Hindu Pilgrimage

There are places of great religious significance in every religion about which there is firm faith among the followers that the places are closely related with the gods, messengers of the gods and deities they follow. The followers make a journey to those places in their lifetime once or several times to achieve spiritual salvation. The journey to these religious places is called pilgrimage and the person who goes to visit the places is called a pilgrim. The Sanskrit and Hindi word for pilgrimage centre is tirtha, which literally means a river ford or crossing place. Apart from the fact that pilgrimage centers are situated on riverbanks, they also have metaphorical importance for transition to the other side of worldly troubles or beyond the endless cycle of birth and death.

The term Hinduism Is derived from the word Hindu, which is a mispronounced form of Sindhu, a river flowing in western part of India which included modern day Pakistan. The civilization that grew around the river Sindhu in course of time came to be known as Hindu Dharma or Sanatana Dharma which is recognized as the oldest religion of the world.  Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world after Christianity and Islam. Several  sacred places are attached with the religion and so Hindus make pilgrimage to these places from far away places.

The pilgrim locations of Hindus are located all around the country. Many times these places are located at the sites which have difficult terrains to be covered in order to reach the sites. Therefore, a lot of devotion and determination is required among the pilgrims which act as a motivation to reach to these far off places of faith. The other motivation comes from the belief that all the sins could be washed away if one pays the visit to the pilgrim places. As evident from the fact that the places are situated at difficult terrains many times, the people like to go in groups and so many times the pilgrimage is mostly undertaken in groups in a certain part of the year. A Hindu, if he does not go to all the pilgrim places, must go to Char Dhams and so they become the chief pilgrimage circuit of the Hindus.

Major Hindu Pilgrimages are:

  • Char Dham (The Four most important Pilgrimage sites): The four sacred places in India which every Hindu wishes to visit during his life time are : Puri in Orissa, Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, Dwarka in Gujarat, and Badrinath in Kashmir which composes the pilgrimage circuit of Char Dham (four abodes of devotees).
  • Kumbh Mela : Kumbh Mela is one of the Hindu pilgrimages in which millions of people participated that is held after every four years. Location for this Mela is rotated according to the stars between four cities which are located on the banks of river Ganga – Haridwar, Ujjain, Allahabad and Nashik.
  • Other major Hindu pilgrimages: Varanasi (Earlier known as Kashi), Allahabad (Earlier known as Prayag), Mathura – Vrindavan, Haridwar – Rishikesh, and Ayodhya.
  • Major Temple Cities: Puri celebrates Rath Yatra every year and a place for Vaishnava Jagannath temple. Katra, place for Maa Vaishno Devi Temple. Other three major pilgrimages are Shirdi - home of Shirdi Sai Baba, Tirumala (Tirupati) – Home of Tirumala Venkateswara Temple, and Sabarimala – home of Swami Ayyappan Temple.
  • Shakti Peethas: where the Mother Goddess Durga or her other forms is worshipped, the two principal ones being Kalighat and Kamakhya.

Pilgrimage has a great psychological impact on the individuals. On the one hand, it gives opportunity to escape from the materialistic world and come closure to the spiritual world. Thus, process of journeying to religious places is highly regarded as the sites where peace of mind, pious feelings and religious powers, knowledge or experience is believed to be achieved.  Hindu pilgrimage finds its mention in ancient scriptures like Rig Veda, Mahabharta and Puranas. The Rigveda (c. 1500 bce), some verses are found to be praising the “wanderer”  or ascetic who go from one place to other in search of truth. The later sacred texts like Mahabharata (c. 300 bce–300 ce) and Puranas (c. 300–750 ce) elaborate on the capacities and potential of visiting particular sacred sites for achieving health, wealth, prosperity, progeny, and salvation. The religious scriptures of the Hindus also enjoin Hindu pilgrims to perform rites on behalf of ancestors and recently deceased kin for their freedom from the cycle of birth and death.

Pilgrimage sites incidentally happen to be great tourists spot. The abundance of natural beauty around the pilgrimage centres attract both the people having faith in the particular religion and also those who do not follow the religion because of the environmental beauty surrounding the site. Huge turn-out of people and resultantly the economy involved also motivates the local people to conserve the environment and the religious places for the future. This in turn gives rise to the concept of sustainable environmental practices.

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