Panch Prayag is used to connote the five sacred river confluences in the Garhwali Himalayas in the state of Uttarakhand. Prayag in English means confluence.
Confluences are considered sacred in Hinduism where people take bath before worship; perform Shraddha (the last rites for the departed ancestors) and the worship of river itself. There are five sacred confluences widely known as Panch (five) Prayag in Garhwali Himalayas of Uttarakhand namely Vishnuprayag, Nandprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag and Devprayag.
Formation of Panch Prayag connects with the story of goddess Ganga coming to earth to swipe away the ashes of King Bhagirath’s ancestors. King Bhagirath’s ancestors turned into ashes after being cursed by Kapil Muni, a sage.
The place where goddess Ganga appeared was Gangotri Glacier. You can see Submerged Shiva lingam in the origination point of river Ganga before winter when the ice is melted. While falling down to earth, river goddess Ganga divided into 12 streams to make it easier for earth to endure her force. Panch Prayag are the places where five different streams of Ganga confluence at five different places.
Confluence of Alaknanda River and Dhauliganga River, Vishnuprayag is the first of Panch Prayag. Alaknanda flows in front of the Badrinath temple, one of the most revered Hindu shrines. Dhauliganga originates in the Niti Pass high up in the mountains.
Vishnuprayag lies in Chamoli district on Joshimath-Badrinath road, 35km from Badrinath temple. Situated 1,372 meters above sea level, Vishnuprayag derives its name from Lord Vishnu who appeared at the place to answer to the meditation of sage Narada.
This stretch of the Alaknanda River is called the Vishnu Ganga. An octagonal shaped temple - located near the confluence - dated to 1889, is credited to Maharani of Indore - Ahalyabai. Though originally built to install a Shiva lingam, it now houses a Vishnu image. A stairway from this temple leads to the Vishnu kund (kund means pool of water or lake) at the confluence, which is seen in a tranquil state.
Nandprayag is at the confluence of the Nandakini River and the Alaknanda River. Nandprayag lies in Chamoli district on Joshimath-Badrinath road, 21.3Km from Karnaprayag and 10.5Km from Chamoli. Situated 914 meters above sea level, Nandprayag is believed to be the capital city of Yadu Kingdom in Dwapara Yuga.
Hindu devotees take a dip at the sacred confluence Nandprayag before entering Nandprayag temple to perform Pooja. According to one tale, a noble King Nanda performed Yagnya (fire-sacrifice) and sought blessings of God. Hence, the confluence is named after him.
Nandprayag is also famous for its trekking trails, rock climbing and other adventure sports.
Karnaprayag is the location where Alaknanda River is joined by the Pindar River that originates from the Pindar glacier, below the Nanda Devi Mountain range. The epic Mahabharata narrates that Karna did penance here and earned the protective gear of Kavacha (armour) from his father, the Sun god, which gave him indestructible powers. The name of the confluence is thus derived from the name of Karna.
The temples of Uma and Karna hold significant position among the people of Garhwal and Kumaun. Pilgrims visit these temples and the holy confluence Karnaprayag throughout the year with great devotion and faith.
Alakhananda River meets with Mandakini River at 610 meters above sea level forming Rudraprayag. The confluence Rudraprayag houses a temple of Lord Rudra and another of Goddess Chamundi. God Rudra is the Raudra (angry) form of lord Shiva and Goddess Chamundi is one of the nine forms of Goddess Parvati.
Dev Prayag is the confluence of the two holy rivers, the Bhagirathi - the chief stream of the Ganges and the Alaknanda. It is the first prayag on the way to Badrinath. Beyond this confluence, the river is known as Ganges. The holiness of this place is considered equal to the famous Triveni Sangam – the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati Rivers at Allahabad.
The contrast between the two rivers joining here is striking. The Bhagirathi runs down a steep declivity with rapid force, roaring and foaming flowing over large fragments placed in its bed, while the placid, Alaknanda, flowing, with a smooth, unruffled surface, gently winds round the point till, meeting with her turbulent consort, she is forcibly hurried down, and unites her clamours with the blustering current.
Raghunath temple dedicated to lord Rama, the incarnation of lord Vishnu is the attraction of Devprayag. Other popular shrines in Devprayag are Shiva temple, Kaal Bhairav temple, Hanuman temple, Badrinath temple and Shandrashil temple.