Vedic histories tell us that sacrifices performed at this holy place can counteract the evil influences of the present age.
AT THE JUNCTURE OF THE previous age, Dvapara-yuga, and the present one, Kali, eighty thousand sages, headed by Saunaka Rsi, wanted to perform a sacrifice to hold off the effects of the oncoming evil age. They went to Lord Brahma, who lives on the highest planet in the universe.
"Where can we perform a sacrifice that will counteract the influence of Kali?" they asked. "Where will our sacrifice have the greatest effect?"
Brahma told them, "I'll send a disc. Follow it and perform your sacrifice where it hits the earth."
The disc (cakra) went spinning down and down and struck the earth at Cakratirtha, in the forest known as Naimisaranya. According to tradition, the disc passed through the earth and sped toward the Garbhodaka Ocean, at the bottom of the universe. When the disc had passed six of the seven planetary systems between the earth and the Garbhodaka Ocean, the sages became worried that if it were to strike the water, the splash would drown the earth. So they prayed to goddess Durga, the controller of the material energy, and she stopped the disc from going any farther.
This history explains why the lake at Cakratirtha is said to be bottomless. In the nineteenth century, to try to discredit this claim, the British sent a chain down into the lake to find the bottom. After reaching one and a half miles, we're told, they gave up.
Srila Prabhupada writes about Naimisaranya in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.4, purport):
In the Vayaviya Tantra it is said that Brahma, the engineer of this particular universe, contemplated a great wheel which could enclose the universe. The hub of this great circle was fixed at a particular place known as Naimisaranya. Similarly, there is another reference to the forest of Naimisaranya in the Varaha Purana, where it is stated that by performance of sacrifice at this place, the strength of demoniac people is curtailed. Thus brahmanas prefer Naimisaranya for such sacrificial performances.
The Supreme Lord Ramacandra performed a sacrifice here after returning to Ayodhya from exile. The sages had told Him, "You should perform a sacrifice for having killed Ravana, who by birth was a brahmana. You committed a sin, so please perform a sacrifice." Lord Rama, of course, is always untouched by sin. But to satisfy the sages He performed a great sacrifice here at Naimisaranya.
In another history about Naimisaranya, the Ramayana relates that Ravana captured Rama and Laksmana and kept Them in Patalaloka, at the bottom of the universe. But Their servant Hanuman rescued Them. He took Them on his shoulders, sped up through the lower planetary systems, and came back up to the earth at Naimisaranya. So in Naimisaranya at a place called Hanuman Gadi there's a big deity of Hanuman with Rama on one shoulder and Laksmana on the other. Pilgrims buy laddus (round sweets) and put them into Hanuman's mouth.
Jaya Vijaya Dasa of the Padayatra, ISKCON's walking pilgrimage through India, told me about Naimisaranya. He said that when you go there you pass through the vast, open Gangetic plain of Uttar Pradesh. But as you approach Naimisaranya, the land becomes wooded (aranya means forest) and begins to slope a little, and you get the feeling you're entering a very special place.
Unfortunately, Maha-Visnu Dasa and I don't get that effect, because we come in at night by train one of those slowest of the slow trains. Throughout the night we stop at many stations. They're all dark, and no one is there.
When we reach Naimisaranya, we get a shock so many people we can't even get down onto the platform. We have to walk along the tracks. Obviously there's some kind of festival going on. We find out that because the new-moon day has come on a Monday, it's a very auspicious time to come to Naimisaranya. Even though the place is in the remote Sitapura district of Uttar Pradesh, many pilgrims come here because it's a well-known holy place.
We struggle through the crowds to the Gaudiya Math temple, where we'll stay. The temple was founded personally by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master. He generally opened temples in cities, where the people are, but he also opened several temples in places of spiritual importance, even though not very much populated.
The next morning we take photographs, and by evening pretty much everyone has gone. We came just at the end of the main festival.
Waking up in Naimisaranya the following day, I look at my watch with a flashlight. It's four A.M. A conch shell sounds in the distance, announcing an early-morning service in a temple. We hear different things going on over loudspeakers. Someone is reciting the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Someone is having a kirtana.
It's just after the new moon, so it's very dark outside. We're far away from the neon-light cities, and the stars are dazzlingly clear.
Getting water here means throwing a bucket down an open well and pulling it up. So I just get a little water, rinse my hands and mouth, and start chanting on my beads. When the sky turns red and there's a little light, I take my bath.
We visit Suta Gadi, where Suta Gosvami spoke the Srimad-Bhagavatam five thousand years ago. Suta had heard it from Sukadeva Gosvami, who had spoken it to King Pariksit when the king was about to die. And Sukadeva had heard it from his father, the sage Vyasadeva. Vyasa later put the Bhagavatam into writing. It represents his most fully mature realization, and therefore it is known as the ripe fruit of the tree of Vedic wisdom. The essence of the Bhagavatam is the pastimes of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Suta Gadi, where Suta spoke the Bhagavatam, sits on a small hill, beautiful even now. There are many trees all around. We try to imagine what it was like here with thousands and thousands of sages present, all respectful, eager to hear, and pure in their habits, in their mode of life, in their consciousness. No contamination of the present age. No loudspeakers. No cigarettes. What a wonderful spiritual atmosphere must have been present when Suta Gosvami spoke! Even now we can sense it. We can marvel that such a wonderful event took place here.
I also ponder another marvel: Because Srila Prabhupada was a great spiritual master in the line of Suta Gosvami, wherever Prabhupada spoke the Srimad-Bhagavatam, that place became as sacred as Naimisaranya.
Naimisaranya didn't become a holy place only by Suta's speaking here. He spoke here because it was well known as a place of pilgrimage a very special holy place where people come to perform austerities and penances. Many celebrated sages and incarnations of the Lord have come to Naimisaranya, including Lord Balarama, Dadhici Muni, the Pandavas, Lord Nityananda, and Ramanujacarya.
It's said of Naimisaranya, as it's said of other places too, that having come here you don't need to go to any other holy place, because everything is complete here.
There are many fantastic-looking old trees in Naimisaranya big old nim trees with twisted roots coming out of the ground. At the place called Vyasa Gadi, there's a big banyan tree that is supposed to have been here since the time of Vyasadeva, fifty centuries ago. We can't help but think that some of these trees are not ordinary trees but great sages who have come to stand here and meditate on the transcendental pastimes of Lord Krsna.
Bhakti Vikasa Swami comes from England but has lived in India for many years. He now teaches Krsna consciousness at ISKCON's center in Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat.