The forest of Naimisharanya is the aranya svarupa, or forest manifestation of Lord Vishnu. ‘Naimishe’ also refers to Visnu’s name, Animish, and Naimish-kshetra refers to the Abode of Lord Visnu. In Sri Vishnu Sahasranama, the Lord is described as being the one Who is ever awake, ever alert, and ever vigilant. He is the wisest of all.
guruh-gurutamo dhaamah satyah-satya-parakramah
nimishho-animishhah sragvee vaachaspatir-udaaradeeh
The name ‘Naimisharanya’ is related to the term ‘naimi’, referring to the chakra released by Lord Brahma that split the earth open, and it is also associated with the sage Gourmukh, who incinerated an asura to ashes here.
The place is mentioned in Valmiki’s Ramayana, in later Sanskrit epics such as the Raghuvansham by Kalidas, and in the Ram Charit Manas by Tulsidas. The Tirtha of Naimisharanya is celebrated as the sacred site where Srila Vedavyasa composed his Mahabharata, and as the place where the great sage Saunaka, after the battle of Kurukshetra, led the saints and sages to shelter, following Brahma’s manifest instructions at Chakra Teerath.
Naimisharanya is considered to be one of the principal places of pilgrimage for Vaisnavas and Saivites, along with Prayag, Pushkar, Kedar, Setubandh and Gokaran. There are numerous temples and shrines here, including the temple of Lalita Devi, the Dadhichi Kund, Vyas Gaddi, Hanuman Garhi, and Chakratirth.
A 16 km. parikrama path circumambulates Naimisharanya, and all of the sacred places in India are said to also be located here. Naimisharanya is believed to have existed at the onset of the universe, and in Satya Yuga, to have been the first ever pilgrimage site manifest on the Earth planet. Naimisharanya was the eighth Aranya and Astama Vaikunta. It is said that 33 crore devathas, 3½ crore shrines, and 88,000 sages reside here always.
In Treta yuga, the famous pastimes took place involving Sri Rama Laksman, the great devotee Hanuman, and the demon Ravana. While bringing Rama and Laksman on his shoulders, Makardhvaj changed their path, and this resulted in Hanuman arriving in Naimisharanya.
As described in Ramayana, when the demon Ravana captured Rama and Laksman and spirited them off to Patalaloka, at the bottom of the universe, Hanuman rescued them. Upon returning to Earth, he arrived at Naimisharanya.
The Hanuman Garhi shrine at Naimisharanya is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in the Tirtha. There is a self-manifested Hanuman deity here, standing 18 feet tall, and a deity of Hanuman with Rama on one shoulder and Laksman on the other. When devotees come to get darshan, they buy big sweets and put them into Sri Hanuman’s mouth.