In religion and spirituality, a pilgrimage is a very long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a shrine of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith. Members of many major religions participate in pilgrimages. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim.
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Pilgrimage centres in various times and cultures
Many ancient religions had holy sites, temples and groves, where pilgrimages were made.
- Karnak, Egypt
- Thebes, Egypt
- Kurukshetra, India
- Oracle of Delphi, Greece
- Dodona, Epirus, Greece
- Ephesus Temple of Diana, Turkey
- Baalbek, Lebanon
- Jerusalem, Israel
A pilgrimage is a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. Every step along the way has meaning. The pilgrim knows that life-giving challenges will emerge. A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given.
Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes.
Why do people go on pilgrimage?
- Some are seeking inspiration.
- Some desire a new perspective, a change of mind.
- Some are studying various spiritual paths.
- Some are learning methods of meditation.
- Some are deeply questioning their life’s purpose.
- Some are committed to the idea and practice of pilgrimage.
- Some are purifying their hearts, confusion giving way to clarity.
- Some want to be in harmony with the natural world.
- Some are spiritual adventurers or just like to be on the road.
- Some want to calm their minds and find peace.
- Some are singers and are looking for something to sing or write about.
In this article, we will discuss various pilgrimage in India.
Pilgrimage Places in India
Kumbh Mela is a mass Hindu pilgrimage. The normal Kumbh Mela is celebrated every 3 years, the Ardh (half) Kumbh Mela is celebrated every six years at Haridwar and Prayag, the Purna (complete) Kumbh takes place every twelve years, at four places (Prayag, Allahabad; Haridwar; Ujjain and Nasik).
The Maha (great) Kumbh Mela, which comes after 12 Purna Kumbh Melas or after 144 years, is held at Allahabad. The last Ardh Kumbh Mela was held over a period of 45 days beginning in January 2007. More than 70 million Hindu pilgrims took part in the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayag and on January 15, the most auspicious day of the festival of Makar Sankranti, more than 5 million participated.
The major event of the festival is ritual bathing at the banks of the river in whichever town it is being held. Nasik has registered maximum visitors amounted nearly to 75 million. Other activities include religious discussions, devotional singing, mass feeding of holy men and women and the poor and religious assemblies where doctrines are debated and standardised.
Kumbh Mela is the most sacred of all the pilgrimages Thousands of holy men and women attend and the auspiciousness of the festival is in part attributable to this. The sadhus are seen clad in saffron sheets with ashes and powder dabbed on their skin per the requirements of ancient traditions.
The Kumbh Mela became an important meeting ground for the devout Hindus and its importance has not diminished over the years. Even today, millions of pilgrims from all over the world, from various walks of life, sects and communities, gather at the Kumbh.
For most, it is a once–in–a–lifetime trip. They probably plan and save over many years to make this visit to the king of tirthas, the Purna Kumbh, seeking salvation. For thousands of traders, shopkeepers and peddlers who gather there, the mela means business and profits. Many come to enjoy the lively and colorful bustle of crowds buying curios and magical stuff and generally having fun. It is both a holy day and a holiday for the people.
Northern Railways announced that in order to clear extra rush of passengers during Kumbh Mela at Haridwar, they will run special trains as per the programme.
Ministry of Tourism: The Government is building 73.50 km of approach roads to the shrines fanning out radially from the Shiva temple at Har–ki–Pauri and the Brahma Kund – the area where the Shahi Snans (holy dips) are scheduled to begin at midnight Jan 14.
The State Government has allocated Rs.19.39 crore to “improve power supply in Hardwar and to set up new sub-power stations and transmission channels while Rs.4.72 crore has been earmarked for street illumination”.
The capacity of generating drinking water has been hiked from 63 mld (million litres daily) to 106 mld,
As part of the Save–the–Ganga mission, which is the civic and religious cornerstone of the 2010 Kumbh Mela, the state government has sanctioned Rs.23.85 crore to build 4.75 km of new bathing ghats – enclaves – and 33.97 km of new sewer lines at a cost of Rs.37.84 crore.
The new infrastructure includes a modern car park, footbridges and a network of arterial roads connecting Har–ki–Pauri to the neighbouring shrines and residential areas.
Char Dham (are the names of four pilgrimage places in India that are widely revered by most of the “Hindus”. They are Badrinath, Dwarka, Jagannath Puri and Rameshwaram.
Geographically speaking, the char Dham make a perfect square with Badrinath and Rameswaram falling on the same longitude and Dwarka (old) and Puri on the same latitude, representing the farthest north, east, west and south points of India (at that time, before coastlines changed).
The Char Dham defined by Adi Shankaracharya consists of two Vaishnavite, one Shaivite and one mixed site. Over the years, the term “Char Dham” has lent itself to the all–denomination Char Dham pilgrimages in the Garhwal Himalayas, where Adi Shankaracharya attained freedom from embodiment.
Earlier known as Chota Char Dham or ‘Little’ Char Dham to differentiate them from the bigger circuit of Char Dham sites, after the mid–20th century they themselves started being called the Char Dham.
Today, the term “Char Dham” usually refers to the all–denomination Himalayan Char Dham. The Char Dhams are often considered the most revered sites for Hindus that have to be visited in one’s lifetime.
Located in the North Indian state of Uttarakhand, Badrinath is the most important of the four sites of Char Dham. It is in the Garhwal hills, on the banks of the Alaknanda River. The town lies between the Nar and Narayana mountain ranges and in the shadow of Nilkantha peak (6,560m).
According to the Bhagavata Purana, “There in Badrikashram the Personality of Godhead (Vishnu), in his incarnation as the sages Nara and Narayana, had been undergoing great penance since time immemorial for the welfare of all living entities.”
The legend goes that Shankara discovered a black stone image of Lord Badrinarayan made of Saligram stone in the Alaknanda river. He originally enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. In the sixteenth century, the King of Garhwal moved the murti to the present temple.
Since it is located only a few kilometres from the Indo–China (Tibet) border, Badrinath is generally a two-day-long journey from either Kedarnath, the site that precedes it in the Char Dham circuit or one of the main disembarkation points on the plains.
Hemkund Sahib, an important Sikh pilgrimage site, is on the way to Badrinath, so the road is especially crowded during the summer pilgrimage season. The nearest airport is the Jolly Grant Airport near Dehradun, (317 km). The nearest railway stations are at Haridwar (310 km) and Rishikesh (297 km) and Kotdwar, (327 km) respectively. There are regular buses operating to Badrinath, from New Delhi, Haridwar and Rishikesh.
Dwarka is located in the West in the state of Gujarat, India. The city derives its name from the word dvar meaning door or gate in the Sanskrit language. It is located close to where the Gomti River merges into the Gulf of Kutch. The city lies in the westernmost part of India. The city derives its name from word dvar meaning door or gate in the Sanskrit language. Dwarka is considered to be one of the holiest cities in Hinduism and one of the four “dhams” along with Badrinath, Puri, Rameswaram. The city is especially respected by Vaishnavas.
The Jagatmandir temple which houses the Dwarkadish, a form of Krishna is also located in Dwarka. Nageshwar Jyotirling, one of the 12 holy shrines of Lord Shiva, is located near Dwaraka.
Dwarka is also the site of Dwaraka Pitha (also known as Sharada Pitha), one of the four cardinal mathas established by Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the others being those at Sringeri, Puri and Jyotirmath. The legendary city of Dvaraka was the dwelling place of Lord Krishna. It is believed that due to damage and destruction by the sea, Dvaraka has submerged six times and modern day Dwarka is the 7th such city to be built in the area.
Jagannath Temple Puri
Puri located in the East is located in the state of Orissa, India. Puri is one of the oldest cities in the eastern part of the country. It is situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Puri is also famous for its annual Ratha Yatra or “Festival of Chariots”, when the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra, are brought out of the temple and placed in a chariot procession. This festival occurs on various dates of the Gregorian calendar, typically in the month of July.
The main deity is Shri Krishna, celebrated as Lord Jagannatha. It is the only shrine in India, where goddess, Subhadra, sister of Lord Krishna is worshipped along with her brothers, Lord Jagannatha and Lord Balabhadra. The main temple here is about 1000 years old and constructed by Raja Choda Ganga Deva and Raja Tritiya Ananga Bhima Deva. Puri is the site of the Govardhana Matha, one of the four cardinal institutions or Mathas established by Adi Shankaracharya.
The town is famous for its many Mathas (Monasteries of the various Hindu sects). It also houses the relics of many Hindu figures as traditionally it is seen as a holy place to die in or to be cremated. As a result, it has had a disproportionate number of widows. Like other old Hindu religious towns it has a lot of character that is difficult to be glimpsed or picked up on easily by a casual visitor.
It is located in the South is in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is situated in the Gulf of Mannar at the very tip of the Indian peninsula. According to legends, this is the place from where Lord Rama, built a bridge Ram Setu to Lanka. The Ramanatha Swamy Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva occupies a major area of Rameshwaram. The temple is believed to have been consecrated by Shri Rama.
Rameshwaram is significant for the Hindus as a pilgrimage to Benaras is incomplete without a pilgrimage to Rameswaram. The presiding deity here is in the form of a Linga with the name Sri Ramanatha Swamy, it also is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas.
The pilgrimage of Mata Vaishno Devi is said to be one of the holiest pilgrims in the world. Sri Mata Vaishno Devi resides in a cave and the cave is situated in the three peaked mountain called as Trikoot. Lakhs of devotees pay homage to Mata Vaishnodevi Ji every year. Mata Vaishnodevi fulfills all the wishes of her devotees and now the number of devotees have exceeded to 5 million every year.
Devotees coming to Vaishno Devi are not only from India but also from abroad. Approximately 8 million pilgrims (yatris) visit the temple every year and it is the second most visited religious shrine in India, after Tirumala Venkateswara Temple. The Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board maintains the shrine. A rail link from Udhampur to Katra is being built to facilitate pilgrimage. The nearest airport is Jammu Airport which has very high flight frequency. All leading domestic airlines have their services to Jammu Airport.
Shri Mata Vaishno Devi is believed to grant all the four boons to those who visit Her Holy Shrine. She is considered to fulfil anything and everything that a person wishes for in life, in a righteous way. It is an experience of all, that no one goes empty handed from Her Great Pilgrimage.
The journey to the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi is thus an enchanting journey of the places where Mata Vaishnavi had spent some time while observing various spiritual disciplines and penances. The culmination of this journey is at the Holy Cave where She merged Her Human form with the astral form of her creators, the three Supreme Energies.
The most convenient and less time-consuming mode of transportation for reaching Vaishno Devi is by air. The nearest airport is located in Jammu which is well–connected to the other destinations of India, Delhi, Leh and Srinagar being the major among them. The major domestic airlines operate their flights to and from Jammu.
How to reach Vaishno Devi by Rail Reaching Vaishno Devi by railway is a relatively economical option as well as an interesting one as you will get a glimpse of rural India from up close. Jammu is the main railhead for Vaishno Devi one can get the superfast and express trains for the various destinations of India including Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai.
How to reach Vaishno Devi by Road Road access to Vaishno Devi is very convenient as the region has well– maintained network of state and national highways. The various nearby destinations that connect Jammu, (the nearest transit point of Vaishno Devi) are Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Jallandhar, Ludhiana, Patiala, Chandigarh, Delhi, Jwalaji and Srinagar.
Helicpoter Service Deccan aviation and Pawan Hans boards helicopter from Katra on the foothills and the flight will drop you at Sanjhichatt. This visit to the sacred shrine, enveloped by the clouds is the beginning of a breathtaking heli–hop. The flights operate every day. 5–6 passengers can be accommodated in one flight.
Best Season The Yatra to the Holy Shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi Ji is open throughout the year. The summer months of May, June and July and the festival period of Chaitra (spring) and Sharad–Ashwin (Autumn) Navratras and New Year vacations witness peak rush.
For the convenience of the pilgrims, the Shrine Board offers Free as well as Rented Accommodation at Jammu, Katra and also along the Holy Track. At Jammu, accommodation is available at Vaishnavi Dham and Saraswati Dham complexes located right next to Jammu Tawi Railway Station. At Katra, accommodation is available next to the main Bus Stand. Accommodation is also available at Adhkuwari, Sanjhichat and Bhawan.
Palitana temples are considered to be the most sacred. Located on Shetrunjaya hills there are 863 temples, exquisitely carved in marble. No one is allowed to sleep overnight including the priest because the temple city has been built as an abode for the Gods. The town is considered by many Jains to be more important than the temple covered hills of Bihar, Gwalior, Mt Abu and Girnar. Palitana was the capital of a princely state of the Gohil Rajput clan. It is also one of the greatest tourist attractions in Gujarat for foreign tourists.
Palitana is located in the western Indian state of Gujarat, 51 km southwest of Bhavnagar. It is a part of the Saurashtra region famed for its spectacular temple sites, cities, beautiful beaches and wildlife. The town has a good road and rail network that connects it to the other cities of Gujarat, especially Bhavnagar.
Palitana houses perhaps the largest cluster of Jain temples anywhere. From the base to the peak of the Shatrunjaya Hill, where the Palitana temples are located, there are in all 863 temples. These temples were built in two phases– the 11th and 12th centuries as a part of the resurgence of temple building all over India and in the 16th century.
Some of the earliest temples built in the 11th century were destroyed by Muslim invaders in the 14th and 15th centuries. The current temples date back to the 16th century onwards. Not any one person or group was responsible for the construction of these magnificent temples. It was the effort of the wealthy businessmen who were followers of Jainism that these buildings came into existence.
The temples are exquisitely carved in marble, veritable prayers in stone. To an observer, these appear to be ivory miniatures when seen from a distance. Created by master craftsmen, the most important temple is that of the first teerthankara, Shri Adishwar. It has ornate architectural motifs, though in its overall plan it is simpler than the Choumukh. Other notable temples are those of Kumarpal, Vimalshah and Sampriti Raja.
Kumarpal Solanki, a great Jain patron, probably built the earliest temple. The temple has a fabulous collection of jewels and these can be seen with special permission. The temples date from the 11th to the 20th century. Palitana town is a good place to shop for textile-related handicrafts and has a Jain kala sansta. Every devout Jain aspires to climb to the top of the mountain at least once in his lifetime, because of its sanctity.
The journey is arduous. The walk up the stone stairway hewn into the mountain face takes about an hour and a half. For those unable or unaccustomed to the strain, sling–chairs are available at a bargain. The code for the climbers is stringent, in keeping with the rigours of the Jain faith.
Food must neither be eaten nor carried on the way. The descent must begin before it is evening, for no soul can remain atop the sacred mountain during the night. Such is the mystique of Palitana, the summit of Shatrunjaya. While atop one can also visit a Muslim shrine of Angar Pir. The childless women seek the Pir’s blessings to be blessed with children. They offer miniature cradles to the Pir and the shrine is strewn with such cradles.
How to Reach Palitana
By Air: Bhavnagar, the nearest airport lies at a distance of 51 kilometer from Palitana, but the most convenient airport is Ahmedabad as it is connected through regular flights to many important cities of the country like Mumbai and Delhi.
By Rail: Palitana is a small railway station and has connection only with Bhavnagar. Most of the trains stop at Sihor, which is connected to Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar.
By Road: There are hourly buses for Bhavnagar from Palitana. Regular buses are also available for Ahmedabad, Talaja, Una and Diu. The total journey time to Una or Diu is around 6 hours as the roads are not in a good condition. Taxis are also available on hire for Palitana from Bhavnagar. The bus stand is situated 800 meters away from the Palitana railway station.
It is one of the holiest places of worship in India not only for the Muslims but also for the people of other faiths who hold the saint in high esteem and reverence. The Khwaja Saheb, as a ‘living spirit’ of peace and harmony, enjoys universal respect and devotion ever since he set his holy feet on the soil of Hindustan.
Hazrat Khawaja Muinuddin Chisty was one of the greatest Sufi saints the world has ever known. His spiritual influence and benedictions have been and are still a perpetual source of inspiration courage and guidance to the afflicted humanity, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
Mu’in al-Din Chishti turned towards India, reputedly after a dream in which Prophet Muhammad blessed him to do so. After a brief stay at Lahore, he reached Ajmer along with Mohammad of Ghori and settled down there. In Ajmer, he attracted a substantial following, acquiring a great deal of respect amongst the residents of the city. Mu’in al-Din Chishti practised the Sufi Sulh–e–Kul concept to promote understanding between Muslims and non–Muslims.
Hazrat Shaikh Khwaja Syed Muhammad Mu’in al-Din Chishti was born in 1141 and died in 1230 CE. Also known as Gharīb Nawīz or ‘Benefactor of the Poor’, he is the most famous Sufi saint of the Chishti Order of the Indian Subcontinent.
He introduced and established the order in South Asia. The initial spiritual chain or silsila of the Chishti order in India, comprising Mu’īnuddīn Chishtī, Bakhtiyar Kaki, Baba Farid and Nizamuddin Auliya (each successive person being the disciple of the previous one), constitutes the great Sufi saints of Indian history.
Dargah: At the foot of a barren hill, is situated India’s most important pilgrimage centre for people from all faiths. It is the splendid tomb of the Sufi saint Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti more popularly known as Khawaja Saheb or Khawaja Sharif. The shrine is next only to Mecca or Median for the Muslims of South Asia. Akbar used to make a pilgrimage to the Dargah from Agra once a year.
The mausoleum has a gigantic gate, which was built by the Nizam of Hyderabad. The two massive cauldrons in the courtyard are of particular interest and on the right side of the courtyard ins the Akbari Masjid built in white marble. There is another mosque in the courtyard built by Shahjhan.
The saint’s tomb with a splendid marble dome is in the centre of the second courtyard which is surrounded by a silver platform. The shrine attracts thousands of pilgrims during the Urs–commemorating the death anniversary of the Saint, held from the 1st to 6th day of the Islamic month of Rajab. A colourful fair that springs up during this time is a major attraction.
Shahjhan’s Mosque: In the corner of the inner court of the Dargah, is a magnificent building in white marble with a long (30.5m) and narrow court having low arcade and delicate carvings with trellis–work. It is the most marvelous of all the sanctums within the sanctuary of the Dargah.
How to Reach Ajmer Dargah
By Air: Indian airlines, Jet airways and Sahara airlines have regular service to Jaipur. All the major cities are connected to Jaipur.
By Road: Rajasthan Roadways have regular bus services from New Delhi, running deluxe and air-conditioned coaches from Bikaner house, Delhi. Ajmer is also well connected with the other cities of Rajasthan. With good road conditions, you can also travel by private car/taxi.
By Train: Shatabdi connects Ajmer to Delhi. Shatabdi is fully air conditioned train starts from Delhi (5.55 AM) to Jaipur (10.35 AM). There are other trains also to Ajmer from other cities in rajasthan.