Garh Mukteshwar situated on the banks of the holy Ganga is a sacred tirthasthala of immense importance since the ancient times. This place known earlier as Shiva Vallabhapura and Khandava Vana has been mentioned in the Hindu scriptures as the place that liberates one from all sins and the cycle of birth and death.
According to the Puranas, Durvasa Maharshi was engaged in tapas (penance and austerities) on the Mandarachal Parvat. The Shiva ganas were passing by and in a momentary lapse of judgement disturbed the devout sage. Durvasa Maharshi opened his eyes and saw the retinue of Shiva’s attendants and cursed them to take the form of piśāca.
The Shiva ganas fell at the feet of Durvasa Maharshi and sought forgiveness. The great sage instructed them to go to Shiva Vallabhapura and do tapas. The Shiva ganas immediately left for the sacrosanct Shiva Vallabhapura and sat down for tapas till Karthik Purnima.
Lord Mahadev pleased with their devotion liberated them from their piśāca form and took the form of Gana Mukteshwar Mahadev in this place. It has also been stated in the scriptures that the legendary Raja Shibi consecrated the Shiva Linga at Mukteshwar Mahadev and built the original temple. Somewhere along the way, the name of the place changed from Gana Mukteshwar to Garh Mukteshwar (probably because the Garhwal Kingdom built several temples in this region).
Even Jaya and Vijaya, the two gatekeepers of the abode of Lord Vishnu came here to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and rid themselves of their sins. In the Treta Yuga, Parashurama arrived in this divine place. He used to carry the water of the Ganga and pour it over Mukteshwar Mahadev. It is said that Parashurama consecrated five Shiva Lingas during Karthik Ganga Snan. One is located in the courtyard of the Mukteshwar Mahadev Temple, one is in the forest near Nahusha Koop, one at Kalyanpur Mahadev, the fourth at Lal Mandir in Datiyana and the fifth in Meerut.
In the Dwapura Yuga, Dharmaraja Yudhishtira was deeply anguished over the loss of lives in the mighty Kurukshetra war and on the advice of Lord Krishna, prayed to Lord Shiva for forgiveness. He then took a dip in the Ganges and did pind dāna for the deceased. Even today, thousands come in Pithru Paksha to do pind dāna for their ancestors.
Raja Nahusha who had been cursed by Agastya Maharshi and had taken on a fearsome form of a reptile (either chameleon or serpent) had taken refuge in this place of great antiquity. A chance meeting with Dharmaraja Yudhishtira and conversation on dharma convinced Raja Nahusha to perform a yagna and liberate himself from the curse. He built a well known as Nahusha Koop that is near the Mukteshwar Mahadev Mandir. Garh Mukteshwar is also believed to have been part of the Kuru kingdom.
Thousands throng this place in the auspicious months of Karthik, Magha and Agrahāyaṇa (Mārgaśīrṣa) to take a dip in the Ganga River at Brij Ghat and offer prayers at Mukteshwar Mahadev.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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