Ruruksetra, also known as Ridiksetra, situated at the confluence of the Gandaki and Ridikhola rivers in Nepal is an important tirthasthala, not only for the people of Nepal, but to all Hindus of the world. It is deemed as sacred as Kashi in India. Since the Epic and Puranic Age, people of all walks of Life-Saints to Kings-used to come here for meditation and worshipping the dieties. This Ksetra has been associated with sacred legends, splendid tradition of art and architecture, fairs and festivals etc. It has made its distinctive place in the holy sites of pilgrimage in the Hindu world.
Despite its importance, modernization of Society, lack of knowledge and dearth of literature about the relevance and significance of the site, the interest of people is fast declining. Of late the Ksetra has been linked with fast means of transport and communication. Now the visitors to this place come for business and recreation, not only for religious purposes.
This book, a research study, funded by UNESCO, is an attempt to put the things in right direction. The book goes into a deep study of the whole concept and is a serious attempt to restore the ancient puranic grand tradition of this tirthsthala. It covers a brand spectrum of the sacred complexes, the existing monuments, development of tourism and also the need for conservation of ancient-historic monuments. To make the volume more attractive, authentic and informative, besides important information, photographs of monuments, unpublished documents and inscriptions and the map showing the position of sacred places has been included. It throws lights on historical, archaeological, sociological and anthropological aspects of the area.
Ram Niwas Pandey born on Jan. 22, 1939 at Thulo Gaura of Kapilvastu (Nepal Terai) the birth place of Lord Buddha. Received his early education in Ancient History, Culture and Archaeology at Gorakhpur University and later at School of Archaeology, New Delhi. Received Doctorate in 1983.
He started teaching at Tribhuwan University in 1962. He was appointed member of the Council of Royal Nepal Academy, where he served for fifteen months.
Dr. Pandey organised the study of Nepalese history on systemetic and scientific basis; aroused interest of Nepalese scholars in research of pre-history of Nepal and has been influential in shaping the current scenario of Nepalese history and culture. He has been associated with several international institutions and research associations. Member; UNESCO, Ministry of Education; Nepal National Committee for the World Decade (1987-97); Advisory Board of Indian Academy of Cultural Research, Varanasi; Lumbini Development Committee; Prajna Sabha, Royal Nepal Academy; President, Nepal Museological Association and Lifelong member, Royal Nepal Academy.
Widely travelled scholar, Dr. Pandey has been to all over the world to lecture on Nepalese History, art, religion and culture. He has authored about 9 books and a lot of Research Papers on Archaeology, Art, Architecture, History, Culture and Religion published in National and International Magazines. He speaks Nepali, Sanskrit, Hindi, English, French and Avadhi fluently.
Currently, Dr. Pandey is Professor, and Head, Department of Nepalese History, Culture and Archaeology, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu.
The sacred tirthas in the Hindu world came to be identified with various places associated with the epic heroes, great saints and seers, and personalities of the Puranic age. The confluences of the rivers, the sites of the holy lakes, and the hermitages and caves where great saints had lived and meditated in the past are also found declared as tirthasthalas in the Hindu scriptures. A few such tirthasthalas are located in the Kingdom of Nepal also and they have played a vital role in the socio-cultural and religious life of the people. The confluence of the Gandaki River and Ridi Khola came to be recognized as Ruruksetra" by the ancient thinkers and religious people. A Puranic history reveals that it was Rurukanya, the daughter of Devadatta and Pramlocha, who caused Vishnu to reside in the bed of the Gandaki River. The Varaha Purana describes that one, who would take bath in the Gandaki River and worship Vishnu, would get all the purusharthas in this life and salvation after death. That is why, since the Epic and the Puranic times, great saints and seers, and the renowned rulers have been found to be coming to Ruruksetra, living here for some time and meditating and worshipping the deities of the ksetra for their peace and happiness. After the discovery of the image of Risikesha Bhagwan and the building of his temple by King Mukunda Sena I of Palpa in the sixteenth century A. D., the religious activities started there accelerated much. The tradition of pilgrimage at Ruruksetra has been noted since the Puranic age and the tradition continues till the present time. A large number of people come from various districts of Nepal and several states of India, including south India, for pilgrimage of this ksetra at the time of Kartik-shukla-ekadasi and Maghi-samkranti. They take bath in the holy Gandaki River and do pujana and darshana of various temples of the ksetra. Finally, a few adventurous pilgrims follow the course of the Gandaki River and go up to Gosain Kund, Kagbeni, Muktinath and Damodar Kund. Like Kashi, Ruruksetra is also a site for the cremation. Its cremation ghat at the Bhaktini Tole of Ridi Bazar is deemed as sacred as Manikarnika Ghat of Kashi and most of the Hindus believe that a person, who is cremated on the bank of the Gandaki River, directly goes to the heaven after the submerging of his bones and ashes of the pyre into the water of the river. People believe that the pindadana on the bank of the Gandaki River by a person takes his dead, ancestors to heaven. That is why, each year a large number of Hindus, whose parents are dead, come here and offer pindadana to their ancestors for redemption from their pitririna. For these great traditions of Ruruksetra, their long continuity, many sacred legends, splendid traditions of art and architecture, fairs and festivals, sacred performances and abodes of the sacred specialists, Ruruksetra has made its distinctive place in the holy sites of pilgrimage in the Hindu world. It has greatly contributed in retaining the Hindu religious traditions and it would long remain instrumental in the efflorescence of the Hindu life-style in the region.
Despite all these realities, owing to modernization of the society and lack of knowledge about this religious site as well as the dearth of good literature explaining the relevance and significance of the site, the interest of the people in Ruruksetra and its sacred traditions is now fast declining. After the ksetra has been linked up with the fast means of transport and communications, particularly the Palpa- Tamghas Road, a large number of people have now started coming to Ruruksetra, however their interest is not in sacred performances and pilgrimage but in business and entertainment. On finding the grand traditions of the ksetra slowly declining and dying out, the author decided to study the sacred complex of Ruruksetra, prepared a research proposal and finally submitted it to the UNESCO Division of the Ministry of Education in 1996 A. D. and it was finally accepted by the Secretariat of the UNESCO Division. A fund of US $ 10,000 was made available to the author in the fiscal year 1997 A. D. and a team was formed with me, Prof. Ram Niwas Pandey as the Chief Researcher and three assistants namely Gitu Giri, Narendra Raj Pandey of Siddhartha Multiple Campus of Bhairahawa and Ram Bahadur Kunwar of Kanya Campus, Dilli Bazar, Kathmandu to study the sacred complex of the ksetra and prepare a monograph covering the broad spectrum of sacred complexes affecting the socio-cultural life of the people on various fronts. The research team prepared four types of questionnaire and studied for several months in the field of the sacred traditions, the existing monuments and development of tourism and conservation of the monuments and now has prepared the report which runs in fifteen chapters and contains more than hundred photographic illustrations, several appendices containing a large number of unpublished documents and inscriptions and the map unveiling the position of sacred places of the ksetra. This study would play a definite role in revelations of secrets of the sacred traditions of the tirtha and in generation of love in the hearts of the people of the country to know the great glory of Ruruksetra. This love would make the people, particularly the inhabitants of the ksetra, conscious of being instrumental not only in reviving the prevalent sacred traditions of the ksetra but also in preserving and conserving the sacred monuments and the works of art of the site as well as in developing the infrastructure for the development of tourism in Ruruksetra, enhancing local arts and crafts and boosting the economic life of the people who have since the hoary past lived there with their diverse ethnic traditions.
In this study of the sacred complex of Ruruksetra, a broad perusal of the Puranic and other kinds of existing literature has been made to prepare the chapters of Sacred Geography and Legends and History. The inscriptions and other kinds of archaeological documents have been critically analysed to resolve the aspects of history and building activities, particularly the time of construction of the temples and execution of the icons of the deities which are presently found kept in their sanctums for worship by the devotees. Since the Puranic and archaeological evidences do not help much to unveil the niceties of the sacred complexes, extensive field study was carried out to collect data on the patterns of architecture, plastic forms of the sculptures and the traditions of sacred performances, modes of pilgrims as well as the type of pilgrimage prevalent in Ruruksetra. The life- style of the sacred specialists was also studied in detail, sociological and anthropological techniques were adopted to study the various problems. For achieving the full target of the present study, four types of questionnaires were prepared, distributed among the pilgrims and local people and extensive data was collected and analysed to prepare the final draft. The traditions of the ksetra that exist there were personally observed for about one year. Interview of the local people and scholars as well as of the pilgrims and specialists of different categories were also taken which provided symptuous data on various aspects of sacred complexes prevalent in Ruruksetra. This data has also been analysed in the present study.
On the whole the present study is based on the basis of the available literature about the ksetra, personal observation of the traditions, interview of important people and collection of various kinds of facts with the help of four types of questionnaires in the random sampling technique. Thus, the present study involves the historical, archaeological, sociological, anthropological and observational methods. All these methods have been cautiously employed and the available data critically analysed in the preparation of this monograph.
In the present study, a modest attempt has been made to study the sacred complex of Ruruksetra, particularly the sacred geography, sacred legends and history, sacred temples and icons, various aspects of pilgrims and pilgrimages, sacred performances, sacred specialists, various fairs and festivals, aspects of conservation and preservation of the monuments, development of tourism and modernization and changes in the behaviour of the people and to bring to light the hidden knowledge about this ksetra to the people and to make the Government of Nepal aware about the cultural and traditional relics of the ksetra, including the need of preservation and promotion of cultural tourism in the area for the enhancement of economic status of the people living in the region. This is a cultural-cum-anthropological study and has covered a wide range of topics and analyzed the facts in proper perspective to magnify the hidden knowledge and the sacred traditions of the ksetra.
Hindu civilization is as old as the Rigveda. However, the Rigvedic civilization is mainly polytheistic in character although it contains some elements of monotheism at a few places. The Upanishadic and Epic periods which succeed the Regvedic civilization in the region of Aryavarta established many new social norms and values under the influence of Varnashrama- Vyavastha and they got deeply petrified in the society long before the emergence of Jain Tirthankar Mahavira and Lord Buddha. Great sages, thinkers and philosophers like Atri, Vasistha, Gautama, Kasyapa, Valmiki, Yajnavalkya, Vedavyasa, Bhrigu, Shringi and Kapila have made a great contribution in the efflorescence of Hinduism, and when the Sungas, Vakatakas and Guptas rose in power, theistic concepts of Hinduism developed centering round Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya and Ganesha in particular. The Puranas highly extol the magnificence of these deities and regard several places of India and Nepal as sacred to them, and they ought to be visited by a person for the attainment of punyas, emancipation from the sins of various lives and the attainment of the holy abodes of Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti. As the abodes of these deities are mainly located on the banks of the holy rivers, the shore of the sea, the sides of the lakes and tanks and the kundas situated on the sacred mountains, they were earnestly visited by the devout pilgrims for a bath, darshana and pujana This is how the concept of the pilgrimage of the holy tirthas (places), rivers and lakes or tanks originated in the early Christian centuries. During the medieval and early-modern periods, it became a fashion of all the pious persons, saints, seers and even the ordinary house-holders to perform the pilgrimage of these holy places and make one of those holy places as the place of their final retreat in the last stage of their life. In the ancient period, people not only performed the pilgrimage, took a bath (snana) in the river or tank and worshipped the icons of the deities present there but also began performing various kinds of sacraments, such as upanayana (sacred-thread ceremony), marriage and death. At the same time the tradition of performing various kinds of yajnas as well as the hearing of the Puranas, such as the Shivadharmashastra, Bhagavatpurana and Devipurana, started in the Hindu tirthas.
The kingdom of Nepal, located between the 80•15-88•15 east longitude and 26•20'-30•10' north latitude and covering approximately 51662 square miles, is interlaced with three important mountain ranges called the Alpine Himalayas, the Mahabharata Range and the Shivalika Mountain. They stretch everywhere from the west to the east and are cut by the rivers of perennial water, and they have created many fertile valleys and long terraces for villages and towns which became the cradle of Hindu civilization, and varieties of sacred performances sprang there in the premises of the holy temples built in the subsequent period. The Himalayas of Nepal have been highly sacred since the Puranic time, and in each region of the kingdom there are renowned tirthas with clusters of temples in their neighbourhood where varieties of sacred rituals are performed and a large number of fairs and festivals take place on the specified days under the supervision of the sacred specialists and social workers. The sacred specialists of these holy sites form a big part of the Nepalese civilization, and they have their own bearing on the social and cultural life of a Hindu within the kingdom as well as across its frontiers. The holy tirthas of Varaha Ksetra, Mithila Ksetra, Ruru Ksetra, Mukti Ksetra, Pashupati Ksetra, Vaisvanara Ksetra and Rinamokse Ksetra are visited not only by the Nepalese but also by the people of India. When they happen to come to these ksetras, they have elaborate sacred performances over there. Throughout the year there are numerous sacred rituals and functions in these ksetras and they have even today preserved the fundamental norms of Hinduism through the help of their sacred functionaries. Most of the rivers, lakes and kundas of Nepal have their divine origin according to the Puranas. However, in reality, they took their origin from the pluvial deposits of the post-glacial period. That is why, they are designated Himanadi and Himatala in Nepal. The terraces of the rivers or the sides of the lakes, because they provided water and shelter to the people, were very significant places of habitation since the Paleolithic time itself. This is well attested by the banks of the Gandaki and Kosi rivers and the tirthas located on their banks. The Puranas, particularly the Varaha- Purana and the Skanda Purana, highly signify the glories of the holy tirthas Iocated on their banks. For example, the Gandaki River which had its origin and emergence from the inspiration of Ganda Rishi, has got a large number of tirthas on its banks, and Ruruksetra happens to be one among them.
The concept of pilgrimage was deeply rooted in the society of Nepal in the early Christian centuries. The Lichhavi and Malla epigraphs and other kinds of historical documents of the country provide substantial testimony to this effect. The documents of Western Nepal mention that some of the kings who ruled in the region visited several holy places, such as Lumbini Garden, Pashupati Ksetra, Muktinath, Ruruksetra, Trivenighat and Devaghat. The Puranas, such as Varaha Purana, Skanda Purana, Devi Purana, Vaisvanara Purana, Padma Purana and Agni Purana, highly extol the magnificence of the sacred tirthas of Nepal. In the Varaha Purana, particular description of the Gandaki River and the holy sites located on its banks has been given by the Puranakara. The Gandaki River has been described here as the abode of Vishnu in the shape of the saligramas having the imprints of discus, symbolizing the mighty discus (chakra) of Lord Vishnu, and that is why, she came to be known by the names of the Saligrami and Chakra River (nadi) among the people. As the water of the river was of dark ( black i.e. Krishna) colour, she came to be called the Krishna Gandaki River also. The Varaha Purana describes that the sites of Muktinath, Rudraveni, Ruruksetra, Devaghat and Triveni Ghat located on her bank are very sacred to the Hindus and they should be visited by every religious person for personal peace and happiness in this life and emancipation from the clutches of rebirths. The same facts have seen revealed by the Himvatkhanda Section of the Skanda Purana. The Nepala Mahatmya Section of the Skanda Purana similarly extols the significance of the Pashupati Ksetra and the Vaishvanara Ksetra of the Dullu region of Dailekh district of the Bheri Zone. Mithila Ksetra, associated with the hero and the heroine of the Ramayana finds description in several works and its great cultural value is narrated in several classical works of the Hindus. Nepal has got several other tirthas like Damodar Kund, Gosain Kund and Rinamokse Tirtha which are equally significant, and there are beautiful temples of the Hindu deities with different kinds of sacred specialists and performances, and they go a long way in revealing the secrets of Hinduism and preserving its pristine traditions in the lap of the Himalayas within the dominion of Nepal. Credit to the twin functions of revelation and preservation goes to the great saints and seers who visited these holy places in the past and described the specialities present in the domains of these holy sites. My main contention here is that the tradition of study and analysis of the beliefs and sacred complexes of these holy sites has continued till the present time since the age of the Puranic time itself.
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