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India is filled with holy places to the pious Hindu. Many of the most important are holy lakes to which pilgrimages are made to cleanse the sins of believers and bestow blessings. Pushkar Lake in Rajasthan state is one of the most holy and is termed the Tirtha-Raj or king of the pilgrimages in Hindu scriptures. However, other sacred lakes receive many devout pilgrims on specific religious dates or in search of special blessings. Most are devoted to a particular god or goddess, and the lakeshore often holds shrines to the god. Ghats also are a feature of the holy lake: a staircase from a temple down to the water for ritual bathing. The devout make long pilgrimages at considerable expense to visit these sacred lakes and practice the proscribed rituals to gain divine favor. Pushkar Lake is the most important of these (see separate lake summary), but four other lakes are considered to make up what is known as India's Five Holy Lakes, known as the Panch-Sarovar. The other holy lakes are Narayan Sarovar, Bindu Sarovar, Pampa Sarovar, and Manasarovar. Sarovar is the Indian term for lake.
Lake Manasarovar is in neighboring Tibet, currently known as the Tibet Autonomous Region, People's Republic of China. Because Manasarovar is difficult to access, the Hindu often substitute another lake in India for the pilgrimage: Nainital Sarovar, located high in the hills of the Indian state of Uttarakhand. This lake figures prominently in Indian ancient mythology as one of the places where the charred body of Sati fell while being carried aloft by Lord Shiva. Supposedly Sati's eye (or nain) fell here, and Nainital Sarovar is sometimes called the eye-lake for that reason. The goddess Shakti is worshiped at the Naina Devi temple on the north shore of the lake.
Another part of the myths of Nainital Sarovar says that three sages came here and found no water. They dug a hole and carried water from Manasarovar to fill the hole. This made Nainital an acceptable substitute for a pilgrimage to far-off Manasarovar. The town of Naini Tal was established in 1841 while under British colonial rule and served mainly as a health resort for the British seeking to escape the heat of summer on the plains. By the 1930s, the British were replaced by a mostly Indian population. Now, the town's economy is based mostly on tourism to the eye-shaped lake and Naini Devi's Temple. Nainital is surrounded by picturesque peaks and holds the Pt. G.B. Pant High Altitude Zoo. Jim Corbett National Park is not far away. There are plentiful lodging choices in the city and a pleasant mountain climate perfect for hiking.
Narayan Sarovar is one of the most sacred of Indian Holy Lakes. Narayan is a name for Vishnu, the supreme being of the Vaishnavism branch of Hinduism. According to legend, the waters of the holy river Saraswat filled the lake with its holy waters on its way to the sea. Located in Gujarat state, many awe-inspiring Vaishnava temples are located here. A fair is held in the month of Kartik on the Hindu calendar (November/December). Narayan Sarovar Wildlife Sanctuary is located nearby. The sanctuary was established in 1981 but reduced in size in 1995 in favor of mining interests. The unique desert forest eco-system harbors a number of rare and endangered species and plants. Seasonal wetlands make this an unusual breeding ground for birds and home to rare flowering plants. The chinkara is the most commonly-sighted animal here, but the area is considered one of the last remaining habitats of the cheetah in India. Lodging accommodations are available for pilgrims and tourists in the immediate vicinity.
Bindu Sarovar is also located in Gujarat state. Bindu means 'lake of drops'; myth states that Lord Mahavishnu's tears fell into the lake. Temples on the banks of the lake honor various Hindu gods. A ritual known as Mathru Gaya Kshethra is performed here to appease departed mothers. This is the only place in India where this ritual is performed. Bindu Sarovar is actually three small ponds and the only place in India to perform the required ritual for a departed mother. The ritual is very specific and must be performed by the youngest son after a year has passed. For this reason the town of Sidhapur is always full of people making this respectful pilgrimage. The pilgrim hires a specific Brahmin according to his caste and takes a ritual bath in each of the three pools. There are few lodgings here, so visitors are advised to bring their own drinking water and plan to find lodgings in Ahmedabad or Mehsana.
Pampa Sarovar is considered in Hindu mythology to be the place where Pampa (daughter of Bhramha, the Creator God) showed her devotion to Shiva, the supreme god of the Shaivism denomination of Hinduism. Located in the state of Karnataka, Pampa Sarovar is covered with lotuses and very beautiful when they are in flower. A Shiva Temple and a Lakshmi Temple face the pond, while a small Ganish shrine stands nearby. The nearby village of Hampi is located within the ruins of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Hampi predates the ruins and is still an important religious center. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site called the 'Group of Monuments at Hampi'. The Virupaksha Temple is very picturesque and well worth a visit, camera in hand. The first settlements here date back to the year 1 A.D., and excavations are still ongoing to discover more temples and artifacts. Travel experts suggest planning several days in Hampi in order to see all of the ruins and temples. Several guest houses exist at Hampi, but none are more than basic. There are also guest houses on Hampi Island. Accommodations can also be found nearby in Hospet or Kamalapur. As Hampi gets many visitors, it is wise to check with an experienced tourism professional to assure you select clean and safe lodgings.
One could easily spend a year visiting the sacred places of India. especially the lakes. If you have a love of ancient history resplendent with religious myth, India will delight you.
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