Pushkar is an ancient pilgrimage site wrapped in many Puranic stories from Indian scriptures. Most people would associate it with the only Brahma Temple present in the world. Though I have discovered many more Brahma temples, it is true that they are rare and not found very often. This is where the legend of Brahma continues to live.
It is said that in the 4 Yugas or era of Human existence on earth, there are 4 key pilgrimage places associated with each Yuga. In the first one or Satyuga, it was Naimisharanya, in the second i.e. Treta it was Pushkar, in the third or Dwapar it was Kurukshetra and in the fourth or the current one called Kaliyuga it is Ganga. Over the last year, I have been to all the four holy places and it seems like a time travel in a way!
This lake is at the heart of the city, and the city lives around it. A great visual of the city can be seen from the hill on which Savitri Temple is located. You see the lake, the city around it and the hills around the city. If you are lucky, as I was, you may see a rainbow in the city as if it is joining the lake to the sky.
The lake is surrounded by ghats on all sides. Most of them are built by the different kings of the Rajputana and carry their name. Some are named after the temples close to them while others have other stories associated with them.
Major ghats on the lake:
- Brahma Ghat – Close to Brahma Temple, it is the main ghat
- Varaha Ghat – Close to ancient Varaha Temple
- Jaipur Ghat – One of the largest and cleanest ghats
- Yagya Ghat – believed to be the oldest place, where Brahma I performed the Yagna
- Cheenkmata Ghat – with a 15th CE temple dedicated to Devi in her Chheenkmata Swaroop
- Dadheechi Ghat
- Saptarishi Ghat
- Gau Ghat that was renamed Gandhi Ghat after his ashes were immersed here
- Gwalior Ghat built by the Scindhias of Gwalior
- Kota Ghat built by Raja of Kota
- Karni Ghat
- Shiva Ghat
- Gangaur Ghat where the festival of Gangaur takes place
- Gobind Ghat associated with Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji
- Janana Ghat meant for ladies only
- Bhadavar Ghat or Nagar Palika Ghat
- Kapalmochan Ghat
Walk around the lake
As you walk around the ghats of the lake, you would see many big and small temples, mostly dedicated to Shiva. You would also see many ancient Murtis lying around. I was told that people from villages leave them here when they are broken or Khandit. Ideally, they want to leave them in the holy water of the lake, but there is only so much that the lake can take.
Here and there you would see some graffiti and street art, though not much like ghats of Varanasi. There are boards announcing names of all the ghats with a brief introduction.
You would see Red Bahis being updated by the Pandits, that maintain the records of the visitors to the city.
This place can easily be the white city of Rajasthan. Most ghats here are white, a color that I associate with Brahma.
Till a few decades ago, the lake used to be full of crocodiles and fishes. No boating has ever been allowed in the lake. However, when they came to immerse the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi, they decided to remove the crocodiles. The last pair of crocodiles that lived in the lake can be seen in a small temple close to Bhadavar Ghat.
3 Ancient Lakes
Most people believe the main lake to be the only lake in the city. However, there are three ancient lakes that get a mention in scriptures like Padma Puran. So, this time, I set out to search the other two lakes. Different accounts mention them as Brahma, Vishnu & Rudra Lakes or Jyeshtha, Madhyam and Kanishth meaning elder, middle and younger lakes.
Brahma Pushkar is the main lake that we visited above.
It is a beautiful lake little on the outskirts of the city. If you drive from Jaipur, you will meet this lake before entering the city. Popularly it is known as Budha Pushkar or the old one.
The lake has lovely high ghats built in stone. You see the hills on the other side reflecting in the peaceful waters of the lake. Bathing ponds are built next to ghats. I was visiting just after the Ganesh Chaturthi and the lakeside was full of big and small idols of Ganesha. There are signs of ritual worships all around. Cows were going up and down as if on an evening walk.
There are small temples around the lake. Behind the ghats is a small garden and next to it is a small stepwell called Sri 108 Sri Rudra Gaumukh Kund or simply Rudra Kund. It has a small Shiva temple on one side. 108 Shivalingas surround the Kund. They are on a single panel and a small single Nandi stands facing them.
The place was deserted with only cows and dogs roaming around. Probably I was there at the wrong time. The lake is beautiful, I only wish it was a bit cleaner.
Vishnu or Madhyam Pushkar
The main lake is well known. Budha Pushkar makes its presence felt as you enter the city. In fact, everyone in the city knows about it. However, this is hidden from the main paths in the city. It took us some time to figure out where it is. When we reached there, there were signs pointing to it.
Late evening, in fading light, I could see a lovely stepwell with a circular well in the middle. Small temples exist around it. A board there says this is the confluence of Chandra and Saraswati River. It used to be a big lake once but is only a stepwell now. Thursdays are important pilgrimage days for this Tirth.
Both this and Rudra Kund follow the typical stepwell architecture like Chand Baori at Abhaneri.
Panch Pandav Tirth
Closer to the foothills, there is a small Nageshwar Mahadev temple with 5 different ponds. Each pond is associated with one of the Pandava brothers and named Nag Kund, Chandra Kund, Surya Kund, Padma Kund & Ganga Kund. I was told that the place is popular for the removal of Kal Sarp Dosh. This place is a little away from the city and you would need a local guide
Must-See Temples at Pushkar
Like any pilgrimage place, this place is full of temples & you can never count how many of them are there. So, let me take you through some of them:
Brahma Temple is the most popular temple associated with the myth of the creation of Pushkar lake itself. The temple is believed to be built by Rishi Vishwamitra. Adi Shankaracharya also built the temple during his travels. It came under attack during the time of Aurangzeb and was rebuilt by Maharaja of Ratlam.
Legend of Brahma Temple
As per Padma Puran, Brahma was trying to kill the Asura Vajranabh with his lotus stem. In the process, the lotus fell into three places, and this led to the formation of three lakes of this town.
Brahma then decided to do the Yagna at the biggest of these lakes. He created 4 hills in four directions around this lake to protect it from the Asuras. You can see these hills when you visit any of the 3 Devi temples that are located on top of the three hills.
To do the Yagna, he needed his wife Savitri, who got delayed. In a hurry, Brahma married Gayatri and performed the Yagna with her. This annoyed Savitri and she cursed Brahma that he would be worshipped nowhere else except in Pushkar. She went on to live on the hill nearby overlooking the place. Gayatri stayed with Brahma in his temple.
Brahma temple is located on a high plinth. Steps lead to the main entrance of the temple built in a typical Rajasthani architecture with Chhatris. It is a rather small temple compared to the name it has. There is a small mandapa with pillars painted in bright blue and a Garbhagriha with its Shikhara painted in bright orange. A marble arch kind of frames the temple.
Four faced Brahma
There is a four-faced Murti of Brahma along with one of Gayatri Devi on his left. Savitri is on a hill to his right. He holds Akshmala or rosary, Kamadala or pot, Vedas & Kusha grass in his four hands and is seated on his vehicle Hamsa or Swan. A small temple dedicated to Amba is behind the Brahma temple in the same complex. There are a couple of small Shiva temples located a level below this temple.
Traditionally, when you visit the place, you take a dip in the holy lake, visit Brahma temple and then visit other temples.
Poornima or full moon night and Amavasya or new moon night are special for this temple. Among these Kartik Purnima that falls 15 days after Diwali is the most auspicious.
Atpateshwar Temple is the oldest Shiva temple in Pushkar. The temple is below the ground level. You have to go down a flight of stairs, walk through a tunnel-like narrow pathway to reach the small chamber that has the ancient Shivalinga. It is believed that the stone changes color many times a day. I could not observe this but it must be an interesting phenomenon as there is no sunlight that reached this Shivalinga.
The story goes that this is where Shiva attended the Yagna conducted by Brahma.
There are old paintings on the walls of this temple that depict the 12 Jyotirlingas in rust-red color. The paintings are fading but they still look beautiful. The Shivalinga has a snake surrounding it, probably the Shiva here is present as Nageshwar or Pashupatinath. Along with Shivalinga, there are ancient images that suggest that there potentially was a bigger temple here.
There is a new temple right next to the old temple, the Nandi on the road here looks quite old. There is a strange play of old and new in these two temples.
Varaha Temple near Varaha Ghat is an ancient temple. There is a large image of Dharamraj on the temple platform. In the sanctum, there is a beautiful Murti of Varaha Avatar of Vishnu. The temple looks like a Haveli.
However, it is when you go behind the temple for a Pradakshina that you see the old stone structure of the temple, bereft of all the Murtis that would have adorned the niches. I sat behind the temple and wondered where these Murtis would have traveled if they are still lying in some museum or some private collector’s collection somewhere or they have merged back with the earth.
Rangnathji Temple (Old)
Rangnathji Temple is built in a south Indian Dravidian style with a tall Gopuram. The temple complex is large and probably as big as it always was. The priests follow the south Indian style of Pooja. No one is allowed inside the temple when Pooja is going on.
The 11th CE temple belongs to the Ramanujacharya sect of Vaishnavas. The main temple is dedicated to Vishnu as Rangnath Ji. There are subsidiary temples dedicated to Lakshmi and Kodamba. You can see the murals all around the temple.
A curious thing in this temple is a tall tower outside the temple Prakara. This is used to keep the filled copies of Ram Nam Lekhan Japa.
The temple has a small museum that displays all the festival carts of the temple. It also has an image gallery of all the important places to see in this holy town. No photography is allowed though.
Rangnathji Temple (New)
Not too far from the old Rangnathji temple is the new one. I am not sure of this story, but this is what I heard. A Sethani or a wealthy woman was not allowed inside the old Rangnathji temple, so decided to build a new temple of her own.
Vishwakarma Temple dedicated to divine architect Vishwakarma.
Devnarayan and Ramdev Temples that are worshipped by Gujar Samaj.
Shani temple – a replica of what you see in Shani Shignapur in Maharashtra.
Giridhar Gopal Mandir – This is a lovely temple with beautiful wall murals that used to Parshuramacharya Ashram once upon a time.
108 Mahadev Mandir at the ghat by the same name.
A tall 5 story Hanuman Mandir near a crossing.
Devi Temples in Pushkar
There are three main Devi temples in the town. All of them located on the three hills surrounding the lake and city. Let us visit them one by one.
Savitri Mata Temple
This is the most popular of Devi Temples of the town as it is inherent to the story of the creation of the city. Savitri Temple sits on the top of the triangular hill. There are two ways to reach it, by taking 400 odd well-maintained stairs that would take you about an hour or so, or ropeway that would take you on top in 5-6 mins. If you feel adventurous enough, you can trek to the top.
Do read – Devi Temples of Haridwar
Temple itself is small, with a marble Murti of Savitri Devi and her daughter Saraswati. A small shop sells the items that are generally offered to the goddess. I spent some quiet moments at the ancient temple.
The view of the town from this temple is breathtaking. The evening when I was there, a rainbow emerged straight out of the lake. You see the formation of the city guarded by the hills. To get that view in one panorama is probably the most memorable visual of Pushkar, its landscape and its story.
Ekadashi Mata or Paap Mochini Mata Temple
This small temple is located on another hill. The only way to reach this temple is by trekking the steep slopes of the hill. I did not visit it but I was told that there are people who visit it regularly.
Manibandh or Manivedic Devi Temple
This is the Shakti Peeth located in this place. The wrists of Devi Sati are believed to have fallen here when Shiva was doing Tandav holding her body. The temple is also located on a high hill that is quite steep. Thankfully, a smaller temple has been built at the base of the hill where you can pray to the goddess.
Do read – Kali Temples in Kolkata
It is a small temple in red, with many manifestations of the Goddess in the sanctum. Next to it is a temple dedicated to Bhairav, that is usually found in Shakti Peeth temples. Popularly this is also known as Chamunda temple.
Gayatri Mata Temple – Located in the main town. It is actually not an ancient temple as the main Gayatri Murti is in the Brahma temple itself. This is a temple by Gayatri Parivar, a little temple in yellow. A good place to pick up literature on Gayatri.
Chheenkmata Temple – This is a small temple with Vigrahas of Maha Lakshmi, Mahakali & Maha Saraswati and a Pindi or stone depiction of Cheenkmata. I was told that newly married couples visit it after their wedding.
Hinglaj Mata Temple – on the ghats of the lake
Any ancient pilgrimage place in India is also home to ashrams of many Rishis or sages. This place has the Ashrams of Agastya Muni, Vishvamitra and Jamadagni Rishi. You need to trek to reach most of these ashrams.
Kanbay Ksheersagar Temple – Surajkund
I discovered this temple by luck. I was staying at a resort in a place called Surajkund. When I asked my guides to find the Kund after which the village is named, they pointed me to the oldest known Murti of Sheshashayee Vishnu lying in Ksheersagar. Sure, he said there is a small Kund or stepwell close to the temple.
Do read – Surajkund in Haryana
I visited it driving through the Bajra and sunflower flowers. A small home-like temple had a temple of Radha Krishna, also giving temple the name of Gopi Krishna.
The highlight of the temple is an ancient Murti of Vishnu in sleeping pose in black stone. About 8-10 feet in length, the temple claims to be the oldest known Murti, making it the oldest temple in the world. It is believed that it is here Brahma was born from a lotus emerging from the navel of Vishnu. It is here that Madhu & Kaitabh asuras were killed by the Vishnu.
Takes places from Kartik Shukla Ekadashi to Kurtil Purnima as per the Indian calendar. This means it happens 11 days after the festival of Diwali and goes on for 5 days. As per Puranas, on the 11th day of the Kartik month, Vishnu wakes up from his sleep after 4 months. Now is the time to do all auspicious things and celebrate. Most important pilgrimage places across the country celebrate this, especially with a dip in holy waters.
Kartik Purnima is celebrated with different names like Tripurari Purnima in Goa or Dev Deepawali in Varanasi.
In the town, it is best known for the Camel Fair. Long ago, people used to visit the place for the holy dip in the lake on Kartik Purnima. They started meeting people from lands far and wide and saw a business opportunity. Thus began the trading of cattle, which is primarily camel in the desert. In recent times, it has almost become a global identity of the place.
The place comes alive with millions of people visiting the Pushkar Camel Fair. All hotels are full, the Mela grounds are full of camps, camels are decorated. Music is in the air and colors of Rajasthan vibrant as ever are there to enthrall the tourists.
There are various Parikramas or circumambulation paths that go around this holy region. Padma Puran mentions 4 different Parikrama routes that go around Pushkar.
A 7.5 Kos or roughly 21 KM Yatra takes place during the time of the fair that is completed in three days. The details can be taken from Old Rangnathji Mandir.
A small Parikrama goes around the ghats, which is what most tourists do. It is roughly 2 KM and takes 1-2 hours time. Make sure you do it in a clockwise manner with the lake always on your right.
What to Eat?
You get all the typical Rajasthani food here. However, there are two things you must try in the town.
Kadi Pakodi for breakfast at the popular Chat Bhandar of the town. Pakodi is served straight out of the pan and spicy Kadi is put on top of it.
Did you know this town is a 100% Vegetarian City?
Malpua is the favorite dessert of this temple town of Rajasthan. You see the piping hot Malpua’s in the pans as you walk through the lanes circling the ghats of the lake. Eat and bless me for recommending.
Lanes around Brahma Temple and the lake are full of street markets. Here are some of the souvenirs you can pick up from the town:
- Kuber Murti in Ashtdhatu
- Gulkand – a dish made of Rose
- Swords to display on your walls
- Handcrafted bags or jewelry
- Lac Bangles
- Camel products
It is an ancient pilgrimage site and a popular place with international travelers has all kinds of accommodation for tourists. Right from Dharamshalas to backpacker hotels to midrange hotels to luxury resorts on the outskirts of the holy town – you have the whole platter to choose your budget.
I explored the holy town in partnership with The Westin Pushkar Resort and Spa, and their property is a delight in the middle of nature. A review coming soon.
You should keep at least two days to explore the holy place and its surroundings.