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Pushkar Lake is one of the most sacred lakes in India. Located in the Rajasthan state of western India, Pushkar Lake has been declared a heritage monument by the Indian government and is the site of an annual holy pilgrimage dating back many hundreds of years. Also called Pushkar Sarovar, the origins of the partially-artificial lake are buried within a mythological and religious history. The lake can be dated back to 400 BC, based on evidence supplied in images of the lake on ancient coins. Legend holds that the Creator-God Brahma formed the lake through the act of killing the demon Vajranabha with his lotus-flower weapon. In the process, lotus petals fell to earth in three places, creating springs that began the Pushkar lakes of Jyeshta Pushkar (the main Pushkar Lake, Madya Pushkar and Kanishta Pushkar). Now the lesser Pushkar lakes appear to hold significance to only the most devout, and their location is not shown on most maps.
Pushkar Lake is usually identified as artificial, although it most certainly existed as a spring before a small dam was constructed in the 12th century. The dam is said to have been built across the headwaters of the Luni River, but it appears that it was the tributary Sarsuti which formed the lake. An oasis in the midst of sand dunes and near-desert conditions, Pushkar Lake gains most of its water during the short monsoon season and from ground water percolating through the dunes from upland sources in the surrounding Aravalli range of hills into the Pushkar Valley. Deforestation of the hills has resulted in siltation of the lakebed, much reducing its depth and water-holding capacity. After the 54-acre lake dried up almost completely in the early part of the 21st century, local officials dredged the lake and undertook geologic exploration to find and reopen the ancient water channels to bring in more ground water. After a couple of very dry years, the monsoons have recharged the ground water and the lake is again full, to the relief of the hundreds of thousands of devout worshipers who make the pilgrimage to the lake each year to bathe in its sacred waters.
The town of Pushkar has grown up on the banks of the lake and is nearly as old as the lake itself. Pushkar is a village based on religious pilgrimage and holds nearly 500 temples, including the only Indian temple devoted to the god, Brahma. The lake is surrounded by 52 bathing ghats (a series of steps leading to the lake for ritual bathing), particularly around Kartik Poornima during October and November. The ritual bathing is believed to cleanse sins and cure skin diseases. A series of temples form the entrances to the ghats, where religious protocol is strictly enforced. Some of the restrictions require no shoes to be worn in the temples, no non-vegetarian foods be consumed, and no photographs be taken of the bather-worshipers. Because the famous Pushkar Fair is held in conjunction with Kartik Poornima, Pushkar hosts hordes of visitors from all over the world who come to enjoy the colorful festival dress, the traditional shops, entertainment and food. A huge attraction is the simultaneous Camel Fair, the largest in Asia. Tens of thousands of visitors arrive in Pushkar in any given month, but during the weeks of the Pushkar Fair, visitors often number in the millions.
Ancient Pushkar is filled with historic temples and palaces which are usually open to visitors and gain much of their income from admission price and donations for blessings. Most of the temples are not the originals; most were destroyed during the occupation by Islamic rulers who objected to the likeness of Varaha, the boar incarnation of the god Vishnu. Some of the old temples were said to be over 2000 years old. Nearly all of the temples were rebuilt, starting in the 14th century and rededicated to their original gods after the invaders had gone. Three of the must-visit temples include Jagat Pita Shri Brahma Temple which contains a life-size idol of Lord Brahma; Savitri Temple, dedicated to Savitri, wife of Lord Brahma and housing a statue of the Goddess Savitri; and Varah Temple, dedicated to the boar-god incarnation of Vishnu and the most visited temple in Pushkar.
Visitors to Pushkar Lake can enjoy other fairs that occur throughout the year, such as the Nagaur Fair and the Tejaji Fair. Pushkar is always prepared for visitors and has many types of lodgings that westerners find comfortable. Some of the hotels overlook Pushkar Lake and offer excellent meals. Some guest house arrangements are possible. Others are less accommodating to western tastes and expectations, so reservations should be made through a reputable tourism agent who has experience with the area and its services. Lodgings are also available in the larger town of Ajmer, located less than ten miles away. Pushkar is also the perfect place to arrange for a camel safari into the surrounding dunes. Once visitors experience the vastness and lack of water in the nearby desert, they come to understand why local natives long considered small oasis springs sacred.
Pushkar Lake has suffered in recent history from degradation from several sources. One has been the increased use of irrigation from the water sources that have allowed less water to reach the lake. Another is the failure of inadequate sewer piping for the numerous temple visitors which can be overwhelmed during heavy monsoon rains. Because the lake is important both as a religious Tirtha-Raj (water-body site of religious pilgrimage) and as a source of tourism dollars which support city services, local governments take clean-up efforts seriously. Beginning with the removal of excess silt from the lakebed, continuous efforts are underway to make Pushkar Lake cleaner than it has been in centuries. This assures that not only Indian worshipers will continue to make the pilgrimage to Pushkar Lake, but that foreign visitors will make their own pilgrimage of exploration of Indian culture and religion here. Come and visit ancient Pushkar Lake and immerse yourself in traditional Indian culture, and in Pushkar Lake's sacred waters.
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