Rishikesh – Yoga Capital of the World

The holy city of Rishikesh is situated on the banks of River Ganga in the Dehradun district of Uttarakhand, India. The city is also called “Abode of Sages” as it attracts a large number of Rishis, Sages and Sanyasis who arrive here to lead a spiritual and peaceful life away from the materialism of other cities. The city is also known as the “Yoga Capital of the World”.

The city of Rishikesh has been neamed after the Sanskrit word “Hrishikesha”. The word is a combination of the words “Hrishik” meaning five senses and “Esh” meaning God. Put together, the word means “God of Senses”.  This place is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu appeared to Raibhya Rishi as an award to his severe penance as “Hrishikesha”.

The city is one of the most popular destinations for international tourists and students who come here for experiencing and learning authentic Yoga and meditation techniques. The city is also famous for the wide range of Ayurveda medicine produced here.

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Rishikesh History

  • Rishikesh is believed to be the place where Lord Vishnu took the form of a Hayagriva and slayed the demons Madhu and Kaitabha. According to the legend, the demons Madhu and Kaitabha originated from the ears of Lord Vishnu during his Yoganidra (a state of consciousness between waking up and sleeping). The two demons obtained a boon from Goddess Shakti as per which they cannot be killed by any Deva or Asura unless they want to die willingly. At that time, Lord Brahma was contemplating the creation of the universe and for which he required the Vedas. The demons stole the Vedas from Lord Brahma. Lord Brahma requested Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu woke up from his deep sleep and took the form of a Hayagriva (a horse faced creature). The battle between the Hayagriva and the two demons lasted five thousand years. Lord Vishnu realized that these demons were invincible until they were relieved of the boon granted by Goddess Shakti. Lord Vishnu requested the Goddess for help who informed him that the only way these demons could be killed was by deceit.
  • Lord Vishnu praised the brave nature of the demons and played on their ego by asking them to ask for a boon from him. The demons fell into the trap and replied that the Lord was inferior to them and that he should ask for a boon from them. Immediately, Lord Vishnu asked them to die by his hands. The demons requested that they should not be killed on water. The Lord took Vishwaroopam and killed the demons on his thigh. The body of these demons disintegrated into 12 pieces (2 Heads, 2 Torsos, 4 Legs and 4 Arms). These parts are believed to have formed the 12 tectonic plates on Earth.
  • The city of Rishikesh is ancient in nature and is mentioned in the Skanda Purana as Kubjamrak Teerth. The reason behind the unusual naming is explained in the Purana. According to the legend, in the Satya Yuga (first of the four Yugas), Lord Varaha (Avatar of Lord Vishnu) put an end to two demons named Madhu and Kaitabh. After killing them, the Lord went into the forests to do penance when he spotted Raibhya Rishi meditating. Lord Vishnu observed the meditation and his penance from behind a Mango Tree. Eventually, unable to bear the weight of Lord Vishnu’s arm, the tree bent and became curved. Soon, Lord Vishnu revealed himself to Raibhya Rishi and named the place as Kubjamrak, based on the unique bent tree.
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Significance of Rishikesh

  • The city is known as the “Yoga Capital of the World”. The city attracts lakhs of domestic as well as international tourists who come here to attain spiritual relief, salvation, and peace and to learn Yoga. Some of the popular institutions where one can learn Yoga and meditation are Akshi Yogashala, Osho Gangadham, Yoga Study Centre, and Jeevmoksha Yoga school,
  • The city is the starting point for the Uttarakhand Char Dham Yatra that includes a spiritual visit to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri.
  • The Ganga Puja or Aarti is conducted every evening at the Triveni Ghat. The event attracts thousands of devotees who gain an immense spiritual freedom and enlightenment from witnessing such a grand celebration of the River Ganga.
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Places of pilgrimage in Rishikesh

  • Bharat Mandir

    The Temple is the oldest temple in the area. It is believed that the city of Rishikesh came up around the existence of this temple. The Temple dates back to 789 AD. The Temple has been mentioned in the Vishnu Purana, Shrimad Bhagavad Purana, and epic Mahabharata and in the Vamana Purana. The presiding deity of the Temple is Lord Vishnu called here as Bharatji Maharaj.  The idol of the deity is made of a single Shaligram stone.  The idol has four arms, each holding a Conch, Gada, Chakra and a Lotus. One can also visit the Museum nearby which houses 2nd to 12th century idols of different Gods and Goddesses.

Significance of the Bharat Mandir

  1. It is believed that on the auspicious day of Basant Panchami, Sri Adi Shankaracharya installed the idol in the 8th
  2. One can see an interesting Tree that grows just poutside the shrine. The tree looks like a single stem tree but if observed closely, one can see that the intertwined stems are from three different trees – the Banyan tree, Peepal tree, and Bael Tree. The locals believe that these three trees represent the holy trinity – Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.
  3. During the reign of Ashoka, the temple was converted into a Buddhist shrine. The idol of Lord Buddha is still worshiped under the Banyan Tree.
  4. It is believed that making 108 Parikrimas or circumambulations on the day of Akshaya Tritiya, of the deity in the Temple and touching the feet of the Lord will fulfill the wish of the deity.

Bharat Mandir  Timings

Bharat Mandir Temple opens at 5 AM and closes at 9 PM. The temple is closed from 11 AM to 1 PM.

How to reach the Bharat Mandir

The Temple is located near the Triveni Ghat. One can hire a taxi or walk up to the shrine easily from the Ghat. Buses are not recommended to reach the spot.

  • Neelkanth Mahadev Temple

The sacred temple dedicated to Lord Shiva as Neelkanth is situated 32 km from Rishikesh. The temple is located near the Nara-Narayan mountain range. The Rivers Pankaja and Madhumati converge near the Temple.

The presiding deity Lord Shiva is in the form of a Linga. The walls of the temple depict scenes from the Samudra Manthan mythology.

Neelkanth Mahadev Temple Legend

  1. In the Bhagavata Purana, the famous legend of Samudra Manthan has been written in detail. Once, Sage Durvasa cursed Indra and all Devas (Gods) that they will all lose their energy, strength and fortune. As a result of the curse, the Devas lost battles against Demons and eventually King Bali reined the Universe. An alarmed Lord Indra approached Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu diplomatically convinced the demons to jointly churn the ocean for Amrit (nectar that grants immortality). Mount Mandara was used as the churning rod and Vasuki (King of Serpents coiled around Lord Shiva) was used as the rope. The churning of the rod released 9-14 treasures from the ocean (depending on the Purana). But in the process, a deadly poison named Halahala was released, potent enough to end all humanity. The frightened Gods approached Lord Shiva for help who swallowed the poison. Goddess Parvati grabbed Shiva’s throat so tightly that the poison could not move beyond the throat. As a result of the poison, the throat of Lord Shiva turned blue and since then, he came to be known as Neelkanth.
  2. The ancient temple signifies the place where Lord Shiva drank the poison that emanated during the Samudra Manthan or “Churning of the ocean” occurrence in Hindu tradition.

Neelkanth Mahadev  Temple Timings

The Temple opens at 6 AM every morning and closes at 9 PM.

  • Tera Manzil or the Kailash Niketan Temple

The grand structure of the Tera Manzil Temple is located adjacent to the Laxman Jhoola. The Temple is 13-storied consisting of different Gods and Goddeses in each level. The Temple is an ode of Hindu culture and traditions. One can get a fascinating view atop the Temple and breathe in the spiritual environment around the surroundings.

  • Lakshman Jhula

The iconic bridge is a suspension bridge that is located in the area of the Tapovan. The current bridge was constructed from 1927 – 1929. The older bridge was destroyed during floods in 1924. The bridge has great mythological significance. It is believed that Lord Rama nd Lakshman visited the spot after killing Ravana to meditate. Lakshman crossed a bridge made of Jute rope at this very spot. The older bridge was believed to be the actual Jute rope that Lakshman used. Presently, this bridge is the hub of all tourist activities. Several markets, temples, hotels and restaurants have come up with Lakshman Jhula being the center of attraction.

  • Triveni Ghat

The extremely popular sacred spot is the Triveni Ghat where the Rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati confluence. The other such site is the equally sacred Prayag in Allahabad. The Ghat is the site of the daily Ganga Maha Aarti that takes place at sunset. Since, Rivers are worshiped in India as Goddesses, the Ghat is considered extremely sacred and divine.

Besides these main shrines, one must visit the Kunjapuri Devi Temple (controversially believed to be one of the Shakti Peethas), Gita Bhawan, Bhootnath Temple, Tryambakeshwar Temple, Lakshman Temple and Raghunath Temple. The Vashisht cave located at a distance of 28 km from Rishikesh is believed to be the site where the famous Sage Vashisht meditated. This calm and serene place is one of the most popular sites for meditation and Yoga.

Festivals celebrated at Rishikesh

  • International Yoga Festival – The world famous International Yoga festival takes place in the month of March, usually from March 1 to March 7. The festival is organized by the Parmarth Niketan Institution in association with Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board. Yoga teachers, students, Sadhus and spiritual tourists arrive in Rishikesh from as many as 20-30 countries every year. The visitors are enlightened about the benefits of Yoga and the rules of Yoga. Various forms of Yoga and their significance are taught in day long classes. Some of the diverse forms taught are Ashtanga Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Raja Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga and Shintoh Yoga.
  • Basant Panchami – The onset of spring is celebrated in February with great joy throughout the city of Rishikesh. On this day, devotees wear yellow clothes and decorate their houses with yellow flowers. The deities are dressed in yellow. People even eat yellow food like rice cooked with saffron, sweets such as kheer, besan ki maithai and yellow fruits. They smear chandan or sandalwood paste on their forehead. The festival also marks the beginning of the Holi celebrations.
  • Mahashivaratri – The festival is celebrated on the 13th night and the 14th day of the month of Maagha (February / March). The Linga of Lord Shiva is bathed with Ganga water, applied with Chandan paste, and offered Bilva leaves, bhang, datura, flowers, coconut, fruits and cow milk. People keep fast for the whole day and do Shiva Pooja at their homes. Taking a bath in River Ganga on Mahashivaratri is considered extremely sacred.

Several myths and legends are associated with the festival of Mahashivaratri. As per one legend, the Devas and Asuras both churned an ocean of milk to obtain Amrit (water that gives immortality). They came upon a deadly poison which exploded into poisonous fumes when touched. The fumes enveloped the entire world and all Gods rushed to Lord Shiva to protect the world. Lord Shiva absorbed the fumes with his trident and swallowed the poison, thus saving the world. This is the reason for the blueness of the skin especially the throat of Lord Shiva.The day is also known as the day Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati.

How to reach Rishikesh

  • By Air – The nearest airport is the Jolly Grant Airport situated at Dehradun which is 15 km from Rishikesh. The airport operates flights to and fro from major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Chennai and Lucknow. Apart from that, one can also reach the Indira Gandhi International Airport at Delhi which is well connected to all major cities in India.
  • By Train – The small station of Rishikesh connects the city of Haridwar with some trains, but the tourists prefer hiring a taxi or bus as they are slow. However, it is recommended to take trains during the peak season. Haridwar is the major station that connects Rishikesh to almost all parts of the country. Several trains from around the country connect the station Hardwar Junction. The city is well connected to places like Delhi, Dehradun, Bikaner, Patna, Howrah, Lucknow, Jaipur, Allahabad, and Mumbai.
  • By Road – The state transport operates regular buses from Delhi, Haridwar and Dehradun. Numerous private taxi operators provide connectivity to Rishikesh from all towns and cities nearby. One can hire taxis from nearby towns to reach Rishikesh.

Where to stay

One can easily book a budget hotel in Rishikesh as they are plenty available at nominal rates. Lakshman Jhula is the main area where tourists prefer to hire rooms as the view of River Ganga is enthralling from there. Some of the popular hotels and lodges are Hotel Ganga Ambience, Crest Guesthouse, Radhakrishna Guesthouse, Hotel Narayana Kunj and the Shiv Shakti Guesthouse.

Where to eat

Rishikesh is strictly vegetarian city. The cuisine is mainly North Indian with several South Indian restaurants available too. Apart from these options, certain hotels serve unique Ayurvedic and health food recipes that are a delight to any visitor to the place.  Some of the popular

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