By Swami Harshananda
Yamunā literally means ‘that which rests in the Gaṅgā river after merging’.
Yamunā is one of the most sacred rivers of India, next only to Gaṅgā. It has been mentioned even in the Rgveda along with Gaṅgā. The king Sudāsa, with the help of the Tṛtsus, conquered the ten kings on the bank of the river Yamunā. Kings Bharata, Ambarīṣa and Śantanu had performed several sacrifices on its banks. The great sage Agastya had performed severe austerities on its bank. In the epics and the purāṇas it has been described as closely connected with the boyhood days of Lord Kṛṣṇa, like the Rāsalīlā. When Vasudeva carried baby Kṛṣṇa, Yamunā is said to have split into two giving way, to facilitate his going. The river takes its birth in Yamunotrī in the Kalinda mountain, a part of the Himālayan range. After coursing through 1376 kilometres (854 miles) it joins the Gaṅgā and the invisible Sarasvatī at the Triveṇī-saṅgam of Prayāga.
The Māghamelā bathing festival that is held here every year and the Kumbhamelā held once in 12 years during January-February, attracts millions of devotees. The river has several other names such as Suryatanayā and Śamanasvasā. The quantity of water and the flow of the river are more or less constant through out the year. Several tributaries, melting of Himālayan icebergs in summer and greater in-flow during the rainy season seem to be the reason behind it. Since the river often breaks into smaller streams which join it later, several small islands are formed in it.
Delhi, the old part of the capital city, is situated on its banks. Vrndāban and Mathurā, the famous places of pilgrimage because of their association with Krṣṇa are also on its banks. Rājāpur, the birthplace of Tulasidās is also situated on its bank.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore