Annotations from Prayaga: An Introduction

Prayaga, known as the Tīrtha-cakravarti (Emperor of Pilgrimages) is one of the cradles of the Sanatana civilisation. Even the briefest journey into its profound annals helps us grasp the accurate perspective from which to understand Hindu history. This is the first part of a new series.
Annotations from Prayaga: An Introduction

FEW SACRED KSHETRAS HAVE BEEN EXTOLLED as widely and as reverentially as the eternal glory of Tīrtha-cakravarti, Prayaga in our Sanatana annals. Its fame is glorified in the Puranas 113 times, the Mahabharata 11 times, and the Ramayana three times. The Dharmasastra literature, in its treatise dealing with the bondage-releasing importance of Tīrthayātra, passionately emphasises on the soul-cleansing centrality of a sacred bath in the Trivēṇi-saṅgama. Likewise, there is no dearth of celebrating Prayaga in the chronicles of our Bhakti literature.

The very name Prayaga is itself a reason for its venerated eminence: prakṛṣṭa-tama yāgaḥ meaning, an ”exceptional or magnificent yāga.“

Prayaga is and undoubtedly remains one of the greatest cradles of the spiritual civilisation of Bharatavarsha. For millennia, it has embraced everyone, purified and uplifted them. From sages who attained a Sangama of their souls to monarchs who gave up everything just to merge with Eternity here. From mendicants and maṭhās which set up their branches here to the teeming mundane Bhaktas who gave away their life-savings just for being at Prayaga.

Like countless such other things, Prayaga is one of the unerring ways to “understand” the genius of the Sanatana civilisation through the prism and the lived experience of a sacred geography. No amount of theoretical knowledge will give you this understanding just as no amount of reading about Aurangzeb’s destruction of the Kashi Visveshwara Temple will prepare you for the violent sight of Nandikeshwara still facing the Gyanavapi mosque. The full and accurate knowledge of Hindu history and culture will dawn when you have a feel for the physical spaces where the history has occurred and where the culture has flourished. And declined.

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What is it about a mere, narrow tongue of plain land where three rivers join that has made it such an irresistible magnet of sanctity for eons?

A 19th century British Gazetteer memorably calls Prayaga the “most sacred bourne of Hindu pilgrimage” where the “clear blue waters of the Jamuna can be distinguished from the yellow silt-charged Gangetic stream far below their confluence.”

Trivēṇi-saṅgama.

Vēṇi variously means a braid, stream or cascade. A more befitting name is hard to find. Trivēṇi-saṅgama is thus a confluence of the braided cascading streams of Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati who each journey over hundreds of miles separately. The primordial riverine mothers who continue to feed and nurture their children in āryāvarta. There is a reason that the genius of our sages used the feminine to denote a river. Until Western feminism and mass woke insanity ruined it, immaculately braided hair was considered a nature-given ornament to women. So, we clearly see how we can take just one term, Trivēṇi-saṅgama and it keeps opening countless such profound doors of perception and insight.

We also observe the abiding pull and symbolism of the geographical Trivēṇi-saṅgama in Tantraśāstra as well. The balavān-cakra is visualised as a three-petalled red lotus, located below the ājñā-cakra. This place is described as the Trivēṇi, the selfsame confluence of the three streams of Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati represented in the human body by the three nāḍis: iḍā, piṅgalā and suṣumnā. Then there is a separate Trivēṇi-cakra situated above the brows, visualised as a twenty-six-lobed circle.

The implication is profound at several levels: it is both the juxtaposition and an invocation of geographical sanctity to the gross physical body. It is a spiritual call to treat the body as a Tirtha-Kshetra because the body is itself the domain and residence of the Kshetrajna, a philosophy so well delineated in the Bhagavad Gita.

Monarchial Mukti

TIRTHA-KSHETRAS LIKE PRAYAGA offer us yet another valuable but sadly forgotten insight into understanding the true history and culture of the Hindus. This is the seamless harmony between the spiritual and political history of Bharatavarsha. It is also the colossal damage that the Marxist vandals of Hindu history have inflicted: severing these inseparable interconnections and isolating Hindu culture, society, customs, traditions, etc., into mutually hostile elements. Even worse, by viewing Hindu history purely in political and sociological terms after inhaling the noxious fumes of Marx. Thus, this alleged history recasts Basaveshwara merely as some sort of a social rebel thereby pulling him down from his spiritual pedestal and reducing him to a 12th century throwback of Che Guevara.

And so, when we travel back in time to Prayaga what do we see?

We see an unbroken succession of Sanatana monarchs who throughout centuries, uniformly displayed extraordinary reverence towards and showered incalculable bequests upon Prayaga until the Asuric occupation of the unclean Turushkas put an end to this tradition.

Harshavardhana of Kānyakubja presents one of the most illustrious representations of this tradition. In January, he organised a massive quinquennial Moksha convocation in Prayaga. It was the performance of a spiritual and Dharmic Yajna on a national scale, and followers of every sect and school were invited and equally honoured. In 644, he organised the Sixth Parva of this Yajna, perhaps his most splendid ever. It was attended by fifty million people. The Maitraka King, Dharasena IV and Bhaskaravarman from Kamarupa not only participated in it but shared Harshavardhana’s spirit of magnanimity and benevolence. The Maitrakas ruling from Valabhi in the extreme West and the Varmans from the extreme East meeting another monarch in the middle, befittingly at this great confluence. For a profoundly spiritual festival. This as we noted is what gives us the accurate perspective to understand Hindu history.

Charity was distributed on a colossal scale. On the first day, a gigantic statue of the Buddha was installed and rich offerings were made to him. On the second, similar benefactions were given to Surya Bhagavan. It was the turn of Mahadeva on the third day. The great Sattra proceeded unremittingly in this fashion for a whopping seventy-five days by the end of which Harshavardhana had emptied the entire wealth he had collected over five years. This included his personal belongings—diamond-studded finger-rings, earrings, necklaces, chaplets, bracelets, armbands, crown-jewels, gems, pearls, clothing, footwear … until nothing remained. And then, his face radiated the serene contentment of a heavy, rain-laden cloud that has drained itself so that the earth can be green once again.

There is a deeply perceptive and heartfelt lesson in this, especially for the erstwhile champions of five-year plans.

In the next episode of this series, we will briefly examine similar deeds of piety committed by other Hindu kings at Prayaga.

To be continued

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