Many tourists visit the Himalayan city of Rishikesh. They enjoy activities like camping by the Ganges, yoga and meditation and water adventure sports. Pilgrims also visit Rishikesh on their way to the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand. Uttarakhand is a land of myths and mythologies. Exceptional stories from our Puranas are kept alive in every stop along the routes. One such place is the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple near Rishikesh. In the holy month of Shravan, this temple sees a huge influx of devotees. Kanvar-carrying pilgrims carry water from the Ganges in pots balanced on their shoulders as offering. As per tradition, they pour the water on the Shiva Linga (Shrine).
The Neelkanth Mahadev Temple premise
Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is 21Km from Tapovan, a prominent Hindu pilgrimage shrine in Rishikesh. Perched at 1330 meters above sea level, stands this temple, enveloped between the valleys of Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot. This temple has an aura of deep spirituality around itself. At a little distance from the parking area, we were led to the main temple through an assemblage of eateries and shops. These shops sell puja items and other tidbits. The main temple has very attractive and colorful architecture. Multiple figures are sculpted all over the walls of the temple. There is a wish fulfilling “Peepal” tree in the temple complex and one natural spring. We found few devotees taking bath in the spring. The temple is divine and blissful.
The Legend of the Neelkanth
Above the entrance and on the walls of the temple, the story of Samudra-Manthan is depicted by sculptures of Gods and Demons. As per Hindu Mythology, the Devas and the Asuras had churned the ocean (Samudra-Manthan) in search of Goddess Lakshmi and amrit, the elixir of immortality. But Halaahal, the poison, emanated along with Amrit, during this event of Samudra-Manthan, risking all life on the Earth. Shiva is believed to have consumed the poison at this very place, in the month of Shravan. As he held the poison in his throat, it turned blue and hence he came to be known as Neelkanth (Neel meaning “blue”, Kanth meaning “throat”). We offered Bael-leaves, flowers and water to the Shiva-Linga in the main sanctum, and the priest put chandan/bibhuti tika on our foreheads.
Charanamrit at the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple
Here, I learnt something that I did not know earlier. Conventionally, I had always considered water (or milk), poured over by devotees and that trickling down the phallic form of Lord Shiva (Shiva-Linga) as divine as “charanamrit”. But, as soon as I readied to put a few drops of the same in my mouth, the priest retorted. Angrily he asked me to never taste water from a Shiva-Linga. Since He is Neelkanth – He is the repository of Poison himself.
It is perhaps for the same reason that the priest at Sacha Akhileshwar Mahadev Temple, in Rishikesh, had directed us to touch the water flowing down the Linga to our eyes, in mark of reverence. I did that here too and the priest calmed down.
breakfast at the Temple
It was pretty early in the morning that we went to visit the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple. Here, at a restaurant, beside the temple, we decided to have our breakfast. We had noodles, fried pakora and tea. In most other places, tea is generally prepared in volume and kept continuously boiling in pots or in flasks and served in cups. Here, in Uttarakhand, at all places – street side stalls or restaurants – the tea vendor would prepare tea, exclusively on order – be it for four cups or just one. And we would always get ourselves “Bina Elaichi, Adrak Wali, Kam Cheeni, Kadak Chay” (Strong tea, without cardamom, with ginger and less of sugar) – the phrase that we iterated at every place, every single time we ordered tea!
The Return From the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple
Along the road between the temple and the parking, few men were setting up stalls selling seeds of Rudraksh. These are traditionally used as prayer beads in Hinduism, for organic jewellery and “mala” (garland) associated with Lord Shiva. Rudraksh is not found everywhere. We bought a couple of these seeds, the seller claiming them to be authentic, although we had no way to ascertain genuineness of the same!
It was around 8:30 am and the pleasant weather of the cold November morning, clear skies and the lungful of fresh mountain air, filled our hearts with an exuberance of serenity and peace.