Vol. 5 Num 317 Mon. April 18, 2005  

Langalbandh: Pilgrimage for a holy dip

Every year, Hindu pilgrims from all over Bangladesh and adjacent West Bengal and other parts of India converge at Langalbandh for a dip in the holy waters of the Brahmaputra on a particular date -- the eighth day of the bright fortnight in the Bengali month of Chaitra (between mid-March and mid-April). The pilgrims earn religious merit by taking this dip because all other pilgrimages are said to converge at Langalbandh on this occasion, making it the holiest of all pilgrimages. This date coincides with Basanti Puja (Durga Puja of the spring season).

This holy place called Langalbandh in the district of Narayanganj is located on the Adi Brahmaputra river, quite close to Sonargaon. I read some books which threw light on the religious importance of this ancient pilgrimage. Mysterious are the ways in which myths work to create and nurture faith that lies at the root of many religious traditions. It is, therefore important to pay heed to ancient myths and legends if we are to trace the sources of many of our religious practices as well as to ascertain the mythical basis of the sanctity that is associated in the public mind with our pilgrimages and holy places.

The river on which Langalbandh is situated came to be called Brahmaputra, because, according to Hindu mythology, it was the son ('Putra') of Lord Brahma. The Kalika Purana describes how Amogha Devi, the wife of sage Shantanu, conceived by holding the prowess ('Tejas) of Lord Brahma and gave birth to a bonny son. Before this Shantanu had a lake ('Kund') excavated, which was surrounded by four mountains -- Sambatark on the east, Jarudhi on the west, Kailas on the north and Gandhamadan on the south. Lord Brahma, who came to see his son, gave him the name 'Lohitya and placed into the lake ('Kund') who assumed the form of water in the lake -- 'Brahmakund.'

The legend of Parashurama brings out how Brahmakund became the holiest of all Hindu pilgrimages. In the Treta Yuga, Jamadagni, son of sage Richik (alternatively known as Bhrigumuni), had married Renuka, the daughter of king Prasenjit. Renuka gave birth to five sons of whom Parashurama was the youngest. It is said that at that time the whole world had got enveloped in all-pervading sin and the Kshatriyas had become mad with malice. Parashurama appeared on earth as the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He wielded the axe to completely eliminate the Kshatriya from the face of the earth twenty one times over. His original name was Rama, but since he had used the axe (Parashu), he came to be known as Parashurama.

Once Parashurama's mother Renuka went to bathe in a river where Chitrarath, the king of the Gandharvas (a class of demi-gods), was engaged in water sport along with a hundred Apsaras (celestial nymphs) who were his wives. Chitrarath had a hundred arms. As he forced the water of the river to flow into his hands, his hundred wives got drawn into them as well. And as he let the water suddenly flow out of his hands, the wives were speedily carried away from him. This game went on for some time and the sight of the frolicsome Chitrarath disporting himself with gay abandon aroused amorous feelings in Renuka, whose return to the hermitage of Jamadagni was thus considerably delayed.

Through spiritual powers, Jamadagni came to know the circumstances that had led to Renuka's crush on Chitrarath. He ordered his sons to do away with Renuka. As the first four sons refused to kill their mother, they were reduced to inert objects as a sequel to their father's curse. Parashurama did his father's bidding and beheaded his mother with a stroke of his axe. Pleased with the performance of his son, Jamadagni told Parashurama to ask for any boon he wanted upon which the latter prayed that his mother be brought back to life and his brothers be rid of their lifeless state. His prayer was immediately granted. Renuka was restored to her life and the four brothers of Parashurama got back their state of animation.

But the axe with which Parashurama had killed his mother continued to cling to his hand, however much he tried to throw it away. Jamadagni told Parashurama that since he had committed two grave sins -- killing a woman and killing his mother to boot -- he would have to suffer the consequences. He advised Parashurama to have patience and go on pilgrimage to all the holy places on earth. Jamadagni further said that when Parashurama bathed in the waters of a river at a particular holy place, the axe would automatically come off his hand. And that place, Jamadagni said, would be venerated as the holiest pilgrimage on earth. Parashurama set out on a tour of the world's pilgrimages. He came to Brahmakund and as he bathed in its waters, the exe became unstuck, as predicted by his father.

Parashurama decided to bring down the holy water of Brahmakund to the plains in order to make them available to the people at large. He used his axe to cut through the rocks to make way for the water to flow through. He used a plough to make a furrow in the soft soil of the plains through which the water flowed in a southward direction. He went on doing this till he got tired and stopped at a place near Sonargaon. This place started to be called Langalbandh, because it was there that the plough (i.e. Langal) had stopped (i.e. Bandh).

According to another legend, towards the close of the Dwapar era, Balaram had incurred sin by killing many Brahmins. To get rid of his sin, he renounced the world and visited many holy places. In the last lap of his travel, he arrived at the confluence of the Laskshya and Brahmaputra rivers and by ploughing a furrow on the ground, he caused the river to flow in a channel and meet the river Dhaleshwari. This was the spot where the plough stopped and so it was called Langalbandh.

It is believed that the Pandavas had come to Langalbandh during the period of their exile and had bathed in the river at a spot called Panchamighat. According to some, Sri Chaitanya had come here to bathe and offer Tarpan (libations of water to the ancestors). In 1901, Swami Vivekananda had visited this place along with his mother, Bhubanshewari Devi, on the occasion of Budhastami, a date of astronomical and spiritual significance.

A Mantra that the pilgrims chant while bathing at Langalbandh is: "Vishnurome Tatsadadya Chaitrey Masi Meena Rashisthey Vaskarey Shuklapakshey Ashokastamyang Tithow Omuka Gotrah Omukah Janajnakrita Sarvapapakshyapurvak Osmin Brahmaputrey Sanamahong Karisye." (massing the pilgrim is bathing on the occasion in the Brahmaputra with the hope that he will be absolved of all his sins and acquire merit equivalent to that gained by taking dips in all other pilgrimages).

A vast multitude of people -- numbering several lakhs -- throng the place over a couple of days every year. Some of them put up in the Dharmashalas (inn), but most of them hung out under the open sky to take a holy dip.

Prem Ranjan Dev is a researcher.