Thursday, 6 June 2019

Kasi Panchakam

(An internal pilgrimage)

Kasi is a holy city of pilgrimage dating back to 11th century B.C.  It is considered as the spiritual capital of India, with the sacred river Ganga flowing through it and with one of the holiest of Siva temples, Kasi Viswanatha temple, enshrining one of the twelve Jyothirlingas.  Pilgrims flock to it as the faithful believe that a dip in the holy waters of Ganga washes off all signs and that death in this sacred city liberates one from the cycle of birth death. But, there is also a deep spiritual significance to every aspect of Kasi and its sacred river, Ganges. A study of the Kasi Panchakam by Sri Adhi Sankara helps us understand this spirit and rise above the literality.  Sri Adhi Sankara in this work ‘Kasi Panchakam’ talks about an internal pilgrimage drawing analogy from external pilgrimage to Kasi that would give liberation to the individual.  We can recall here the third valli of Kathopanishad in which the internal spiritual journey for Self-knowledge is presented through chariot imagery where the pursuit of Self-knowledge is taken as a form of external travel, with body, sense organs, mind and intellect as the four-fold instruments of chariot, horses, reins and driver respectively and the chidabhasa jivatma as the traveller for this knowledge travel.  In Sri Sankara’s work also we find the external pilgrimage of Kasi Yatra serves as an imagery for internal journey for Self-knowledge that liberates Jiva.  Kasi Panchakam, a small work of five verses, is a nitidhyasanam grantha, and we shall now see those verses one by one.

Verse no.1

Mano nivruthi paramopa santhi,
Sa theerthavarya mani karnika cha,
Gnana pravaha vimaladhi ganga,
Saa kasika’ham nija bodha roopa.

I am that city of Kasi in the form of my own pure Consciousness. The supreme peace that is the quietude of the mind is that Manikarnika ghat, the holiest of the holy. The flow of the waking consciousness is the divine Ganges.

Kasika means Kasi, the holy pilgrimage centre. The word ‘Kasi’ means that which shines and Sri Sankara plays with this meaning when he says ‘Saa kasika’ham nija Bodha rupa’ meaning I am that Kasi, the self-shining pure Consciousness. That Consciousness is the substratum, the light of lights, in which all human experience shine.  The multiple experiences of the waking and dream states shine in It. Deep sleep, which is absence of all experiences, is also an experience that shines in that Consciousness. One has to understand that Consciousness is the matrix of the universe.  That self-shining Pure Consciousness is the Kasi and that Kasi is our athma swarupa.  The Manikarnika ghat in Kasi is the popular and sacred cremation ghat and the pious take bath there and conduct their prayers. This ghat symbolizes the negation of identification with the body. One has to die to the body to become awake to the truth of one’s Self.  Further Manikarnika ghat is compared to a quiet, peaceful mind, which is free from longing for worldly objects that is necessary for absorption of Athma Jnana.  In Kasi, the river Ganges is vimala, sanctifying. Water of the Ganges remains pure despite a lot of toxins and chemicals that are dumped into it.  No other river has such power of self-purification.

Verse 2

Yasyamidham kalpithamindra jalam,
Characharam bathi mano vilasam,
Sachid sukhaika parmathma roopa,
Saa kasikaham nija bodha roopa.

I am the city of Kasi in the form of my own pure Consciousness. In it shines this unreal magic called the world consisting of moving and non-moving life forms. This world is mere playfulness of the mind. That Reality is One (without a second), Existence-Awareness-Bliss, obtaining as the innermost core of the individual.

This verse illustrates the essence of Advaita Vedanta “Brahma Satyam Jagat Mithya, Jeevo Brahmaiva Na Aparah”.  The world which was not present for oneself during deep sleep comes to life when one wakes up. The world also arises along with the body, and there is an instant identification with the body giving birth to the person. The body and the world arise and resolve together. Just as the film moving in the presence of the light makes a movie, so also the playfulness of the mind in the waking consciousness creates the world. The movie has all the elements of samsara consisting of pleasure, pain, attachment, aversion etc., including the space and time. It has mountains, rivers, gardens, flowers, animals, birds and creatures. Everything exists and shines in the brilliance of the projector light. Our waking world is no different.  The light is the self- shining pure Consciousness and the projector is manovilasa, the playfulness of the mind projecting the film of entire world of moving and unmoving, living and non-living.  The reality is ‘Sachid sukhaika’, the one Existence-Awareness-Bliss.  And the world that we experience is only a projection of the mind, a captivating and binding illusion like a magic show and this is realised when one negates all the projections through Self-knowledge.  The Real Self is the innermost Self, Athma that is ‘Paramathmarupa and not the self, identified with body-mind complex.  One normally derives the sense of Self from attributes of non-Self, like relationships, position, power, qualifications etc., and anything other than Athma is mithya only, not Real.  The real Self, Athma, shines gloriously when one ceases identifying with something that is non-Self.

Verse 3

Koseshu pancha swadhi raja mana,
Budhir bhavani prathi deha geham,
Sakshi Shiva sarva ganontharathma,
Saa kasikaham nija bodha roopa.

I am that city of Kasi in the form of my own pure Consciousness. The all-pervading witness, who is the inner ruler, is Lord Siva. The intellect shining as the presiding deity in the five sheaths in everybody is Bhavani (the consort of Siva).

Kasi is the Pure Consciousness, the Infinite, which manifests in the finite body-mind as sakshi Athma, witness of all cognitions and actions. Siva is that sakshi Athma present in all living beings.  It is the witness to the entire movement of the mind, which is broadly classified as waking consciousness, dream consciousness and the unmanifest consciousness of deep sleep. One becomes aware of the objects when they come into contact with its reflection in the intellect, which is Prakriti.   As the Gita says (13 . 22) purusah prakrtistho hi bunkte prakrtijan gunan, i.e. Purusa, here Siva, enjoys/suffers the qualities of Prakrti and acquires doership/enjoyership.  Prakriti is here identified with Bhavani, consort of Siva, as identification with Prakrti makes Siva (Purusha) a samsari.   

Verse 4

Kasyam hi kasathe kasi kasee sarva prakasika,
Sa kasi viditha yena thena praptha hi kasika.

The city of Kasi is indeed shining in the Consciousness that is Athma. That Kasi illuminates all. Whosoever realizes that Kasi indeed gains Kasi (moksha).

Kasi is the light of lights, the pure Consciousness that is Athma. In the waking state, the eyesight is light to shapes and colors and the ears are light to sounds. Mind is the light of all cognition. But all these lights are illuminated by one light, the light of pure Consciousness. In the dream state too, the light of pure Consciousness illuminates the mind and all of its projections. In the deep sleep state, all lights are gone; no sun, no moon, no eyesight, no ears, no mind and yet, the absence of all is lighted up by the light of pure Consciousness. This Jnanam is Kasi and this Jnanam gives liberation, Moksha.  So Moksha is also called Kasi.  The sadhaka who understands the Athma which is Kasi, gains Moksha, which is also Kasi.

Verse 5

Kasi kshethram sareram tribhuvana janani vyapini jnana ganga,
Bhakthi sradha gayeyam nija gurucharana dhyana yoga prayoga,
Vishwesoyam thureeya sakala jana mana sakshi bhoothontharathma,
Dehe sarvam madheeye yadhi vasathi punastheertha anyath kimasthi.

Body is the pilgrimage centre of Kasi. The all-pervading flow of knowledge is the Ganges, the mother of the three worlds. Devotion and faith are this city of Gaya. The communion of meditation on the feet of one’s preceptor is the city of Prayag.  So what is the need for pilgrimage as all pilgrim centres are in my body?

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was once asked if he would go on pilgrimage to Kasi. He replied that he was not interested because he sees Siva in his own heart. He urged his disciples to have motiveless devotion in the heart, rather than visiting places. He was highlighting what is important rather than putting down pilgrimage.  This spirit is reflected in this verse.
Pilgrims usually visit Prayag and Gaya in addition to visiting Kasi. Sri Sankara includes all the three places in the symbolism. The sacred city of Kasi is body. Just as the Ganges flows in Kasi, so also the manifest consciousness flows in this body.  Shraddha and Bhakthi, faith and devotion, is Gaya, where one performs srardha for  one’s pitrus.   Meditation on the feet of the Athma Vidya Guru is Prayag which is the confluence of the three sacred rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Sarasvati, the unseen and in meditation, on Guru’s feet, the body, mind and ego resolve in Guru who personifies the Paramathma.  So what is the need for pilgrimage to one, when the body is the sacred city of Kasi, and the manifested Consciousness in mind is the holy Ganga and one’s faith in the words of scriptures with devotion to Iswara is Gaya and one’s dhyana of  the feet of Guru who guided him to realisation is Prayag.  When all the pilgrim centres are visualised in one’s body, there is no need to go for pilgrimage anywhere else as for one growing out of the need to do sadhanas when he has absorbed Atma Jnanam and blossomed into a Brahma Jnani.  The real pilgrimage for a Sadhaka is discovering the inner Self by assimilating the Athma Vidya.


  1. Great. Thanks. Now polluted politically-unfortunate.

  2. Great work Adi Sankara wonderfully explained. Thanks. Of late Varanasi is politically polluted.