War and pious deeds have often come together at this ancient North Indian site.
KURUKSHETRA, about one hundred miles north of New Delhi, is best known as the place where the great battle of the Mahabharata was fought and Lord Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita. But long before that, Kurukshetra had played a dominant role in the history and culture of ancient India. For thousands of years it was a hub around which the Vedic civilization spun in its full glory. Kurukshetra’s religious importance is described in many scriptures, including the Bhagavad-gita, the Mahabharata, and various Upanishads and Puranas. The scriptures refer to it as a place of meditation and an abode of demigods. The atmosphere of Kurukshetra is still charged with the chanting of Vedic hymns, especially the Bhagavad-gita.
The first verse of the Gita refers to Kurukshetra as dharma-ksetra, or “the field of dharma,” indicating that it was already known as a holy place. Today one can find many ancient temples and sacred lakes at Kurukshetra, an area of about one hundred square miles between the sacred rivers Sarasvati and Drsadvati in Haryana state.
The Great King Kuru
Kurukshetra was formerly known as Brahmaksetra, Brghuksetra, Aryavarta, and Samanta Pancaka. It became known as Kurukshetra because of the work of King Kuru.
The Mahabharata tells of how King Kuru, a prominent ancestor of the Pandavas, made the land a great center of spiritual culture. King Kuru went there on a golden chariot and used the chariot’s gold to make a plow. He then borrowed Lord Siva’s bull and Yamaraja’s buffalo and started plowing. When Indra arrived and asked Kuru what he was doing, Kuru replied that he was preparing the land for growing the eight religious virtues: truth, yoga, kindness, purity, charity, forgiveness, austerity, and celibacy.
Indra asked the king to request a boon. Kuru asked that the land ever remain a holy place named after himself, and that anyone dying there go to heaven regardless of his sins or virtues. Indra laughed at the requests.
Undaunted, Kuru performed great penance and continued to plow. Gradually, Indra was won over, but other demigods expressed doubts. They said that death without sacrifice did not merit a place in heaven. Finally, Kuru and Indra arrived at a compromise: Indra would admit into heaven anyone who died there while fighting or performing penance. So Kurukshetra became both a battlefield and a land of piety.
The Mahabharata Battle
When the Pandavas claimed their legitimate share of their paternal kingdom from their uncle Dhrtarastra and his sons, the Kauravas, they were given the Khandava Forest in the south of the Kuru kingdom. There they built a magnificent city called Indraprastha, located where Delhi is today. The Kauravas kept Hastinapura, situated to the northeast of Delhi, as their capital.
Later, the Pandavas were exiled for thirteen years after Yudhisthira’s defeat in a game of dice. After the exile, the Pandavas demanded the return of their kingdom. On behalf of the Pandavas, Lord Krsna went to Duryodhana, the eldest Kaurava, and begged for five villages for the five Pandavas. But proud Duryodhana refused to give any land. “I won’t even give them enough land to fit on the tip of a pin,” he said.
The war was therefore unavoidable, and the Kauravas and Pandavas decided to fight at Kurukshetra, because it was large, uninhabited, and abundant with water and fuel-wood.
The Pandavas won the Battle of Kurukshetra, which lasted only eighteen days.
The Birth of the Gita
The Battle of Kurukshetra began on the day known as Moksada Ekadasi. (Ekadasi is the eleventh day of either the waxing or waning moon, and moksada means “giver of liberation.”) On that day, Krsna enlightened Arjuna with the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita, liberating him. Now every year on that day considered the birthday of Bhagavad-gita festivals in honor of the Gita are held at Kurukshetra and many other places in India. The grand festival in Jyotisar, the spot where the Gita was spoken, is organized as a state function, with chief ministers and governors presiding. Coincidentally, this is also the time of ISKCON’s annual Prabhupada Book Marathon, when devotees distribute hundreds and thousands of copies of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is in India and around the world.
Rathayatra’s Kurukshetra Roots
Once, when Krsna was preparing to go to Kurukshetra at the time of a solar eclipse, He invited the gopis (cowherd girls) and other residents of Vrndavana to meet Him at Kurukshetra. When He had left Vrndavana in His youth, He had promised to return very soon. But He had been away for a long time (about a hundred years), so out of intense spiritual love, the residents of Vrndavana had always felt ecstatic longing to see Him again.
The residents of Dvaraka (a majestic city) arrived at Kurukshetra on chariots; the residents of Vrndavana (a simple cowherd village), on ox carts. Because the families of Vrndavana and Dvaraka were related, a joyful reunion took place.
Of all the residents of Vrndavana, the leading gopi, Srimati Radharani, had felt the pangs of separation from Krsna more than anyone else. She and the other gopis were determined to bring Krsna back to Vrndavana. The loving exchange between Krsna and the gopis at Kurukshetra is the esoteric meaning behind the festival known as Rathayatra (“Festival of the Chariots”). So whenever Hare Krsna devotees put on Rathayatras in cities around the world, they are proclaiming the glories of Kurukshetra.
Srila Prabhupada at Kurukshetra
Sumati Morarji, who in 1965 gave Çréla Prabhupäda free passage to America on her steamship Jaladuta, remembered meeting Çréla Prabhupäda at Kurukshetra for the first time during the 1950s. Çréla Prabhupäda was sitting under a tree, chanting on beads. Sensing that he was a distinguished sädhu, Sumati Morarji approached him. She was impressed with his humility and devotion, and she mentioned this when Çréla Prabhupäda went to see her in Bombay to ask her help in getting to America.
In October 1970, Çréla Prabhupäda was traveling to Amritsar by train with a group of disciples. As the train arrived in Kurukshetra station, he said, “Just here, Lord Kåñëa spoke Bhagavad-gétä five thousand years ago. People say that it does not exist, that it’s a mythological place, a symbol of the field of the body and the senses. They say it is an allegorical place. But here we are at the Kurukshetra station.”
As he spoke, the sun was setting, and a bright orange sky shone over the flat land. “How can they say Kurukshetra is not a real place?” he continued. “Here it is before us, and it has been a historical place for a long, long time.”
On December 1, 1975, Çréla Prabhupäda went to Kurukshetra with several disciples. Before returning to Delhi, he decided to visit a less developed area of Kurukshetra called Jyotisar, the actual place where Lord Kåñëa had spoken the Bhagavad-gétä. Çréla Prabhupäda walked about and thoroughly inspected the area. After ten minutes he asked the devotees what they thought of it. Everyone expressed enthusiasm about the place, which they sensed as spiritually vibrant. A deep, timeless wisdom and serenity seemed to permeate the atmosphere. Çréla Prabhupäda told the devotees that ISKCON should build a temple of Kåñëa and Arjuna there.
In 1996, the Çréla Prabhupäda Centennial year, devotees made a special effort to obtain aparcel of land in Jyotisar. By the grace of Kåñëa and Arjuna they succeeded in acquiring six acres, just a hundred yards away from the spot where the Bhagavad-gétä was spoken. In April 1998, the governor of Haryana presided over the ceremony dedicating the ground for the temple. At present, ISKCON runs a small temple in Thaneswar, a couple of miles from Brahma Sarovar. The devotees are planning, designing, and raising funds for the complex that Çréla Prabhupäda wanted in Jyotisar.
Also during the Çréla Prabhupäda Centennial year, a prominent square in the town of Kurukshetra was named after Çréla Prabhupäda: Bhaktivedanta Swami Chouk [Square].
The Vämana Puräëa says that nine sacred rivers and seven sacred forests exist in the region.
The beds of all the rivers except the Sarasvaté are difficult to find at Kurukshetra. But the Sarasvaté flows during the rainy season, and its bed is visible at other times.
At Jyotisar, Lord Kåñëa spoke the Gétä, the spot marked by a marble chariot under a banyan tree. The tree is said to be more than five thousand years old, making it the oldest witness to Lord Kåñëa’s immortal conversation with Arjuna. Jyotisar is on the bank of the Sarasvaté, about five miles from the town of Kurukshetra.
Lord Brahmä is said to have created the earth here. During solar eclipses hundreds of thousands of pilgrims come to take a holy dip in Brahma Sarovar, observing an ancient tradition. The beautiful Brahma Sarovar is larger than the other lakes in the area and is well maintained by the Kurukshetra Development Board. It has become the center of interest for pilgrims coming to Kurukshetra.
On the northern banks of Brahma Sarovar sits a Rädhä-Kåñëa temple of the Gaudiya Math, the institution founded by Çréla Bhaktisiddhänta Sarasvaté Öhäkura, the spiritual master of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupäda. The Gaudiya Math temple was built to commemorate the reunion between Rädhä and Kåñëa that took place at Kurukshetra five thousand years ago.
Kurukshetra is known as Samanta Païcaka (“five lakes”) because here Lord Paraçuräma, an incarnation of Lord Kåñëa, made five lakes from the blood of kñatriyas he killed. (Lord Paraçuräma purged the earth of wicked kings and warriors twenty-one times.) Çréla Prabhupäda said that the blood later turned into water.
One of the lakes is called Sannihit (“assembly”). On the new-moon day all the holy places personified are said to assemble in the lake. At the time of a solar eclipse, pilgrims are first led to Sannihit Lake, known as an abode of Lord Viñëu.
Ban Ganga, or Bhishma Kund, is a holy place about three miles from Kurukshetra. During the Battle of Kurukshetra, Bhéñmadeva, the granduncle of the Päëòavas, lay here on his deathbed, made of arrows piercing his body. When he asked Arjuna to quench his thirst, Arjuna knew that the great Bhéñma did not thirst for water of this world. So Arjuna pierced the earth with an arrow, and Ganges water gushed out like a fountain. Bhéñma drank the holy water and thanked Arjuna for his great deed. Bhéñma then instructed Yudhiñöhira on the path of dharma.
Pilgrims to Ban Ganga can worship a Deity of Lord Kåñëa in His universal form and a 26-foothigh deity of Hanumän.
Ban Ganga (Dayalpur)
This is a small village a couple of miles from Brahma Sarovar. Here Arjuna also brought forth the Ganges by shooting an arrow into the ground, this time to provide drinking water for his chariot horses during his single combat with Jayadratha.
Karnavadha is a long trench where the wheels of Karëa’s chariot were stuck before Arjuna killed him.
Parasar and Dvaipain
Paräçara Muni, the father of Çréla Vyäsadeva, had his äçrama here, about twenty-five miles south of the town of Thaneswar. Duryodhana hid in the lake here after running away from battle at the end of the Mahäbhärata war. He came out of the water when the Päëòavas challenged him to fight.
Pehowa, seventeen miles west of Thaneswar, was formerly known as Prithudak, “the pool of Påthu.” King Påthu, an incarnation of Lord Kåñëa’s ruling potency, performed last rites for his father here. Hundreds of pilgrims visit Pehowa every day to offer oblations to their ancestors.
At Chakravyuha, eight kilometers south of Thaneswar, the general Droëäcärya organized his army in the shape of a discus (cakra). It is also where Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna and Subhadrä, was killed.
At Dadhichi Tirtha, on the bank of the Sarasvaté, the sage Dadhéci had his äçrama long ago. The Çrémad-Bhägavatam relates that Indra once asked Dadhéci to give his bones to be made into a weapon for fighting the demons. Dadhéci complied with the request and gave up his life.
Kurukshetra, located in the state of Haryana, is a four-hour train ride from Delhi. There are also direct trains from Mumbai, Agra, Baroda, Chandigarh, and Simla. Source: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=92316