Pushkar, not just for the cattle fair

There's more to Pushkar than the famous cattle fair. The lake, its legends and the ghats are the very life of the pilgrim town where foreign tourists flock

Pilgrim-tourists at the serene Pushkar Lake.

The mood is sombre and the sky dark. The lake, however, is so placid like a transparent sheet of glass reflecting our mood. Standing at the ghats with other pilgrims, I wonder how Brahma, who is believed to have created this peaceful lake from the petals of a lotus flower, could be cursed by his wife Savithri.

The silence is soothing but for some murmuring of chants from the ghats. All of a sudden cracks appear in it and the peace is shattered. There is quite a commotion as men yell and shout at each other, gesticulating violently. A medley of tourists and pilgrims like us look alarmed but locals and vendors seem rather indifferent to it. “This is Pushkar, madam," says a vendor selling a bundle of bright red turbans. “You will see loads of arguments here because of the curse but everything will be finally settled and peaceful -- like the lake," he adds.

It’s a colourful market and red and orange are the favourite shades. There are no surprises here. Souvenirs start with trademark turbans and almost every stall has plenty to lure you.
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Lakshmi Sharath | Photo by Lakshmi Sharath
Thu 28 Nov, 2013 11:30 AM IST

The lake is the nerve centre of Pushkar. The cattle fair may have brought in the tourists, but it is the lake that tells the story of the town. Local people will tell you that it is as old as Creation but history tells you that even Chinese traveller Faxian made reference to the lake during his travels in the 5th century. Coins and inscriptions date it even further back in time.

A purohit tells me that the lake can cure any skin ailment. He narrates a story about a king who landed here while hunting. When he stopped to drink water, his skin diseases miraculously vanished. He ends by saying that even Brahma, who was cursed by his wife, has a temple here and that is the only temple for him on earth.

I walk up to the Brahma temple along with a few other tourists. Built more than 2,000 years ago, this structure looks rather recent, although they say it dates back to the 14th century. However, the idol of Brahma is said to have been installed here by Adi Shankaracharya around the 8th century.

The story goes that Brahma destroyed a demon with his lotus and the petals fell down at Pushkar, forming a lake. When Brahma saw the lake he wanted to perform a yagna on its banks, but with his wife Savithri not available at the auspicious time, he married Gayatri. Furious and jealous, Brahma faced the wrath of his first wife Savithri who cursed him saying that he would never be worshipped on earth. Gayatri, however, revoked the curse to some extent by granting him a temple at Pushkar. Even today, the Savithri temple here stands atop a hill where she flows as a stream, while Brahma is seen here with Gayatri. And Pushkar may not be the only town where there is a temple dedicated to Brahma, but it is certainly one of the most sacred.

I slowly return to the ghats. There is some kind of a magnetic pull here. Some pilgrims are having their ritualistic bath in the lake, others like me are staring at the vast expanse of waters. It is a cloudy evening and all I see is a monochromatic spread of water and sky. Only the locals in their bright orange clothes stand out. There are about 52 bathing ghats around the lake, some named after deities and others after kings. It was believed that there were originally just 12 built way back in the 7th century. 

Steeped in antiquity, these ghats are the very life of Pushkar, which tourists seem to think comes alive during the cattle fair. But there is an energy here that bubbles under the surface. There are more than 500 temples on the banks of the lake – small, big, quiet, noisy, ruined, restored. One of my favourites is the Varahi Ghat, where stands a temple dedicated to Vishnu in the form of Varaha, the incarnation of the boar.

The market lights come on. Kitschy and loud, they are filled with eateries serving local delicacies. But there is a different Pushkar here – a town that caters essentially to foreign tourists who flock here like cattle during the fair. So we have tacky and wannabe coffee shops and cafes promising nirvana.

I climb the dark and dingy staircase to a certain Pink Floyd Café tucked away in a world of its own. Posters are everywhere – loud and clear. The music plays in a loop. Floyd’s Another Brick in a Wall echoes in my ear. I walk towards a corner and look through the open windows as twilight grips the town and the lights blink. I head back to the familiar market and soak in its colours and feel more at home here.

 

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