The Epic of the Mahabharata
The Mahabharata is one of two popular Sanskrit epic poems from ancient India—the other being Ramayana. Written by Vyasa in the 3rd Century BCE, the plot revolves around the struggle for power between two groups of cousins, the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Formulated of 100,000 couplets split into 18 sections, the Mahabharata is the longest epic poem in history.
The length of the Mahabharata deems it impossible to provide a comprehensive summary but its essence was to offer a deeper understanding of the responsibilities within the code of dharma (‘morals’). The epic shares a narrative that intertwines aspects of geography, history, philosophy, ethics and so forth.
The Shrimad Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse Hindu scripture that is a part of the Mahabharata epic and is considered one of the holy scriptures within Hinduism.
Gita Mahotsav: a festival celebrating the birth of the holy scripture of the Bhagavad Gita.
Lord Brahma: Hindu God of Creation, Knowledge and Vedas (large body of religious texts)
Lord Krishna: Hindu God of love, tenderness and compassion.
A must-see to revisit moments from the epic Mahabharata—an ancient Indian tale about the struggle between two groups of cousins during the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kaurava and the Pandava princes along with their successors—Kurukshetra is revered all over India for its sanctity and rich cultural heritage.
Shrouded in a halo of myths and realities, Kurukshetra has come to be known as a place of pilgrimage and the center of Vedic civilization. While many know Kurukshetra as the battlefield of the epic Mahabharata, there is much more to see in this ‘land of righteousness.’ Incidentally, this place is not just famous for the Mahabharata, but also for the philosophical reality, the Bhagavad Gita expounded by Lord Krishna.
A Path of Spirituality
Kurukshetra is named after King Kuru, who plowed this entire land by yoking the bull of Lord Shiva and bison of Lord Yama to make this a spiritual center and is also known as the ‘tirtha par excellence.’ For the uninitiated, tirtha means ‘to float’ and symbolizes liberation of the soul from the cycle of birth and death. It’s also associated with water and water bodies, which is signified by the age-old tradition of taking a holy dip in the sacred tanks of Kurukshetra.
Artifacts unearthed from the vicinity of Kurukshetra have also indicated the rich history and culture of the land. Kurukshetra lies between the rivers Sarasvati and Drishadvati, and was once home to 360 pilgrimage sites. Today, of course, there are about 134 sites that are scattered all over the region.
Owing to its spiritual reputation, Kurukshetra has been venerated across several countries in Southeast Asia. A stone inscription found in Laos shows how King Maharajadhiraj Sri Devanika established a great place of pilgrimage to be known as New Kurukshetra in the second half of the fifth century. In this invocation, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, all three words serve to proclaim that Kurukshetra is the best place of pilgrimage.
Interestingly, an important event in Kurukshetra is the solar eclipse because it is believed that taking a dip on the date of the solar eclipse in the sacred tanks of the Brahma Sarovar and Sannihit Sarovar is equal to performing thousands of horse sacrifices, known as Ashwamedha Yajnas.
Start your exploration of the city at Brahma Sarovar, a huge water tank named after Lord Brahma that is believed to be created over the land where Brahma performed his first sacrifice. It was renovated by King Kuru and is one of the most sacred tirthas of Kurukshetra.
The 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometre) perimeter is divided into two halves with an island in between where Yudhisthira—the eldest of the Pandavas’ cousins—had erected a vijasthamba (‘tower of victory’) following victory in the battle of the Mahabharata.
A walk along the water body brings me to the temple of Shiva, which has a linga (symbol of Shiva) believed to have been consecrated by Lord Brahma himself. This place also has a massive sculpture of Gita Updesh that shows Lord Krishna delivering the Gita, which weighs a massive 2,200 pounds (35 tonnes), to Arjuna. Also interesting here is an ancient temple dedicated to Barbarik (the grandson of Bhima) where one can offer money by tossing it into a well.
The other sacred tirtha is the Sannihit Sarovar, the most ancient water tank of Kurukshetra. Sannihit means ‘congregation’ and it is believed that on every new moon day, the waters of all the tirthas present on the earth assemble here in Sannihit. A holy dip taken here during the eclipse is considered highly meritorious. Lastly, the Ban Ganga tirtha is said to be the place where Arjuna rested for a while before he proceeded to fight with Jayadratha.
The Kurukshetra Panorama & Science Centre is a must visit if you wish to immerse yourself in the Battle of Mahabharata. On the first floor of the center, the epic battle is brought to life through a diorama that includes special sound effects. The chanting of the Gita mingles with war cries and lighting illusions to create a spectacular visual of the famed battle.
The ground floor has a science section focusing on the 4,500-year-old scientific background and heritage of ancient India for children and adults alike.
Located next to the center is the Shri Krishna Museum, originally established in 1987. It was subsequently shifted to the current building in 1991, the new block was added in 1995 and the Multimedia Mahabharata and Gita Gallery were added in 2012.
The museum has nine galleries displaying archaeological artifacts from Kurukshetra, Haryana, Dwarka and Mathura. There are also wood, ivory and metal objects related to Krishna, Tanjore paintings, Kangra miniature paintings of Krishna and Mahabharata, as well as rare manuscripts inside the museum.
Be sure to visit the Dharohar Haryana Sanghralaya Museum, established in 2006. The museum houses a variety of objects like agriculture, domestic implements, and art and craft items from the state of Haryana while shedding light on the state’s folk traditions. The Kalpana Chawla memorial planetarium, named after the famed astronaut who was from the region, is also a great visit for children.
Sights and Sounds
Being a place rooted in religion there is much for spiritual seekers visiting Kurukshetra to see. For instance, the gurdwara (a place of worship for Sikhs) of the sixth guru of the sixth Patashi Guru Hargobind Singh Ji—established to commemorate his visit here—is a must see. The cenotaph of the revered Sufi Saint Sheikh Chehli can be found in a pear-shaped dome in the city.
Make a stop at Jyotisar, one of the most venerated places in Kurukshetra believed to be the birthplace of the Bhagavad Gita. It is believed that Krishna delivered the eternal message of Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna during the battlefield of Mahabharata at this very location.
Do pay obeisance at the Sthaneshwar Mahadev Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. This is believed to be the place where Lord Krishna worshipped Lord Shiva, along with the Pandavas to be blessed for a victory in the battle of Mahabharata.
Kurukshetra is also home to one of the 52 Shakti peetas (places of strength). The Maa Bhadrakali Shaktipeeth is said to be the place where the right ankle of Sati is believed to have fallen. It is also the place where the Pandavas and Lord Krishna prayed before the battle and returned after their victory to donate their best horses to service of the goddess. Even today people donate horses made of terracotta and metal for the fulfillment of their wishes.
Kurukshetra is a place that is filled with stories, legends and myths that takes you on a journey that is as fascinating as it is exhilarating. After all, visiting a city that is steeped in ancient history is a trip that is worth at least once in a lifetime.
Did You Know?
Kurukshetra also celebrates the international Gita Mahotsav—usually in the month of November or December—with discourses, performances and more to help tourists and pilgrims understand the meaning of the Gita. A craft Mela is organized on the banks of the Brahma Sarovar and sees a congregation of craftsmen from different parts of India come together to showcase their craft.
Reach: Kurukshetra can be reached via Delhi (96 miles or 158 kilometers by car) or Chandigarh (57 miles or 93 kilometers by car).
Stay: As there are no large hotels here, the five-star Noor Mahal hotel at Karnal about 35 km away is a great option for accommodation.