India has long been the place people go to rediscover themselves, to clear their heads and answer their questions about life. A trip to India is a life altering experience, that’s a fact. You’re bound to meet great people, learn about an amazing culture and see places and things that are going to blow your mind. Any trip to India is going to be a journey – with ups and down, with days you’ll feel overwhelmed, tired, content and elated. They say that India is not a destination, but a journey! Even if you are not religious or even spiritual, you should visit at least one holy site, or go on a pilgrimage – you will learn new things about yourself and life in general. And remember, the most important thing when embarking on any journey is to stay safe and enjoy yourself.
Here in India there is the oldest operating pilgrimage tradition in the world. Although Hinduism does not force pilgrimage on its followers, it has become embedded in their essence and the entirety of India may be considered one large sacred space. Going to the sacred places is called tirtha-yatra from the Sanskrit tirtha which means steps to a river/ place of worship and pilgrimage. These places are so much more than physical locations, they are thought to be the place where heaven of hell meet, the place where one needs to pass through in order to achieve spiritual liberation.
For a place to be considered a pilgrimage place it needs for a god, goddess, spirits or saints to have lived or still be living there. In addition to that, all temples are considered sacred and but for it to be considered a true pilgrimage site, it needs to have a tradition of attracting pilgrims. According to studies there are a little over 1 800 pilgrimage sites in India. You don’t necessarily need to be going on a pilgrimage for your journey to have some sort of moral significance, but if a pilgrimage is what you would like, we know some of the most famous locations.
1. The Four Corners of India Pilgrimage sites (Char Dham): Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka and Badrinath. These pilgrimage is the most important route for most Hindus.
2. Held every twelve years, the Kumbha Mela is considered to be the largest peace gathering in the world. It takes place in one of four places and in 2013 there were over 100 million people who took part in the pilgrimage!
3. The Arupadaividu – the sacred places of Lord Kumara.
4. The Seven Sacred Rivers – Ganga, Narmada, Yamuna, Saraswati, Kaveri, Godavari and the Sarayu
5. Shakti Peethas is the pilgrimage that worships the goddess Shakti, the Divine Mother. She is the primordial energy that moves things in the universe – the great feminine creative power.
Why do You go on a Pilgrimage?
The purpose of a pilgrimage is for the pilgrim to receive a darshan of a deity. Darhsan means the experience of deity by the pilgrim through different sightings, images – it means a spiritual and direct communion with a deity. It is a type of western revelation, a theophany – a religious or spiritual epiphany. A trip to India can help a traveler put things into perspective, find peace and meaning, this is the reason so many are considering India to be the perfect place for soul searching.
If you’re not religious or spiritual, don’t worry, there are other reasons, less spiritual, for you to visit India: grab any travel book and you’ll see that India is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, so don’t limit yourself while you’re there. Try the food, talk to locals, travel by train and buses (it’s a great way to get a taste of a place) and be fearless. And if some of the spirituality rubs off on you, then consider yourself lucky, you’ve been touched by India and that is something that is really special.
India may just be the best place on earth for doing some soul searching, so if that’s what you need or want, go ahead and start planning your trip to India right now. The trip will be a journey you need to be prepared for, so do extensive research before booking your ticket, so that there will be no unpleasant surprises. If you’ve been to India on a pilgrimage or just as a tourist, how about leaving us a few lines on your thoughts on the trip? Our readers would love to hear about your experiences!