In Sri Vaishnava 108 Divya desams, Eight are swayamvyakta Kshertrams. That is, these are places where the Lord has appeared spontaneously. Among them is Badarikshram and we have reached that place. Badri or badari is the Sanskrit name of a berry [Tamil - ilandai இலந்தை]. Since Sriman Narayana meditated under a badri tree, this place got the name Badarikashram. Apart from this being a swayam vyakta Kshetram, this is also the temple, where Ashtaksharam, one of the Rahasya Trayam, was preached. Tirumangai Alwar starts his Periya Tirumozhi, with pasurams eulogising Ashtaksharam. Ashtaksharam will eliminate diseases, famine and will procure wealth and health. It will cultivate Gyana and Bhakti. We have come to worship the Lord of Ashtakshara, in the same place where Ashtaksharam was born! Sriman Narayana preached Ashtaksharam to His disciple Nara, in this Badarikashram.
We will see many spots in this place. First we see Alakananda river flowing with huge sound.
Ganga has many names like Bhagirati, Tripadaka, Vishnupati, Janhavi, etc. Here she is called Alakananda. Beyond Narayana hills is Alakapuri and this river originates from there and so this name. Alaka means the lock of hair on the head. We have heard of Triveni sangamam at Allahabad or Prayag. Veni means braid. Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers are the three braids on Sri Maha Lakshmi's head. Tirumangai Alwar describes Alakananda in each pasuram. Early morning, the Sun rises in between the hills. Just opposite is Nilakanta hills. It is covered by snow and mist. The rays of the Sun get reflected in the snow, says Alwar. He says further, that it appears that the snow and mist, which look like garment, suddenly start flowing as river, when rays of the Sun fall on ground! He also says that by bathing in this river all our sins are washed away, because of merciful Sri Badri Narayana! He says that Alakananda takes away all ornaments of damsels of Deva loka, as other than the Lord, no one has the right to wear ornaments! We can enjoy the description of nature and its beauty in Alwar's pasurams. One has to study them to feel the delight or has to visit this place! The benefit of bathing in this river, is what Sri Krishna tells in sloka 14 of Chapter 17! Earlier, in the Three slokas 11, 12 and 13, He described the Three types of Yagnas. Now, He talks of Tapas or penance [deep meditation]. Here also Three types of tapas - satvika, rajasa and tamasa. Sloka 14:
devadvijaguruprājñapūjanaṃ śaucam ārjavam
brahmacaryam ahiṃsā ca śārīraṃ tapa ucyate 17.14
He is going to say about tapas for the body. Like this He is going to mention about tapas for speech, mind, satvam, rajas and tamas. First He expalins bodily tapas. Of all actions, bodily action is easy to perform. Bathing in Alakananda is easy! Pujanam = worshiping, deva = Devas, dvija = Brahmins, guru = Acharyas, prajna = Gyanis or well learned elders, are all satvika persons do bodily. This is easy to perform and can be done at wherever we are. Saucam = cleanliness of body, mind and speech. Arjavam = honesty. Swami Ramanuja and Swami Vedanta Desika, in their commentaries have emphasized that saucam or cleanliness of body can be attained by bathing in sacred rivers and living in sacred places. Yes, body cleanliness can be got in our house tap water also, but bathing in sacred rivers is better. Here, it is Sri Pada Theertham and the river comes from the Divine feet of the Lord. Do the fish and other water borne living beings get punya, by being in such sacred rivers? No; because, one has to be conscious that bathing in such rivers is punya! Arjavam means honesty or action, speech and mind being identical! But since here the Lord talks of bodily tapas, we have to understand that arjavam means action of body coinciding with speech and mind. Our action should never contradict whet we speak or think. Brahmacaryam = celibacy. It is not merely not involving in sexual activities; but also, respecting women and not considering females as mere objects for pleasure. Ladies along with males are supposed to participate in activities mentioned in Vedas and try to reach Moksham. Purpose of marriage is this only. Teasing girls or looking at them with lust, are all against brahmacharyam. Ahimsa = never even think of harming any living being. We should not harm any other bodily. These are all bodily tapas. We have to respect elders and sacred places. When elders come, we have to get up in respect. It seems prana vayu in us will automatically rise when elders arrive. If one allows only prana vayu to raise, then it means one is dead! Therefore, at least to save life, we also should get up! When we bathe in Alakananda, at least one of the bodily tapas is performed!