Chosen by the chief created being in the universe as the site for his temple, it has attracted sages and ascetics for thousands of years.
by Nagaraja Dasa with reporting by Bhaktivikasha Swami
Once Lord Brahma, the empowered creator of the universe, desired to have a place on earth dedicated to him, so he threw three lotus petals toward the earth. When the petals landed, three holy lakes sprung up. Because the lakes had been created from the flower (pushpa) thrown from Brahma’s hand (kara), the area became known as Pushkara. The three lakes became known as Jyeshtha Pushkara (“senior Pushkara”), Madhya Pushkara (“middle Pushkara”), and Kanishtha Pushkara (“junior Pushkara”), or Budha (“old”) Pushkara, as it is more commonly known today.
The Blessings of Pushkara
The glories of Pushkara are mentioned in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Padma Purana, and other scriptures. Srimad-Bhagavatam ( 12.12.61) states, “One who controls his mind, fasts at the holy places Pushkara, Mathura, or Dvaraka, and studies this scripture will be freed from all fear.”
In the Mahabharata, while describing to Bhishma, the grandfather of the Pandavas, the glories of many tirthas, or holy places of pilgrimage, the sage Pulastya mentions Pushkara Tirtha first. He says that Pushkara is famous throughout the universe and that anyone who goes there becomes as exalted as Lord Brahma. Pulastya says, “One’s sins are cleansed by just thinking of Pushkara.” Among various blessings obtained by bathing at Pushkara: one may be elevated to the heavenly planets, even the planet of Lord Brahma.
Some time after Brahma had empowered Pushkara to grant these extraordinary blessings, some of the devas, or demigods, complained to him that he had made it too easy for people to attain the heavenly planets. They feared that people would neglect their religious duties and the earth would be plagued with irreligion and its consequences. Lord Brahma conceded and proclaimed that from that time on, the boon of elevation to heaven by bathing at Pushkara would be granted only during the last five days of the month of Karttika (October-November). Today tens of thousands of people visit Pushkara during that period, and a great festival takes place.
The Position of Lord Brahma
The Vedic scriptures tell us that Lord Brahma was born from a lotus flower sprouted from the navel of Lord Garbodakashayi Vishnu, an expansion of Lord Krishna. Because Brahma was not born in the ordinary way, he is known as Atma-bhu, “the self- born.”
Though Brahma is called the creator of the universe, he creates by the power invested in him by Lord Vishnu. In fact, the position of creator, which Brahma occupies, is a post to which Vishnu assigns a highly qualified living entity. Unlike Lord Vishnu, the unlimited Supreme Person, Brahma is a jiva like us—one of the unlimited number of infinitesimal living entities who emanate from the Supreme Person.
Though Brahma is posted above all the other devas except Siva and Vishnu, his main qualification is that he understands himself to be an eternal servant of the Supreme Lord. Pilgrims to Pushkara, aware of Lord Brahma’s exaltedness, generally petition Brahma for material rewards, such as elevation to the heavenly planets. But people with a higher understanding know that such rewards cannot match the gift of pure devotion to the Supreme Lord, which Lord Brahma can also give.
The first verse of the Srimad-Bhagavatam says that the Supreme Lord awakened transcendental knowledge within the heart of Brahma. After much penance, Brahma realized that the Absolute Truth is Lord Sri Krishna, of whom all living entities—including Brahma—are eternal servants. Lord Brahma is the head of one of the four Vaishnava Sampradayas, or disciplic lines of devotees of Vishnu or Lord Krishna. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself, aligned Himself with the Brahma Sampradaya. Therefore the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which descends from Lord Chaitanya, is also part of the Brahma Sampradaya, and its members may pray to Brahma for pure devotion to Lord Krishna.
Lord Brahma’s Sacrifice
This history is found in the Padma Purana, Srishtikhanda, Chapter 17:
Accompanied by brahmanas and other devas, or demigods, Lord Brahma once went to Pushkara to perform a sacrifice. Such sacrifices are to be performed along with one’s wife, so when the arrangements for the sacrifice were complete, Lord Brahma sent Narada Rishi, the sage among the devas, to bring Sarasvati, Lord Brahma’s consort. But Sarasvati was not ready to leave, so Narada returned to Pushkara alone.
According to astrological calculations, the sacrifice had to begin at once, so Brahma asked Indra, the king of the heavenly planets, to provide him a suitable wife to assist in the sacrifice. Lord Indra chose a cowherd girl, but the sacrifice required that the girl be of the brahmana caste. So the devas purified the girl, or elevated her caste, by passing her through a cow (into the cow’s mouth and out the other end), because in Vedic culture cows are considered pure and of the same caste as the brahmanas. The girl then became known as Gayatri, “one who was pulled through a cow.”
When Sarasvati arrived to find seated next to her husband another woman—Gayatri—she became angry and cursed him and some of the other devas present. But Gayatri adjusted the curses so that they would turn out favorably. For example, although Sarasvati had cursed Brahma that he would be worshiped only on the full-moon day of the month of Karttika, Gayatri declared that whoever worshiped Brahma would be blessed with wealth and a good family and would be reunited with Brahma.
Sarasvati Devi left the sacrifice in anger and went off to a nearby hill to perform penance.
Today pilgrims to Pushkara can visit temples of both Sarasvati Devi and Gayatri Devi.
Sarasvati Devi is also present in this world in the form of a river. Five branches of that river—Sarasvati, Supapra, Candra, Kanaka, and Nanda—flow in the Pushkara area, but at present they are invisible to ordinary eyes.
The Place of Sages
Pushkara has been known as a holy place for millennia, and today various sites around Pushkara honor well-known Vedic sages who performed penance there, including Agastya, Pulastya, and Markendeya. It was at Pushkara that the heavenly maiden Menaka distracted Vishvamitra, a warrior performing meditation to become a brahma-rishi, a brahmana sage. Later Vishvamitra attained his goal at Pushkara.
Today, thousands of years after the time of Vishvamitra, pilgrims still come to Pushkara to fulfill their desires. Those with the highest understanding pray to the holy place—and its presiding deity, Lord Brahma—to fulfill only one desire: that they may someday develop pure love for Krishna.
The Camel Fair
A camel fair is held in Pushkara each year for five days up to and including the Karttika Purnima, the full-moon night of the month of Karttika (October-November). Since this had long been the time when the most people visited the holy place for a sacred bath, it was natural that pilgrims would use the occasion as a chance to trade. What began with a few small, impromptu exchanges has grown into the largest camel fair in the world.
A tent city spreads out on the plains west of Pushkara, and a grand festival takes place, complete with camel traders, horse traders, snake charmers, camel races, ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, handicrafts shops, ash-covered holy men, brightly clad Rajasthanis—practically all the color and excitement of the culture of Rajasthan. The fair attracts about 200,000 people, along with their 50,000 cows, camels, horses, and water buffaloes.
Pilgrimage to Pushkara
Pushkara, in the Indian state of Rajasthan, is 130 kilometers southwest of Jaipur. The population of Pushkara is about 15,000. The city of Ajmer (400,000) is 13 kilometers to the south. A scenic road from Ajmer to Pushkara winds up and over Snake Mountain. The elevation of Pushkara—1,500 feet above sea level—helps create a moderate climate during Rajasthan’s stifling hot season.
When to Go—September-March.
How to Get There—Jaipur is easy to get to from many cities by air, rail, or bus. From Jaipur take a train or bus to Ajmer or a bus to Pushkara. Jodhpur, another major city in Rajasthan, is about 230 kilometers from Pushkara.
Where to Stay—For its many visitors, Pushkara has plenty of hotels. The state of Rajasthan runs the comfortable Sarovar Tourist Bungalow, pleasantly situated on the banks of the lake. If you plan to go during Karttika Purnima (and the camel fair), reserve several months ahead. During the fair the Rajasthan government provides comfortable lodging for tourists in tents. To reserve either a tent or a room at the Sarovar Tourist Bungalow, write to Central Reservation Office, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation, Ltd., Chanderlok Building, 36 Jan Path, New Delhi 110 001, India. Ajmer, a short bus-ride to Pushkara, also has many hotels.
Where to Eat—Restaurants in Pushkara are allowed to serve only vegetarian food. The Brahma temple has its own restaurant, known as the R. S. Restaurant.
Pushkara has about 400 temples, many of them dedicated to various demigods, but the main temple is that of Lord Brahma.
Brahma Temple—The Lord Brahma temple is situated on the west side of town. Next to the four-headed deity of Brahma sits Gayatri Devi on the left and Savitri (Sarasvati) Devi on the right. Throughout the temple compound are shrines of demigods, such as Indra, Kuvera, Siva, and Durga, and saints and sages, such as Dattatreya, Narada Muni, and the Seven Rishis.
It is not known when the original deity of Brahma was installed in the temple. That deity was destroyed by the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century. The present temple was built in 1809.
Savitri Temple—The temple of Savitri, or Sarasvati, Lord Brahma’s first wife, sits on a hill about three kilometers from the Brahma temple. (Sarasvati Devi went to this hill in anger after cursing Brahma and the other demigods.) Since reaching the temple requires a strenuous one- hour walk, many pilgrims are content to view the temple from a distance. Savitri Devi faces east, looking wide-eyed and happy. The hill offers a full view of Pushkara.
Gayatri Temple—This temple sits on a hill on the opposite side of town from the temple of Savitri.
Varaha Temple—A beautiful white- marble Deity of Lord Varaha, Lord Krishna’s incarnation in the form of a boar, sits in a temple on a small hill, facing south. The present Deity was installed in 1784. The original temple was 150 feet high. It was attacked by Moguls at least three times, beginning in the twelfth century.
Ranganatha Temple—Located in the middle of town, this temple is home for a beautiful six-foot- tall Deity of Venu Gopala (Krishna playing the flute). There are also Deities of Radharani (Krishna’s consort in Vrindavan), Rukmini (Krishna’s consort in Dvaraka), Lakshmi- devi (the goddess of fortune), and Nrisimhadeva (Krishna’s half-man, half-lion incarnation).
Rama-Vaikuntha Temple—This temple of Lakshmi-Narayana is also known as the new Ranganatha Temple. It is on the east side of town.
Krishna Temple—This is the main temple of Madhya Pushkara, which is about two kilometers from Jyeshtha Pushkara, the central area.
Servant of Pushkara Tirth
During an initiation ceremony in New York City, 1971, Srila Prabhupada gave a new disciple the name Pushkara Dasa (“servant of Pushkara”). Prabhupada said, “Pushkara Dasa. There is a sacred lake in India, Pushkara Tirtha. Anyone who takes bath in that lake becomes a devotee. So you try to bring all people of the world to take bath in Pushkara.”