Haridwar, Uttar Pradesh
Haridwar is one of the seven most sacred cities in Hinduism. Unlike its six brethren, whose most important sites are temples, the most sacred place in Haridwar is the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat. This ghat is arguably the most famous and religiously important in India, and is the site of one of Hinduism’s most important festivals. The importance of the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat stems from a mythical battle that took place here as well as the presence of a footstep of Vishnu preserved in stone.
Haridwar is considered by some to be the second most sacred city in Hinduism after Varanasi. Its spiritual importance dates back to a legendary past. According to tradition, it was at Haridwar that the fabled ruler Bhagiratha prayed for redemption for the souls of sixty thousand people that were killed by divine wrath, as well as relief from a great drought. In answer to his prayer, the Ganges River appeared on Earth by grace of Vishnu.
While on Earth, Vishnu left his footprint in the river. Another story talks about a battle between the gods and demons that took place here. During the battle, a sacred pot full of divine nectar spilled a drop in the Ganges River at Haridwar. Because of the footprint and the nectar, this point is considered to be the holiest place along the entire Ganges River.
The Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat was constructed in Haridwar in honor of these events, and as a way for pilgrims to more easily reach the river. The ghat was initially built in the 1st century BC, making it not only the oldest site in Haridwar, it is one of the oldest sacred structures in India. The ghat has been expanded and restored many times, but has otherwise weathered centuries of conquests and destruction.
Once every twelve years, the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat hosts the Kumbh Mela festival. During this amazing ritual event, millions of Hindu pilgrims descend upon Haridwar in order to bathe in the river at the most sacred possible moment. Over time this event has sadly witnessed many people crushed to death in stampedes. However, on most other days the ghat is merely the site of large numbers of pilgrims praying and bathing more peacefully at the river.
The Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat is not that large considering its unbelievable importance. About the length of a football field, it rises approximately thirty steps up the riverbank. Because of the narrowness of the river here, it faces another long platform with access to the water. The two sides are connected by a long footbridge. Pilgrims enter and bathe in the river from both sides.
Over the last few centuries, the city has grown in thick around the ghat, which now boasts a number of temples and other landmarks. Arguably the most recognizeable structure here besides the steps is the clocktower on the opposite side of the river.
The Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat is located along a small spur of the Ganges River on the north side of Haridwar, approximately 120 miles north of New Delhi. The ghat is an open site. There is no cost of admission. Web: www.haridwartourism.in (official website).
While the Har-Ki-Pairi Ghat is Haridwar’s most sacred site, there are a number of major temples here as well, including the Chanda Devi Temple, the Maya Devi Temple and the Mansa Devi Temple. Other sites include the Pawan Dham Temple and the Bharat Mata Temple.