I first came to know of Panch Kroshi Yatra when I was visiting Varanasi about 4 years back. I saw a unique map on the walls of Bharat Kala Bhavan at Banaras Hindu University. Just a year before that I had done the 84 Kos Yatra of Braj in the Mathura-Vrindavan area. I was curious about this ancient pilgrim route. Not many people could tell me much about the yatra, except that it is done on foot on Shivratri. I came back from Varanasi with Panch Kroshi Yatra added to my wish list.
This time I am happy that I could do the yatra- it took a lot of research and a lot of asking around. It was all worth it.
When is the Panch Kroshi Yatra done?
Panch Kroshi yatra is done on Shivaratri – as it is full of Shiva temples. Devotees would start in the evening from Manikarnika Kund and from Assi Ghat around midnight. Depending on each one’s capacity to walk, they complete the yatra in 1, 3, or 5 days.
This yatra is also done in Purushottam Maas that is also known as Mal Maas or Adhik Maas. This is the extra month that is added to the lunar calendar we follow every 2-3 years. My logic is that since this is an unplanned extra period available, it is a good time to do the yatra.
In the Hindu months of Falgun, Vaishakh & Chaitra, this yatra can be done anytime.
I would say, a yatra can be done anytime a devotee is ready to do it.
Panch Kroshi Yatra Route
Panch Kroshi Yatra begins at Manikarnika Kund. This is a small water tank situated close to the famous Manikarnika Ghat. It is said that the Kund is older than the Ganga in Varanasi. The legend associated the Kund with both Shiva, Shakti & Vishnu, making it sacred for all three sects of Hinduism. The devotees take a dip in the Manikarnika Kund. They then take some water in their hands and do a Sankalp for the yatra. This is like making a commitment to complete the yatra. If you have a wish that you want to come true, this is the time to make that wish. However, you must come back again to say Thank you when your wish comes true.
After the Sankalp, devotees take a boat and head to Assi ghat – the southernmost ghat on Ganga at Varanasi. This is the beginning point of the yatra.
After this, there are 5 Padavs or stops on the 50 miles or roughly 80 km path. The Panch Kroshi road is an ancient pilgrim route. There are boards guiding you on the path and informing you about the Padavs or stops as well.
Distances between Padavs
- Manikarnika to Kardameshwar – 3 Kos
- Kardameshwar to Bhim Chandi – 5 Kos, a total of 8 Kos
- Bhim Chandi to Rameshwar – 7 Kos, a total of 15 Kos
- Rameshwar to Shivpur – 4 Kos, a Total of 19 Kos
- Shivpur to Kapildhara – 3 Kos, Total 22 kos
- Kapildhara to Manikarnika – 3 Kos, Total 25 Kos
1 Kos = 3.2 Km
All through this journey, you will see many small temples on your right side. A lot of them are in red color. However, a lot of them have undergone restoration/renovation at different points in time and have all possible colors and shapes. Look for the plaque mentioning the names of the temples and if possible the number.
What are Padavs on Panch Kroshi Yatra
Padavs are the 5 stops on this yatra path. These are 5 temples that have Dharamshala’s or places to stay for the pilgrims. Some of these Dharamshala’s can accommodate up to 25,000 people at any time. The places to stay are available for free. Pilgrims must arrange their own food. Traditionally, India really did not have the concept of hotels or restaurants, and travelers used to cook their own food. Even my grandparents told me that when they went on Yatras, they carried their provisions and cooked wherever they halted for the night.
These 5 stops at regular intervals are the places where people could stay, cook and pray.
Each of these temples has a large temple tank, that can take of water requirements of the large visiting population.
Pilgrims carry 5 beetle leaves and 5 beetle nuts i.e. Paan & Supari to offer at each of these Padavs.
Akshat or raw rice is offered at each temple on the way.
Temples on the Panch Kroshi yatra are numbered and you can easily follow them.
Legends of Panch Kroshi Yatra or Parikrama
It is said that in Treta Yug – Lord Ram did the Panch Kroshi Yatra along with his 3 brothers and wife Sita. The Shivalingas set up by each of them can be seen at the Rameshwaram temple. Lord Rama did this yatra to release his father Dashrath from the curse of Shravan Kumar’s parents.
In Dwapar Yug, Pandavas did this yatra along with Draupadi. The Shivalinga set up by them can be seen at Pandav temple at Shivpuri. The tank next to this temple is called Draupadi Kund. Pandavas did this yatra during their Agyaat Vaas i.e. the period of exile when they were in hiding.
You are supposed to go clockwise for the Panch Kroshi Yatra. When you do so, all the temples are on your right-hand side. All the Dharamshala are on your left. The area enclosed by the yatra path is supposed to be sacred. No toilets were supposed to be here. Of course, people living in this area have their home toilets.
One of the priests at Bhimchandi told us that the Kashi Khand – the area enclosed by the yatra path is supposed to have 3,65,000 idols of various Hindu deities. Some of these are visible while others are not. To begin with, I would not have believed that number, but after doing the yatra I have no reason to doubt that number. In my small day-long journey, that too on a car, I could see thousands of Linga’s along with a similar number of idols.
My Panch Kroshi Yatra
I walked through the narrow lanes leading to Manikarnika ghat to reach the Manikarnika Kund. The Kund was dry, so I just said my prayers and headed back to the car to go to Assi Ghat.
Before going to Assi Ghat I visited the Lolark Kund which is also known as Surya Kund or the Sun Pond. This pond is best known for fulfilling the wish of having children.
At Assi ghat, I walked around. All the visuals of scenes I have read about it in books like Kashi Ka Assi by Dr. Kashinath Singh came alive. I looked at the newly made platform where the morning Aarti is done. In my mind, this is a Ghat that belongs to foreigners and tourists. Panch Kroshi Yatra though begins from here.
From Assi Ghat we started moving towards our first Padav. On the way, for the first time, I saw the Assi River. Yes, it is a small river but not a Nallah as everyone always told me.
As soon as we left the Varanasi city limits, we were treated to rustic sights of fields and small mud houses. There was no sign of commercialization. I felt like a Yatri, who was visiting Kashi for the first time.
Kardameshwar Temple Padav
Our guide asked the driver to stop and park the car. I gave him a look full of questions. He pointed to a small but beautiful temple and said this is Kardameshwar.
We got down and walked to the temple to discover a large pond. People were taking dips in the pond, children were swimming. Across the pond, we could see fairly large structures and I was told these are the Dharamshala for the pilgrims to stay.
I entered the narrow tall temple that dates back to 10-11th CE. This is one of the few temples that have survived from that period in Varanasi. Most other temples are rather modern versions of their original self. The temple entrance was surrounded by a number of bells.
After paying my respects to the Shivalinga, I spoke to the priest. He told me the legend of Kardameshwar Temple. He said the Shivalings at the temple were established by Kardam Rishi. The tank next to the temple is known as Bindu Sarovar as it is supposed to have been formed by the tear of Shiva himself.
Kardameshwar temple is numbered 33 on Panch Kroshi Yatra. This is the first time I noticed the numbers, so I missed the first 32 temples on this path. Next time when I go, I will start from 0 or 1 as the case may be. However, till then I am reading books on Panch Kroshi to figure out what these temples are.
In structures around the temple, there were Rudrashtakam and Shiva Tandav Stotram written in black on a white marble plaque. The place is popularly referred to as Kandwa. It is not too far from Banaras Hindu University.
Bhim Chandi Padav
On way to Bhim Chandi, we were treated to the fields of Marigold flowers. The rich yellow and saffron color looked vibrant against the green of the earth and blue of the sky. I figured out where all the flowers for Varanasi temples come from.
The Shiva temple at Bhimchandi Padav is known as Chandikeshwar Mahadev temple. The temple is quite similar to the Kardameshwar temple. Chandikeshwar Mahadev temple is also a narrow tall temple with stone carved Shikhara. The temple is as small as it can get but it stands next to a huge tank. The tank here is called Gandharva Sagar Kund or simple Gandheshwara.
Shivalinga at Chandikeshwar temple has also the small idols of 5 Pandavas.
It was a pity that people were washing clothes in the temple tank and the water in the tank was green. If you look intently you can see the water channels in the walls of the tank indicating a rainwater harvesting system in place.
The Padav though gets its name from the nearby Devi temple called Bhim Chandi. The complex has many big and small temples. The temple is numbered 60 on the Panch Kroshi Yatra path.
The Rameshwar temple is located on the banks of river Varna – one of the two rivers that give the city of Varanasi its name, the other being Assi. The temple is so called because the Shivalings here were established by Lord Rama himself when he came for the Panch Kroshi Yatra.
Next to the Rameshwara temple, there are temples called Lakshameshwar, Bharateshwar, and Shatrughaneshwar. One rarely sees the temples associated with the younger brothers of Ramayana.
There is a temple dedicated to Tulja Bhavani – a form of Devi that is worshiped in western India. She is the Kula Devi of Shivaji Maharaj and her temple can be seen in many places associated with him. The idols of Tulja Bhavani are huge and lovely. If you focus on them you will be in awe of them.
The temple priest told me that the Rameshwar temple could never be approached by the army of Aurangzeb because Tulja Bhavani protects this temple. According to the priest, whenever the army tried to head toward the temple – scorpions, snakes & honeybees would attack them and stop them.
The temple is full of Shivalingas.
I met a group of children who were ready to play Ram Lila. Dressed up as Ram, Sita, Laxman, and Hanuman, they waited for Ram Lila to begin. This is the closest I have been to watching the famous Ram Lila of Kashi.
The temple at Shivpur is the simplest. There are 5 Shivalingas in 5 sizes in descending order ascribed to each of the Pandavas. The ancient well near the temple is called Draupadi Kund.
This temple pretty much comes within the city limits and you would see the city go around it.
This temple is located on the northern edge of Varanasi. A lovely temple overlooks the large tank. We took the stairs to reach the temple, and said our prayers before talking to the priest. He took us to a smaller temple next to the main temple where there is an idol of Kapil Muni. It is believed that this Shivalinga was established by Kapil Muni.
Jaun Ganesh & Adi Keshav Ghat
The final stop before you take a boat back on Ganga is Jaun Ganesh temple. A small Ganesh temple with a lovely Ganesh Image overlooks the Ganga, almost at the confluence of Varna & Ganga.
This temple is located very close to Adi Keshav Ghat, which is one of the northernmost ghats of Varanasi. People take Jaun or Oat saplings from this temple and plant them in Ganga. It is said that planting in oat saplings in Ganga is akin to accomplishing a big task. In the local language, they say ‘ Ganga Ji mein jaun bo diye’ meaning you have achieved a big thing.
From here take the boat back to Manikarnika ghat to complete the yatra.
I, of course, drove back in my car.
This yatra had been on my mind since the time I last visited Varanasi. At the end of it, I had a sense of accomplishment. So, maybe, I can say – Ganga Ji mein jaun bo diye.
Travel Tips for Panch Kroshi Parikrama
- You do not get much food outside the city limits of Varanasi. The only thing I could spot was the Samosa chana – which seems like the staple pilgrim diet here. So, pack your food.
- The same goes for water. If you are conscious of the water you consume, carry your own water.
- In a car, it took me almost 12 hours to do the Parikrama. I did not do the two boat parts on the boat as they are supposed to be. So budget ample time based on your choice of vehicle.
- Carry small change to offer on all the temples on the way. Priests would try to ask for money in various forms. I would say decide what you want to donate and stick to that.
- Talk to priests, they always have some stories to share that would surprise you.
- The whole yatra is 25 Kos or roughly 80 km – the beginning and end are within the city limits of Varanasi and passes through some of its most crowded areas.
Thank you, Kashi
There are some people I must thank who helped me in doing this yatra. Thank you, Ashok Bhaiya for sending your car & Pradeep Ji for driving me around for the whole day and maintaining a calm smile throughout the day. Thank you, Dilip Kumar Gupta Ji of UP Tourist Police for not only providing me a sense of security but for sharing all your Kashi knowledge throughout the day. You were our Guru, sharing your knowledge on so many aspects of Kashi and Panch Kroshi Yatra. Finally, thank you Vikas Singh – you were the only one in the car who had already done the yatra. I am happy that you discovered some new aspects of yatra with us. I hope you would take many more curious travelers like me to the yatra again & again.