By Swami Harshananda
Prayāga literally means ‘place of excellent sacrifice’.
Visiting places of pilgrimage, especially the important ones, at least once in a life-time, has been prescribed as a sacred duty for every people by the dharmaśāstras and the purāṇas. Prayāga is one of the very few pilgrim centers, a visit to which has been considered extremely auspicious, is Prayāga. It has been designated as ‘Tīrtharāja’ also. Since the three rivers Gaṅgā, Yamunā and Sarasvatī merge here, the place is also called ‘Triveṇī’. The actual confluence is known as Triveṇī saṅgama which is 2.4 kms. from the city.
One of the best places prescribed for committing religious suicide by the persons who have realized the Self or who are very old or who are suffering from incurable diseases causing much suffering and so on is Prayāga. It is done by jumping into the river from the Akṣayavāta, the famous and age-old Banyan tree on its bank.
Origin of Prayāga
Brahmā is said to have performed a yāga or sacrifice here, which was the best of all the sacrifices. Hence it is named as Prayāga. Sometimes it is described as the madhyavedi, the middle altar, out of the five used by Brahmā, the other four being Kurukṣetra in Haryana, Gayā in Bihar, Virajā somewhere in South India and Puṣkara in Rajasthan.
References of Prayāga
Some of the purāṇas like the Matsyapurāṇas declare that Prayāga is not destroyed even in pralaya or dissolution of the world. The hoary antiquity of Prayāga seems to be confirmed by a verse in the Ṛgveda itself the khila part, though the Rāmāyana refers to a forest at the place of the confluence of the two rivers.
Rituals done in Prayāga
Religious rites strongly recommended to be performed here are:
- Bath at the Triveṇī-saṅgama
- Tonsure of the head
- Performance of śrāddha to ancestors and dāna
Veṇīpradāna is another rite which is popular among the pilgrims even today.
Visit to Prayāga
A bath in the Triveṇī, in the month of Māgha generally in January, is considered as extremely auspicious when many pilgrims assemble on the banks of the rivers and camp there, sometimes for three to four weeks. It is again during this month, once in twelve years, that the famous Kumbha-melā festival is held here. It is the biggest religious festival in the world, drawing more than thirty million people, including thousands of sādhus who all manage a dip in the rivers within the time span of twenty four hours.
Other Tourist Attractions around Prayāga
Other holy places here that are visited by the pilgrims are:
- Veṇīmādhava temple
- Nāgamandira or Vāsukimandira
- Prayāga is the modern Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh.
- Tīrtharāja means ‘the king of pilgrimage centres’.
- These are the mythical river supposed to join the other two from underground.
- It is approximately 1.5 miles.
- Brahmā is the four-faced creator of the world.
- It means pra or prakrsṭa.
- Matsyapurāṇas 3.4-10
- Ṛgveda 10.75
- Rāmāyana 2. 54.6
- It is sometimes recommended even for women as prāyaścitta or expiation.
- Dāna means giving gifts.
- Veṇīpradāna means offering two to four inches of their braid of hair into the confluence, by married women.
- Sādhus means religious mendicants and leaders.
- Ayodhyākānda 56
- It is approximately 60 miles.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore