The place gets its name from the sacred Pushkar lake which is crowded with pilgrims during the Kartik purnima (full moon day in the month of Kartik). There is an interesting story in the Padma Purana about how the lake was created and why it is considered sacred.
One of the reasons why Pushkar became a place of pilgrimage is because the sacred Saraswati river, which is almost invisible, appears here in five streams. The more important reason is because Lord Brahma performed his famous yajna here. The story goes that Brahma felt depressed because he did not seem to have any particular hold over the world, like the others. All other gods and goddesses, such as Siva, Vishnu, Lakshmi and Parvati had so many temples dedicated to them. But there was none dedicated to him!
So, Brahma decided to do something quite spectacular for the people of the earth. Something no one else had done before. He would make it easy for them to reach paradise .
Brahma decided to perform a yajna but he could not make up his mind about the venue. As he stood up, deep in thought, the lotus suddenly fell from his hand. He made up his mind then and there that he would perform the yajna where the lotus fell. As soon as the lotus touched the earth, water began to spout from the spot and soon there was a lake. Brahma named the place Pushkar after the lotus.
The lake was named Pushkar, too.
It was the month of Kartik. Brahma summoned the other deities and sages, allotting special duties to each of them for the yajna. He himself stood with the pot of amrit (nectar) on his head, waiting for his wife Saraswathi to arrive. The sacrifice could not commence without the presence of both. But Saraswathi refused to come because Lakshmi, Parvati and Indrani were not there to escort her. Brahma was very angry when he heard this and ordered Indra to find a bride for him on the spot. Indra wasunsucceful to bring a matiching bride for Brahma.
In the mean time, Brahma was getting quite impatient because the auspicious time was coming to an end and he was finding the pot of amrit very heavy.
Brahma withis power created his another consort Goddess Gayatri.
Brahma married Gayatri and the sacrifice commenced. No sooner was it over than Saraswathi turned up, too. She was so angry to find her husband married to Gayatri that she refused to be pacified by Brahma or anyone else. She left the place in a huff and went up the hill on the north of the lake. A temple for Saraswathi stands there to this day. The pujari of the main Pushkar temple also attends to the worship at the Saraswathi temple.
To get back to the legend, the Pushkar lake became so holy after Brahma’s yajna that anybody taking a dip there went straight to heaven. Even the worst of criminals were no exception! Before long, paradise became overcrowded. The deities complained that the earth was getting to be a really sinful place with no one caring about doing one’s duty or being honest, because everyone knew to go to heaven and live happily thereafter. This made Brahma think again. He finally ordained that Pushkar would be holy for just five days in the year – the 11th day of Kartik until the full moon that followed.
With the advent of Buddhism, Pushkar, like Varanasi and Mathura, became a stronghold of Buddhism, fading into virtual oblivion with the decline of Buddhism. It became a pilgrim centre once again at the beginning of the 9th century AD under the Mandor dynasty. It is said that Narhar Rao, a famous Mandor king, was out hunting one day when he felt thirsty. He came to the Pushkar lake which had by then become a neglected pool and drank from it. He was amazed to find that the white spots on his wrist had vanished at the touch of the water. Sure of the healing quality of the lake, he sought to find its history. He restored the lake by constructing an embankment and built Dharmasalas (free lodging) around it for people to stay.
Later, the place which came into the possession of the Gujars, was won back by a group of sanyasis. They left their descendants in charge of the five main temples; they continue to look after them even now. The five temples at Pushkar are dedicated to Brahma, Saraswathi, Badri Narayan, Varaha, and Siva Atmateswar. The Brahma temple is said to be the only one in the country dedicated to the Lord. The original temples were mostly destroyed by the barbarian invaders.
Pushkar, surrounded by hills almost on all sides, is a beautiful place to visit. The Nag pahar or hill on the east deserves special mention because it is full of interesting old caves. Many of them are associated with great sages like Agastya, Kanva, and Bhartrihari. There is mention of Pushkar in both the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Lord SriRam Goddess Sri sita & sri Lakshman as well as the Pandava princes are said to have visited it during their exile .
The combination of legends and history, scenic beauty and religious sanctity, combine to give Pushkar an aura of its own.