Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Pilgrimages in Hindu

    In India there a lot of sacred places which are called places of thirtha and the action of going on a pilgrimage is called thirtha-yatra. The Sanskrit word "thirtha" means river ford, steps to a river, or place of pilgrimage. In Vedi times the world may have concerned only those sacred places associated with rivers and water, but by the time of the Mahabharata, thirtha had come to denote any holy place, be it a lake, mountain, forest, or cave. The Hindus believe that thirthas are more than physical locations. They believe them to be spirituals fords, the meeting place of heaven and earth, the locations where one crosses over the river of samsara (the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth) to reach the distant shore of liberation, the Omnipotence.

Why Do They Go On Pilgrimages?

    Vedas and Puranas state the reasons for going on pilgrimages. Hinduism finds the image of godhood in the Murthy (statue or symbol). Hence they can fix their minds on god and remember the saints who walked before them in the past. Thirtha-yatras give them a new vision of spiritual development to have a broader outlook of their samsara. They want to be purified of their Karma in this incarnation. They are able to meet holy people and get guidance from there. Many go to fulfill their religious rituals and vows they had promised for their intentions. Pilgrim centers are places of self-reflection and deep contemplation. These yatras become indelible in their memory and uplift memorable experiences. The preparations that they make before the thirtha-yatras involve them deeper in the religious spirit.

The Activities During Pilgrimages

1) The Iyyappa devotees, before going to the Iyyappa temple in Sabarimala in South India, observe fast for forty days or a certain period and follow very strict austere life.
2) The devotees of Lord Muruga do many penances and go to the temple at Pazani, Madurai,South India. Some wear saffron-colored clothes and carry shoulder-chariots(Kavadi).
3) Millions throng everyday to Tiruppathi, the holy place of Lord Venkateswara in South India. They fulfill their vows with their sacrifices and offerings.
During these pilgrimages they make "Dharshan" (visual experience) of god experience, glorify the Omnipotent Almighty and do acts of penance to free themselves from their sins. These pilgrimage places help them to do charitable activities by feeding the poor, giving alms, offering things to the poor, etc.

When Do They Go?

    Some pilgrimage places are visited throughout the year. Some have yearly or seasonal festivals. Some festivals like Allahabad Kumbamela take place only once in twelve years. These days are observed as per the dates calculated by eminent astrological mathematicians. The movements of the planets around the earth and the sun have much to do in fixing these dates. December and January ,especially the day of Magaravilakku, are the months of Sabarimala Iyyappa temple devotees. April (panguni uttiram) is the time for Muruga devotees to visit Pazani. Rameswaram,Guruvayur, Benares, Poori, Batrinath, Dwaraka, Ayothi, etc. are some places visited during their time of festival.


The Significance of Festivals in Hinduism

    The importance of festivals can be seen by the fact that one cannot find more holidays for festivals in any other country than in India. Festivals are the occasions for family gatherings and entertainments. Some festivals are celebrated throughout the country by all sects of Hindus; some are regional, celebrated only in some parts of the country. For example, Diwali is celebrated allover the country, whereas Pongal is celebrated only in Tamil Nadu. The worshippers of Lord Siva celebrate the festivals like Mahasivaraatri, Durgapooja, etc.. Vaishnavaites celebrate Dassara, Ramanavami, Gogulashtami, Vaigunta Egadesi, etc.
   Astronomical days like solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, full moon day, new moon day etc. are celebrated as festivals. Magarasankaranthi marks the movement of the sun towards northern hemisphere, which usually falls in the middle of January. Diwali , the festival of lightness is celebrated on a new moon day which may fall in October or November of every year.


    Even though pilgrimages are attempted and festivals are celebrated by people of all the religions, all over the world, Hinduism has a very deep meaning in encouraging these pilgrimages. It just advocates the celebrations and does not make them compulsory. Festivals in Hinduism help to develop harmony and friendship and bring people of the whole universe closer to the Supreme God.

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