Performing Gangajal abhishek to celebrate Shiva

Dr. S.K. Sullerey
डाॅ. एस. के. सुल्लेरे 

(Ex-Fellow IIAS, Shimla)

This year’s Kanwariya Yatra has just come to an end, with devotees performing Gangajal abhishek of the Lingam at Shiv temples, one of them being the Swayambhuva Shivling at Nilkanth temple in Kalanjara fort, built in the 5th century BCE, in Banda district, Uttar Pradesh.

Kalanjara has been a popular Shaiva centre since ancient times. The names of Kalanjara and Shiv are associated with the story of Samudra Manthan – churning of the ocean by demons and gods. The poison that came out of the churning was swallowed by Shiv as a result of which his throat turned blue; hence he is also called Nilkanth. And Kalanjara is the place where he is said to have found peace and came to rest. The Nilkanth temple here is dedicated to this form of Shiv.

The name ‘Kalanjara’ is derived from Shiv – the one who as Kala, Time, causes jara, all things to decay, and is, therefore, known as the destroyer of all things – god of death.

Gangajal abhishek – the practice of pouring of Gangajal, water of the River Ganga, over the shivling during the month of Shravan, is also an ancient one. The story goes that when River Ganga descended on earth from heaven, at the behest of Sage Bhagirath, Shivji offered that she first land on his head, so as to offset its tremendous force, which otherwise would have destroyed everything on its path on earth. With Shivji’s help, its force was quelled and the river flowed gently down to the earth thereafter. This is why thousands of Shiv bhakts bring water from the Ganga, from Haridwar or other places, and perform Gangajal abhishek, bathe Shivlings at famous Shiv mandirs and temples closer to home, praying that Shivji help them overcome all their problems with ease.

This tradition has been prevalent at Kalanjara from earliest time, a fact that can be corroborated from inscriptional evidence and rock-cut images at the fort there. The inscriptions along with two rock-cut murtis in the fort talk about one Samanta named Vasanta coming to Kalanjara several times over the years, carrying Gangajal in a kanwar – water in two vessels fixed at the end of a banghi pole, balanced on one’s shoulder.

Archaeologist Alexander Cunningham’s report in 1883-84, was the first to throw light on these two, 6th century BCE, rock-cut sculptures above the Bhairav Kund in Kalanjara fort that appear to be pilgrims carrying kanwar. Some local residents believe they depict Shravan Kumar from the Mahabharat. However, since Kalanjara is located at a distance of 150 kms from Prayagraj, it is presumed that they belong to Samanta Vasanta who would bring Gangajal from Prayagraj during the month of Shravan and offer it at the Balkandheshwar and Nilkanth temples in the fort.

The glorification of Kalanjara as a tirth is referred to in the Puranas and Mahabharat. It is stated that bathing in the lake of gods in Kalanjara is as meritorious as offering a hundred cows in daan, charity. And the tank situated near the town of Kalanjara is identified by this author as Surasari Ganga – the tank of gods. Thus, the 6th century sculptures of water-bearers confirm the long-standing tradition of Kanwariya Yatra – a pilgrimage to celebrate Shivji and seek his grace.

The writer is a historian and Ex-Fellow IIAS, Shimla

Courtesy: (TOI)