By Swami Harshananda
Aśvatirtha literally means ‘place of pilgrimage connected with horses’.
The religion considers that visits to places of pilgrimage results in great merit and also destruction of the sins. One of the minor places of pilgrimage (generally called ‘tīrtha’ or ‘tīrthakṣetra,’) is Aśvatirtha situated near Kanyākubja (the modern Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh).
It is stated in the Mahābhārata that when the sage Rcīka wanted to marry Satyavati, the daughter of the king Gādhi (father of the famous sage Viśvāmitra) he demanded 100 white horses, with one ear black in color, as bridal fee. Rcīka prayed to god Varuṇa by whose grace the horses rose from the river Gaṅgā at this point. Hence this place was named as Aśvatirtha.
There are two more places of the same name, situated on the rivers Narmadā and Godāvarī. The latter is said to be the place where the twin deities, the Aśvins, were born.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore