No Hindu pilgrimage is believed to be complete without a stop at Pushkar, Rajasthan’s rose garden. A polestar for the seeker within since ancient times, it is apt that the little town’s rose essences have been exported far and wide through the centuries.
Not that Pushkar’s spirituality washes over one like a massive tumultuous wave, creating an instant transformation. Nope. Nothing like that at all. It is instead subtle and gentle, with a consistent, tangible peace hanging around the 52 ghats and 500 or so temples which line its very soul—Pushkar Sarovar, Sarovar meaning ‘Lake’.
Yet, this devout peaceful haven, a mere two-and-a-half-hour drive from Jaipur, is inexorably tied to an eclectic mix of myths and traditions which range from a first wife’s wrath to being the seat of the Hindu god of creation.
Pushkar’s mix gets even more eclectic as one delves deeper into it.
Take for instance, the Israel connection. Israel Chabad House in Pushkar, guarded by the police and one of 20 in the country, is their liveliest centre in India as a result of the many Israelis who choose to stay long-term in Pushkar. Most cafes have Israeli dishes and some even have menus in Hebrew.
Now why India, you might well ask. I remember the answers I got when I visited Israel in 2019. I was told Israel’s compulsory military training right after high school took a pretty heavy toll—mentally, emotionally, and physically—on its youth. Once back home, a hiatus in India became an accepted chapter in Israeli youths’ lives. To re-centre. To replenish. Yes, Pushkar does that. 🙂
Then there is the sadhus’ angle. Hundreds of sadhus or hermits descend upon Pushkar from their hideouts in the holy Hindu month of Kartik [October-November] when both the gods, Shiva and Vishnu, are worshipped with equal fervour. Robed in saffron, the sadhus keep to themselves, self-sufficient in their needs and high on cannabis, thronging Pushkar’s streets and ghats. And once the month draws to a close, they disappear.
Cannabis has been used for hundreds of years in Shiva’s worship in the form of bhang. A tradition still very much alive. Why, even corporate houses distribute it as parsad [offerings] to both, the sadhus and locals, as part of their prayers. The lines between the spiritual and earthly are fuzzy in Pushkar.
Which brings me to the creation of Pushkar, a town that stands apart from others. As expected, it is a story unlike any other.
Pushkar is the only town where Brahma, the god of creation in the Hindu trinity, is the lead deity. To add to the peculiarity, there is only one temple dedicated to him in Pushkar. It does not end there. No offering or prayers are made to Brahma in his own temple. Rather they are made to the Pushkar Lake. All because of a woman’s wrath.
It is an interesting story. Any post on Pushkar would be incomplete without it, for it is Pushkar’s very own story. And here’s how it goes.
Unlike Shiva and Vishnu, the other two deities in the Hindu trinity who had countless teerths [venerated sites] in their names, Brahma had none. No surprises he wanted at least one of his own too. So, he took a lotus and dropped it on earth. The flower fell on three spots from where sprouted a series of hallowed lakes, and Pushkar was the biggest of the three. The very name Pushkar means a lotus flower, a lake.
Having identified his site, the next step was to carry out a yagna, a religious ritual in front of a sanctified fire. All the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon were invited for the ceremony. It was to be a grand affair.
As per Hindu Vedic traditions, Brahma was to be accompanied with his wife for the rituals. So, he sent his son, Narad, to call Savitri from her perch on the nearby hill. Narad being the troublemaker that he was, told Savitri to take her time, that there was no need to rush and she should come with her lady friends, the consorts of the various Hindu gods.
Down by the lake, the auspicious time was running out for the yagna. Caught in a dilemma, Brahma married the first woman available, a local shepherdess called Gayatri, and completed the ceremony. But at what a price! An angry Savitri, on finding another woman by her husband’s side cursed Brahma, and all the other deities in attendance, for eternity. Brahma was to be only worshipped in Pushkar and no offerings were to be made to his effigy. Ever.
Gayatri, being a gentler and more powerful goddess [she is considered to be the mother of the Vedas], reversed all of Savitri’s curses and turned them into blessings instead. Hinduism’s most powerful mantra, the Gayatri Mantra dedicated to Gayatri, was written and first recited in Pushkar. When chanted in Pushkar, it is said to be at its most powerful.
Over the years, kings and the wealthy built ghats around the lake. Sikh Guru Nanak Dev and Guru Gobind Singh and numerous sages added to its sanctity with their visits. Later, with tourism, came cafes and souvenir shops. Trance music, organic foods, and meditation camps followed.
Through all the eclecticism Pushkar has, somehow, remained true to its spirit. A little lake surrounded by hills where the god of creation set up his own little teerth himself. ❤
Seasons Greetings, dear readers. May the year 2022 be blessed with the sacred, and with the sweet smell of roses—no matter whichever path we may believe in.
With some 500 temples scattered throughout Pushkar, there is a simple tiny shrine or ornate sculpted edifice at almost every corner. Old Rangnathji Temple , one of its loveliest temples topped with a high-rising gopuram [entrance tower], is built in a unique blend of Mughal, Rajasthani, and South Indian styles.
Churning of the primordial oceans. Detail on the facade of the Old Rangnathji Temple. On the left are the deities, to the right are the demons.
One of Pushkar’s oldest temples, the Varaha Temple is dedicated to the varaha or boar incarnation of the god Vishnu. It was built by Chauhan king Anaji and dates back to the 12th Century.
An ancient floor tile inscribed with a donor’s message inside the Varaha Temple. Aren’t the elephants delightful?
Another 12th Century temple, the Atmateshwar Temple is a Shiva temple and lies a good few feet below the ground.
Beauty in the details. Left: An effigy of Kuber, the god of wealth, made from Ashtdhatu [an alloy of eight metals] in a souvenir shop; Right: Carved doorway of Shri Devnarayan Bhagwan ka Mandir of the Gurjar Samaj [Gurjar is an ethnic agricultural and pastoral community]. Gayatri, Brahma’s second wife was a Gurjar.
The grand but private Radha Krishna Temple in a quiet lane behind the lake.
Mealtimes? For the finest views of Pushkar Lake make your way up a winding flight of steps to U-turn Cafe. For sheer cuteness, try Honey & Spice. And for the bestest kachodis in Rajasthan, it has got to be Agrawal Namkeen and Mishthan Bhandar next to the Gurdwara, accompanied with a kulhad chai!
Brahma Temple [left image] is the only temple in Pushkar dedicated to Brahma, the god of creation, in his own holy site. On top of the hill behind Brahma’s Temple is the saffron-painted temple of Brahma’s first wife, Savitri.
View of Pushkar and its lake from Savitri Temple perched on top of the hill. A hiking path, as well as a cable car, lead to the summit.
Wanna take a bit of Pushkar, Brahma, and the story back with you? Framed pictures of the yagna and that of the effigies inside the Brahma Temple abound at the temple entrance.
Pushkar Lake is encircled with 52 ghats. The parikrama [ritual walk] around the lake, through the ghats, is especially lovely at night-time. Please note the walk needs to be done clockwise and barefoot.
This above shrine is at Brahma Ghat where the main evening aarti is held and prayers are offered for the deceased souls’ peace.
My prayer thali for my departed parents’ peace.
And a few more temples that I stopped at in Pushkar … Left: Aadi Guru Shankaracharya Shrine at Brahma Ghat. Shankaracharya was an 8th Century sage from Kerala who catalyzed the revival of Sanathan Hinduism; Right: New Rangnathji Temple.
Evening aarti at Brahma Ghat where the secular and the religious meet.
Gangaur Ghat is the venue for Coke studio fame Nathu Lal Solanki, a master drummer [2nd from right], and his students’ daily nagara drum performances.
Just another magical, meditative night in Pushkar.
You may also like to read: 8 hours in eclectic Ajmer, Rajasthan’s centre for Sufism.
- Staying there: I stayed at the super clean and elegant Brahma Horizon Hotel through Booking.com.
- Exploring Pushkar: I did two absolutely fantastic heritage walks [morning and evening walks] with The Pushkar Route.
- Getting to Pushkar: I used Rajputana Cabs for an intercity drop from Jaipur.
- Getting around: I walked.
- How many days?: I stayed for 3 days.
- Note: Pushkar is a no meat, no eggs, no alcohol town.
[Note: This blog post is part of a series from my 35-day solo and independent road trip through Rajasthan from 17 October to 20 November, 2021. To read more posts in my Rajasthan series, click here.]