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Decoding ‘Teerthayatra Patta’

Kanak Lata Singh
Pilgrimage Map of Kashi: Panchkroshi Yatra Patta, Seventeenth Century, Mewar, Rajasthan, Water Color on Cloth, 178 x 70 cm, National Museum Collection

Pilgrimage Map of Kashi: Panchkroshi Yatra Patta, Seventeenth Century, Mewar, Rajasthan, Water Color on Cloth, 178  x 70 cm, Acc. No: 56.59/58, National Museum Collection, New Delhi

Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities of the world, is also known as the city of Lord Shiva. This painting ‘Pilgrimage Map’ is known as ‘Yatra Patta of Varanasi’. ‘yatra’ signify journey and ‘pata’ denotes painting made on the cloth. The Panchkroshi Yatra map represents the ancient pilgrim route by depicting the water bodies, temples, and important architecture.

A pilgrimage is an act of journeying to the sacred landscapes primarily for religious reasons and spiritual benefits. The Panchkroshi Yatra in Varanasi, ends at the same point it starts, thus forming an endless loop. It can be categorised as a circular pilgrimage. The Panchkroshi Pilgrimage is about circumambulating around the holy territory Kashi, along a 25-mile-long route, protected by 108 shrines of Hindu gods and goddesses. There are a number of goals identified for performing a pilgrimage, the most important being the attainment of divine salvation. The act of achieving these goals requires the pilgrim to walk through the sacred landscapes of the pilgrimage. The Panchakroshi Yatra is the most popular of all such pilgrimages.

The procession of Panchkroshi Parikrama (circumambulation) starts from the Manikarnika Ghat at Varanasi, where it also ends. The word Panchkrosh is constructed with a combination of three words. ‘Panch’ conveying five, ‘krosh’ denoting kos, each kos is equal to 3.2 kilometers, and 'yatra' meaning journey. This way Panchkroshi Yatra stands for a pilgrimage of five kos. Panchkroshi pilgrimage has five halts. These five stops are on a radial path of 80 km. In the holy month of Chaitra, Vaisakh, Falgun, Kartik, Sawan and Adhimas (Purushottam), thousands of devotees embark on this five-day long journey of five kosha after taking bath at Ganga, receiving the darshan of Kashi Vishwanath, Maa Annapurna, Dhundhiraj Ganesh, and taking a sankalpa (the sacred vows) at Gyanvapi.

Kardmeshwara Mahadev temple, one of the oldest structures, dates to tenth century, though certain surrounding structures can be dated to the Gupta period (c. 4th-6th century CE), is the first centre of this pilgrimage. Bhimchnadi temple is the second centre and is dedicated to the fierce form of goddess Durga. The third stop is an important one at Rameshwar temple. The temple is named after Lord Rama; hence its name is Rameshwar. It is said that in Treta Yug after the killing of Ravana, Lord Rama performed penance in this temple and established a Shiva linga to absolve the sin of killing a Brahmana. Panch Pandav temple at Shivpur is the fourth centre. This temple has five Shiva linga established by Pandvas in the descending order. Adjacent to the temple a pond is known as “Draupadi Kund”. As per legends after losing their kingdom, in their exile period, Pandavas did Panchkroshi Yatra and worshipped Lord Shiva here to get their lost kingship back. The final and last destination of the five-day-long pilgrimage is Kapileshwara Mahadev Temple situated at the bank of a large pond. The Shiva linga here was established by Sage Kapil, son of sage Kardam. Surprisingly, both the temple Kardmeshvara and Kapil Dhara temple are situated at a long straight axis (12 km long) which delineates the western edge of Kashi while the eastern edge is made by the river Ganga. After completing the rituals at Kapildhara Temple, the devotee heads to the temple of “JaunVinayak” near the majestic Adi Keshav Ghat at the confluence of Varuna and Ganga.  The devotee offers their homage to Lord Ganesha. From here pilgrim reaches back to Manikarnika Ghat, leaving their sankalpa (sacred vows) here.  This final step marks the completion of this sacred journey.

By contemplating important temples demonstrated in the Yatra Patta and the stylistic features of the painting, it can be presumed that the painting was made in the early eighteenth century. The ghats on the bank of river Ganga developed during the period of eighteenth and nineteenth century. During this period many pavilions and palaces, temples and terraces were made. [i] At the Man Mandir Ghat, a magnificent palace built by king Man Singh of Amber in the late sixteenth century with the famous astronomical observatory on its rooftop built by Sawai Jai Singh in c. 1710 can be seen in the painting prominently. The illustration of this architecture in the painting proves that the painting was made after 1710 i.e., early eighteenth century. The use of primary colors in the painting, for instance; red, blue, green, etc., depiction of quarter-face and nose resembling an eagle’s, big eyes, and long figures which is the basic feature of the Mewari Rajasthani paintings developed in the early eighteenth century.

This painting can be divided into three sections. In the background, a territory is segregated by a river, full of lotuses, covered with different temples. In the center of the painting, the city of Varanasi with ghats and important temples is painted minutely. Names of the ghats and temples are inscribed in Devanagari script. In the foreground a zone full of temples is painted may be considered as Prayagraj (Allahabad) as the name of the city is inscribed in this section. A beautiful representation of the daily life activities of pilgrims is also illustrated by the artist minutely. For instance, people are taking bath in the river Ganga and some of those are performing worship in the temples built on the bank of the river.

Another side on the bank of river Ganga, a group of three saints is painted. In Devanagri “Naga Mauni” inscribed here shows these saints belong to the category of ‘Naga Sadhu’. Naga Sadhu lives their life as an ascetic. They have chosen to wear no clothing at all. They daub their skin with holy ash and spend their lives depending on the charity of others by wandering from place to place.

In the foreground, ‘Sangam’ a significant point where two important rivers the Ganga and Yamuna, merging with the river Saraswati, is painted and apart from Sangam the names of these two rivers Ganga ji and Yamuna ji are inscribed in Devanagari script. For the river Ganga, the artist used white and for the Yamuna, the artist used gray color. This land not only has many important temples, names are marked in Devanagri, but also some important architecture.  Here the name of the city Prayagraj is inscribed that proves this is part of Prayagraj (old name Allahabad city).

In this section of the painting, an important scene of the royal procession is illustrated that makes it the most significant section of the painting. It shows a king riding a white horse is surrounded by people walking to perform this pilgrimage with him. Some of them are playing musical instruments holding in their hands whereas one is holding a royal emblem and another is holding a flag. The king is wearing yellow drapery (dhoti) and tied a hair knot on his head like an ascetic. He is holding a white flower in his hand and smelling it. It may have assumed that the artist of this painting had commissioned by the king to record it in history as evidence that the king performed such pilgrimage once during his lifetime.

In the early part of the nineteenth century, Jayanarayan Ghoshal, in Kashi Parikrama, a Bengali account of Varanasi, recorded the first exhaustive list of seventy ghats from Asi to Varuna sangam, whose steps numbered from sixty to eighty.[1] Indian history has many evidences which reveal that numerous rulers had commissioned temple administration and encouraged artists to make religious paintings and architectures. The rulers also ordered to mark the occasion through various inscriptions on these artifacts.  For instance, Ashoka established close relations with the Buddhist order and used his imperial office to prevent schisms by threatening dire punishments (expulsion from the order) to those who acted to destroy its unity. He went on a pilgrimage of the holy places of Buddhism and set up commemorative pillars to mark the occasions. [2]

In case of the Panchkroshi pilgrimage, the entire ritual of pilgrimage along with the shrines to visit in the journey is documented in holy Sanskrit scripts, Kashi Khanda and Kashi Mahatmya. These were texts written in Sanskrit in around twelfth century that glorified the city of Varanasi. They narrated the details and legends surrounding numerous holy pilgrimages. Another subjective means to identify sanctity can be through survey of opinions of groups of large population.[3] Stories, rituals and traditions of pilgrimage are passed on from generations and people follow these traditions, keeping the pilgrimage practice active.

Varanasi Yatra pata is the only such artifact that, despite being a tangible piece of art itself, proves the historicity of the performing Panchkrohi Yatra that is an intangible heritage of the city.       

[1]Swami M., Varanasi at the Crossroads, 331.

[2]Gokhale, B. G., Bharatavarsha: A Political and Cultural History of India, 31. 

[3] Bhardwaj, S. M., Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: (a Study in Cultural Geography),173.


Coomaraswamy, Ananda, The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylon, New York, Straus and Company, 1964.

Mesdhasananda, Swami. Varanasi at the cross roads. Kolkata, Ram Krishna Mission Institute of Culture, 2002.

Gokhale, Govind Balkrishna. Bharatvarsha: A Political and cultural history of India. New Delhi: Sterling Publisher Private Limited, 1982.

Bhardwaj, Mohan Surinder. Hindu Places of Pilgrimage of India (a study in cultural Geography). Delhi: Thompson Press, 1973.

Havell, E.B., Indian Architecture: lts Psychology, Structure and History from the First Muhammadan invasion to the Present Day, London, J. Murray, 1913.

Hegewald, J.  2005, ‘Ghats and Riverside Palaces', In Banaras; The City Revealed, edited by G. Michell and RPB Singh, pp. 66-77, Marg Publications, vol. 57, no.2.

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