Ancient legends about the origin of Rishikesh

Often referred to as the “Abode of the Gods”, Rishikesh – is one of India’s oldest pilgrimage centers. The history of this city is rich in numerous legends and mythical stories.

According to Skanda Purana, this area was previously called Kubark because here Lord Vishnu was appeared to Rabhya Rishi under a mango tree. And the whole area with the surrounding area was then called Kedarkhand (now Garhwal).

Why this place called Rishikesh?

According to one legend, the city got its present name from Hrishikesh – Lord of the senses, one of the names of the Hindu God Vishnu. It is believed that the great Hindu Saint Raibhya Rishi performed prolonged austerity on the banks of the Sacred river Ganges in this place. In the Satya Yuga (the first of the four yugas) of Lord Vishnu, taking the form Hayagriva killed the demons named Madhu and Kaitabha (the battle lasted 5000 years). After killing them, the Lord went into the forest to do penance, when he saw Rabhya Rishi meditating. The Skanda Purana mentions that as a reward for the spiritual practice of the Saint, Vishnu appeared to him in the incarnation of Lord Hrishikesh and blessed the Rabhya Rishi and gave him this divine message: “As long as you have performed Supreme Tapasya (austerity) by controlling your senses, let the place be recognized by Hrishikesh.”

Another legend says that a fierce fire broke out here in Rishikesh. Lord Shankar was angry with Lord Agni and cursed him. Then Lord Agni prayed here for redemption, and the area became known as Agni Tirth – the Holy place of repentance of Lord Agni or the Fire God.

Others say that the name of the city comes from the words Rishi (sages, prophets, holy hermits) and Kesh (dreadlocks). As many hermits walked trough this place on the way to Char Dham. Usually they had long hair and they washed their hairs in the water of holy Ganga.

Whatever it was, this place is also associated with several other interesting legends.

Temples and ashrams of Rishikesh

Since ancient times, Rishikesh has been an important pilgrimage site for saints and Hindu devotees. However, it was in the early medieval period in India that the place began to gain popularity. During the 8th century Adi Shankaracharya, one of the most famous and revered sages from India, built several temples and ashrams in the region. Unfortunately, most of the temples and ashrams have been destroyed due to several earthquakes and floods that have affected the region over the centuries; however, some temples, such as Shatrugna Mandir and Lakshman Mandir still recall the rich cultural heritage of the place.

According to one legend, the brother of Lord Rama, Lord Bharat performed penance in the place where today is the Bharat Mandir temple in Rishikesh, one of the temples built by Adi Shankaracharya in the 6th century. In the vicinity of Rishikesh, on the banks of the Ganges there are other, later temples and ashrams, attracting pilgrims from all over India.

It is impossible to speak about the history of Rishikesh, not to mention Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula. According to legend, Lord Rama bathed in the Ganges after the murder of Ravana, Lord of the island of Lanka (the ancient name of Sri Lanka), and Lakshman — another brother of the God Rama — crossed the river on the bridge, which he built with the help of jute ropes. So it was called the bridge (jhula) in honor of Lakshman. During the great flood that occurred in October 1924, the Lakshman Jhula bridge was destroyed, and was then reconstructed and reopened to the public by 1939. Another similar suspension bridge Ram Jhula was built in 1986 near Sivananda Nagar.

Swami Sivananda, who came to Rishikesh in 1924 and found his Guru there, made a huge contribution to the modern glory of the world capital of yoga. Over the next years Sivananda opens here pharmacies, hospitals, temples, ashrams, bases Society of divine Life and many other organizations. His teaching was widely accessible to the masses and was a selfless service to people. Swami Sivananda, who retired to mahasamadhi in 1963, left behind many disciples. They changed the idea of yoga forever.

Swami Sivananda in Rishikesh
Swami Sivananda on the banks of Ganga in Rishikesh

Rishikesh has a rich religious history, making it an important place among Indians, but the event that really put Rishikesh on the world map was the visit of the famous English rock band the Beatles in 1968. During their stay at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, they studied transcendental meditation to understand the deeper meaning of human existence. In Rishikesh they wrote most of the songs of their most famous “The White Album”. They were followed to the banks of the Ganges by strings of spiritual seekers from the West, some with guitars at the ready, others with yoga mats on their backs. Since then, the city has firmly established the glory of the World’s Capital of Yoga.

Yoga morning in Rishikesh