Pushkar, seven miles north of Ajmer, is a celebrated place of pilgrimage. According to Pushkar mahatmya in the Padma Purana, the place owes its holiness to two reasons.
First, because Brahma performed his famous yajna here, and second, because the sacred River Saraswati flows here in five streams. Pilgrims flock by the thousand from the 11th day of the Karthik month to the full moon or Karthik Purnima, when the lake water is said to turn into nectar or amrit, assuring salvation for those in presence.
When I stood by the lake one October afternoon, there were hardly any pilgrims. It was tranquil and reflected a limpid autumn blue sky. A kingfisher hovered overhead, its gaze fixed upon the tiny ripples caressed by the playful breeze. I wondered why there were no pilgrims despite the beautiful weather. Then I recalled the lake’s legend.
Lord Brahma found it difficult to choose a place on earth for his yajna because, unlike Vishnu and Shiva, he had no temples dedicated to him. As he stood pondering, a lotus slipped from his hand. He instantly decided to perform the yajna where the lotus would fall. When the flower touched the earth, water spouted from the spot and filled up to form a lake, which was named Pushkar by him.
Raging deity It was then the month of Karthik, and Brahma summoned deities and sages, giving each a special duty. He waited for his wife Savitri with a pot of amrit to commence the sacrifice. Savitri, without the company of Lakshmi, Parvati and Indrani, refused to go. So the angered Brahma decreed Indra to find him a bride immediately.
The only girl Indra managed to find was a Gujar, not a Brahmin. Egged on by Brahma’s impatience, he passed the girl through a cow. Vishnu said that it was a virtual rebirth and Shiva named her Gayatri. So Brahma married her and the sacrifice commenced. Savitri turned up when it ended, only to feel a strong rage, which could not be placated by even Brahma. She went up the hill to the north of the lake. Savitri’s temple stands there to this day.
Sins and ordain
The Pushkar lake’s holiness then became powerful enough to send anyone who took a dip there to heaven, including the worst of criminals! The paradise became overcrowded. The deities complained of people’s sinful ways. This made Brahma think again. He ordained that Pushkar would be holy for just five days a year — from the 11th day of Karthik month to the following full moon.
Pushkar then became a stronghold of Buddhism, fading into oblivion with the religion’s decline. It became a pilgrimage once again at the beginning of the 9th century AD under the Mandore dynasty. It is said that the famous Mandore king, Narhar Rao, was out hunting when he felt thirsty. He drank from the neglected Pushkar lake and was amazed that the white spots on his wrist vanished with the touch of the water.
Much impressed, he restored the lake by consrtucting an embankment and building dharmasalas around it.
The five temples at Pushkar are dedicated to Brahma, Savitri, Badri Narayan, Varaha and Shiva Atmateswar. The original temples were mostly destroyed by the Mughals. They were reconstructed.
The Nag Pahar on the east deserves a special mention because of its fascinating old caves. Many of them are associated with great sages like Agastya, Kanva and Bharthari. Pushkar is mentioned in both Ramayana and Mahabharata. Rama, Lakshmana and Sita and the pandavas are said to have visited it during their wanderings.
The place is mentioned in Jahangir’s memoirs, where he states that the cattle fair at Pushkar is the largest in India. The combination of legends, history and scenic beauty give Pushkar a distinctive aura.