Kankhal Haridwar Heritage Walk What To See & Experience
Kankhal is probably the oldest living area of Haridwar. It is where all the stories of Shiva and Sati continue to live in the temples and on the ghats of Ganga. During my trip to explore the ancient city of Haridwar, I got to explore it intimately. I discovered so many facets of this place that I think it should be on your list to explore next time you visit Haridwar.
Once upon a time, Haridwar existed in and around Kankhal. With time it grew and the central part went into the shadows.
Haridwar is also called Panchpuri, consisting of 5 smaller cities centered around Mayapuri or Maya Devi Temple. Kankhal is one of these 4 cities.
Visit a Dharamshala in Kankhal
Dharamshala is a predecessor of hotels and resorts. These are basic facilities meant for travelers and pilgrims visiting popular places like Haridwar. Families would come and stay here for a few days at nominal charges. They would take up some rooms and cook their own food and live here almost like locals.
Rich people, typically businessmen, would construct these Dharamshalas to earn their own Punya or merit. Look at the lovely cyclic economy where the rich construct for the benefit of those who can not afford to have a house in every place.
I visited the Ruiya Dharamshala that was built more than 100 years go in 1917. Sharma Ji, the caretaker of the Dharamshala, took me around. A simple board hung beneath the arch on a painted doorway announced the Dharamshala.
The architecture is a curious mix of a typical Indian Haveli and colonial architecture There is a Chabutra or sitting platform outside its main gate. It has a huge courtyard surrounded by a row of rooms on all four sides.
Women were sitting in the corridor and cooking for the day. Bathrooms and toilets are behind the main building, as an independent structure. There is a huge field with a temple where I could see a lot of birds even in the May heat. There is a library with many old and rare books.
Despite housing so many people, each of who were busy doing their own work, there was a certain calm to the place. Smiles were genuine and smiles welcoming.
At Ruiya Dharamshala, I met the quintessential Indian traveler or pilgrim. They are not in a hurry. No peer pressure to click pictures & they have time for you. They are here to spend time with Ganga Maiyya, take a bath in her holy waters and read a few scriptures or listen to their Gurus.
I strongly recommend you visit a Dharamshala in Kankhal Haridwar or any other pilgrim site that you may visit.
The Sati Kund today is more of an area in the town. I discovered it by chance when I noticed it on our way to Daksh Temple Complex. It looked like a dried up Kund or a step well, fairly large in size. Stepping into the complex I found a lot of small Yagna Kunds and small platforms indicating that rituals using fire are regularly performed here.
There was no one around to answer my queries. A small Shiva temple was full of devotees in the morning, but none of them could help me with any information. They all come to offer milk to the Shivalinga.
Opposite the Sati Kund, there was a board mentioning Ancient Sati Temple. There was no way to reach this structure that looks absolutely abandoned.
I hope someone does some research on this and tells us what these structures are. More importantly, what kind of rituals are still being performed here.
Temples & Ashrams to See in Kankhal
This is the Ashram of Swami Avdheshanand Giri Ji. It is said to have the Shivalinga made of Mercury or Para as it is called in Hindi. You can not really see it as the linga is covered with many things including flowers.
However, the campus has an old Rudraksha Tree. You can also see bowls full of Rudraksha fruit in various stages.
Sri Yantra Mandir
There is a relatively new but beautiful temple built in the shape of Sri Yantra. The Temple is not just made in the shape of Sri Yantra, inside it you see beautiful yantras being worshipped. In a large hall behind the temple, a Katha was being told. On a side in an open pavilion, Yagnas were being conducted.
Daksh Mahadev Temple Complex
This temple complex is at the heart of the heritage area. It is the venue of the oldest known story in Indian philosophy. So many stories in Indian scriptures and literature eventually go back to the story of Sati.
Sati married Shiva against the wishes of her father, who then responded by not inviting her husband to a Yagna where everyone else was invited. Sati visits her father’s home for the Yagna only to be insulted. She jumps in the Yagna fire and immolates herself. Shiva sends Veerbhadra in rage to destroy the Yagna and kill Daksha.
All the Shakti Peethas were created by the body parts of Sati that fell as Shiva roamed the earth holding her body and Vishnu had to cut it in pieces with his Chakra. Sati was reborn as the daughter of Himvan or the mountain. She did her Tapasya not too far from Kankhal, but that is a story for another day.
You enter the Daksh Mahadev Temple complex through a small gate with lions on both sides. A very simplistic imitation of what we see in our ancient stone temples.
Daksheshwar Mahadev Temple
This is the big temple in this complex. Different colors outline the contours of its arches and layers on Shikhara. Colors on a white background add a bit of vibrancy to the otherwise somber backdrop.
A huge Banyan tree stands next to the temple. Layers of Mauli or the red and yellow thread around the tree tells you it is a revered tree that is worshipped by the devotees visiting the temple.
I get into a queue of people entering the temple. We pass by a Yagna Kund that everyone bows to. Some people even drop a few coins in it. This is supposed to be the place where Sati jumped into the fire. The temple was later built by her father to honor Shiva. Hence, it gets the name – Daksheshwar Mahadev – the lord of Daksha.
The temple is beautiful in a very simple subtle way. However, due to huge crowds, it was not possible to stand there and admire it or understand its architecture.
Ganga Ghat & Temple
In Kankhal Haridwar, you are never too far from Ganga that flows on its either side. At Daksh Mahadev Mandir, a proper ghat is erected. Almost everyone takes a dip in the Ganga. In May, youngsters enjoyed the cool waters of Ganga by swimming in it. There are proper arrangements for those who want to take a dip but do not know swimming.
Next to the ghat is a small temple dedicated to Ganga. Ganga is personified here in her anthropomorphic form. I wish the temple was devoid of all the ceramic tiles that simply take away the energy.
Sheetala Mata Temple
Right Behind the Daksheshwar Mahadev Temple is this Sheetala Mata Temple. Sheetala Mata is usually considered the goddess of communicable diseases like smallpox and chicken pox.
This is supposed to be the birthplace of Sati. The main Murti seems to be relatively new. Behind the main sanctum, I could find an ancient vigrah in stone. It has piercing eyes and 8 arms.
Dash Mahavidya Temple
Right next to Daksheshwar Mahadev temple, is this lovely temple dedicated to 10 Mahavidya forms of Devi.
At the heart of this temple is a giant Sri Yantra in Copper on a wall. Surrounding it, are the images of 10 forms of Goddess as Mahavidyas:
- Tripura Sundari
This is an important temple for the Shakti worshippers.
Brahmeshwar Mahadev Temple
Right next to Dash Mahavidya temple is a smaller Btahmeshwar Mahadev temple. The name indicates that this would be a temple where Brahma worshipped Shiva.
Walking in the lanes of Kankhal Haridwar
It is a typical old town in North India. When you walk in the streets, you discover some strands from the past that bring an instant smile to your face.
Haridwar is a temple town, so no matter where you step, you will find a temple in sight – old or new. Which ones you step into and which ones you pass by is totally an in-the-moment decision. Rest assured, they all will have a story associated with them.
I chose to stop by a tailor who has spent all his life in this shop. At a ripe age of 70+, he still stitches a few shirts every day and is damn proud of it.
They say every plant is nutrition for the body, and every plant in Dev bhumi Uttarakhand is Aushadi or medicine. Forests on the hills of Uttarakhand are known for their medicinal herbs.
In the lanes of this heritage city, I saw a lot of Vaidyashalas. I stepped into a couple of them and met the Vaidyas. They were kind enough to entertain me despite the long queue of patients. They told me about the patients who come to Haridwar from all over the country.
I took a kind of guided walk around the pharmacy where the medicines were being prepared with minimal mechanization. They still use the pastel and mortar to powder the herbs. Many women say together packing the medicines.
Ayurveda is probably a lesser known small-scale industry of Uttarakhand. It was my discovery in this heritage city walk.
Haveli like Akhadas
Walking around, I saw some lovely ornate doors and gateways. I assumed they belong to a Haveli of some rich family. On closer examination, most of them were doors to different Akhadas or religious organizations where Sadhus live.
Akhadas on one side led to Ganga on their other side. Can you ask for a better living space where Ganga flows right beside your home, as soon as it enters the plains from hills?
Sanskrit Schools in Kankhal
Somewhere in between homes and Akhadas, I stepped into an old Sanskrit school. It reminded me that this place should have a lot of Sanskrit and Vedic Pathshalas. Incidentally, the locals said most of them are not doing well.
What would stay with me is the lovely location of these schools, right next to Ganga.
Other famous landmarks include Ma Anandmayi Ashram, Ramakrishna Mission.
Kankhal is located about 3 km South of the famous Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar. You can take any mode of transportation to reach here.
You can walk around the whole area if weather permits. Else, e-rickshaw may be the best option to see the place. Some of the streets are narrow.
Seek permission before you enter any private space like an Akhada or a school.
You can so all this in less than 2 hours. I think I spent almost a day there exploring the big and small things.
Enjoy the quintessential pilgrimage experience with the ancient aura.