Realizing the significance of a river as the life sustaining force, the Hindus worship it in the form of Pushkar or Pushkara once in every twelve years. It is believed that gods and sages take holy dip to purify the rivers so that pilgrims would be relieved from all sins, and perform rituals to departed souls. This year, the Krishna ‘Pushkaralu’ would be observed from August 12 to 23. The Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka governments have made arrangements as thousands of devotees make a beeline and take the holy dip in the river.
Pushkara or Pushkar is a Sanskrit word derived from the element of Push meaning nourishment and Kara means one who does it. Pushkara is the energy that nourishes. With reference to the sacred rivers, Pushkara means the one who energize the rivers and provides spiritual purification. It also means lotus, sanctified water, swan, sword, sky, lake etc.
In Sri Vishnu Sahasranama Stothram we find a reference to the word Pushkara where Lord Vishnu is referred to as Pushkaraakshah meaning the one who has lotus eyes, the one who provides nourishment to the entire Universe and the one who is always present in sacred Theerthas. In Tirumala Kshethra the water tank near Sri Varahaswamy temple is known as Swamy Pushkarini.
In astrology the word Pushkara referred to as Pushkara Navamsa that purifies and nourishes the quality of the planet placed within it. We also find preference being given for Pushkara Navamsa for a given Lagna that brings strength to the muhurtha chart for a marriage.
Pushkar is a famous pilgrim center known as Pushkara Kshethra located in Rajasthan. It is believed that the Pushkara Lake was the creation of Lord Brahma on the banks of which He performed penance for thousands of years.
Pushkara also indicates the 12 years time factor in Vedic terms. Pushkara or Pushkaram is a festival of a particular river celebrated once in twelve years based on the transit of Jupiter (Brihaspathi) in the zodiac.
Who is Pushkara?
According to Hindu scriptures, Pushkara is the son of Lord Varuna, the presiding deity of all the rivers. It is said that once Pushkara prayed Lord Brahma and asked him for a boon to live in the sacred waters emanated from the foot of Lord Vishnu with the intention of providing purity to all the theerthas (rivers). Looking at the selfless desire expressed by Pushkara, Lord Brahma granted him the boon to live in the waters of his Kamandalu. Later, Pushkara also performed penance and acquired the Jala Tattva Siddhi from Lord Shiva as a boon. By virtue of the boons acquired from Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, Pushkara became the King of all theerthas and was regarded as the Theerthapalaka.
At that time when Pushkara acquired the boons, Brihaspathi (Jupiter) the Devaguru also performed penance and pleased Lord Brahma. Looking at the perpetual sacredness of Pushkara, Brihaspathi wanted Lord Brahma to spare Pushkara to be with him permanently. But Pushkara was not prepared to go along with Brihaspathi. Then, Lord Brahma resolved the situation by asking Pushkara to be associated with Brihaspathi (Jupiter) for 12 days in the beginning and 12 days at the end of his sojourn in a particular raasi (house) in the zodiac, the transit of which generally happens once in a year. Accordingly, twelve sacred rivers have been identified in which Pushkara enters each river once in twelve years coinciding with the transit period of Jupiter in twelve zodiac signs.
It has become a custom and tradition since time immemorial to celebrate the transit of Jupiter in a particular house in the zodiac as the Pushkara festival of a particular river. Pushkara schedule starts with the Ganges when Jupiter enters into Mesha Raasi which is the first sign in the zodiac. Pushkara schedule for a particular river will be for one year, however, the first twelve days known as Aadi Pushkara and the last twelve days known as Anthya Pushkara are held to be highly sacred.
Astrologically Jupiter (Brihaspathi) the Devaguru is the most benevolent planet symbolizing the wealth, fortune, learning, knowledge, divinity, progeny, domestic peace, auspiciousness and above all the karaka for occurrence of Pushkaram.
Entry of Pushkara into a particular river signifies the Pushkara festival when, all the Brahmaadi Devathas, all the sages, all the pithru devathas, all the Theerthas in this Bhoomandala including the Ganges enters into that particular river along with Brihaspathi and Pushkara. This time of their entry into a particular river is considered as highly sacred and celestial that has the power to diminish the ghastly and dreadful sins committed. Having darshan, taking bath, touching Pushkara waters, drinking the sacred waters of Pushkara is considered to be highly meritorious and soul cleansing. It is considered as the most sacred time to perform rites to forefathers on the banks of Pushkara river that will help them to attain salvation.
Our ancient seers have prescribed certain austerities to be observed during Pushkara time known as Pushkara Vidhi. Most important are Pushkara Snana (taking bath), Pushkara Vaasa (staying), Pushkara Darshana, Siro Mundana (tonsuring of head), Fasting, Pushkara Pithru Karma, and Pushkara Dana (charity).
In Hindu philosophy a lot of significance is given for taking bath which is Nithya karma and that too in a flowing river is considered as the paramount. It is said that during Pushkara all the Brahmaadi Devathas, Sages and Pithru Devathas will be residing in that Theertha (River) along with Brihaspathi and Pushkara. During Pushkara all the theerthas in the Universe will be entering into that particular river and will be flowing as Antarvahini.
Taking bath in a Pushkara river will help to cleanse the inner selves, wash out the evil tendencies and open up a path for a righteous living. This bath should be taken early in the morning before sunrise during Brahmi Muhurtham which is highly meritorious time. It is believed that Pushkara Snana also has curative properties from chronic ill health. After Pushkara Snana one has to pray and give Arghya to the concerned Pushkara Theertha (River), Theertha Raja (Pushkara), Brihaspathi, Lord Vishnu who is eternally present in all the Theerthas, Brahmaadi Devathas, Vasishtaadi sages, Gangaadi rivers and the Sun God.
Pithru Yagna like performing Pithru Shraaddha, Tharpana have been prescribed to get discharged from Pithru Runa. This has been in vogue since time immemorial and even Avathara Purushas like Lord Rama and Lord Parashurama have performed Pithru karma. Performing Pithru Karma during Pushkara days also forms part of the Pithru Yagna which is considered as highly sacred and meritorious. Only those who have lost their parents are eligible to perform the sacred rites to their forefathers. Pithru karma during Pushkara days has to be performed for all the deceased (Sarva Pithru). It has to be performed on the banks of the sacred Pushkara river like a Theertha Shraaddha.
This has to be performed preferably in the form of Anna Sraaddha with Pinda Pradhana and Brahmana Bhojana. Hiranya Sraaddha is also in vogue where instead of rice, wheat flour is used for making Pindas and instead of Brahmana Bhojana they will be offered Dakshina. Pushkara sraaddha can be performed on any day during the 12 day period of Pushkaram, or on the 9th day or on the Pithru thithi day if it coincides except on the day of Ekaadasi.
It is believed that forefathers will descend on Earth during Pushkara days and will reside on the banks of Pushkara river longing for their off-spring to perform Pithru Sraaddha. Performing Pushkara sraaddha, one will be bestowed with blessings from forefathers, peace and prosperity to the family.
During Pushkara Dana can be given to Brahmins in the form of Dasa Dana (10) or Shodasa Dana (16). Some of the charities prescribed are as follows.
Anna dana, gold, silver, land, rice, ghee, jaggery, honey, sacred texts, clothes, footwear, umbrella, hand stick, fan, bedding, fruits, bell, brass/silver vessel, mat, fresh grains, milk, cow, salagrama and pinda daana.