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Thread: India's most popular pilgrimages
01-01-2011, 05:35 AM #1
India's most popular pilgrimages
This Jain tirtha, or temple complex, is located in the midst of a loyus-filled lake and it is believed that Lord Mahavir last preached and then attained nirvana here. The foot impressions of the Jain prophet may also be seen here, inside the main tirthanker, the Shri Mahavir Bhagavan Charanapaduka
The Tirumala Venkateswara Temple near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh
This famous Hindu temple is believed to be the richest and most-visited place of worship in the world, seeing between one and two lakh visitors every day, most of whom get their hair shaved by way of offering to the deity.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu in the form of Lord Venkateswara, evidence indicates that it dates as far back as 300 AD and the idol within is believed by the pious to have self-manifested.
Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Ajmer, Rajasthan
Dedicated to the Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishti, this mosque is one of the most-visited pilgrimage spots for Muslims in India. It is believed that the saint first set foot in the country at Ajmer.
The towering facade, the twinkling lights that adorn the structure at night, the courtyards and the imposing dome are only a few of its many attractions. On top of the dargah's gateway are two pairs of naqqars (beating drums), which were presented by Mughal Emperor Akbar. But for the religious-minded, it is the mausoleum that holds the tomb of Moinuddin Chishti which is most important.
Harmandir Sahib (The Golden Temple) in Amritsar, Punjab
For the Sikh faith, there is no greater shrine than this, one of their oldest and most ornate temples.
Harmandir Sahib means 'House of God' and it contains the holy text of the Sikhs, the Guru Granth Sahib. The external facade of the temple is coated with real gold, hence the title 'The Golden Temple'. The water in the lake surrounding it is also considered holy and within, the temple holds several shrines dedicated to gurus and martyrs.
The four entrances, one on each side, represent a welcome to all, irrespective of creed, colour or gender. Several prominent personalities have also visited the temple, among them Queen Elizabeth II and the Dalai Lama.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Velankanni in Velankanni, Tamil Nadu
This Roman Catholic Shrine was Eracted in the mid-16th century as a result of three miracles -- the appearance of Mother Mary and the Child Christ to a shepherd, the curing of a crippled buttermilk vendor and the safe delivery of Portuguese sailors from a storm at sea.
Also known as the 'Lourdes of the East', the church at Velankanni has been constructed in the Gothic style of architecture and is believed to possess healing powers, which is why pilgrims from across the world flock here to be cured.
Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Literally translated, 'Mahabodhi' means 'great awakening'.
This brick temple, one of the oldest such structures in the country, is located 96 kilometres from Patna and *****ed upon a site most revered by devout Buddhists, who believe that the Buddha attained enlightenment here. To the right of it is the Bodhi tree, under which he is believed to have sat in meditation.
The great Indian emperor Asoka is believed to have built the original shrine at Bodh Gaya around 250 BC and the current structure dates back to 5 or 6 AD.
Shri Sai Baba Samadhi Mandir in Shirdi, Maharashtra
Shirdi sees followers of Sai Baba pour in from every corner of the world to pay their respects to the resting place of the sage -- an average of 20,000 a day and 1,00,000 on festive occasions.
Located in a temple complex, Sai Baba's mausoleum is constructed of pure white marble, with silver columns of intricate design. It also contains several relics from the life of the saint, articles he used in day-to-day life and a stunning statue of him in Italian marble, seated under an umbrella of silver.
Sabarimala Temple in Pathanamthitta, Kerala
With over 50 million devotees flocking to Sabarimala, tucked into the Western Ghats of Kerala, it is the largest annual pilgrimage spot in the world -- and that's even more remarkable when you consider that it's not easily accessible and involves a lot of ritualistic penance (abstinence from sex, non-vegetarian food, alcohol, smoking, abusive language and cutting of hair) and climbing.
The temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Ayappan, is believed to have been *****ed at the spot where he meditated after destroying the demoness Mahishi. It sits on a hilltop 914 metres above sea level, and is surrounded by thick woods.
Although it welcomes all devotees irrespective of religion, women between the ages of 10 and 50 are not permitted into the temple, out of respect for Lord Ayappan, who is believed to have been a brahmachari (celibate).
The temples of Tamil Nadu
The skyline of our southernmost state is dotted with a wealth of ancient temples that have survived centuries and continue to be worshipped today.
While a mention of all these structures is quite impossible, the most prominent among them are the Chidambaram Temple in the temple town of Chidambaram, the Meenakshi Sundareswara Temple in Madurai and the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur. All of them are dedicated to the god Shiva
Chidambaram is one of the five holiest Shiva temples, each of which represents a natural element; this one is representational of akasha or ether. Sprawled over 40 acres, the complex is vast, with water bodies within and around and it holds a jewelled deity of of Nataraja. It has seen several renovations through centuries of existence, notably at the hands of a clan of Vishwakarmas and Pallava/Chola royalty.
The Meenakshi Sundareswara, dedicated to both Shiva and his consort Parvati, is a massive complex consisting o several tall Gopurams or towers with two golden ones for the presiding god and goddess. Intricately carved and painted, the architecture will take your breath away and the shrines are many and awe-inspiring, like the huge single-stone Ganesha sculpture and the Thousand Pillar Hall.
At Thanjavur, the Brihadeeswara Temple was the world's first all-granite temple, constructed by the Cholas. The Vimana or temple tower is 66 metres high and a giant statue of the sacred bull, Nandi, carved out of a single stone 16 feet long and 13 feet high stands at the entrance. The architecture is in the Dravida style and the entire complex is surrounded by a moat and fortified with high walls.
Pilgrimage spots by the Ganga
While not all of them hold one specific shrine of supreme importance, India's holy towns of Varanasi, Allahabad, Badrinath, Haridwar and Rishikesh are among the country's most popular pilgrimage spots due to their spiritual history and connection to the holy Ganges river.
Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh holds significance for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. In fact, Hindus believe that a pilgrimage to the town at least once in a lifetime and the immersion of the ashes of cremated ancestors in te Ganges is a must. The town is believed to have been established by Lord Shiva himself nearly 5,000 years ago and it is certainly one of the oldest existing within the country.
Allahabad, also in Uttar Pradesh, is another sacred city in UP, where legend has it the god Brahma made his first sacrifice after having created the world. Located at the confluence of the holy rivers of both the Ganges and the Yamuna, the devout believe a third, invisible river, the Sarasvati, joins them here. Allahabad is also the site of the Maha Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, which takes place here every 12 years and the Purna Kumbh Mela, which is held only once in 144 years. The melas are attended by millions from across the world.
Like Allahabad, Haridwar in Uttarakhand also hosts the Maha Kumbh Mela once in 12 years. It is the first city that the Ganga passes through upon its entry to the Indo-Gangetic plain. According to Hindu mythology, it was here that the holy bird Garuda accidentally spilled a few drops of Amrit (holy manna that rendered immortality) while carrying it in a pitcher or kumbha (the kumbha is symbolic of the womb, where life begins).
The gateway to the Himalayas, Rishikesh, is located in Dehradun, Uttarakhand. The city flanks the Ganges and is named after one of Lord Vishnu's many forms, Lord Hrishikesh. It is believed that Hrishikesh appeared here under a mango tree to a sage, to reward his austere dedication to the spiritual path.
Shri Amarnath Yatra
The tradition of Amarnath Yatra dates back to ancient times. According to legend the cave is situated at the place where Lord Shiva had given amrit (nectar) to the gods of the Hindu pantheon who wished to attain immortality. It is believed that Lord Shiva adopted the shape of an ice-lingam which still exists in the cave. It is in this context that the place has been mentioned as Amrishwar by Kalhan, the famous Kashmiri poet-historian of yore in his Raj Tarangni.
The Yatra was abandoned for a long time due to devastating floods and other natural calamities in the valley. In those years it was impossible to even locate the sacred cave. A local Muslim family called Maliks residing in Mattan is said to have re-discovered it. They told the Pandits of Mattan about the cave and accompanied them to show it. The Yatra was thus revived. The successive generations of the Malik family of Mattan have since then been taking an active part in preparation of the Yatra and they get a share of the offerings at the cave.
The Cave of Amarnath is only about 50 kilometers from Pahalgam in south Kashmir but involves tough walking, trekking and pony-riding, Palanquins are also used in some cases while negotiating the path through tortuous mountains. From the base camp at Pahalgam which is at height of 9,000 feet above sea-level, pilgrims have to cross an altitude of 9,500 feet to reach Chandanwari, just 14 kilometers away from Pahalgam, and similar very difficult climbs to reach the next stops at Sheshnag, Panjtarniand and the Mahagunus Pass, located at 14,000 feet. In the last stage of the yatra, however, a pilgrim has to undergo a descent of about 1,000 feet to reach the Holy Cave located at a height of about 13,000 feet above sea level.
The Kashmiri labourers, invariably all Muslims, help the pilgrims throughout. The pilgrims traverse the route chanting "Har Har Mahadev" and "Amarnath Swami Ki Jai". The Muslim helpers join them by saying "Ya Peer Dastgeer". The Yatra culimates on the full moon day of August.
The Pushkar Fair is held in the month of Kartik on the full moon day in Pushkar, a small sleepy town in the Ajmer district of Rajasthan. Pushkar has been known as the centre of Brahma worship since 1250 AD. Pushkar is home to one of the only two temples dedicated to Brahma, the other being at Khedbrahma in Kerala. It is one of the innumerable temples skirting the large Pushkar Lake.
This lake, with 52 ghats, is the focal point for the confluence of a mass of people from all parts of the country. The fair itself centres around the event of taking a dip in the Pushkar Lake on the full moon night. Due to its association with Brahma, Pushkar is considered to be the tirtharaja, the king of all pilgrimage sites. It is believed that the Pushkar Lake was blessed by Brahma and anyone who takes a dip in the lake would go to heaven.
According to the Puranas, a pilgrimage to Pushkar destroys all evil and gives the dead access to the three worlds. One who has bathed at the lake there and worshipped Brahma achieves salvation. For this reason, thousands of people gather here for this great annual pilgrimage. Ancestor worship is also an important aspect of this pilgrimage.
Oblations to Agni, heaven, earth and Yama are also offered. The nearby temple of Savitri also attracts many married women, especially from Bengal, who worship the goddess and seek the boon of eternal company with their spouse. Pushkar is also the site for the biggest cattle fair in India. Scholars suggest that the cattle fair was an extension of the religious event of taking a dip in the lake.
Haridwar is considered as the gateway to the four pilgrimages in the Uttrakhand region, The Ganga leaves the mountains and enters the plains with Hardwar being the first major town on the plains. Though the Ganges does not lose its rapids completely nevertheless it becomes very quite and calm here. The water is clean and people prefer taking bath on the numerous ghats built on the river shores. It is said that taking bath here purifies the soul and opens the way for the ultimate freedom, Nirvana.
Somnath Mahadev Temple
The principal temple of Somnath is believed to have been built in gold by the moon god Soma, in silver by the sun god Ravi, in wood by Krishna and in stone by the Solanki Rajputs in the 11th century. The present temple, built in 1951, is the seventh reconstruction on the original site. Tales of its riches attracted a series of invasions, but each time the temple was invaded, it was restored to its original glory by devout Hindu worshipers. Commanding a breathtaking view from the tip of the Saurashtra peninsula, kissed by the waves of the Arabian coast, the temple has been constructed in the Chalukyan style with a shikhara nearly 50 m tall. The temple's imposing architecture includes intricate carvings, silver doors, an impressive Nandi idol and the central shivalinga. In the vast courtyard stand the massive mandapa (hall), as well as the main shrine, whose gently curved pyramidal forms tower over the whole complex.
Through a side door the sea is visible shimmering in the sunlight. Try slipping out to gaze at the roaring waves below, which though not safe for swimming, present an exhilarating spectacle. In view, you will find a tower called Deep Stambha *****ed on the embankment. On the top is a shape like a conch shell on its side, and in the tower is an arrow pointing directly to the south pole (interestingly, a line between here and the south pole crosses no land until Antarctica.)
The Kartik Purnima Fair is held here for four days beginning on Kartik Sud 14 according to the Hindu calendar, and attracts crowds in large numbers....being a human...