The Holy Places of Jaiva Dharma: Alakananda


BY: SUN STAFF - 3.6 2019

'View of the Ram-Gunga, between Buddell and Bilkate' 
Sita Ram, c. 1804 
British Museum Collection

A serial presentation of the holy places mentioned in the Jaiva Dharma of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur - Part 3.

In Jaiva Dharma's 'Glossary of Places', Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur mentions the holy tirtha, Alakananda:

"Alakananda - one of the four great branches of the river Ganga (the others are the Bhagirathi, Mandakini, and Bhogavati). When the Alakananda meets the Bhagirathi in northern Uttara Pradesh, the river becomes known as the Ganga. It again divides in Bengal. In Bengal, one branch of the Ganga, which has now dried up, was called the Alakananda. This Alakananda formerly flowed south through Navadvipa-mandala. The bed of this river lies directly across the Ganga from the present town of Navadvipa, where it runs east for two miles and then turns south. From this point it runs between Godrumadvipa and Madhyadvipa."

In the above painting by Sita Ram, entitled 'View of the Ram-Gunga, between Buddell and Bilkate', the view is known today not as the Ram-ganga, but rather as the Nayer, a branch of the Alakanana.

In Jaiva Dharma Chapter 1, Srila Bhaktivinoda mentions the Alakananda River:

Jiver Nitya O Naimittik Dharma - The Soul's Eternal and Temporary Natures:

"The saintly sannyasi was learned in all the scriptures. He knew well the spiritual benefit to be attained by staying in the spiritual master's home and studying under his guidance. Therefore he very happily stayed for some says in that forest grove.

After some days the paramahamsa babaji said, "O great soul, Sri Pradyumna Brahmacari Thakura kindly keeps me at his feet. Today he is rapt in the worship of Lord Nrsimha in the village of Deva-palli in the outskirts of Navadvipa-mandala. When we have finished our madhukari begging for alms, let us go and see him.

The saintly sannyasi replied, "As you order, so I shall do."

Crossing the Alakananda River, the two of them came to Deva-palli at two in the afternoon. Then, crossing the Suryatila River, they saw the Supreme Lord's personal associate Sri Pradyumna Brahmacari in the temple of Lord Nrsimha."

In Srimad Bhagavatam 5th Canto, chapter seventeen we find a very detailed description of the waters of Mother Ganga which flow down to form the sacred Alakananda River. This chapter, 'The Descent of the River Ganges', describes the origin of the Ganges River and how it flows in and around Ilavrta-varsa (the center of Jambudvipa), filling many sacred rivers including the Alakananda.

Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17.5-9:

"On top of Mount Meru, the Ganges divides into four branches, each of which gushes in a different direction [east, west, north and south]. These branches, known by the names Sita, Alakananda, Caksu and Bhadra, flow down to the ocean. (SB 5.17.5)

The branch of the Ganges known as the Sita flows through Brahmapuri atop Mount Meru, and from there it runs down to the nearby peaks of the Kesaracala Mountains, which stand almost as high as Mount Meru itself. These mountains are like a bunch of filaments around Mount Meru. From the Kesaracala Mountains, the Ganges falls to the peak of Gandhamadana Mountain and then flows into the land of Bhadrasva-varsa. Finally it reaches the ocean of salt water in the west. (SB 5.17.6)

The branch of the Ganges known as Caksu falls onto the summit of Malyavan Mountain and from there cascades onto the land of Ketumala-varsa. The Ganges flows incessantly through Ketumala-varsa and in this way also reaches the ocean of salt water in the West. (SB 5.17.7)

The branch of the Ganges known as Bhadra flows from the northern side of Mount Meru. Its waters fall onto the peaks of Kumuda Mountain, Mount Nila, Sveta Mountain and Srngavan Mountain in succession. Then it runs down into the province of Kuru and, after crossing through that land, flows into the saltwater ocean in the north. (SB 5.17.8)

Similarly, the branch of the Ganges known as Alakananda flows from the southern side of Brahmapuri [Brahma-sadana]. Passing over the tops of mountains in various lands, it falls down with fierce force upon the peaks of the mountains Hemakuta and Himakuta. After inundating the tops of those mountains, the Ganges falls down onto the tract of land known as Bharata-varsa, which she also inundates. Then the Ganges flows into the ocean of salt water in the south. Persons who come to bathe in this river are fortunate. It is not very difficult for them to achieve with every step the results of performing great sacrifices like the Rajasuya and Asvamedha yajnas.

PURPORT: The place where the Ganges flows into the salt water of the Bay of Bengal is still known as Ganga-sagara, or the meeting place of the Ganges and the Bay of Bengal. On Makara-sankranti, in the month of January-February, thousands of people still go there to bathe, hoping to be liberated. That they can actually be liberated in this way is confirmed herein. For those who bathe in the Ganges at any time, the results of great sacrifices like the Asvamedha and Rajasuya yajnas are not at all difficult to achieve. Most people in India are still inclined to bathe in the Ganges, and there are many places where they can do so. At Prayaga (Allahabad), many thousands of people gather during the month of January to bathe in the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna. Afterward, many of them go to the confluence of the Bay of Bengal and the Ganges to take bath there. Thus it is a special facility for all the people of India that they can bathe in the water of the Ganges at so many places of pilgrimage. (SB 5.17.9)

In Srimad Bhagavatam 4th Canto, chapter 6, we find further description of the Alakananda River, along with a lake by that name and the region of Alaka-puri:

Srimad Bhagavatam 4.6.22-25:

"There is a small lake named Alakananda in which Sati used to take her bath, and that lake is especially auspicious. All the demigods, after seeing the specific beauty of Kailasa Hill, were struck with wonder at the great opulence to be found there.

PURPORT: According to the commentary called Sri-Bhagavata-candra-candrika, the water in which Sati used to bathe was Ganges water. In other words, the Ganges flowed through the Kailasa-parvata. There is every possibility of accepting such a statement because Ganges water also flows from the hair of Lord Siva. Since Ganges water rests on the head of Lord Siva and then flows to the other parts of the universe, it is quite possible that the water in which Sati bathed, which was certainly very nicely scented, was Ganges water. (SB 4.6.22)

Thus the demigods saw the wonderfully beautiful region known as Alaka in the forest known as Saugandhika, which means "full of fragrance." The forest is known as Saugandhika because of its abundance of lotus flowers.

PURPORT: Sometimes Alaka is known as Alaka-puri, which is also the name of the abode of Kuvera. Kuvera's abode, however, cannot be seen from Kailasa. Therefore the region of Alaka referred to here is different from the Alaka-puri of Kuvera. According to Viraraghava Acarya, alaka means "uncommonly beautiful." In the region of Alaka the demigods saw, there is a type of lotus flower known as Saugandhika that distributes an especially fragrant scent. (SB 4.6.23)

They also saw the two rivers named Nanda and Alakananda. These two rivers are sanctified by the dust of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda. (SB 4.6.24)

My dear Ksatta, Vidura, the celestial damsels come down to those rivers in their airplanes with their husbands, and after sexual enjoyment, they enter the water and enjoy sprinkling their husbands with water.

PURPORT: It is understood that even the damsels of the heavenly planets are polluted by thoughts of sex enjoyment, and therefore they come in airplanes to bathe in the rivers Nanda and Alakananda. It is significant that these rivers, Nanda and Alakananda, are sanctified by the dust of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In other words, just as the Ganges is sacred because its water emanates from the toes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, so whenever water or anything is in touch with devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is purified and spiritualized. The rules and regulations of devotional service are based on this principle: anything in touch with the lotus feet of the Lord is immediately freed from all material contamination." (SB 4.6.25)

Srimad Bhagavatam - Bhaktivedanta Book Trust


(Alakananda to be continued…)