety and virtue;
for example there are Rivers like Ganga, Godavari, Narmada, Tapati, Yamuna, Kshipra, Goutami, Kaushiki, Kaveri, Tamraparni, Chandrabhaga, Mahendraja, Chitrotpala, Vetravati, Sarayu, Charmanvati, Shatadu, Payaswini, Gandaki, Baahuda, Sindhu and Sarasvati.Also there are Punya Kshetras like Ayodhya, Dwaraka, Kashi, Mathura, Avanti, Kurukshetra, Rama Tirtha, Kanchi, Purushottama Kshetra, Pushkara, Dardura Kshetra, Varaha Kshetra and Badari which are all boon providing Places. Bathing, vision of the Idols, performing Puja to them, practising austerities and giving away Charity constitute the best means of washing off sins, fulfilling desires, enabling noble deeds and even securing Salvation.
Badari Kshetra is one of the most outstanding and ancient Pilgrimage Points on Himalayas where Bhagavan Narayana Himself resides. Mahadeva described to Skanda that the significance of ‘darshan’ in Kashi, Kailash and Shri Parvat is far more superior than that of Badari where the foot prints of Srihari apart, this Kshetra is also the abode of Agni since the latter as ‘Sarvabhakshak’ (consumer of any material worthy of consumption or not) prayed to Vishnu to absolve him of the sins and Bhagavan Vishnu provided refuge at His feet where no sin could reach Agni. Also, Kedar Kshetra is in the same region as Badari where Siva’s magnificent Linga is present and even a darshan and if possible an ‘Abhishek’ and Puja of the Linga would instantly perish the sins of a devotee. Moreover, Mahadeva’s fifteen ‘Kalas’(features) are present in the Kedar Linga and worship of the Linga by way of ‘Japa’ (continuous recital) of Siva’s name, ‘Manana’ (Constant thinking about Him), ‘Stuti’( Extolling Him) and ‘Bhajan’(Singing in praise of Him) would assure that there would be freedom from the vicious cycle of births and deaths! Thus Parameswara advised Skanda that Badari Kshetra has the double advantage of worship to Narayana and Mahadeva as this Unified Point on Himalayas is an ideal Pilgrimage Center. ‘Snaan’ at Agni Tirtha absolves even the ‘Pancha Patakas’or the extreme Five Sins, besides performing ‘Pranaayam’and other Yogic Exercises.
Lord Siva explained to Kartikeya that there were Five Sacred ‘Shilas’ or Rocks, viz. Naradi, Narasimhi, Varahi, Garudi and Markandeyi, each one of them being capable of fulfillment and contentment. Sage Narada sat once on a rock and did severe Tapasya for visualising Lord Vishnu. When Narayana along with Devi Lakshmi gave darshan, Narada asked for the boons of ever lasting devotion to Him, never leaving the rock on which he did Tapasya and creating a Tirtha nearby which should absolve the sins of those who bathe in it and worship Narayana there. Markandeya the great devotee met Sage Narada at Mathura and was advised that he should visit Badari Kshetra and pray to Narayana. Markandeya did accordingly and was fortunate to secure the darshan of Sri Hari after continuously reciting the Ashtakshara Mantra viz. Om Namo Narayanaya. He was dumbfounded when Bhagavan Vishnu stood before him in full glory with four hands ornamented with Shankh, Chakra, Gada and Saranga. After extolling Narayana to his heart’s content, Markandeya desired for ‘Janma rahitya’ or freedom from births, that his devotion to Narayana should become stronger and unflinching, that He should be always present at the rock where he was having the darshan of Bhagavan and that He should bless devotees when they visited the Markandeya Shila. Garuda was the son of Sage Kashyap and Devi Vinata whose ambition was to emulate the example of his brother Aruna who was Surya Deva’s charioteer and had the intense desire of becoming the Carrier of Bhagava Vishnu.He chose Badari Kshetra on the top of the adjacent ‘Gandhamadan Parvat’ (Mountain) and was in penance for years together with undaunted grit and devotion. As Lord Narayana finally gave darshan, Garud extolled Him as Trividha Murti integrating the Forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Maheswara as also of ‘Ashta Shaktis’(Eight Powers) and the Supreme Might of the Universe. Vishnu was pleased and materialised ‘Panchamukha Ganga’ or the five faced Ganges with the waters of which gave the unique opportunity to Garuda to wash His feet. He also granted the boons of making him His personal ‘Vahan’ (Carrier), of becoming invincible by any force in the Three Worlds, of making him a never-failing personal devotee of Bhagavan and of fulfilling the desires of those who visit the Garuda Shila and worship Bhagavan Narayana. Narasimha Deva in one of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations annihilated the Demon Hiranyakasipu and saved the illustrious devotee Prahlada; He looked like Fire while massacring the Demon with His sharp nails and was in a highly infuriated mood when all the Devas prayed to Him to calm down. After becoming somewhat composed, He declared that He would settle at Vishalapuri (Badarikashram); all the Sages were extremely delighted that Narasimha would be present at Narasimha Shila for facilitating their constant worship and also to bless Bhaktas visiting the Shila. Bhagavan Varaha who pulled up Bhu Devi from the underworld of Rasatala destroyed Demon Hiranyaksha and saved the Vedas and Holy Scriptures. The Varaha incarnation of Lord Vishnu appeared at Vishalapuri as Varaha Shila and continued to bless the devotees at the Shila.
Devas approached Lord Brahma to complain that in the Satya Yuga virtuous human beings, Sages and they could easily access Bhagavan Vishnu, while in Treta Yuga they could visualise Bhagavan through ‘Yogabhyas’ only but in Dwapar Yuga, His Darshan had become virtually impossible and in the future during the Kali Yuga, human beings might even question or ignore the existence of Vishnu! Accordingly, a Delegation of Devas was led by Brahma to Bhagavan Vishnu at Kshirasagara (Ocean of Milk), as Vishnu replied only to Brahma that Devas had become quite irresponsible and ignorant without even realising the very obvious existence of Himself at Badarikashrama! In fact, Bhagavan kept in view the limitations of human beings in Kali Yuga and as such made His Darshan very easy and possible. As the gist of Vishnu’s admonition to Devas was conveyed, they became ashamed and made instant trips to worship Badari Narayana at Badarikashama. That was why this Kshetra acquired additional significance. It is stated that even if a grain of ‘Prasad’ (Left over of the offering given to Badari Narayana) is consumed, the devotee concerned who visited the Holy Kshetra would get rid of all kinds of Patakas (sins) including Maha Pancha Patakas. There is a strong belief down the ages that visitors to the Holy Region would attain Vishnu Swarupa, whose heart is replete with the Vision of Narayana, whose tongue and ears are full of His glories, whose stomach is with even a morsel of His Prashad and whose kneeled head touches the feet of Narayana’s Idol.The worst Sins like killing the Virtuous, intoxication, robberies and adultery would all evaporate once the above requirements are fulfilled. If Bhojan daan is performed among Sanyasins and good Brahmanas and the Prasad is consumed then the benefits of Badarika Darshan and worship are indeed doubled. Bhagavan Siva described the significance of several Tirthas like Kapala Tirtha in the Badarika Region to Kartikeya.This Tirtha is very popular as Pinda Daanas are formally organised to provide relief to Pitraganas from various hells and is thus known as Pitru Tirtha. Considered highly important, this Sacred Spot is greeted with heads down by Devas and Rakshasas alike as the belief had been that this was Brahma’s ‘Pancha Sira Kapala’ or the Fifth skull top which was snipped by Siva Deva for Brahma’s indiscretion of getting attracted to His own Creation of Devi Sarasvati (His daughter). [An alternative Story was that Brahma spoke a lie that he saw the top portion of the huge Siva Linga which indeed was endless]. Brahma Tirtha signified Vishnu’s Avatar of Hayagreevaas the two Demon Brothers called Madhu and Kaitabha stole the Vedas and Brahma witnessed the extraordinary Vision of Hayagreeva emerging from a Kund (Pond) to terminate the Demons. Siva informed Kartikeya that after rescuing the Vedas, the ‘Deva Rupi Vedas’ were deposited in the Brahma Kund and ‘Jnaana Rupi Vedas’ were given away to Brahma. Hence the high importance of ‘Snaan’, worship and Daan at the Brahma Kund. To the North of the Kund flows River Saraswati along side the Kapala Tirtha where Pitru Karyas (tasks to relieve the past generations) are held. Vishnu established the Vagdevi River most appropriately as Deva Rupi Vedas, Jnaana Rupi Vedas, Pitra Loka and Bhuloka are all concentrated in Badarikashrama which is the confluence of Three Lokas! Bathing in the Holy River Saraswati, its worship, Stuti (Praise) and sincere greetings would indeed enhance a devotee’s vocal and mental power and ensure that the ensuing generation’s abilities would never ever fail. South of Sarasvati coming from the mountains is Indrapada Tirtha where Lord Indra conducted Tapasya, fasting and worship and is stated to bestow the devotees who also perform the same austerities as Indra did. Nearby the Indrapada Tirtha are situated the Manasodbheda Tirtha and Vasudhara Tirtha both being of considerable importance. Not far from Indrapada Tirtha is the Pancha Tirtha Complex comprising Five Streams named Prabhas, Pushkar, Gaya, Naimish and Kurukshetra. There is also an important Soma Tirtha where Chandra Deva performed Tapasya to Narayana and secured the boons of becoming the Chief of Nakshatras (Stars), Aushadhis (Medicines), Grahas (Planets) and the entire Brahmana Community. Further there are Dwadasha Aditya Tirtha, Chatuhstotra Tirtha, Satyapada Tirtha, Meru Tirtha, Lokapala Tirtha, Dandapushkarin and Ganga Sangam.

Significance of the month of Kartika
Sage Narada enquired of Lord Brahma as to which was the best month of a year, who was the best Deity to worship and which was the best Tirtha to visit. Brahma’s instant reply was that the best month of a Year was Kartika, the Supreme Deity to worship was Narayana and the most Sacred Tirtha was Badari Kshetra. As regards Kartika Month, Bhagavan Vishnu always accorded high esteem and whatever good deeds were performed in the ‘Masa’ were fully accepted by all the Devas since they were readily available there through out the month
The acts and endeavours of the devotees like ‘Snaan’, ‘Daan’, ‘Bhojan’, ‘Vrath’, ‘Til’(Sesame Seeds), Dhenu (Cows), ‘Suvarna’ (Gold), ‘Rajat’ (Silver), ‘Bhumi’ (Land), ‘Vastra’(Clothing), Tapasya, Japa, Homa, Yagna, Annadaan, Puja with Tulasi leaves, Abhishek of Vishnu’s Idol with Ganges and other holy river waters as also ‘Panchamrit’ comprising milk, ghee, curd, honey and sugar; ‘Shodasopacharas’ to Deities, Veda- parayana, Purana Shravan, Bhajans, Deva Stutis, Visits to Temples, fasting, abstinence, ‘Jaagarans’ (Keeping awake in the night singing hymns), Guru Seva etc. would indeed secure manifold returns in the consecrated month of Kartik. At every time during the day and night, ‘kirtans’(Stanzas) on one’s own lips must be uttered like ‘Govinda Govinda Hare Murari, Govinda Govinda Mukunda Krishna, Govinda Govinda Rathangapane, Govinda Damodara Maadhaveti’. Specific time on each day must also be apportioned for ‘Bhagavat Geeta Paath’ or reading as many Chapters as possible.Also, a devotee must observe sleeping on the floor and if possible perform Kanya Daan and Vidya Daan in the month. Practice of the month long austerity and good conduct even in one Kartika month in a year ought to result in tangible benefits for sure!
One has to observe certain dont’s during Kartika Month such as avoiding use of oil on the body and food (except on Naraka Chaturdasi), food from others, fruits with many seeds, rice, left over or spoilt food, heavy food and twice a day, drinking intoxicants, use of glass items, eating group food or Grama Purohit, Shraddhas and from women during menses period; eating in lotus leaves, consuming brinjals, carrots, ‘Loki, onions and masoor dal; eating on Ekadashi days; turning off guests at eating time;  conversing with chandal, Mlechha, Patita (women with bad character), Vratahin ( those not observing the rules of Kartika month), hater of Brahmanas, those who talk ill of others, non believers of God/ Godmen and immoral beings. During the month of Kartika, Snanaas (bathings) acquire considerable importance. Those who are devoted to Surya Deva, Ganesha, Shakti, Siva and Vishnu are all required to formally observe Kartika Snanas. Snanas in favour of Surya need to be followed as long as Surya is in ‘Tula’ Rasi. Snanas in favour of Shankara be performed from Asvayuja Pournami to Kartika Pournami. Bathings in favour of Devis be observed from Aswayuja Shukla Pradhana day till Karthika Krishna Chaturdasi while for Ganesha Snanas are to be performed From Ashvin Krishna Chaturdasi till Kartika Krishna Chaturdasi. Bhagavan Janardana would be pleased with formal Snaanas from Aswin Shukla Ekadashi till Kartika Shukla Ekadashi.Those who observe the Snana Procedure during the month of Kartika would be free from the tributations of Yama Dharma Raja. Special Snaans and worship to Radha and Gopala during the month preferably under a Tulasi Tree have immense significance. While observing Kartika Snaans the following Stanza is recited:
Kartikeham Karishyami Pratha Snaanam Janardana,
Preethyartha Tava Devesha Damodara maya sahah.
(Janardana! Deveshwara Damodara! I am performing my early morning Snaan to please You and Devi Lakshmi). Also recite the following:
Grihaanaarghya maya dattam Radhaya Sahiti Hare,
Namah Kamala -naabhaaya Nammasthey Jalashhayiney,
Namasthesthu Hrishikesha Gruhaanaarghya Namosthutey.
(Bhagavan! Please accept this ‘Arghya’ (handful of water) of mine to please You and Devi Radha; My greetings to you Kamalanaabha, greetings to You Jalashaayiney; greetings to You Hrishikesha; my repeated greetings to You!). Before taking bath, one should take the name of ‘Pavitra Ganga’(Holy Ganges); while taking the bath on the head, recite ‘Purusha Suktam’ / ‘Sri Suktam’ and after the Snaan, take Tulasi in hand and perform ‘Achaman’(Sipping water thrice with the Names of Keshava, Narayana, Madhava etc.) and later apply Tilak / Vibhudi/ Kumkum on the forehead. Cold water snaan is always preferable to hot water for double Punya. It is said that there are four types of Snaan viz. ‘Vayavya’ (along with ‘Godhuli’/Cow dung); ‘Varuna’ (in the Sea and Holy Rivers); ‘Brahma’ or with Veda Mantras and ‘Divya’ or as Sun rays pass on the body. Snaanas by women should not be with Veda Mantras.
Lord Brahma affirmed that the fortnight from Kartika Krishna Trayodasi to the end of the month ie from Deepavali on the Amavasya of Aswayuja should be observed as Festival Days. The ‘Pradosha’ time of that Trayodasi  is the most significant time when Lord Yama is worshipped with ‘Deepas’ at the main door of the residence and Naivedya to ensure that there would never be an ‘Apamrutyu’ or Akaala Mrithyu (premature and sudden death) in the family. Yama Raja would be pleased with the recitation of the Mantra after the worship:
Mrityuna pasha dandaabhyaam Kaalena cha maya saha,
Trayodashyam Deepa daanaath Suryajah Preeyathamiti
[With this Deepa daan on Trayodashi, may Surya’s son Yama be pleased without Mrityu (Death), Pasha (Yama’s rope of death), Danda (Yama’s stick) and ‘Kaal’ (Death time)] Thereafter, on Kartika Amavasya morning, worship is to be performed to Devatas and at the Pradosha time of the same evening, strings of ‘Deepas’ should be lit and Devi Lakshmi is worshipped saying: ‘Devi Lakshmi! We welcome You with ‘Deepa Jyoti’ (the splendour of these Lamps) as You are the Symbol of Limitless Illumination; You are the representation of Surya, Chandra, Agni, and Gold (Prosperity); Do make Your residence as our own!’ Thus the Kartika Krishna Paksha is the most auspicious fortnight praying for ‘Apamrityu’ / Good Health to Yama raja and Wealth for Devi Lakshmi ushering an era of happiness.If during the entire Kartik Month-or atleast ‘Pancha Rathras’ (five nights), a devotee recites ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’ as well as reads / hears ‘Vishnu Sahasranam’ and ‘Gajendra Moksha Paatha’, he secures freedom from want, disease, adversity and discontent. Most certainly, the austerities observed on Kartika Ekadashi day alone would ensure contentment in ‘Iham’ (Current Life) and bliss in ‘Param’ (Post Life). Each act of virtue on the most auspicious day of Kartika Ekadashi is bound to obtain a multiplier effect endlessly.
Significance of the month of Kartika
While addressing a group of Munis, Sage Sutha narrated that Lord Brahma asked Bhagavan Narayana about  the significance of Margasirsha Month and the reply was that in His earlier incarnation as Krishna, He advised thousands of Gopikas and Gopas to observe austerities during that month by performing ‘Snaans’, ‘Pujas’, fastings and total dedication to Him to attain Salvation.
Thus Gopikas and Gopas adopted a daily routine of waking up early; taking bath with Tulasi roots of earth on head by reciting the Mula Mantra of ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’ and Gayatri Mantra; praying to Ganga saying
‘Vishnupaada prasuthaasi Vaishnavi Vishnu devatha,
Thrahi naha thvam aghaatthasmaat aajanma maranaanthikat’
(Hey Gangey, You were materialised from Vishnu’s feet, thus known as Vaishnavi, Vishnu is your Devata, please save me of my sins from birth to death); and applying mritthika (earth) on the body by reciting
‘Ashvakraanthey Rathakraanthey Vishnu kraanthey Vasundharey,
Mrittikey hara mey Paapam yanmayaa dushkrutam krutam/
Uddhrutasi Varaahena Krishnena Shata baahunaa,
Namasthey Sarva bhutaanam prabhavarani Suvrathey’
( Hey Vasundharey, Bhagavan Vishnu rides horses and chariots over your physique, I request your Mrittika to wash off my sins like the fire from the pit, you are the creator and tolerator of all beings and the Supreme Lord Varaha lifted you with His thousand hands from deep waters, I salute you!). After the former bath and wearing clean clothes, the routine continues with applying ‘Vibhudi’ (ash of homa or of cow dung), perform ‘Sandhya Vandan’/ Gayatri Japa followed by Vishnu Puja with ‘Ghantanaad’ (ringing bell), Chandana, Pushpa, Tulasidal, dhoop, deepa and other ‘Shodasopacharas’, ‘Stutipaath’ (Extolling hymns) of Vishnu Sahasranaam, Bhishmastavaraj, Gajendra Moksha, Anusmriti and Bhagavad Gita, Mantrajap viz. ‘Om Namo Damodaraya Namah’ and ‘Saashtanga Pranaam’ (prostration or lying on the ground by putting both the hands, both the feet, both the knees together, as also chest, forehead, heart, mouth, and vision) and finally recite the Mantra:
Mantra heenam, Kriya heenam, Bhakti heenam Janaardana,
Yat pujitam maya Deva Paripurnam tha dasthu the/
Anaya Dhyaanaa vaahanaadi Shodasopachaaraaya Bhagavaan Sarvaatmakah-
Supreeta Suparasanno varado bhavatu-
so saying-
Devataa Prasaadam Sirasa grihnnami,
ye that phalam Parameswar-arpanamasthu.
(Hey Janaardana, my worship to You is without Mantras, without rituals, and without devotion; kindly accept my worship without these qualities; also without meditation, ‘Vahanas’ or Carriers, and such other Sixteen Services, I am concluding my worship; kindly be pleased with my worship and ignore all my limitations).
In Kampilya Nagar in the past, there was a King Virabahu who was righteous and devoted and his wife Kantimati too was devout. He was visited by Sage Bharadvaj and was pleased by their high merit and good qualities. The Sage told the King that he was a cruel and sinful Shudra in his previous birth who never believed in Narayana, but his present wife was his previous wife too and was a dutiful and devout woman. While in a forest hunting once, the Shudra found an aged Muni named Devasharma who lost his way into the forest and was pitifully exhausted unable to move. The cruel hunter somehow felt pity on the old person and carried him into his abode and offered him fruits and water. Asked about him, the Shudra confessed to the Muni that he was a cruel hunter, was irreligious and unpardonable; meanwhile his wife gave some fruits and water which the Muni aceepted.As the hunter expressed sincere remorse for his earlier actions and showed keen desire to pray to Vishnu. Muni Devasharma opined that the sincerity shown by the hunter in rescuing an old and tired Sanyasi like him and providing timely assistance and service to him was itself an indication of the innumerable sins committed by him in the past. The Sage having narrated the story of the hunter gave ‘Upadesh’ (teaching) to the King about the significance of the month of Margasirsha and of the worship of Narayana by performing the ‘Akhanda Ekadashi Vrata’ commencing from Dashami through Dwadashi. On the evening of Dashami when Sun becomes less severe, one has to observe ‘Nakta Vratha’ or light meal; on Ekadashi day, one should avoid frequent drinking of water, violence, impurity, speaking lies, consumption of betel leaves, cleaning of teeth more than once, sleeping during the day, mating, gambling, non-observance of Jaagaran and conversation with sinners.On Ekadashi day, one should observe strict fasting which means avioding comfort. On the following Dwadashi day, one should observe the avoidables of Ekadashi as also keep away from other’s food, honey, and use of oils on the body as also consume the same. But the fast could be terminated to the ‘Karta’ (the devotee) on Dwadashi, only after providing Bhojan to Brahmanas. After observing the Akhanda Vrata for one full year till the last Dwadashi,  ‘Udyapan’ or conclusion is executed on the Margasirsha Shukla Ekadashi by engaging twelve Brahmanas and one ‘Acharya’ (Chief) and his wife. First of all, the Acharya and the Brahmanas should be invited with Arghya, Padya, Vastra and Dakshina. The Acharya would then supervise the preparation of ‘Chakra Kamala Mandala’ based on a white cloth, sub-divided into five segments each having five copper ‘Kalashas’ (vessels) duly garlanded around and on top of the Kalasas are set with the Idols of Lakshmi Narayana and the Shankha and Chakra. To the northern side there should be ‘Havan Kund’ where ‘homas’ are performed with Veda Mantras. The Idols are worshipped with Dhupa, Deepa, Naivedya, Arathi and other services, besides Yaksha Kardama Puja (comprising Camphor, Agaru, Kasturi, and Anga lepa) and Parikrama / Pradakshina. Later on, there should be recitals of Pavamana Sukta, Mantras viz. ‘Madhuvaata ruthaayatey’, ‘Tejosi’etc. Sukranja etc. Vaachyam Brahma (Samam), ‘Pavitravantam Suryasya’,’ Vishnormahasi’ etc. followed by Samidha homa, Charu homa, Tila homa and so on. Finally, charities should take place including Kalasha (Vessel) Daan, Vastra (Clothing) Daan, Suvarna (Gold) Daan and Artha (Cash) Daan as per the devotee’s capacity and convenience.

Vaisakha Month’s Significance
Sage Narada confirmed from Brahma that ‘Vaisakha Masa’was of immense consequence as it fulfills all desires to human beings just as a mother did to children. The month is very dear to Vishnu and confers several boons to those who deserve.The month is the essence of Dharma, Yagna, Kriya (noble tasks) and Tapasya.
Vaisakha  is a ‘Dharma Sadhaka’(Virtue-prone) month, just as Veda Vidya is the preeminent of Vidyas, ‘Pranava’is the superlative of Mantras, ‘Kalpa Vriksha’ is the paramount of Trees, Surya Deva is the most superior of all radiances, Sudarshan Chakra is the most powerful among all Shastraas and Astras, Gold is the best of all metals, Siva is the unique among Vaishnavas and ‘Kaustubh’ is the best  among  the jewels.Those who perform ‘Snaan’even before Sunrise are valued by Narayana. Just as Vaishakha, there is no Yuga like Satya, no charity like that of water, no prosperity like farming, no Tapasya like Upavas (fasting), no happiness like giving away, no virtue like mercy and forgiving, no superiority like good health, and above all there is no Bhagavan like Vishnu.
During the month of Vaishakha, ‘Jala Daan’assumes high importance as those who wish to attain affluence must resort to ways and means of supplying water to public; road side outlets to travellers are of great utility especially in Summer season. Planting trees for shade, providing umbrellas, footwear and fans to individuals, ‘Anna daan’ or mid day meals and free accommodation in rest houses especially to ‘Yatris’ and devising other facilities have enormous and far reaching ‘Punya’; the donors of these items would automatically receive manifold benefits in ‘Iham’ (current life) and ‘Param’, especially the ‘Naraka lokas’which one ought to visit after life. To those who give away clothing in charity would be rid of difficulties at birth and death; to those who donate mats that Lord Vishnu Himself rests on; to those who give away bed sheets would have comfortable sleep; to those who provide relaxed clothing to Brahmanas their life span would be extended; to those who donate flowers would be blessed with luxuries in life; to those who offer chandan would enjoy happiness; to those who construct free rest houses would become Kings; to those who provide free facilities of gardens, water wells, and ‘Mandapas’  would have the happiness of good children; and to those who perform rites to ‘Pitras’ by offering Kasturi, Camphor, fragrant material and pots full of scented waters are sure to achieve various types of reliefs in the ‘Paraloka’. While these are illustrative types of charities and the far reaching results of benevolence, the avoidable tasks during the Vaisakha month are eight-folded viz. applying oils on body, bathing in the house, sleeping during the day timings, eating in glass utensils, sleeping on water beds, keeping away from avoidable foods, eating more than once a day and eating in the night. If one takes Vaishakha bath before Sun-rise in any of the Seven Gangas viz. Ganga, Buddha Ganga (Godavari), Kalindi or Yamuna, Saraswathi, Kaveri, Narmada and Veni, the person concerned would be saved from even ‘Pancha Patakas’, let alone lesser level sins. Daanas of ‘Kanda’/ ‘Moola’ (Underground Vegetables), Phala (Fruits) Shakha (Plain Vegetables), Salt, Gud, Edible Leaves, and water would have endless benefits.
While performing ‘Snaanas’during Vaishaka, the following Mantras should be read in praise of Madhusudan as follows:
Madhusudan Devesha Vaishaakhe Meshage Ravai,
Prathahsnaanam karishyaami nirvighnam kuru Madhava.
(Hey Madhusudan, Deveswara Madhava, I am performing Vaishakha month bathing early morning when Surya Deva is situated in Mesha Rasi; Kindly accomplish my bathing without hindrance and bless me). After the bath, one should offer ‘Arghya’ (Handful of water) looking at Sun:
Vaishaakhe Meshage Bhaanau Praathah Snaana paraayanah,
Arghyam theham pradaasmahi gruhaana Madhusudana.
(I am formally offering the ‘Arghya’during early morning of Vaishaka when Surya is in Mesha Rasi; kindly accept, Madhusudana!)
Once there was a King named Kirtiman in Kashipura who went hunting in forests and being desirous of visiting the ‘Ashram’of Sage Vasishtha found several of the Sage’s disciples offering the shade of umbrellas, fruits and cool drinks to passers by.They were unmindful of normal human beings and Kings like him and asked why were they doing the service, they did not reply. On meeting Vasishtha, the King enquired about the acts of the disciples and the Sage described the significance of Vaisakha Month. Pursuant to this the King ordered that the good example of the disciples of the Sage be followed in the nook and corner of the entire Kingdom and was able to save the lives of several of his subjects, especially Brahmanas by providing rest houses, planting trees, supplying food and cool water and creating innumerable facilities to his people.Also, the King organised a Kingdom-wide campaign of propagating Dharma in the Vaishakha Month and spreading the awareness of the ‘do’s and don’ts’ as also strictly enforcing early mornig bathings, performances of daanas, ‘Pujas’by individual families and a general uplift of Dharma.This resulted in a very thin outgo of deaths from his Kingdom in the months of Vaishaka and Lord Yamaraja made an appeal to Brahma that the traffic of deaths and births registered in the Kingdom of Kirtiman was highly disturbed, that there was little difference of ‘Swarga’ and ‘Naraka’ and even those few deaths in the Kingdom made a bee-line to Vaikuntha! Amused by the complaint of Yamaraja, Brahma accompanied by Yamaraja approached the ‘Ksheera Sagar’ (Ocean of Milk) and Vishnu replied smilingly that He would rather leave away His Srivatsa, Kaustubh jewel, Vijayanti Mala, Sweta Dwip, Vaikuntha, Ksheera Sagar, Sesha Nag, Garud or even Devi Lakshmi, but would never abandon His Bhakta Raja Kirtiman. He further said that He would desire to multiply the good illustrations of that King and extend their lives for thousands of Years. He warned Yamadharmaraja not to interfere with the observance of the ‘Mahatmya’ of the month of Vaisakha. However, Lord Vishnu provided for a special dispensation in favour of Yamadharmaraja that the devotees of Vaisaska month should perform a special Puja in his favour during the first half of the month before Purnima and give away a Daan of potful of water, curd and Anna (rice/foodgrains) to appease him. Only after the special Puja that one should observe Pujas to Pitras, Gurus and Bhagavan Vishnu in their names and charity be given to Brahmanas offering cool water, curd, Anna, fruits, betel leaves/ nuts and ‘dakshina’ along with a copper vessel and an Idol of Maha Vishnu.
The importance of Vaisakha Akshaya Triteeya through the end of the month was illustrated by a King Purushaya of Panchaladesha who no doubt was virtuous and noble but lost his kingdom following a famine in his Kingdom and the opportune neighbouring Kings defeated and sent Purushaya into exile. Two Sages explained that Purushaya was a cruel hunter in his previous birth but luckily he showed two old and very thirsty passers-by about the location of a waterbody and hence he became a King; yet Purushaya never performed charity and hence faced bad days. The Sages suggested that the next day was Vaisakha Akshaya Triteeya and the King could therefore observe early morning Snaan, Puja to Lakshmipati, perform charity by way of water-dispensers for the benefit of thirsty passers- by and such other good deeds. Purushaya realised the fault and executed several charitable deeds during Akshaya Triteeya through Amavasya and regained his kingdom eventually and decided to provide many charities in the entire month of Vaisakha month every year. Eventually, the King became a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, had His darshan and attained ‘Sayujya’.
While all the days of Vaishakha Month are significant, Ekadashi, assumes special value.The ideal deeds like Snaan, Daan, Homa, Deva Puja and other Punya Karmas like Japas, Stotras and Katha Shravanas bestow instant results. Those who suffer from illness and acute poverty would be free from Purana Shravana; those who are blind, widows, or normal men, women, and children, youth, old, decrepit and the rest would all be able to lessen or even remove their problems as a result of their virtues on Ekadashi of the month. Similarly, Amavasya of Vaisakha Monthis of the great impact for Pitru Puja and for performing ‘Shraddhas’,’Pinda daanas’ and ‘Tila Tarpanas’.

Ayodhya ‘Mahatmya’ and the Import of ‘Tirthas’ around
Bhagavan Vishnu’s right foot thumb created Ganga and left foot thumb created Sarayu and thus both the Rivers are Sacred and bathings of these ‘Tirthas’ bestow purity of high merit and destroy the effect of evil deeds even of the intensity of the ‘Maha Patakas’ or the Great Sins.The origin of the word Ayodhya emerged from the amalgam of ‘Akar’standing for Brahma, ‘Yakar’for Vishnu and ‘dhakar’ standing for Rudra.
Ayodhya is the ‘Adipuri’of Lord Vishnu, also the abode of Sudarshana Chakra and as such the sin demolisher. The City has the shape of a fish ranging from Go-Prathara Tirtha in the West to ‘Asi’ Tirtha in the East. In the days of yore, there was a famous Brahmana by name Vishnu Sharma who did such Tapasya with great resolve and sacrifice for several years that finally Bhagavan appeared before him in His full Form and materialised a Holy Tirtha from His Chakra which was named Chakra Tirtha. Persons doing bath, worship and charity at this Sacred Tirtha are believed to enjoy long and happy life and after termination of life achieve Mukti. Lord Brahma decided to visit Ayodhya once and materialised a vast Tirtha, named after Him ie. Brahma Kunda, and said that He would reside there for good. Sage Lomesh did his bathing in the Runa Vimochan Tirtha and declared that the waters possess the great quality of ‘runa vimochana’ or getting rid of debts of the current and previous births. Not far from Brahma Kunda is a Papa Vimochan Tirtha where a Brahmana named Narahari who became a victim of bad company and performed several great sins including cursing the Vedas; but luckily he met a few Sadhus visiting Ayodhya once and along with them performed Snaan, Puja and Daan in the name of Narayana on a special day of Magha Krishna Chaturdasi and all his sins were washed out since he was basically a Brahmana who fell a prey to wrong actions. There was also a Tirtha which had the history of Shri Ram disowning Lakshman due to certain peculiar circumstances; Shri Ram instructed Lakshman to guard the main entry and who ever entered would be punished since the former and Kaala Devata were meditating together on Deva Karya (a certain task of Devas) and were not to be disturbed. But Sage Durvasa arrived and pressurised Lakshman to inform Rama of his arrival and Laxman had to be punished of being disowned. The forsaken Lakshman did severe Tapasya to Parameswara to absolve the indiscretion that he had done due to Durvasa’s unexpected entry. This made ‘Seshanag’ (whose Avatar was Lakshmana) appear and the exraodinary radiance and heat of the jewels of the thousand hoods of Seshanag pierced through the banks of Sarayu River and up came a Sahasradhara Tirtha. Indra and Devas also appeared and the indiscretion of Laksmana due to circumstances beyond his control was pardoned. Such is the power of the Tirtha that even Lakshman’s blunders were pardoned and devotees performing ‘Snaan’, ‘Puja’ and ‘Daan’ in the name of Seshanag (Naga Puja) especially in Vaisakha Month would never bother the fear of Snakes. Away from Sahasradhara Tirtha is Swargadwara as the name indicates the Tirtha is expected to have the nearest acesss to Swarga where devotees perform sacred tasks for a month including fasting, Japas, tapas, havans, dhyanas, Adhyayanas (Studies of Sacred Books) and Danaas including Godaanas, Bhu daanas, Vastra danaas, etc. Popularly believed as the abode of Siva, Shri Rama along with His younger brothers was in the habit of frequenting the Tirtha not only to review the good deeds of Brahmanas but all human beings, animals, birds and even the smallest flies for granting boons to each and everybody.Chandrahari Tirtha is named after Chandrahari or Bhagavan Vishnu and following ‘Snaan’ at the Tirtha, devotees observe Chandrahari Vrata on Purnima in the Month with Daan, Vrata Puja and homam. After eighty three years four months on Purnimasi day, the Vrata’s ‘Udyapan’ is performed on the completion of Sahasra Chandra Darshana .The Udyapan includes Pujas of Ganesha, Vishnu, Gauri, Siva, Sixteen Matrikas, Chandra Homa, Chandra Mantra Japa, Soma Sukta, Chandra nyasa, Kalaanyasa, Arghya Mantra in favour of Chandra, Daan of Sixteen Kalasas full of milk, Vastra Daan, Dakshina and ‘Bhojan’.On the following day, ‘punah puja’(Puja again) is performed again to Srihari. Completion of the Function accordingly would reserve a prominent Place to the devotee in Chandra Loka, at the end of his life.To the Agneya direction of Chandrahari Tirtha is situated Dharmahari Tirtha which was set up by an      erudite Brahmana who was well read in Vedas and visited Ayodhya the abode of Bhagavan Vishnu.He was highly thrilled to have a darshan of Bhagavan who was immensely pleased by the devotee’s eulogy and gave the boon of manifesting Himself in form of an Idol as Dharmahari at the Place where He appeared before the Brahmana and assured that in future, whosoever took the ‘Snaan’ at Swargadwar Tirtha and performed penance, Puja, and charities would be blessed and become sin-free. To South of Dharmahari, is situated ‘Swarnakhani Tirtha’ where Lord Kubera showered gold rain in Ayodhya to please King Raghu. The King completed ‘Vishva Digvijaya’ Yagna and since then Snaans at the Tirtha on Vaisakha Sukla Dwadashi would fulfill their desires including possesion of immense Gold and prosperity. Sambheda Tirtha is known as ‘Tilodaki’where the water too has the colour of Black Til and is used for ‘Pitru Tarpanas’ with black Til ie. Sesamum Seeds. Tarpanas on Bhadrapada Krishna Amavasya would help relieve the travails of Pitras and the sins of their seven generations get burnt off with the worship of Narayana. To the West of the Sambheda Tirtha, is the Sita Kunda which was set up by Sita Herself. Guptahari was the Place in Ayodhya where Lord Vishnu stayed without the knowledge of Asuras who were creating havoc in Bhuloka; Devas and Bhagavan Shankar approached the Lord who assured that He would execute Tapasya for the security of Devas and annihilate them by taking the Avatar of Sri Rama. After taking Snaan at Guptahari, devotees pay respects at Chakrahari Tirtha perform Japas and Homas and proceed further to Gopratara ghat of Saruyu Sangam on Margasirsha Sukla Dwadasi for Sacred baths. In Sarayu and Dadhra Sangam, there are ten crores of Tirthas where devotes offer Pitra Tarpans and Daans as per individual capacities and inclinations.The auspicious days as considered by devotees for rituals, homas, Daanas etc. all along the banks of Sarayu River include Amavasya, Purnimas, Dwadashi Tithis,‘Ayana’change days, ‘Vyaktipaathayoga’ days (as per individual horoscopes) etc. Just as Manikarnika is most Sacred at Kasi, Chakra Tirtha at Naimisha Forest and Mahakaal Mandir at Ujjain, Gopratara Tirtha is the most significant at Ayodhya as that was the Place of ‘Parama Gaman’ (Great Departure) of Lord Sri Rama. Besides the above, there are other important Tirthas like Ksheerodak Tirtha (where King Dasarath performed ‘Putra Kameshthi’ or Yagna aiming at begetting children and devotees execute ‘Vratas’on Aswin Shukla Ekadashi); Brihaspati Kund (the abode of Deva Guru Brisahpati); Rukmini Kund (which was constructed by Devi Rukmini and Lord Krishna too stays in the Tirtha and devotees perform Vaishnava Mantra Homa, Brahmana Puja and ‘Krishna Archana’on Kartika Krishna Navami and observe annual Yatra or Procession with great pomp); Dhana Yaksha Yagna where King Harischandra donated his entire Kingdom to Sage Viswamitra who entrusted the responsibility of giving security to the Kingdom by one Yaksha; Vasishtha Kunda (where Sage Vasishtha and his wife Maha Pativrata Devi Arundhati stay and bless devotees);Yogini Kund (where sixty four Yoginis reside and provide ‘Sidhis’to men and women);Urvashi Kund (where those males who bathe desirous of getting access to Swarga) and Ghoshaarka Kund (where King Ghosh did severe Tapasya to Surya Deva and devotees bathing and worshipping Him on Sundays bestows good health and contentment. One of the most distinct and popular Places in the vicinity of Ayodhya is Gaya Kupa where ‘Shraddahas’to Pitras are performed not only to relieve the ancestors from their miseries and experiences of Narakaloka (hells) but also seek the blessings of Devas and Rishis; Somavati Amavasya is the day when the Shraddhas offered to Pitras are most fruitful but the ‘Pitra Karyas’ (The Acts addressed to ancestors) on the specific Tithi (day when the concerned ancestor passed away) are equally significant. As a last resort, such ‘Karyas’performed on any day visiting Gaya Kshetra are also stated important , since Shraddhas offered would help provide respite to the Souls of the deceased. Manasa Tirtha is known for ‘Piscacha Vimochana’ as Snaan and Daan on Agahana Sukla Chaturdasi ensure that never in births ahead would become a Piscacha. As Sri Rama stood for seven noble features, Seven Noble Tirthas emerged viz. Satya Tirtha, Kshama Tirtha, Sarva bhuta daya Tirtha, Indriyanigraha Tirtha, Satyavaadita Tirtha, Jnana Tirtha and Tapas Tirtha. Ayodhya is also famous for Sri Rama Janma Sthaan where Sri Rama Navami Celebrations are at peak in the City.

 Setu Tirtha (Rameswara Kshetra)
In the Brahma Khanda of Skanda Purana, Suta Maha Muni addressed a Conclave of Rishis and narrated the significance of Setu Bandhan/ Tirtha as also of Rameswara Kshetra which were visualised and built by Sri Rama; even visioning these Places would bestow Mukti from Samsara.Emphasising the Unity of Vishnu and Siva, the Three Sacred Places viz. Setu (bridge), Rameswara Linga and Gandhamadan Mountain constitute the composite identity.
If one lies down on Setu’s banks and sticks the sand on the body, the number of as many sand particles would absolve as many Brahmahatya sins! The touch of the wind on one’s body from the mid-banks of Setu would pardon ten thousand ‘Surapanaas’ (drinking intoxicants). If one does ‘Snaan’ at the Tirtha and seeks relief on somebody else’s favour, then too the sins of the proxy beneficiaries are washed off. The Five Brahmahatya sinners, who spoil the roads, prepare food for them only, abuse Brahmanas and Sanyasis, accept the food of a Chandala and sell Vedas are also excused by the holy bath at Setu Tirtha. Those who offer charity but deny in reality, those who teach Dharma (Virtue) but hate and ridicule the teachers, who obstruct cows from drinking water from public places, abandon ‘Upasana’ (meditation), steals food meant for Devas, drink wine from women who too drink and consume food from fallen and poverty stricken women also secure reprieve as the Setu and Ramalingeswra Snaanas and worship are very powerful. Those who steal Kanda-Moolas (earth sprouted / underneathed vegetables) and fruits, Kasturi, silk materials, milk, Chandan, Camphor, honey, ghee, glass and copper material and Rudrakshas are considered as sinful as those who steal gold; but even such deplorable persons are forgiven by visiting Setu Kshetra. Incest of all kinds  is also exonerated by the Setu Kshetra. If for any reason, one is unable to visit the Setu / Ramalinga Temple, he or she could depute a trustworthy person on his behalf by bearing the expenses.
As Lord Sri Ram, Devi Sita and Lakshman were consigned to the forest, Dandakaranya, for twelve years following His father’s instruction and resided at a hermitage called ‘Panchavati’, the Demon Ravanasura tricked Devi Sita with a Golden Deer in the disguise of another Demon Maricha and forcibly abducted her to his kingdom of Lanka. Rama and Lakshmana were in futile search of Sita and made friends with Hanuman and Sugriva. The latter was helped by Rama to kill Vali and made him the King of Kishkintha. Hanuman crossed the Ocean, met Devi Sita by raising confidence in her about him as a Bhakta of Sri Ram by giving her ‘chudamani’ ( jewellery of hers brought from Rama) and gave a taste of his prowess to Ravana by destroying the forests and major parts of Lanka’s Capital City. Hanuman returned back to Rama and gave the news of Sita’s where-abouts. Rama, Lakshmana, Sugriva, Hanuman, Jambavan and other great warriors of Vanara Sena (the monkey’s army) travelled many Kingdoms en route to Mahendra Mountain. Vibhishan, younger brother of Ravana joined Rama as he did not approve of Ravana’s evil policies. Rama decided to cross the Ocean but only the mighty Hanuman could perform the great leap to Lanka and others would not be able to do so. It was also not possible to navigate as several boats were not available in such short time. Rama therefore prayed to Samudra Deva, the God of Ocean, for three days but the Deva did not respond. Rama grew angry and took his Dhanush (bow and arrow) to punish the Ocean. Samudra Deva appeared and agreed to help Rama; there were only two ways of reaching Lanka viz. by drying up the Ocean which might not be a plausible solution or by asking ‘Nala’of the army of Sugriva who like his father Viswakarma was an adept to prepare a Setu (Bridge). The monkey brigade could throw any thing like boulders, stones or even pebbles, Samudra on his part would hold of whatever is thrown into the waters and Nala could shape up a bridge in view of his inborn talent. Thus commenced the ‘Setu Bandhan’ with the help of any material including trees, plants, flowers, and even grass thrown into the deep waters by Nala and soon enough a remarkable bridge was planned right across the Ocean which was of a huge dimension of ten Yojanas width and hundred yojanas length. Lord Sri Rama determined an excellent ‘Muhurat’ (auspicious time) for Ganesh Puja and Maheswara Puja at the Devipatthan Nagar.The Setubandhan Mantra recited by all those involved in the mammoth task stated:
Raghuvira padanyasa Pavitrikruta Pamsavey,
Dasakantha siraccheda hetavey Setavey namah /
Ketavey Ramachandrasya Moksha maargonka hetavey,
Sitaayaa Maanasambhoja bhaanavey Setava namah
(This Place has become sacred with the dust of Sri Ram’s feet; this Setu is the one  being constructed to devastate the ten heads of Ravanasura; this is the Ketu (dhwaja or flag symbol) being built as the proof of ‘Moksha Sadhana’or the Route to Salvation, Sri Rama’s universal distinction and Devi Sita’s happiness like the opening of her lotus like heart with Surya Deva’s high radiance. Our Geetings to this immortal Setu! Starting the task of Setu Bandhan, the consrtuction was accomplished within five days!)
There are several Tirthas on either side of the Setu, but most significant are twenty four. The most important ones are Chakra Tirtha, Betala varada Tirtha, and Paapavinashana Tirtha which were famous. Then there are Sitasarovar Tirtha, Mangala Tirtha and Amritavaapika. Again, there are Brahmakund, Hanumakund, Agasthya Tirtha, Rama Tirtha, Lakshmana Tirtha, Jaya Tirtha, Lakshmi Tirtha, Agni Tirtha, Chakra Tirtha, Siva Tirtha, Shankha Tirtha, Yamuna Tirtha, Ganga Tirtha, Gaya Tirtha, Koti Tirtha, Saadhyamrita Tirtha, Maanasa Tirtha and Dhanushkodi Tirtha. These are only illustrative Tirthas which are all Sin demolishers. Chakra Tirtha is known as the foremost and original one where a Vaishnava Mahatma called Galava resided. He performed rigorous Tapasya for several years without any human contact by eating leaves, then water and subsequently with only Vayu (air), ignoring the harshness of summer, winter and rains.He had targetted Lord Vishnu and disregarded every thing else in the World. Bhagavan was pleased with the determination of the Vaishnava’s devotion and gave His ‘Darshan’. Galava was indeed extremely happy but requested Bhagavan to save him from Devils known as Hunger, thirst and physical disability experienced during the course of his Tapasya; he was obsessed about his scare and Bhagavan asked His Sudarshan Chakra to throw away the Devils and keep one of the Chakra’s ‘Amsas’ (features) there which would be immortalised as Chakra Tirtha bestowing fearlessness and Mukti. SitaKund was the Place where Devi Sita was asked by Rama to enter an ‘Agni Kunda’and came out to vindicate her chastity although she stayed in Ravana’s custody for long and there were doubts raised by a handful of citizens of Ayodhya. After taking Snaan at Sita Kund which bestows purity of thought and action, devotees visit Mangala Tirtha to signify the virtues of altruism, selflessness and nonviolence as were taught to King Manojava by fate who taxed Brahmanas, never gave charity and was unscrupulous with his Subjects, eventually lost his Kingdom, suffered the worst poverty and hunger in forests but was saved by Sage Parasara who advised the King to visit Mangala Tirtha and eventually regained his Kingdom. Ekantaramanatha was the Confidential Place where after crossing Sethu Rama was engrossed with Lakshman, Sugriva, Vibhishana, Hanuman and Jambavan in planning the Battle with Ravana and the Sea was peaceful, less noisy and conducive for mental ability.Amrita vati  was next to Ekantaramanatha which was like nectar providing contentment and great enthusiasm. Brahma Kund was a sin destroyer, fulfiller of human desires and most auspicious after preforming Snaan and charities. Hanuma Kund Snaan blesses childless parents of highly virtuous and brave sons.Rama Tirtha  is known for securing innumerable Siddhis like ability to fly on the sky, excellence in various ‘Kalaas’ or Art Forms, free mobility among various Deva lokas and capacity to convese with Devatas. The Tirtha Snaan yields many noble traits which Sri Rama Chandra stood for like Truthfulness, extraordinary courage, invincibility and obeying the orders of His father in letter and spirit. Worship at Lakshmana Tirtha confers faith in virtue, bravery, conviction and loyalty. Koti Tirtha was the source of Holy Waters of Ganga, Yamuna and several other Rivers which were materialised by Sri Rama to perform the ‘Abhisheka’ or Sacred Bathing of the Rameswara Linga at the time of ‘Pratishtha’ (Setting up) to undertake ‘Prayaschitta’ or Self-Purification of Sri Rama to demolish the ‘Brahmahatya Pataka’ which was among the Five Greatest Sins, ie.killing of Brahmanas like Ravana, Kumbhakarna and Indra jit. Sage Narada advised Sri Krishna to take Snaan at Koti Tirtha after assassination of his maternal uncle, the merciless King Kamsa. Dhanush Tirtha was materialised as Ravana was killed and Vibhishana was made the King; the latter entreated Rama to destroy the Setu as all the Vanaras returned to Gandhamadan Mountain from Lanka and since any enterprising King from Bharat might walk across easily and attack the Lanka Kingdom in future. Setu was destroyed by Rama and Snaan / Daan and worship at Dhanush Tirtha became a Sin-destroyer, the Place of Pitru ‘Karyas’ and for Salvation.       
Rameswara Maha Linga is the most hallowed Parameswara Linga established by Rama and Sita for the twin reasons of Prayaschitta to atone from Brahma Patakas as also by way of gratitude and veneration to Maha Deva. In consultation with Maha Munis, Sri Ram decided to perform the ‘Pratishtha’ of Rameswara Linga at the most auspicious ‘Muhurat’and commissioned Hanuman to bring the Linga from Maha Deva at Kailasa Mountain. Hanuman raced to Kailasa by the Sky route in a record time but could not secure Siva Darshana fast and had to meditate Maha Deva for days together. Finally, Maha Deva blessed Rameswara Linga and without loss of time Hanuman sought to return to Gandhamaadana where the Consecration was planned. Unfortunately however Hunuman could not meet the deadline of the Muhurat for the Consecration of the Linga and Devi Sita had to perforce prepare a Sand Linga that was set up as a temporary stop-gap but in reality that became the real Linga virtually.Later a Nandisewara Linga too was set up and Ahishekas were performed amid recitals of Vedas and other appropriate Mantras by the Holy Waters from Koti Tirtha. Meanwhile Hanuman returned from Kailasa but was highly disappointed and felt that all his efforts proved futile. Sri Rama assuaged Hanuma’s hurt feelings and told him that he was a Great Tatva Gyani himself and that he knew well that Atma was eternal and human body was ephemeral subject to emotions like anger, desire, envy, infatuation and disappointment. Having said that Rama did the Pratishtha of the Hanumadiswara Linga and announced that devotees should have the Darshan of this Linga even before the worship of Rameswar Linga as the former which was gifted by Siva Himself bestowed courage, enterprise, loyalty and great devotion. As regards Rameswara Linga, devotees who secure darshan; perform worship, Abhishek, Veda Pathana, Charities, Kirtanas, and so on are among the top Bhaktas whose sins perish like Agni  would do to flies! The kinds of Bhakti to Siva Linga are basically eight-fold: Devotees of Rameswara should display devotion and kindness; they should worship the Devotees of the Linga and satisfy them; perform worship to Siva without reservations; their each and every action, emotion and feelings ought to be reflected in the devotee’s physique, mind and Inner Consciousness; listen carefully to  the Sacred Stories of Rameswara Mahatmya; their love and attachment to Rameswara should result in their voices full of emotions, eyes full of tears, their instant reactions in terms of hair rising incidents when related to them; remembering the name of Ramesewara and perform ‘Japa’always by reciting the Mantra:
Ramanatha Mahadeva maam Raksha Karunanithey,
Iti Yaha Satatam bruyat Kalinasow na bandhyatey;  
and taking refuge in Him, carry on one’s life![The list of Major Tirthas at Rameswaram includes: Chakra Tirtham at Darbhhashayanam; Vetala Varada at South of Chakra Tirtha; Wells inside Rathna Swami Temple: Lakshmi Tirtha, Chakra Tirtha, Siva Tirtha, Yamuna Tirtha, Ganga Tirtha, Gaya Tirtha, Koti Tirtha, Sadhyamrita Tirtha, Jambava Tirtha, Angada Tirtha, Sarva Tirtha, Chandra Tirtha, Surya Tirtha, Brahmahatti Vimochana Tirtha, Madhava Tirtha, Nala Tirtha, Nila Tirtha, Gavaya Tirtha, Gavaska Tirtha, Gandhamaadana Tirtha, Savitri Tirtha, Sarasvati Tirtha and Gayatri Tirtha; Near Ekantarama Temple: Amrita vapi, Mangala Tirtha, Runa Vimochana Tirtha and Pancha Pandava Tirtha; At Gandhamaadana Mountain, there is Paapa Vinaasana, and on way there are Nakula Tirtha, Sahadeva Tirtha, Bhima Tirtha, Draupadi Tirtha, Arjuna Tirtha, and Sugriva Tirtha; at Pamban the Tirthas are of Kapila, Bhairava an Amrita; Nearby Ratna SwamiTemple are Hanuma Kunda, Agasthya Tirtham and Lashmana Kundam; Agni Tirtha at the East beach of the Sea and Dhanushkodi  at the Sea etc.] The  Procedure for Sethu Tirtha is to greet Samudra first, offer Arghya daan, recite the Mantra saying ‘Hey Sagara, Swami of Rivers, allow me to take bath and wash off my sins just as a snake rejects its old skin’; thus one takes three  dips; offers Tarpanas to Devas, Rishis and Pitras; takes bath at Chakra Tirtha, Kapila Tirtha, Sita kund, Runa Vimochana Tirtha, Rama Tirtha, Lakshmana Tirtha, Papanashana Tirtha, Brahma Tirtha, Dhanush kodi, Agni Tirtha and so on.
Dharmaranya Mahatmya-Sadachari Brahmanas, SandhaVandana, Do’s & Dont’s
Maha Muni Veda Vyas described to Yudhishtara the eldest of Pandavas about the enormous significance of Dharmaranya where none had enemity with anybody, a typical Place of fearlessness, as tigers and rats played with each other, frogs and snakes coexist in Peace and human beings and Rakshasas are mutually helpful and friendly!
That was the famous Forest where (Yama) Dharma Raja practised ruthless Tapasya for several Deva Years (each day of Devas equalling hundred human years) addressed to Maha Deva. Apprehensive of Dhamaraja’s intentions of a risk to his throne, Indra approached Brahma who prayed to Maha Deva and the latter confirmed that Dharmaraja’s objective was dignified and noble, but Indra became increasingly suspicious and despatched an ‘Apsara’named Vardhini to tempt Dharmaraja. Yamaraja had indeed known her intentions but asked her to convey to Indra that he had no desire to occupy the Throne of Heaven. As the Tapasya of Dharmaraja became more and more fierce, Maha Deva gave His ‘Darshan’ and agreed to three of his boons viz. that Dharmaranya where his sincere meditation was made be admired in Three Lokas; that there be a highly Sacred Tirtha so materialised and that He (Maha Deva) be always present as Visweswara Linga. The Linga so set up with Maha Deva’s boons eventually became as Dharmeswara Linga and sacred baths in the Dhramavapi set up by Dharmaraja became popular as ‘Vyadhinashak’ or the destroyer of diseases; those who offer ‘Yama Tarpanas’ would never face any danger in life; illnesses like Antariya, Tijari, ‘Jwaras’ of limited days and Sheeta Jwaras of varying kinds should never trouble human beings.
Veda Vyasa described to Yudhishtara the basic traits of Sadaachara Brahmanas ; he said that among Human beings, Brahmanas constituted the cream of the Society; among them were Vidwans, among Vidwans were Budhhimaans, and among them were Karmatthas or those who practise Karmas were Brahmaparayana Purushas. Those who desire to maintain Dharma do administer the precepts of ‘Yama’ and ‘Niyama’. Yama connotes Satya (Truth), Kshama (Patience), Saralata (Tendernes), Dhyan (Meditation), ‘Karuna’ mercifulness, Ahimsa (Non-violence), Mental and Physical Control, Sada Prasannata (cool temper always), Sweet behaviour and delicate demeanour. Niyama connotes the ten fold activities viz.  Shaucha (Physical Cleanliness), ‘Snaan’ (Bathing), Tapa (meditation), Daan (charity), Mouna (Maintaining Silence), Yagna, Swadhyayana (Reading by Self), Vrata (Pujas as prescribed), Upavasa (fasting), and Indriya Daman (Control of Limbs). Human Beings should certainly do well in controlling the Six Proverbial Enemies of Kama (Desire), Krodha (Anger), Lobha (avarice), Moha (Infatuation), Mada (Arrogance) and Matsarya (Jealousy).One should definitely realize that a human being enters the World alone and dies alone and in between becomes responsible for the noble or ignoble tasks executed. On the arrival of Mritu (death), human body is disposed off and almost immediately one’s brothers and relatives tend to forget the dead person sooner than later. 
Jaayato haikalah Praani cha tathaikalah,
Ekalah Sukrutam Bhunkthey Bhunktey Dushkrutamekalaha /
Dehe Panchatvamapanne tyaktvaikam kaashttaloshtavat,
badhva vimukha yaanti dharmom yaantamanuvrajet /
Such is the reality of life.
Among the Niyamas, Shoucha is to be observed by way of physical cleanliness including the morning ablutions. Formal Snaan has an important role among the Niyamas which is observed with ‘Kusha’ grass on hand and tucked in the tuft on head, wear clean clothes, perform Pranayama ten to twelve times holding breath in a modulated manner in alternate nostrils by reciting Pranava Mantra OM, then observe Morning  Sandhya Vandana commencing with ‘Achamana’ of Om Keshavaya Swaha, Narayana Swaha, Madhavaya Swaha etc. followed by Marjana Mantra of ‘Om Aapo hishtha mayo bhuvaha thaana vurje thadathana, Maherayanaya chakshasey/ yovassivatamo rasah tasya bhajahthehanaha usiteeravamaatarah /tasya aranga maamavaha /Yassyakshayaya jinvadhah Apojanah yadhaachanah’ (Paramatma! As You are kind to accept our Prayers, do favour us with the means of our existence like food etc; do bless us with endless kindness our sincere desire to have Your divine appearance which is eternally blissful). Then sprinkle water nine times on Prithivi (Earth), Mastak (head), up on Akaakaash (the Sky), again on Akaakaash, on Prithvi again, on Mastak twice, on Akaakaash and on Prithvi again. The words Prithvi signify the two feet; Aaakaash signifies heart, the word Mastak signifies brain. Six kinds of ‘Snaanas’have been named viz.Varauna Snaan (bath with water), Agneya Snaan (Spread over ‘Dhuup’or smoke on all the limbs), Vayavya Snaan (Bathing by free air), Yendra Snaan (Bathing with rain water), Mantra Snaan (Purifying the body with Mantras) and Braahma Snaan (Veda Mantra Abhishek). Indeed Braahma Snaan is the best as it ensures ‘Baahyanatra Snaan’ -Purity both of external  or physical and internal  or mental cleanliness.After Marjana Mantra, ‘Drupadadiva Mumunchaanah’ Mantra is followed by the recital of Vidhijna Purusha ‘Ruthajna Sathyajna’ Mantras; thereafter, Aghamarshana Mantra is recited thrice further followed by Pranava (Om), Vyahritis viz. Bhuh, Bhuva and Suvaha and Gayatri Mantra: Tatsavithur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dheemahe Dhiyoyonah Prachodayat’( May we attain the great Glory of Savitur / Paramatma, so that He/She stimulates our prayers).He who performs Gayatri Japa three Sandhyas a day through Surya Deva achieves Progeny, Wealth, Agricultural and Animal prosperity, Good Health, Longevity, and all round Contentment. Gayatri Mantra Japa is followed by Tarpanas with water and ‘Kushas’ to Brahma and Devas; Marichi and other Rishis with Niveeti (Yagnopaveet as a Mala or Garland); and to Pitras with Tilas Black Tila’ or Sesamum (with Yagnopaveeta as Praachinaveeta or reverse side); Note: Black Tila Tarpana be avoided on Sundays, Sukla Trayodasi, Saptami, nights, Sandhya Vandana Times) and at these times, only white Til be used.
Vedagnihotra or Use of Fire along with Vedasis of five kinds: ‘Sweekar’ or what is taught from a Guru; ‘Artha Vichar’ (Aimed at Prosperity); ‘Mantra paatha Abhyas’ (Practice of Mantras); ‘Tapah’ (as per practice of Vedas); and Teaching Sishyas (disciples). Morning Agnihotras are aimed at ‘Praapti Raksha’ (Safeguarding what ever is achieved) and ‘Aprapti Prapti’ (Achieving what is not available). ‘Madhyahna kaala’ (mid-day) Agnihotras are oriented to Bali Viswa ‘homas’ into Agni with lentils like Urad, Chana and Matar; uncooked / cooked oil items, cooked rice, and ghee). Agni Puja is performed later with Gandha, Pushpa, Akshatas (rice with turmeric powder) and so on. Sprinkling water on all the sides of the Fire Pit is to ensure that Agni is never exposed naked). The Prasad is distributed among the six categories of Dharma bikshus or Guests of Soceity without hesitation, viz hungry travellers, widows /widowers, Vidyarthis, those who look after others; Sanyasis and Brahmacharis. Also, food given away to Chandalas, dogs, yachakas (beggars), patitas (fallen women), paparogis (diseased due to sins), etc .has its own benefits to Brahmanas.
In the  Grihashtashram  (family life), Maharshi Veda Vyas extolled to Yudhishthar the virtues of human beings, especially Brahmanas, as they play a pivotal role in performing duties to Devas, Pitras, Co- human beings, Bhuta Pranis, Krumi-Keetas (insects), Pakshis (birds) and even Asuras. Cows standing for virtues do fall in the care of Brahmanas as the former represent Vedas-Rig Ved being the back of Cows, Yajur Ved being their middle portion, and Sama Ved their ‘Kukshi’(stomach); ‘Ishta’or Yagnas and Yagas and ‘Apurti’ or Wells, Tatakas, Gardens etc are their horns; Veda Suktas are the body hairs; Shanti Karma and Pushti Karma are their dung and urine; ‘Aksharas’ are their feet; Cows live for their Pada-Krama-Jata-and Ghana Paatha viz. the various Mantras; Swahakar, Swadhakar, Vashatkar and Hanthakar are the four nipples of their breasts, each of the nipples representing Devatas; Pitras; Bhutas, Rishis, Munis and Sureswaraganas; and Human beings respectively. The last nipple yeilds maximum milk to human beings.Thus the responsibility of looking after cows is squarely on human beings. Besides, the ‘Grihastas’or family members need to observe Snaanas, Pujas, Tarpanas, Bali Vaiswadevas, and ‘Atithi Pujas’ or veneration to Guests in the normal course. Veda Vyas explained to Yudhishtar the eight kinds of ‘Vivahas’ (weddings) viz. Braahma, Daiva, Arsha, Praajaapathya, Asura, Gandharva, Raakshasa and Paisachika. When a bridegroom is invited and a bride is given away with Vastras (clothing) and jewellery is the Braahma Vivaha; Kanyadaan (offering a girl) by way of Yagna by Ritviks is a Diva Vivaha; when a bridegroom gifts a cow and a bull to the bride’s parents then the wedding is known as Arsha Vivah; when the bride and groom are specifically told that they would both observe Dharma in their Grahasta life and take vows to that effect, then the wedding is a Praajapatya category; if the couple like each other and marry freely without any strings of Chaturvarans or family restrictions whatsoever, then the wedding is of a Gandharva type; when a bridegroom forcibly abducts a bride and marries then it is a Raakshasa Vivah which is blamed by one and all; when a bride is forcibly married without her consent and money or other considerations are offered to the bride’s parents, then it is known as Asura Vivah; and a bride disappears suddenly and her where abouts are not known, then the worst kind of wedding is termed as Paisaachika Vivah.Of all the types of weddings, the best ones are obviously the Braahma, Daiva and Paraajapatya vivahas and even the Arsha Vivaha there is an angle of ‘Kanya Sulka’ or the tax payment involved and that leads the groom and parents to Kumbha Naraka! The various other kinds of Vivahas are subjected to vagaries of happiness in the union in the long run, none-too-ideal progeny, discontented family life, poverty, diseases, premature deaths in the families, and so on.  Keeping in view the violences committed by human beings in daily life, such as sweeping, cooking, watering, flour making etc. one must perform Pancha Yagnas; even otherwise Vedas and Shastras have prescribed Brahma Yagna by way of Veda-Shastra Swadhyayana; Pirtu Yagna by way of Tarpana, Homas by way of Deva Yagna, Bhuta Yagna by way of Bali or offering eats to insects etc; and Manushya Yagna by way of ‘Atithi’ Yagna. Do’s and Dont’s: As one could witness the rising and falling Surya Deva, never witness the midday Sun nor the Sun during eclipse time and not the egg shaped Sun soon after rise.Don’t see the shadows in water, never run in mud; never enter water naked; never witness a nude woman. One should pass to the right a Temple, Cow, Brahmana, honey, heap of earth, elders and the learned, Asvattha Tree, Guru, Pots of Water, cooked rice, curd and Til. Never serve a woman in menses nor eat along with her, never eat with a single cloth on or a seat which is too comfortable. Never eat food without propitiating Devas and Pitras; never urinate while standing or in motion, nor in Goshalas, water bodies and traps where there would be insects. Never perform Mala-Mutras looking at Brahmanas, Surya, Agni, Moon, Stars or Gurus.Never extinguish fire by mouth or feet. Never eat food or sleep at ‘Sandhya’ times (dawn or dusk). Never show Rainbow to anybody. Never wake up a person fast asleep. Do not drink in ‘Anjali’ (palms together). Do not eat bellyful in the nights. Refrain from dance-music. Never use the clothes, footwear worn by others. Never sit on the back of cows.Don’t bite nails with teeth. Clean hands, feet and mouth before eating. Never eat or drink in bed or while standing. Do not use both the hands on head and scratch. Do not give away Mantras to the uneligible, lest the Brahmana loses his identity. Never beat any body including a child, woman, animal, bird etc with both hands. Observe celibacy /abstinence on Chaturdasi, Ashtami, Amavasya and Purnami. Never blame Vedas, Devas, Brahmanas, Gurus, Kings or persons in authority, Sadhus, Tapasvis, Elders and Pativratas. Those who perform Bhu Daan would surely become a Mandaleswar, Anna daata is always happy and contented, donor of water would have good features, donor of Lights would get beautiful eyes, Godaan would qualify access to Suryaloka, donor of gold deserves long life, Til daan gets high status in life, Vastra daan gives entry to Chandra loka, a ‘Palki’or a cot gets a beautiful woman as wife. Speaking each lie or foul word in life reduces the stock of good tasks (Punya) earned already.
Kamadhenu creates Vaishyas to safeguard and assist Brahmanas
Veda Vyas informed Yudhishtara that in Dharmaranya quite a few Sadachari Brahmanas practising Dharma came to reside. In fact, there were some illustrious Sages who begot sons and from them came a huge stock of progeny; for instance some twenty four prominent Sages added to the stock such as Bharadwaja, Vatsa (Pradhama), Kaushika, Kusha, Sandilya, Kashyapa, Gauthama, Chandana, Jatkaranya, Vatsa (Dwiteeya), Vasishtha, Dharana, Atreya, Bhandila, Laukika, Krishnayana, Upamanyu, Gargeya, Mridula,  Maushaka, Punyasana, Parashara, Kaundinya and Gangasana.
The progeny of these Gothras named after these and many other Sages expanded and there came up a problem of all the men engaged in various Dharmik tasks through out the day and even early nights, there emerged problems of their security and threats from Rakashasas, Yakshas and Pisachas. The concerned Kula Devis were created by Devas to protect the Sages and Brahmanas, like Srimata, Tharani Devi, Gotrapa, Ashapuri, Icchhartinashani, Pippali, Vikara vasha, Bhattarika, Suparna, Bhadri, Mahabala, Chamunda etc. But the progeny of Brahmanas increased manifold. Once the Trimurties visited Dharmaranya and found all the Brahmanas were extremely busy collecting Samidhas, flowers, Kusha grass, wood etc. and some of the Sages narrated their hardship in procuring the Puja material from the far off forests cutting into the Puja time and energy. Lord Vishnu appreciated the hardship of Brahmanas and remembered Kamadhenu to create thirty six thousand men, known as Vaishyas  who were almost like Brahmanas at a few steps below their level, though not versatile in Scriptures, Rituals and practice of Dharma, but capable of assisting Brahmanas to fetch Puja material, safeguarding their interests and aware of the needs of Brahmanas in general.Bhagavan Shankar commanded the King of Gandharvas called Vishvavasu to supply sixty thousand girls and facilitated weddings to the Viashyas thus created by Kamadhenu to assist the Sages, Brahmanas and all those who could spare far longer time each day to the Dharmic tasks thereafter.

Chaturmasya Mahatmya and ‘Shodasopacharas’ (Sixteen Services)
Chaturmasa or Four Month period commencing from Ashadha Shukla Ekadasi known as Devashayani Ekadasi (when God sleeps) till Kartika Shukla Ekadasi called Deva Prabodhini Ekadasi(when God is awake) is observed by persons of all ‘Varnas’with piety, Indriya Nigraha or Self control of Organs and Rituals. (Chaturmasa commences from Ashadha Purnima or Guru Purnima till Kartika Purnima for Sanyasins).
Bhagavan Vishnu is stated to rest on ‘Ksheera Sagar’ (Ocean of Milk) during the Chaturmasya (Four Month) period and hence all Oceans, Rivers, Ponds and Water Bodies acquire divinity. Bathing in these Places is thus a significant exercise as Bhagavan Narayana spreads out Himself in water and destroys sins of those who bathe especially in the holy rivers like Pushkar, Prayag, Narmada, Bhaskara Kshetra, Prachi Saraswati, Samudra Sangam, Godavari, or Ganga. For example, bathing in Narmada even for three days with great piety and concentration results in demolition of sins; Godavari baths for a fortnight of early mornings secure devastation of old and current account failings in life and pave the way to Vishnudham. ‘Snaans’with tila and Amla mix or Tulasi or Bilva leaves placed on head and reciting Vishnu namaas on the lips and in mind during as many days as possible during the Chaturmasya would yield instant results by providing physical fresshness, mental contentment and purity of thought and action. According to Scriptures, Snaan is the first step of physical clealiness and ‘Anthassuddhi’ (internal purity), before taking up any task to invoke the Almighty. During the four-month period of Sacrifice and Sanctity, ‘Tarpanas’ to Devas, Rishis and Pitras after the holy baths are natural duties, followed by ‘Anushthaana’, Agni havans, Veda Paatha, Satsang, Bhakti, and charities especially of Anna daanas. The Chaturmasya is the period for abstinence, ‘Ishta Vasthu Parithyaga’ or leaving out material dear to oneself and strict following up of daily ‘niyamas’ and continuous recital of Bhagavan’s glories by way of hymns, Japas, Mantras and Bhakti Songs.
Satkarmah Satkathachaiva Satseva Darshanam sathaam,
Vishnu Pujarathidaaney Chaaturmasya sudurlabha
(Superior Tasks, Quality Stories in Praise of Vishnu, Pure hearted Service to Noble Persons, Darshanam or Viewing of Saints, Bhagavan Vishnu’s devotion and sincere interest in charities are all stated to yield excellent results during the Chaaturmasya Period).Some of the items of daily utility are avoided during the Holy Period such as eating/drinking in metal plates and vessels; eating in leaves of Vata tree; consumption of hot and sour food, Chillies, pulses like urad and Chana; wearing silks and dark clothes; avoid flowers, beds, and Kesar; shun indulgence of lying, carrying tales, rude conversation and ‘Para ninda’or criticising others; observe silence or limited conversation, truthfulness, piety, mercifulness, nonviolence, patience and equanimity.It is said that there are eight ways of observing the Chaturmasa Vrath as follows:
Vishno Kathaya Shravanam Vachanam Guna Kirtanam/
Maha Puja Mantra Japah Stotra paatha Pradakshina/
Saashtaanga Pranatischeti niyama uttama mataah/
Eteshvekatamo bhaktaaya dhaaraniiyo Viseshatah/
(To listen the Stories of Vishnu Bhagavan or recite them or sing hymns in His Praise, to perform Maha Puja to His Murthi, to chant His Mantras or ‘Naamas’as in ‘Vishnu Sahasranamaa’ or Stotras, to do Pradakshina to His Murthi and bow to Him with veneration are the aptest duties to be executed with dedication).
Bhagavan Narayana is in Yoga nidra during the Chaturmasa period
as He lies on water that is omnipresent; water is the root of ‘Anna (food) and the entireUniverse is sustained by food which causes ‘Tripti’ (contentment). Thus ‘Anna Brahma’ is the origin of Paramatma or the Supreme Energy. When a devotee appeals to that Great Force, the invocation or Avahana instantly responds to a true and hearty dedication with the recital of the Sixteen Stanza ‘Maha Purusha Suktam’of Yajurveda stating:
Om Sahasra Seersha Purushah Sahasraakshassahasra paath/
Sa Bhumim Viswato Vrutwa Athathishtha Dassangulam/
In response to the Avahana one visions the appearance of Vishnu as :
Jyotissantham Sarva Lokantharastham, Omkaarakhyam Yogi Hriddhyana gamyam,
Sangam Shaktim Sayudham Bhaktasevyam,
Sarvakaaram Vishnumaavaahayami.
With the Second ‘Rucha’ (Stanza) stating:
Purusha Evedagum Sarvam, Yadbhutam yaccha bhavyam/
Utaamrutatva syeshanah, yadanney naa thirohati/
Kalpadrumuley Manivedimadhye,SimhaasanamSwarnamayamSuRatnam/
VichitraVastraavruthamachyutaPrabha, GrihanaLakshmidharanisamanvita!
Gangajalam Samaaneetham Suvarna Kalase Sthitham,
Arghyam Grihaana Bhagavan Kaala RupaNamostuthey;
Arghyam Samarpayami.
Tasmadviraadajayatha Virajo Adhi Puurushah /
Sajaatho Athyarichyatha Paschadbhumi matho purah/
Namo Janaardanaaya Devaaya Samstha Jagadaatmaney,
Nirmala Jnaana Rupaya dattamaachaneeyakam;
Mukhe Achamaneeyam Samarpayami.
Yatpurushena havisha Devaa Yagnamathanvatha,
Vasantho Asya see dajyam Greeshma Idhma ssaradhhavihi/
Madhyajya Dadhi Samyuktam Swarna Patrey Prathishthitam,
Devaayadyagnam tanvaanaaAbhadhna purusham Pasum.
Panchamrita Snaanam Samarpayami [Cow milk, Curd, ghee, honey, coconut water]
Tam Yagnam barhishi prokshan Purusham jaathamagrathaha,
Thena Devaa Ajayantha Saadhya Rishayascha ye/
Swarnaanchalam Swarnavichitra Sobhitham,
Kauseya Yugmam Parikalpitham maya,
Daamodara Praavaranam grahana,
Maayaabala pravritha Divya rupa;
Vastra Yugmam Samarpayami.
Thasmadyajnath Sarvahuthah, Sambhrutam Prushadaajam,
Pasuugum stagumschakreyVayavyan, Aranyan Graamaashaye/
Suvarnathanthuudbhava Yagna Sutram,
Mukataphalasyutha manekaratnam,
Grihaana tadvakritha mutthareeyam,
Swakarma sutram dharathey namosthu.
Yagnopaveetham samarpayami
Thasmat yajnath sarva huthah rucha ssaamaani jajnirey,
Chhandagumsi jajnirey thasmat dajaayatha/
Kasthurika kardama chandanaani,
Kashmira Samyojitha Gandha Saraih/
Vilepanam Sweekuru Deva Deva!
Sri Devi Vakshoja vilopanaamkam;
ThasmaadaswaAjaayantha, Ekechobhayadathah/
Gaavo ha jajnire tasmaatjaatha Ajaavah/
Chaamantika vakula champaka Paatalaabja Punnaga Jaaji karaveera rasaala Pushpaih,
Bilva Pravaala Tulasi dhala mallikaabhih twaam Pujayaami Jagadeeswara Vasu Deva!
Pushpai Pujayami.
Brahmanosya mukhamaaseeth Baahuu Raajanyah Krithah,
Vuuru thadasya Yadvasyaih Padbhaagum Suudro Ajaayatha/
Vanaspathudbhavair Divyair naanaa gandhaissu samyuthah,
Aaghreyassrava Devaanaam Dhuupoyam Prathi gruhyataam.
SaajyamTrivartiSamyuktam Vahnina Yojitham Priyam,
Grihaana Mangalam Deepam Thrailokya Thimiraapahaaram,
Bhaktya Deepam Prayacchaami Devaaya Paramaatmaney,
Thraahi maam Narakaadghorat Divya Jyothir namosthuthey;
Deepam Darsayaami.
Naivedyam /Anna daanam:
Nabhyaa Aaseedantariksham, Seershno dyaouh Samavarthatha,
Padbhyam Bhumirdisah Srotraat Tatha Lokaagum Akalpayan/
Naivedyam is performed by sprinkling water on the Anna Prasada and recites the Mantra: Om Bhurbhuvassuvah, Tat Savithur Varenyam, Bhargo Devasya Dheemahih, Dhiyo yonah Prachodayaat. Thereafter recite ‘Satyamtharthena Parishinchaami’ if the Naivedya is during the day; in the night, recite the Mantra: Ruthamthwa Sathyena Parishinchaami; then round up the Material for Naivedya with water and recite Amritamasthu and leave water in a Plate and again recite: ‘Amritopastharamamasi’ and show the Prasad to Deva reciting Om Praanaya Swaha, Om Apaanaaya Swaha, Om Udaanaaya Swaaha, Om Samaanaaya Swaha, and after Naivedya one must address Deva saying Madhyey Madhyey Paaneeyam Samarpayaami, Hasthou Prakshaalayami, Paadou Prakshaalayami, Suddhaachamaneeyam Samarpayami. After Naivedyam, the devotee performs the Thirteenth Service by way of
Punarachamana; the corresponding Rucha states:
Vedaahametham Purusham Mahaantham,
Aadityavarnam thamasasthupaare,
Sarvaani Ruupaani Vichitya Dheerah,
Naamaani Krutwabhivadan yadaasthey/
The fourteenth Service is executed by
Sashtanga Namaskar and the Rucha of PurushaSuktamstates:
Thamevam Vidvanamritha Iha Bhavati,
Naanyah Pandhaa Ayanaaya Vidyathey.
The fifteenth Service is by way of Parikrama (Circumambulation) as the corresponding Rucha is:
Yagnena Yagna mayajamtha Devaah,
Thani Dharmani Prathamaanyaasan,
the ha naakam Mahimaanah Sachamthey
yathra Puurvey Saadhyaah Santhi Devaah.
Finally the Sixteenth Service is Self realisation that is to identify the self with Bhagavan Vishnu Himself! The relevant Stanza of Purusha Suktam states:
Vedahametham Purusham Mahaantam Aditya Varnam Tamasah Parasthat,
Thamevam Vidwanamritha Iha Bhavati, Naanyah Panthah Vidyatheyanaaya
(I know Purusha or Bhagavan who is Mahantham or Supreme; who is resplendent like Sun and is very far off from darkness. Whoever could realise Him attains Salvation in this world itself; there is no other way indeed.)

Om Tat Sat


(My humble salutations to  the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswamy ji and also my humble greatulness to  Brahmasree Sreeman V D N Rao ji  for the collection)


Post a Comment