Pushkara or Pushkaram is a festival of a particular river celebrated once in twelve years based on the transit of Jupiter (Brihaspathi) in the zodiac.
Pushkara or Pushkar is a Sanskrit word derived from the element of Push (Pushti) meaning nourishment and Kara means one who does it. Pushkara is the energy that nourishes. With reference to the sacred rivers, Pushkara means the one who energizes the rivers and provides spiritual purification.
As per scriptures, it is said that Pushkara is the son of Lord Varuna, the presiding deity of all the rivers. The legend has it that, once Pushkara prayed Lord Brahma and asked Him for a boon to live in the sacred waters (emanated from the foot of Primordial Lord Sri Maha Vishnu) of His Kamandalam with the intention of providing purity to all the Theerthas (Rivers). Looking at the selfless desire expressed by Pushkara, Lord Brahma granted him the boon to live in the waters of His Kamandalam. Later, Pushkara also performed penance and acquired the Jala Tattva Siddhi from Lord Shiva as a boon. By virtue of the boons acquired from Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, Pushkara became the King of all Theerthas and was regarded as the Theerthapalaka.
At that time when Pushkara acquired the boons, Brihaspathi (Jupiter) the Devaguru also performed penance and pleased Lord Brahma. Looking at the perpetual sacredness of Pushkara, Brihaspathi wanted Lord Brahma to spare Pushkara to be with him permanently. But Pushkara was not prepared to go along with Brihaspathi. Then, Lord Brahma resolved the situation by asking Pushkara to be associated with Brihaspathi (Jupiter) for 12 days in the beginning and 12 days at the end of his sojourn in a particular raasi (house) in the zodiac, the transit of which generally happens once in a year. Accordingly, twelve sacred rivers have been identified and Pushkara enters each River once in twelve years coinciding with the transit period of Jupiter in twelve zodiac signs.
It has become a custom and tradition since time immemorial to celebrate the transit of Jupiter in a particular house in the zodiac as the Pushkara festival of a particular river. The schedule is as follows..
Pushkara schedule starts with Ganga River when Jupiter enters into Mesha Raasi which is the first sign in the zodiac. The Krishna pushkarams, thus, commence when Jupiter enters the kanya Raasi (Leo sign). Pushkara schedule for a particular river will be for one year, however, the first twelve days known as Aadi Pushkara and the last twelve days known as Anthya Pushkara are held to be highly sacred. Pushkara enters River Krishna at 6.26 am on 12th august, 2016.
Astrologically Jupiter (Brihaspathi) the Devaguru is the most benevolent planet symbolizing the wealth, fortune, learning, knowledge, divinity, progeny, domestic peace, auspiciousness and above all the karaka for occurrence of Pushkaram. Pushkara the Theertharaja always resides in the Kamandalam of Lord Brahma in the sanctified waters that has emerged out from the feet of Lord Vishnu.
At the time Pushkara and Brihaspathi entering into a particular river, all the celestial deities, all the sages, all the pithru devathas, all the theerthas on the earth including Ganga join him. This time of their entry into a particular river is considered as highly sacred and celestial that has the power to diminish the ghastly and dreadful sins committed. Having darshan, taking bath, touching Pushkara waters, drinking the sacred waters of Pushkara is considered to be highly meritorious and soul cleansing.
It is considered as the most sacred time to perform rites to forefathers on the banks of Pushkara River that will help them attain salvation.
Our ancient seers have prescribed certain austerities to be observed during Pushkara time known as Pushkara Vidhi. Most important are Pushkara Snana (taking bath), Pushkara Vaasa (staying), Pushkara Darshana, Siro Mundana (tonsuring of head), Fasting, Pushkara Pithru Karma, and Pushkara Dana (charity).
Taking bath in a Pushkara river will help to cleanse the inner selves, wash out the evil tendencies and open up a path for a righteous living. The ideal time to take it is in the morning before sunrise during brahmi muhurtham. After Pushkara Snana one has to pray and give Arghya to the concerned Pushkara Theertha (River), Theertha Raja (Pushkara), Brihaspathi, Lord Vishnu, celestial deities, sages and the Sun God.
Pithru Yagna like performing Pithru Shraaddha, Tharpana have been prescribed to get discharged from Pithru Runa. It is said and believed that Pithrus (fore-fathers) will descend on Earth during Pushkara days and will reside on the banks of Pushkara River longing for their off-spring to perform Pithru Shraaddha. This has been in vogue since time immemorial and even Avathara Purushas like Sri Ramachandra (Lord Sri Rama), Lord Parashurama are said to have performed Pithru karma. Performing Pushkara shraaddha, one will be bestowed with blessings from fore-fathers, peace and prosperity to the family.
The charity (Dana) can be given to Brahmins in the form of Dasa Dana (10 in number) or Shodasa Dana (16 in number). Some of the charities prescribed are as follows.
Anna (food) , Gold, Silver, Bhoo-Dana, Rice, Ghee, Jaggery, Honey, Grandha (sacred text), Vasthra, Paada Raksha (chappals), Umbrella, Hand Stick, Fan, Sayya (bedding), Phala (fruits), Bell (ganta), Paathra (brass/silver vessel), Asana (mat), Nava Dhanya, Milk, Cow, Salagrama, Pinda Daana.
Since time immemorial, Hindus consider rivers as divine and river worship in the form of Pushkaram is performed to make the mankind realize the significance of water the life sustaining force.