Bithoor is not too far from Kanpur, both the cities are on the banks of Ganga. We have all heard of Kanpur for various reasons – be it its higher education institutes, its railway station, or its industry. This place is no less important from an Indic perspective.
Locals say that Bithoor comes from Beeron ka Thaur – literally meaning the land of the brave. When you listen to its stories, it is full of stories of brave men and women.
Utpalaranya, Brahmasmatipuri, and Brahmavrat are the other names of this place.
Legends of Bithoor
The earliest mention of this place comes in the story of Brahma, the creator of this universe. It is said that he performed 99 Yagnas here on the banks of Ganga before creating Manu and Satrupa, whose progeny is all of humanity. Due to this, it is also considered the central point of the earth. A nail from Brahma’s Khadaun or footwear is believed to have been put here by Brahma himself to mark the center of the earth. It can be seen at Brahmavrat Ghat.
The second legend comes from Ramayana. Bithoor lied outside the limits of Ayodhya, and this is where Lakshman left Sita after she was given up by Ram. Close to the river is Valmiki Ashram, where it is believed Mata Sita gave birth to Luv and Kush and raised them. It is also the place where Luv and Kush stopped the horse of Sri Ram’s Ashwamedha Yagna and imprisoned Hanuman. This is also where Valmiki wrote Ramayana.
The third legend is related to Dhruv who became Dhruv Tara. It is believed that his father Uttanpada ruled from Utpalaranya, which is the ancient name of Bithoor. Dhruv stood on his toe and worshipped Vishnu and received the boon of becoming Dhruv Tara or polestar. The place where he stood is now known as Dhruv Teela.
The fourth legend is closer to our times. This was the place where Rani Lakshmi Bai was trained to be a warrior. She came here as a young four-year-old and took her lessons in the art of war here till the age of sixteen. Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II made Bithoor his capital. You still see many Maharashtrian families living here since those days.
Do read – Peshwa heritage in Pune
Places to see in Bithoor
Ganga & Ghats
Bithoor lives on the banks of Ganga. It flows quietly along the long line of ghats. My first view of the place was from the bridge on Ganga, where you see the long riverfront of the town. It gives you an impression of how ghats would have been in the good old days without any other skyscrapers overshadowing them. A one-off boat can be seen taking pilgrims on a ghat ride.
When you reach the city, you realize it pretty much lives along the river.
Ghats here are steep and not really connected like they are in Varanasi. So to take the walk, I had to constantly do up and down on the ghats. Like any ancient place, ghats here too are lined with temples and Brahmin houses. Temples are small and mostly house a Shivalinga. On the Bhairav ghat, I saw a Bhairav temple and asked around for the Devi temple that it should ideally accompany. I was pointed to some of the Devi Murtis lying under a tree. They seemed to be a part of an ancient temple, that obviously has been lost in time.
A lot of temples were built or probably re-built in the 19th CE. Some structures close to ghat have small bricks that were typically used 2-4 centuries ago. I walked along the ghat as much as I could. At places, there was mud ghat but this may be due to lower levels of water during this season.
This is the most important ghat, believed to be the place where Brahma Ji did his 99 Yagnas. An arch announces the ghat and when you walk through the narrow lanes, you see the colorful shops selling everything a pilgrim needs. Since I was visiting just before Mahashivaratri, there was everything that Kawariyas need, for carrying the water of Ganga to Shiva temples.
We reached the ghat after passing through a hall on which there were murals of Makar Vahini Ganga, Hams Vahini Saraswati, and Simhavahini Durga.
At the ghat, one can see the nail that he put here. It is surrounded by a copper shield and covered in the form of an open temple. The wall behind tells the story of this place. Priest proudly tells you that in Pushkar, Murti of Brahma is worshipped and here his Charan or feet are worshipped.
A boy was selling small glasses of milk to be offered to this nail. Pujari Ji was announcing the merits one can earn by making offerings here on a mike. He even announced each name and the amount offered by them. People offered milk, paid some money, say a prayer before moving to the ghats.
Ghat on Ganga
A lot of people were taking bath in Ganga. Colorful boats were lined up and boatmen were calling people to take a ride.
At one of the ghats, there is a life-size murti of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi riding her horse with her sword held high. At another ghat, Kanwars were filling their pots to be taken to Shiva temple at Barabanki. They would carry them as they walk about 200 km on foot.
There are small temples here and there, some built, some abandoned, and some half-built. There are old and new houses with lovely wood-carved doors. Old stone murtis can be seen inside and outside temples and there are lots of monkeys.
Some ghats have been renovated and they give a lovely view of the Ganga from their arches. There is a Baradari at the ghat on the far end built by Tikait Rai, a minister with the Nawab of Lucknow. It that was renovated in the 1950s. There are some lovely Havelis with a courtyard in the middle.
The main temple dedicated to Shiva is believed to have been set up by Brahma himself and called Brahmeshwara temple. However, two temples can have a claim to this temple. No one knows which is the original one.
There are temples and ashrams behind the ghats, but most of them were closed when I visited. In a narrow lane, I found a temple dedicated to Ganga in a wall.
Dhruv Tila is located on the other side of the Ganga bridge from the ghats. There are boards that point you to this location. Nothing much remains from the ancient past. There is a colorful ashram of a saint, where Ram Dhun was being sung when I visited. Little below, there is an ancient Hanuman temple with a Murti of Hanuman’s mother – Anjana.
As there are no ghats on this side of Ganga, you get to see the way Ganga makes her way through the wilderness.
This is the second most famous destination here, situated a bit far away from Ganga. The main ashram has a diorama built around a defunct fountain that shows Luv and Kush imprisoning holding Hanuman tied in ropes and the Ashwamedha horse.
There is a lovely and well-maintained temple in white color built by Nana Peshwa. Garbhagriha with Shivalinga in black stone inside it has a dome instead of a usual Shikhara. There is a beautiful wood-carved doorjamb in brown color. There is a pillared open mandapa. A typical Maratha-style tall Deepastambha stands in front of the temple.
Next to Deepstambh is a square open pit, which is believed to be the place where Sita went inside the earth. On side of this pit are small temples dedicated to Van Devi, Valmiki as he writes Ramayana and Ratnakar. Some sanyasis were sitting and meditating here.
On the other side, is a small structure with a broken bell hanging. It also has some ancient stone Murtis. It is said that this bell was used by Nana Peshwa to call Tatya Tope. This is also called Sita Rasoi or kitchen. Some utensils have been kept here. Apparently, there is also a pond called Sita Kund, but I did not see it.
This place had a soothing peaceful vibe. Sitting under the ancient Banyan tree, I felt that this is where one can stay for some time. There was spirituality in the air and something that can bring out your creative juices.
Surrounding the ashram are many temples dedicated to Sita and her sons. Some of them claim to be the exact spot where Luv and Kush were born. Hanuman remains a favorite deity in this town too. There is a Vedic gurukul too close by.
Nana Rao Peshwa Smarak Park at Bithoor
The palace of Nana Saheb was destroyed during the 1857 war. You can just see some crumbling walls from a distance. However, at the same place, a lovely memorial has been built.
It has a small museum that has many things on display. What I would remember from here is the original image of Rani Lakshmibai. There is another statue of her riding the horse here. At the far end, there is a large statue of Nana Saheb.
Do read – Jhansi – the city of Rani Lakshmibai
The park reminds you of the role of this place and Nana Saheb in India’s first war of Independence. I never knew that this is where Rani of Jhansi trained to be a warrior. Indeed, this place is the land of the brave, nurtured by Ganga.
- It can be easily done as a day trip from either Lucknow or Kanpur
- There are not too many places to eat, besides the roadside Mithai shops or fruit sellers
- It would be great to do this trip as a guided tour like I did with Tornos India from Lucknow
- Wear shoes that allow you to walk and are easy to slip in and out of
If you discover any new facet of this place, do share it with us.