It is celebrated at shrines along the banks of 12 major sacred rivers in India, in the form of ancestor worship, spiritual discourses, devotional music and cultural programmes. The celebration happens annually, once in 12 years along each river. Each river is associated with a zodiac sign, and the river for each year’s festival is based on which sign Jupiter is in at the time. Due to regional variations, some of the zodiac signs are associated with multiple rivers.
According to a legend mentioned in astrology treatises such as Jataka Parijata (1426), a Brahmin was granted a boon from Shiva after severe penance. The boon was that he would be able to live in water and purify the holy rivers. The Brahmin came to be known as Pushkara (“the one who nourishes”). On a request from Bṛhaspati (Jupiter), he decided to enter one of the 12 sacred rivers when Bṛhaspati traveled from one zodiac sign to another.
Each river is associated with a zodiac sign, and the river for each year’s festival is based on which zodiac sign the planet Jupiter (Bṛhaspati) is in at that time. There are periods when Jupiter is in retrograde motion, resulting in entry into the same Zodiac sign twice in a year. On such occasions, the second entry of Jupiter is reckoned for celebrating the first part of the festival.
The Pushkaram tradition is not mentioned in the early Hindu texts; it is part of the medieval Hindu astrological lore. Therefore, the names of 12 rivers may vary depending on the regional traditions. For example, in Maharashtra, Bhima is associated with Scorpio sign, while in Tamil Nadu, Tamraparni is associated with it. The sacred rivers include:: 32