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Rishikesh (India)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Rishikesh, one of the holiest of Hinduism’s religious sites, is located in the northern Indian state of Uttaranchal, along the Ganges River as it flows through the Himalayan Mountains. Among the many stories about the origin of Rishikish is one centered on Lord Shiva, one of the three most important deities in Hinduism. As told in the Shrimad Bhaagvad, during the timeless past, the mythic inhabitants of the universe were attempting to search the ocean of consciousness in the hopes of causing the emergence of the nectar of immortality, amrit. However, before the amrita would come forth they encountered a wave of deadly venom. None wanted to drink the venom, but this was part of the necessary process to obtain amrita. At this point Shiva stepped forward and drank the venom. It stuck in his throat, turning it blue. The spot where Shiva stood while consuming the venom is located about eight miles from Rishikesh, where the Nilkanth Mahadeo temple is now found.

Today, Rishikesh is where a number of old temples are located. It is a place for the gathering of a number of SADHUS, many of whom spend most of their lives alone in the nearby forests. It is also the home of several prominent centers founded by twentieth-century gurus, and the beginning point for a pilgrimage for other holy sites even farther up in the mountains.

Built in the twelfth century, the Bharat Mandir is Rishikesh’s oldest temple. It is named after Bharat, the brother of Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, to whom the temple is dedicated. The original temple was destroyed by Tamerlane (1336–1405), the Turkish conqueror who invaded the region in 1398. It was later rebuilt. Over the centuries, a number of famous sages lingered here to venerate Vishnu, some claiming to have been granted a vision of him.

Swami Sivananda (1887–1963) created Shiva Nanda Ashram, which is home to one of the most famous yoga schools in the world and the headquarters of the Divine Life Society. Sivananda, who had wanted to be a physician in his younger years, recreated the image of Hundu monks (sannyasins) by advocating their being of service to the community. The original clinic founded by Sivananda grew into one of India’s largest charitable hospitals.

Equal in fame to Sivananda is Maharishi Mehesh Yogi, who brought transcendental meditation to the west. Ved Niketan has been his main Indian center, though it is not as important as it was in the 1960s, when, for example, the British musical group the Beatles came to Rishikesh to meet their guru. The ashram also sponsors a large Ayurveda medical center. These and the other active ashrams participate in the annual celebration of international yoga week, which occurs the first week of February.

When the sadhus come to town, one of their destinations is the Triveni Ghat, a place along the river where pilgrims gather to gain the blessings available from bathing in the river. Each evening a ceremony called the Maha Aarti is performed. It is marked by the floating of flames on the river.

The entire region (Rishikesh is only 15 miles from the equally holy city of Hardwar) is filled with temples and sacred sites. Rishikesh, though, serves as a special starting point for pilgrims wishing to make the access point of the Char Dham, the four holy centers of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. Pilgrims to these four remote temples seek to achieve peace and harmony, and hope to rid themselves of their worldly pain and sorrows.

Across the river from Rishikesh is Tapovan, which also houses temples worthy of the pilgrims’ attentions, including one dedicated to Lakshmana, who purportedly carried out penances there.


Keemattam, Augusthy. The Hermits of Rishikesh: A Sociological Study. New Delhi: Intercultural Publications, 1997.
Khullar, Reeta, and Rupinder Khullar. Gateway to the Gods: Haridwar Rishikesh; Yamunotri Gangotri Kedarnath Badrinath. New Delhi: UBS, 2004.
Saltzman, Paul. The Beatles in Rishikesh. New York:Viking, 2000.
Venkatesananda, Swami. Sivananda: Biography of a Modern Sage. Sivanandanagar: Divine Life Society,1985.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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