Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Significance of Rama Setu in Skanda Purana

By Bodhinath Shandilya

Description of the significance of Rama Setu can be found in abundance throughout the literature of Dharma Shastras. In Puranas, the importance of Setu is explained in great details, especially in Skanda Purana, Vishnu Purana, Agni Purana, and Brahma Purana.

This article explores Sri Skanda Mahapurana, with objective of understanding the importance with which Rama Setu is held in the Hindu traditions, and how significant it really is for Hindus.

Sri Skanda Purana
The most voluminous of all the eighteen main Puranas, and the other eighteen subsidiary Upa-puranas, is Skanda Purana. Skanda Purana is dedicated to Sri Skanda, also famous as Kartikeya or Kumara, the illustrious son of Siva and Parvati, and chief commander of the army of Gods. Skanda Purana consists of 88,100 verses and is divided into seven different books:
1. Maheshwarakhandam
2. Vaishnavakhandam
3. Brahmakhandam
4. Kashikhandam
5. Avantyakhandam
6. Nagarakhandam
7. Prabhasakhandam

Setu Mahatmya in Skanda Purana
Skanda Purana’s third book, Brahmakhandam, opens with a section, which is famous as Setu-Mahatmya, and dedicates this section spanning over fifty-two chapters to describing in detail, the significance of Rama Setu, its various aspects and its history throughout the ages.

The main themes of these fifty-two chapters are mentioned below:

1. The Description of Merits of Visiting Setu
2. The Construction of Setu
3. Dharmatirtha Becomes Famous as Chakratirtha
4. Redemption of Durdama from a Curse
5. Redemption from Curse of Alambusa and Vidhuma
6. Battle between the Goddess and Mahisasura
7. Mahisasura Killed
8. Sudarsana Becomes a Vampire
9. Redemption of Sudarsana and Sukarna
10. The Sanctifying Power of Papavinasa
11. Glorification of Sita Lake: Indra Absolved of the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
12. Glorification of Mangala Tirtha
13. The Glory of Amrtavapi: Salvation of Agastya's Brother
14. Brahma's Redemption from Siva's Curse
15. The Glory of Hanumatkunda: Dharmasakha Blessed with a Hundred Sons
16. The Glory of Agasti Tirtha: The Story of Kaksivan
17. The Glory of Agastyakunda: The Marriage of Kaksivan
18. The Glory of Ramakunda: Dharamaputra's Atonement for False Speech
19. The Glory of Laksmanatritha: Balabhadra's Redemption from the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
20. The Glory of Jataritha: Dharmaputra Obtains Unlimited Wealth
21. The Glory of Laksmitirtha: Dharmaputra Obtains Unlimited Wealth
22. The Glory of Agnitirtha: Duspanya Relieved of His Ghosthood
23. The Glory of Cakratirtha: Aditya Gets Golden Hands
24. The Glory of Sivatirtha: Bhairava Absolved of the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
25. The Glory of Sankhatirtha: Vatsanabha Freed from the Sin of Ingratitude
26. The Greatness of Ganga, Yamuna and Gaya: Janasruti Attains Perfect Knowledge
27. The Glory of Kotitirtha: Krsna Atones for His Sin of Killing His Uncle
28. The Glory of Sadhyamrtatirtha: Pururavas Liberated from a Curse
29. The Glory of Sarvatirtha: Sucarita Attains Sayujya
30. The Glory of Dhanushkoti
31. The Glory of Kotitirtha: Asvatthama's Liberation from the Sin of Killing Sleeping Persons
32. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Dharmagupta Gets Rid of His Madness
33. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Paravasu Liberated from the Sin of Brahmana-Slaughter
34. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Sumati's Liberation from Great Sins
35. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: The Jackal and the Monkey Liberated
36. The Glory of Dhanushkoti: Duracara Liberated from the Sin of Associating with Sinners
37. Ksirakunda
38. The Glory of Ksirakunda: Kadru's Expitation for her Deceitful Action
39. The Glory of Kapitirtha: Rambha and Ghrtaci Liberated from their Curse
40. The Glory of Gayatri and Sarasvati Tirthas
41. The Glory of Gayatri and Sarasvati Kundas: Destruction of Kasyapa's Sin
42. Rnamocana and Other Tirthas
43. The Glory of Ramanatha
44. The Installation of the Linga of Ramanatha
45. Rama's Discourse on Philosophy
46. The Reason for the Installation of Ramanatha
47. Rama's Sin of Brahma-hatya
48. Cessation of Great Sins Incurred by King Sankara
49. Eulogy of Ramanatha
50. The Story of Punyanidhi
51. Pilgrimage to Setu
52. The Glory of Setu

This article attempts to explore the first of these fifty-two chapters – known as Setu-gamana-phaladi-varnanam (Description of Merits of Visiting Setu), with objective of understanding the importance, with which Rama Setu is held in the Hindu traditions.

1. Setu’s particularly unique significance mentioned in Sri Skand Purana is that it is described as a place where prayashchitta (repentance) can be performed, for the gravest of the most heinous sins such as:

a) Guru-talpa-ga: someone who has illicit relationship with the spouse of one’s own teacher. This is classified as the most heinous sin. It is important to note that Setu is mentioned as that place where someone with this sin must repent.

b) Bramha-hatya: Slaughtering a Brahmana is considered a very grave sin in traditions. Setu is a unique teertha, in that this is designated as the only place on earth, which liberates someone of this sin. Setu-mahatmya chapter provides several details and mentions a few examples such as that of Sri Rama himself, and of a king Sankara, and a few more – where someone with that sin has performed ritual karma-s of repentance at Setu.

c) Bramha-ghata: Purana clearly defines 5 major classes of bramhaghatakas, and then a few minor. Again, this is a major heinous sin, and Purana mentions Setu to be the holy place where one can perform repentance karma kanda for liberation from this sin.

2. There is a very significant coverage given to Setu-Mahatmya in Skanda Purana, in terms of the number of chapters, verses and depth of details, as well as this section being the opening section of Bramhakhandam.

The format of the remainder of this article is, a strict translation from the original text, while sub-headings are added to mention the topic of discussion underneath it. The original text, directly scanned from the pages of the Purana is provided as well.

Before proceeding further, I wish to seek forgiveness for any errors: those are solely and completely mine, unintentional, and deeply regretted.

{Start of translation}

The Description of Merits of Visiting Setu
I pray to Sri Ganesh. I pray to Sri Veda Vyasa. I pray to Sri Vishnu, clad in white, the all-pervading, of the complexion as that of Moon, having four arms and a pleasant face; I pray to thee, please alleviate all the obstacles.

The Sages of Naimisharanya
(1) Shaunaka and the other Rishis were dwelling in the forests of Naimish. All of them were devotedly occupied in Eightfold-Yoga, and all of them were extremely intent upon Bramha-realization. (2) They were desirous of ultimate liberation, all of them were great souls, speakers of Bramha, and beyond attachments of the world. All were great knower of Dharma, were untouched by envy or anger, and were occupied in their mission of self-realization. (3) They had conquered their senses and anger, and were compassionate towards all beings. They were in absolute devotion to the all-pervading and eternal Vishnu.

(4) Engaged in tapasya-s, in the greatly punya Naimish forest, once those great souls were assembled for a great cause. (5) They were conversing upon extremely pious subjects, destroyer of all sins. They were discussing about the nature of worldly enjoyments and means of the liberation from the worldly-bonds, as well as mutually satisfying each other’s quests. (6) Twenty-six thousand Rishis were engaged like this, and the number of their Shishyas and further their Shishyas was beyond any count.

Discourse of Sri Suta
(7) Arrived there with shishyas, a great luminary sage, very knowledgeable, himself a shishya of Sri Vyasa. Rishi Suta, the excellent, thus arrived in naimishAraNya. (8) Seeing him arriving, sages ignited the holy fires. Shaunaka and other Rishis welcomed and prayed to him by offering ardhya etc. (9) They seated Suta on a very auspicious and comfortable seat, (and requested him to) reveal the extreme mysteries, for the desire of the welfare of the people. (10) "O Suta, Bull Amongst the Sages, welcome are you, the knower of all the essence of Dharma. You have heard all the Purana-s from none other than Sri Veda Vyasa, the son of Satyavati, himself. (11) Therefore, O Great Sage, you know all the essense of all the Purana-s.

Which regions are punya-kshetras, and which are teerthas on earth? (12) How does a being attain liberation from the bonds of the worldly-ocean? How does one win the devotion to Siva and Vishnu? (13) Who does he achieve, which are the fruits that come from those acts? O Suta, please tell us these and all other (mysteries) too." (14) Please tell this to us, like a Guru kindly reveals even the most hidden mystries to his finest disciples.” thus inquired the people of Naimisharanya to Suta.

(15) First bowing to his Guru Sri Vyasa, Sri Suta spoke. "The wise men have rightly asked these questions, which are verily of welfare to the world. (16) I shall narrate that mystery, please listen respectfully. I have not discoursed upon this to anyone else before, O Chief Amongst the Sages. (17) With disciplined minds, and with devotion, please listen to this, O best of the sages.

Setu - the Foremost Amongst the Teerthas
There is a holy place called Rameshwaram Rama Setu. (18) That, the best of all the teerthas, Rama Setu, liberates one if someone merely glances towards it. (19) One who performs ritual karma-s there becomes worthy of devotion to Siva and Vishu, and increases the wealth of his Punya-s. There is no doubt, that if someone performs the tri-vidha rituals there, verily acheives siddhi. (20) That man, who in his lifetime, even looks at the Setu with devotion, I am going to tell you what are the fruits of his act, O Bulls Amongst the Sages, please listen.

Punya of Setu-Darshan
(21) His parents, along with two-crore members of his lineage, attain to liberation and enter the worlds of Siva. (22) Even the cattle on the earth and stars in the sky, might be possible to count, but the Punya born of the Setu-darshan - that indeed even Sesha himself would not be able to measure. (23) Man, who has had the darshan of the famous Setubandha which is like the appearance of all the Gods - who can count for his puNyas! (24) Why! Just by having the darshan of Setu, men achieve the fruits of performing all the Yagyas of tradition, of bathing in all the teerthas, and of practicing all the penances. (25) O Dvija-s, even a person who just says ‘Should go to Setu’, even he verily attains the same fruits, what more to say! (26) By bathing at Setu, one gets liberation and attains the worlds of Vishnu, along with seven-crore members of one's lineage who are dead. (27) That man, who meditates upon Setu, Rameshwar, gandhamadana parvata - he verily gets liberated from all sins. (28) His mother and father, along with lakh-crore members of his lineage, get liberated there itself entering the worlds of Vishnu. They get liberated and stay at the feet of Shambhu, for three kalpa-cycles of ages.

Escaping Naraka-s
(29) Being thrown with rodents, and in the wells of liquid-fat, and the river Vaitarani (the terrible river of naraka), dog-meat to eat, and urine to drink - someone who has performed ritual karma-s at Setu, does not suffer (those naraka-s). (30) He escapes the tortures from heated spears, heated rocks, and from being buried in excreta and thrown in bloody wells. (31) Also (from being forced to) climbing the silky-plant, eating blood and insects, eating own meat, and entering fires of dreadful sparks. (32) Stones being hailed at, and fire being pored upon, drinking heated salt potions – someone, who has had the darshan of Setu, does not suffer (such) deadly nets of naraka. (33) O vipra-s, men who perform rites at Setu, are liberated, even if being fallen by the five great offences. (Even their) parents and a hundred crore members of the lineage (34) are liberated to be at the feet of Vishnu for three kalpa-cycles of the yuga-s. Being tortured in Naraka upside-down, and fed salt potions, (35) being tortured with stone-instruments and by being thrown down from mountains, being besmeared with excreta and being amputated with the saws, (36) (being forced for) the excreta to eat and sand to drink, joints being burned, walking on a bed of burning coals, and being beaten by clubs. (37) All these Naraka-s, the performer of rituals at Setu does not endure. (Therefore,) one must perform the rites at Setu, this I say after much contemplating. (38) Even an extremely fallen sinner, if he willingly goes (to Setu, he escapes) the tortures of being stretched on various wooden-gallows, and those of being pierced by sharp weapons, (39) of being leaped up and thrown down, being tormented by clubs and staffs, being struck by elephant teeth, or being several times bitten by snakes, (40) of smoke-chocking or of being bound in shackles, of being tormented by various types of spears, or of having to drink salt-potions through the mouth and through the nose. (41) The naraka-s where one drinks salty waters, and eats sharp needles, all these and other naraka-s, the (repenting) sinner does not go to. (42) salt-water being forced through all the pores of the body, being fed the excreta, muscles being chopped off, or burned, and bones being broken, (43) drinking sticky potions, and bile, and extremely bitter drinks, very hot oil, and very salty waters (44) drinking foul-smelling water and eating sizzling-hot stones, bathing in very hot gravel or sand, and teeth being crushed, (45) hot bed to sleep on and hot waters to drink, needles being thrown into the eyes, and in mouth, (46) Heavy weights being tied to the genitals, being thrown from the trees, and being kept full of foul smell, (47) sleeping upon sharp edged swords and being fed on sand etc., all these and other extremely horrifying naraka-s, one who performs ritual karma-s at Setu, does not suffer.

The Gravest Sinners
(48) One, who prostrates in the middle of the Setu's sandbank, his sins becomes dulled. And ultimately his sins are subdued, O Best of the Dvija-s. (49) So much so, that the grimmest sin that arises from killing a Bramhana, no doubt, even that is destroyed by performing rites there, if every part of his (sinner's) body touches the winds in the middle of the Setu. (50) Offenses of drinking liquors instantly disappear by shaving the hair in the middle of the Setu. (51) Even the gravest sinner, who violates the bed of his own teacher - his sins too are destroyed instantly, by sons and grandsons immersing his last remains in the middle of the Setu. Who has sinned by stealing gold, even his sins are destroyed instantly. (52) O Best of the Dvija-s, whoever performs rituals at Setu, according to the traditions, taints acquired by him in the company of an extremely fallen person, disappear.

(53) There are five (classes of) Bramha-ghata-s (Bramhan-injury): violating the established path or tradition (making it unusable for others), cooking/eating for oneself (without proper offering), defiling Bramhana-ascetics, being highly greedy, and selling out the Vedas. (54) He, who inviting other Brahmans, robs their money etc., and does not (revert and) repent, even he is also ordained as bramha-ghataka. (55) O Vipra-s, that who acts in malice towards someone he knows as Dharma-follower, that ignorant is also ordained as bramha-ghataka. (56) Cow-herds that came to a pond for drinking the water, someone who hinders them from drinking, even he is ordained as bramha-ghataka. (57) O Best Amongst the Dvija-s, from all these and other accumulations of heinous sins equivalent of killing a brahmana, only Setu liberates. (58) By visiting Setu, one is liberated from all these (papa-s), beyond doubt.

One, who rejects the sacred domestic yagya fires, consumes away the offerings that are due to devatas, (59) drinks toxins, keeps company of prostitutes, eats away the offerings that are due to the other deities, all these are fallen men. (60) These mentioned, are worthy of all banishment, even Gods have declare so. (However), performing sacred rites at Setu can even liberate these sin-fallen. (61) These, drinkers and others, are liberated by plunging into the waters at Setu, wearing yellow clothes, eating kanda-mula-s, (62) and drinking a potion of sandal wood, camphor, bettle nut, and honey. They should also donate copper, bronze and rudraksha. (63) Thieves who have on purpose stolen gold etc, even they are liberated at Setu, without doubt. (64) O sages, these and also other thieves, all are liberated from their sins, by performing ritual karma-s at Setu, where their deeds become immaterial.

(65) (With passion and sexual desire, One who goes to) Sister, Daughter-in-law, woman having menses, brother's wife or friend's wife, (66) drunken women or prostitutes, others' wives or widows, or his own teacher's wives - these are all known to be worthy of being banished from all the karmas. (67) These, and others such, are known to be equivalent of someone who violates his teacher's nupital bed. (However,) O Sages, even they are liberated by performing sacred rites at Setu. (68) Those and others who keep company of those, are all great sinners. (But,) with the magnanimity and significance of the Setu-snan, even they are liberated.


Desires for Heavens and Wealth
(69) O Vipra-s, those men also perform rituals at Setu, who are desirous of enjoying the Menakas etc., in heavens, whom even dazzling Sun and other devatas can not come close to, without performing proper yagya-s with sacrificial ladle. (70) And those men, who have pious desires, they should perform rituals at Setu with devotion. (71) O dvija-s, men desirous of lands, wealth, gold, grains, and heavens etc., they too should perform rites at Setu. (72) Men desirous of heavens, should perform vows of upavasa, and accomplish fine tapasyas, and conduct rituals at Setu the liberator. (73) Performing ritual karma-s at Setu gives Moksha, and cleanses one as (clean as) snow. (74) Performing rites at Setu, without any desires, causes all sins to be destryed. Performing rituals at Setu, as specifically read in Purana-s, is - (75) O Best amongst the Dvija-s, declared to be freeing from recurring birth, and truely liberating. Men, who perform rites at Setu, with objective of attaining wealth, they do gain joy. (76) O Bulls Amongst the Dvija-s, they attain enormous wealth. And those, who perform rituals at Setu with objective of purification, they obtain purification. (77) If rituals are performed for desires of enjoying with the divine Apsara-s, if so, then rites at Setu provide that too in the heaven. And if, the rituals are performed for Moksha, then Setu the liberator provides that, and ceases the recurrence of rebirths. (79) With rituals at Setu, one attains Dharma, and with rituals at setu one attains un-decaying (heavens too. Therefore,) O Best amongst the Dvija-s, rituals at Setu are fulfillers of all desires. (80) Setu-snan is declared as more punya than all the vrata-s, higher than all yagya-s of tradition, and better than all Yoga-s and teerthas.

(81) O Best amongst the Dvija-s, those who entertain the desires of (enjoying) the regions of Indra-s etc., they should at once perform the rituals at Setu built by Rama. (82) Regions of Baikuntha, Bramhaloka, or Kailasha the abode of Siva, abide gladly with the wills of those who reverently perform karma-s at Setu. (83) He attains long life, health, wealth, intellect, beauty and other qualities, attains the wisdom of all the four Vedas and their Vedanga-s, (84) of all shastras, gains knowledge of all the Mantra-s, who performs karma-s at Setu, the giver of all the Siddhi. (85) Siddhi is verily attained, by those karmas, beyond doubt. Also from poverty and naraka-s, that person becomes separated. (86) Faithfully, all mortals should bathe at Rama Setu, which is the giver of liberation to even those without faith. (87) Setu-devotee does not suffer miseries in this world and also in the other. By performing karma-s at Setu, all accumulated sins are destroyed. (88) And, O Dvija-s, by karma-s at Setu, the treasure of Dharma multiplies, like moon grows in the bright fortnight, or like the various jewels grow in the ocean. (89) Like that O Dvija-s, grow the Punya-s by bathing at the Setu. Like Kamadhenu fulfills all the desires in this world, (90) or like Chintaamani gives wish fulfillment to men, or like the tree of Amarabela fulfills all that is desired. (91) Likewise, Setu-snan provides all fulfillments to men.

Those Unable to Visit Setu
If someone is unable to visit Setu, (92) then he should donate a little money he has saved for Setu-pilgrimage, to poor. Donor attains the similar punya-s as the one attained by the actual Setu-snan. (93) And the receiver (of this money) also attains the entire fruits of the Setu-snan. Towards the Setu pilgrimage, this money donated to a Bramhana is acceptable. (94) Kshatriyas can also accept such money, from other than Bramhanas. Vaishyas can receive the money, from other than Kshatriyas. (95, 96) Sudras should refrain from receiving such money from whichever man. To the person who is going to Setu, people should provide with money or grains or also clothes. This attains the fruits of the best yagya-s like Ashwamedha etc. (97) (By doing so,) one gains the fruits as that of studying all the four Vedas. Vaishyas gain through such donation, the foremost fruits. (98) What more to rave, all wishes are fulfilled, all sins (as grave) as killing a Brahmana etc., are washed away there beyond doubt. (99) And, one who receives such donations, he too attains the similar fruits. One attains no harm even in begging or soliciting money (from others) for the sake of pilgrimage to Setu.


(100) In greed, one who robs (such money) that someone has kept for making Setu-pilgrimage, and does not (revert and) repent, he is declared as an extreme bramha-ghataka. (101) If someone poor or even wealthy solicits help for the sake of making pilgrimage to Setu, wise men do help. (102) Those who accept money for the sake of visiting Setu, but under the influence of greed, do not (actually) visit Setu, they are (declared as) bramha-ghataka-s. (103) By something or the other, somehow, those who (successfully) accomplish the pilgrimage to Setu, they attain joy. O Best amongst the Dvija-s, those who are unable to (visit Setu), they should provide dakshina to those who are going. (104) As there is no harm in begging for the sake of performing the yagya-karma-s, likewise there is no harm in begging for the sake of performing the Setu pilgrimage. (105) By giving alms to the seeker for spending in the Setu-snan, the donor attains the same fruits as that attained by the pilgrim himself. (106) Like liberation was attained through Gyan in Satayuga, and through yagya-sacrifices in Tretayuga, excellent likewise in other yugas is donating to people who are going on Setu pilgrimage.

Thus completes the first chapter named setu-gamana-phalAdi-varNanam of Bramhakhanda, the third book of Sri Skanda Maha Purana.
{End of translation}

The above showcases how unique and tremendous importance Hindu shastras place in Setu, throughout the traditions.

Author can be reached at shandilyabodhi at yahoo dot com

hits since Chaitra 7, 2064 Vikram (March 26, 2007)