From where do you begin your Kasi yatra?
Why the confusion about the starting point for a Kasi yatra?
The Kasi pilgrimage route and its connotations
In previous articles I had documented several aspects of yatra travel in general, and began focussing on our Kasi pilgrimage, particularly its significance and the ritualistic obeisance to Lord Siva at Kasi Viswanath Temple as prelude to the pilgrimage. What follows in this and subsequent articles will be the flesh and bones of the actual rituals and other paraphernalia that my wife and I performed for our yatra. But before doing so it will not be out of place to understand the route the Kasi pilgrimage takes, because this determines the timing and sequence of the rituals that have to be performed.
For those who hail from South India, the Kasi pilgrimage begins at holy Rameswaram, where the first step in this pilgrimage is to perform the Srarddha (rites for ancestors) there, followed by Samudhra and Theertha Snana (ritualistic immersion in the sea). After doing Samudhra Snana, the pilgrim is asked by the priest to bring sand from the sea. This beach sand is made into three Siva Lingas- Sethu Madhava, Veni Madhava and Bindhu Madhava. After puja the Linga representing Sethu Madhava is put back into the sea. The priest then asks the pilgrim to repeat the Sankalpa (prayer) to the Varanasi-Prayag-Gaya pilgrimage. The sand linga of Veni Madhava has to be immersed at the Triveni Sangamam in Prayag (Allahabad) and that of Bindhu Madhava in Varanasi. Then Srarddha to the ancestors is performed. Here in Rameswaram the pinda (ritual rice balls) is made of wet uncooked rice instead of cooked rice balls as in Varanasi, Gaya and Prayag (Allahabad). Then after worshipping Lord Viswanath in Kasi the pilgrims return home with brass pots of holy water from the Ganges. They then return to Rameswaram where Lord Rameswar is bathed with the sacred Ganges water, thus completing the Kasi Yatra.
North Indians, for obvious geographic reasons, complete the same cycle but in reverse. They first visit Kasi and collect Ganges water, then visit Rameswaram to do the abhishekam (ceremonial bathing) of the deity. They then collect sand from Rameswaram and immerse it at Allahabad on their return. While this is the general guiding practice, I must emphasise here that different vadhyars (priests) suggest different starting and ending points for the Kasi yatra. Some argue that it must commence in Rameswaram in South India, from where the beach sand is taken and later immersed in the Ganges, and after completing Varanasi, Allahabad and Gaya in the North it must end in Rameswaram. Other vadhyars contend that it could just as well start in the north and end in Rameswaram, without the need to travel to Rameswaram twice. In the north, starting points can also be either Varanasi or Allahabad. Moreover the Kasi yatra can be completed in stages. This shows that there is no hard and fast rule as to the chronological route one must take to perform the Kasi yatra. Suffice it to say, we took instructions from our family vadhyar in Coimbatore and began our pilgrimage from Varanasi. Time, distance and budget are also considerations that determine the yatra route nowadays. But no matter what the Kasi yatra route takes, the significance of performing a Kasi pilgrimage lies in one's commitment and the satisfaction of appeasing the pitrus (ancestors) and obtaining their blessings.
Whether the starting point for the Kasi Yatra is in the north or the south of India, every Brahmin in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, in other parts of South India as well as people in North India believe that in their lifetime they should at least once visit Varanasi, Allahabad and Gaya and give sacred oblations to their ancestors. It is to be noted here that only people who have started performing Srardhas for their fathers can do this. No doubt other people can visit these places and also visit the holy temples there but cannot perform the rites for their ancestors. It is essential for people with such intentions to do it in the proper religious way. They should go there accompanied by their wife (if she is alive) and perform it comfortably and without being exploited. If younger brothers accompany the eldest brother, the latter would on their behalf perform most of the ceremonies with the younger brothers looking on, and the younger brothers need not do these ceremonies again.
Now that we are all clear about the preliminaries of a Kasi pilgrimage, l will commence the actual proceedings and rituals from my next article. So please be patient!
Meanwhile to whet your appetite you may like to access the following site: