If you have read my previous post, you would know that we had made a detour to Pandharpur whilst undertaking a pilgrimage to Ganagapur. Here is the link to the previous article.
After lunch in Pandharpur, we set out to drive towards Ganagapur. The four-hour drive from Pandharpur takes you via Solapur to Akkalkot to Afzalpur before reaching Ganagapur. Ganagapur or Deval Ganagapur is a small village in the Afzalpur Taluk of Kalaburgi District in North Karnataka. The village is connected by trains from Mumbai and also has regular buses from Gulbarga. The nearest airport is at Hyderabad. We arrived late in the evening and checked into the Sri Anasuya Datta Lodge, where we had made prior bookings. For a village like Ganagapur, the lodge is adequate with decent accommodation and facilities. Thankfully, it had a car-parking too. We had also contacted Sri Girish, a priest at the Nirguna Mandir of Ganagapur to lead us through the pujas the next morning. Since we had a car it was convenient to pay obeisance to all the holy places in the town. There are few small restaurants, but you may want to carry some fruits and snacks with you. If anyone wants more details please do ask me in the comments section. Like many places of pilgrimage, it is advisable not to visit on festive days like Guru Purnima, Datta Jayanti, Navaratri and Deepawali to avoid crowds.
Significance of Ganagapur as a holy land: Ganagapur is a ‘Datta-kshetra’ and is associated with Sri Narasimha Saraswati Swami (1378-1458), believed to be the second incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, the first being Sripada Sri Vallabha (born 1320). It is believed that Sripada Srivallabha is immortal or ‘Chiranjeevi‘. His devotees believe that though he took ‘Jalsamadhi’ in Kuravapura, a river island on the River Krishna near Raichur, Karnataka, he still exists in pure energy form.
The book, Sri Guru Charitra, describes the next avatar of Lord Dattatreya, Sri Narasimha Saraswati as a purna avatar or a complete incarnation. According to Sanatana Dharma, a ‘purna avatar’ is a complete manifestation of the deity, who descends on the earth to fulfill a purpose. Lord Dattatreya, as the reader would know, was born to Sage Atri and his pious wife Anasuya. He embodies the collective energies of the Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
The second Datta avatar: Narasimha Saraswati was born to Amba Bhavani and Madhav Kale, a Deshastha Brahmin family from Karanjnagar, a town near Akola in the year 1378. He was named Narahari. For years the child didn’t speak except for the emanation of the Pranava Nada– ‘Om’ (the primordial sound). This made the parents very anxious. However, when the child turned seven they performed the thread ceremony for the child and to their surprise and delight and also the assembled Brahmins, the child started chanting the Vedic mantras fluently. According to traditions of the thread ceremony, Narahari was asked to beg for alms, a ritual which he took very seriously, as soon after he expressed his desire to take up the life of an ascetic. The decision shook his parents, but the seven-year-old Narahari was adamant and left home for a pilgrimage to Kashi. At Kashi or present Varanasi, he was indoctrinated into Sanyasa ashram or stage of renunciation and spiritual lifestyle by a renowned savant called Sri Krishna Saraswati. Narahari was given the new name Narasimha Saraswati.
Narasimha Saraswati travelled far and wide on his pilgrimages and disciples flocked to hear his discourses. He finally came to Ganagapur where he spent the last 20 years of his sojourn on the earth. When Sri Narasimha Saraswati felt that the time had come for his avatar to leave the earth, he decided to take Samadhi near the Kadali Vanam (banana grove) at the foothills of Sri Sailam. His devotees were heart-broken but Narasimha Saraswati comforted them by saying. “Though I am leaving my physical form, I will be there for you constantly, especially at Ganagapur. Every day I will be present at the Bhima-Amaraja Sangam for my morning bath and will visit the Ganagapur Math to receive alms in the afternoon”. Narasimha Saraswati left his physical form in 1458 AD. To know more about the life of Narasimha Saraswati, I urge you to read the Guru Charitra, which is also available in English. The Guru Charitra was written by Swami Saraswati Gangadhara, a direct disciple of Sri Narasimha Saraswati.
A Pilgrim’s Progress: Ganagapur, hence, is an important pilgrim centre for Dattatreya worshippers. The main places a pilgrim visits are the following.
- Bhima-Amaraja Sangam: As prescribed by Sri Narasimha Saraswati, pilgrims are supposed to first take a dip in the holy waters. The Amaraja River is born at the Koralli Village in Gulbarga district and merges with the Bhima River in Ganagapur. It is believed that Lord Indra was carrying the waters of Sanjeevani in a cup and a drop fell on Earth which became the Amaraja River. According to the book Guru Charitra, this is as holy as Prayag and there are eight sacred theerthas where devotees can take a dip.
- The Audambar Tree: The Audambar or fig tree is located on the banks of the Bhima-Amaraja Sangam where Sri Narasimha Saraswati meditated and stayed for long periods of time. Pilgrims in Ganagapur offer prayers and circumambulate around the tree. Narasimha Saraswati had proclaimed that the Ashwatha or Audambar tree was as holy as the Kalpavriksha tree that originated during the ‘Samudra Manthan’. It is believed that when Lord Narasimha killed the demon Hiranyakashipu, he tore the belly of the demon with his nails and wore his intestines around his neck. The Kalakoota poison from the demon’s belly started to burn the Lord’s nails. Seeing this, Goddess Laxmi rushed to get the fruits from the fig tree (audambar) and thrust Lord Narasimha’s nails into the pulp. The pain and burning sensation stopped immediately. The Lord was pleased and blessed the Audambar tree that it would be as powerful as the Kalpavriksha tree in heaven.
- Ash Hill or Bhasma Hill: This hill is significant as Lord Parashurama himself has supposed to have performed penances and yagnas. However, all that remains is now mud, but it is still a place of significance for devotees.
- Worship of the Nirguna Padukas: The Padukas or footwear of Sri Narasimha Saraswati is placed in the Nirguna Math (Dattatreya Temple). This is the main temple in Ganagapur where Narasimha Saraswati stayed nearly 700 years ago. In the temple, there is also an idol of Chintamani Ganapati. The morning after our arrival, we were taken by the pujari Sri Girish to perform the abhishek puja of Lord Dattatraya, followed by the darshan of the padukas of Sri Narasimha Saraswati. This was followed by the annadana seva or distribution of prasad. In the evening, the padukas are taken in a palanquin and this is known as the pallaki seva. The devotees lie down in obeisance and the palanquin goes over them, thereby blessing them. It is believed that the temple also has the power to exorcise people who have been afflicted by spirits.
- Kalleshwara Temple: This Lord Shiva temple was the village deity of Ganagapur and is even more ancient than the Math. This was the entrance to the village when Narasimha Saraswati first came to Ganagapur. There are also sannidhis for Swayambhu Shani Deva, which almost 700 years old; a Panchamukhi Ganapati temple, a Hanuman temple, a Navagraha temple and a Goddess Durga temple.
There are several other minor places that are mentioned in the Guru Charitra that a pilgrim can visit, but those mentioned above are the main places and that we managed to cover in our day long stay in the holy precincts of Ganagapur, before we headed back to Mumbai.
The following is the guru-lineage of Sri Narasimha Saraswati.
Shankar – Vishnu – Bramha – Vasishtha – Shakti – Parashar – Vyas – Shuka – Gaudpadacharya – Govindacharya – Sri Adi Shankaracharya – Vishwarupacharya – Dnyanagiri – Sidhagiri – Ishwaratirtha – Narasimhatirtha – Vidyatirtha – Shivtirtha – Bharati – Vidyaranya – Vidyatirtha Saraswati – Malayananda Saraswati – Devatirtha Saraswati – Yadavendra Saraswati – Krishna Saraswati – Narasimha Saraswati.