Eleven people died in the land slide when pilgrims going to Kedarnath got trapped. Two people died and about 1000 are trapped but now most are rescued! This happened in Pashupati nath and Manasarovar yatra. This was due to inclement weather. A friend of mine went for Char Dham yatra sometime back. Before starting the journey when they were already near Himalayas, he had fever. He decided to brave it out. He really had a tough time for a long time, after coming back. I am aware that all these pilgrimages, are about religious belief and individual choice. When people take informed decisions, it is for them to decide where to go when to go! At the end of the journey, there is proverbial rainbow of achieving Nirvana!
Travel is one of the biggest teachers that teaches us about many things about life. But what is the reason for taking up any journey? Above journeys are for religious reasons and there are journeys for enjoyment, rest, and some are adventure journeys. For adventure journeys, people normally prepare in advance and such journeys are taken at an early age when the mind and body are both alert and strong. My observation is that above mentioned pilgrimages are in Himalayas, taken much later in life, to achieve peace of mind by following traditional religious practices. This is risky because of the age factor as well weather and young age of Himalayas. Himalayas are very unstable.
I did a bit of research to find out the significance of these journeys in Himalayas. Things appear pretty vague and nowhere is any mention made that these journeys are a must as per mythology! The Mahaprasthanika Parva of Pandavas, started when they took the final journey, is consistently mentioned in various discussions! At the end of Mausala Parva, Vyasa advises Arjuna and his brothers to retire and renounce their kingdom as the purpose of their life has been served. Arjuna informs Yudhishthira of Vyasa’s advice. Draupadi and the brothers agree. So, it was about renouncing everything and taking the final journey.
In fact, the story from Mahabharat of the Mahaprasthanika Parva should be used by people to understand life and follow the path shown in the Parva. When Pandvas started their final journey, Draupadi fell and died first! (Depicted in first picture below) Every one of them died because of their frailties. Draupadi died because she was partial towards Arjun. Yudhisthira said that all should be treated the same way. Next to die was Sahadeva; he died because of his pride and vanity. He felt that none of them was equal to him in wisdom. After that was Nakula’s turn; he also died because of pride and vanity. He always thought that he was the most handsome man in the world. Next was Arjuna; he too died because of his pride and vanity. He always used to boast that he was the best warrior in the world. He once told Yudhisthira that if needed, he could kill all his enemies in one day. Next was Bhima; he had the vice of gluttony, he never used to bother if others needed food! This story explains us about life’s frailties and their effect on us!
I must share one very important aspect from this story. Pandavas befriended a dog on their last journey. (Depicted in picture on the right side) After all of them die except Yudhishthira, Lord Indra in his chariot arrives to pick him up to take him to heaven. Yudhishthira refuses to climb into the chariot without the dog! Finally the dog transforms and appears as deity Dharma. He told Yudhishthira, that his job was to check if Yudhishthira kept his virtues under all circumstances! When we live our life, the deity Dharma is hovering around us too, in the form of a virtual dog! It always keeps on tracking if we keep our moral standards high all the time. But we humans don’t learn these important teachings and try to follow blindly the so called traditions without understanding the thought process behind them.
When people take this arduous journey in the Himalayas in today’s times, do they take it as a final journey? What would be purpose of this journey otherwise? Is it adventure? Is it a trek? Is it pilgrimage? There are major weather-related issues on these journeys in Himalayas; besides that for Kedarnath yatra there is always a terrorist threat. Weather even in summer is always inclement. At least, I don’t see any logical reason to take up these journeys! The mythology clearly mentions that it was the final journey of Pandvas as Vyas Muni had suggested to them that their purpose of life was served.
I feel that people should not follow rituals of going on these journeys blindly, without understanding the real meaning of these stories; in today’s time, it is never intended to be the last journey. Instead people must make sure they have no vanity, no vices. They should be considerate to others. They should treat everybody equally. They should be humble though, all can not reach Yudhishthira’s virtues.
Himalayan sojourn is taken up without giving a thought whether it is right thing to do. From the family’s perspective, is it correct to take such risky journeys? What did the people who died, achieve? To my knowledge, after talking to many people who have taken this journey, they are not sure if it was worth the risk, though they may have achieved “Nirvana”! But none of them had taken such a journey following philosophy of Pandvas. For one of my recent blogs, the title was “Was it worth”? But the journey I had mentioned in that blog was a hectic journey but not an arduous and risky. Are these Himalayan pilgrimages worth it?
Similarly, I want to ask the same question if it is worth it, when the journey is very tough, where deaths occur regularly? To me correct thing will be to learn from the teachings given in mythological stories instead of blindly following the rituals! People mainly forget that Pandvas had started their “Final Journey” so risks did not really matter!