One of the charms of Hinduism is the many rites and the care and concern shown not only for the individual but also his soul. If life is full of ceremonies to propitiate Gods then, after death too, the soul of the deceased is honored with rituals that liberate the soul. Asthi Visarjan is that all-important ritual that the survivors of the deceased must perform to ensure peace for the soul of the departed.
What is Asthi Visarjan?
“Asthi” means remains. “Visarjan” means scatter or disperse. Asthi Visarjan is scattering or immersion of ashes of the remains that are left over after cremation. The scattering or immersion of ashes of the deceased is usually carried out at specific designated places across India. The ashes and bones are usually immersed in holy rivers or the sea with Ganga River being the number one choice. It is the holiest river and it is also connected with the salvation process with legends ascribing her descent to earth due to the meditation performed by Bhagirath who wished to bring peace and salvation to the souls of his ancestors. However, there are other holy rivers in India where Asthi Visarjan has been carried out since a eons. It is obligatory for the family of the deceased to carry out this spiritual ritual to ensure peace and salvation of the soul of the departed and these places are conveniently located so people do not have to travel far. Get to know a few.
Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in India and the world. Known as Kashi, it is located on the banks of the Ganges River. It is believed that anyone who bathes in the river attains moksha. If the ashes of the deceased are immersed in the river, the soul gains salvation and freedom from the cycle of births and deaths. A ceremony accompanies the Visarjan that includes pooja, feeding Brahmins, Shraddh and giving of alms to Brahmins and the poor.
Located in the State of Bihar, Gaya is significant for Asthi Visarjan since it is believed that Lord Rama performed the Pind Daan ceremony for his father in this place. The ashes of the departed are immersed in the waters of the holy Falgu River. Falgu is Lord Vishnu personified and it confluences with Lilajan and Mohana streams and it is at this conference that the rituals are performed.
Apart from being one of the four Chardhams in Uttarakhand, Badrinath is also one of the best places for Asthi Visarjan. Badrinath is the abode of Lord Vishnu and Hindus believe that Asthi Visarjan in the Alaknanda River at the Brahma Kapal Ghat will bring lasting peace to the soul of the departed. The Alaknanda is one of the five tributaries of the Ganga believed to have been formed when Ganga descended to earth in the matted locks of Lord Shiva.
Pushkar, in Rajasthan, is another important place for Asthi Visarjan. Unlike Varanasi and other places, Pushkar is located by the side of the holy Pushkar Lake where Brahma dropped the divine lotus flower. The Lake itself is believed to have emanated from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Immersion of remains of the departed in the lake brings their souls lasting salvation.
5. Sannihit Sarovar, Kurukshetra
Kurukshetra is known since ancient times, famously for the Mahabharata battle. It is also known as the abode of Lord Vishnu where Vishnu resides in the Sannihit Sarovar, about 3 km from the town in Thanesar. It is believed that seven holy rivers including the sacred Saraswati confluence here and Asthi Visarjan brings moksha to the soul of the departed.
6. Shaktibeah Tirth, Avantika
Shaktibeah Tirth is located in Madhya Pradesh on the banks of the Kshipra River in Ujjain. It is believed Goddess Parvati planted trees at this spot and that makes it one of the holiest of places. Avantika is believed to be one of the seven cities for attaining salvation and if the ashes of the departed are immersed in Kshipra River, his soul is freed from the eternal cycle of births and deaths and the soul unites with the Supreme Deity.
Known as Krishna dev Bhoomi, Mathura is one of the holiest pilgrimage places in India and also a popular spot for Asthi Visarjan in the Yamuna River. The Yamuna is next in importance for Hindus who revere goddess Yamuna as the sister or Lord Yama. It is believed that bathing here gives moksha to the devotee and immersing ashes and bones of the deceased bring salvation to his soul. The ceremonies are usually held at the Bodhini, Vayu or Vishranti Tirth on the banks of the Yamuna River.
Ayodhya is on the banks of the Saryu River and it is better known as the capital of Lord Rama’s kingdom. Ayodhya is also an Asthi Visarjan and pilgrimage spot with the rituals usually carried out at Bharat Kund alongside the Saryu.
9. Siddhpur, Gujarat
Gujarat is far away from Ganges and Yamuna Rivers but it has its own Asthi Visarjan spot in the form of Siddhpur that is said to sit on the banks of the River Saraswati. Siddhpur is known as “Shristhal” or a holy spot and it has many ashrams and temples. The ceremony is usually performed at Bindu Lake that dates back to the time of the Rig Veda and even before it. As in other such divine spots, immersion of ashes of the deceased in the Lake frees the soul from the cycle of births and deaths.
Allahabad in UP is also known as Prayag, one of the holiest pilgrimage destinations. It is also of prime importance for the ritual of Asthi Visarjan that is usually carried out at the spot of Triveni Sangam where the three holy rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Bathing here gives moksha. Immersing ashes of the deceased also gives their soul liberation and union with the Supreme Soul.
Puri in Orissa is better known for the Jagannath Temple and the annual Rath Yatra is a sight to behold. The city is on the banks of the Mahanadi River that flows into the Bay of Bengal. The river Bhargavi also flows south of Puri and these two rivers in Puri are favored by people of this region for Asthi Visarjan. The rituals are performed and family members of the deceased can also visit Jagannath temple.
Dwarka sits at the westernmost tip of India. Located in Saurashtra, Gujarat, Dwarka is better known as one of the major char dhams and the kingdom of Lord Krishna with millions visiting the Dwarkadheesh temple. Asthi Visarjan is also carried out at the Gomti Ghat alongside the Gomti that flows into the Arabian Sea. The confluence is where the rituals are performed. Dwarka is also home to Pindar where further ceremonies such as Pind Daan are performed by devotees to help the soul of the departed on its onward journey to meet the Supreme deity.
Haridwar, like Varanasi and Allahabad, is considered as one of the holiest pilgrimage spots in India. One of the seven holy cities, Haridwar is known as the gateway to God and the city abounds in temples lining its Ghats with the evening aarti alongside the Ganga River a sight to behold. Pilgrims bathe in the holy river in their staunch belief that doing so rids the soul of all sins and they will attain moksha after death. Ashes of the departed are immersed in the holy waters of the River Ganga in the belief that their soul rests in peace. Those who place more importance on the soul of their believed attaining moksha make it a point to travel to Haridwar for the Asthi Visarjan rituals.
Ujjain is the city of temples, most of them dedicated to Lord Shiva with the Mahakaleshwar being one of the 12 jyotirlingas of India. The city is on the banks of the holy river Kshipra that is said to have come into existence when the Gods engaged in Samudra Manthan. Hindus in Madhya Pradesh and western India prefer to visit Ujjain and perform the Asthi Visarjan ceremonies for the peace and salvation of the soul of their dear departed family member.
It is important for Hindus to perform pilgrimages when they are alive in order to wash away sins and prepare for salvation. It is just as important that when a person passes away, his family members perform the appropriate rituals such as Asthi Visarjan, Shraddha and Pind Daan for the peace of soul of the departed. Death is not the end of life. The soul lives on and must be reincarnated in another body. Liberation from this cycle is important and the Asthi Visarjan process brings salvation or moksha.