The estimated 80 million people visiting the 2001 Kumbha -mela at Prayag (Allahabad) made it the world’s biggest-ever public event. It demonstrated the continuing importance of pilgrimage for the Hindu people. Not all holy sites, however, lie within India. Many Hindus have emigrated and have established their own sacred places, wherever they live. Nonetheless, India remains a special place and Hindus often combine pilgrimage with visits to relatives.
There are many reasons for pilgrimage. It is very popular because it enables people to link their natural desire for travel with spiritual goals.
“One who thinks the body to be the self and the land of his birth worshipable, who desires an everlasting relationship with wife, relatives, etc., and who goes on pilgrimage simply to take bath, is no better than an ass or a cow (i.e isn’t making proper use of the human form of life).”
Reasons for Pilgrimage
- To remember special people (saints)
- To fix the mind on God and to glorify Him
- For spiritual development and to gain spiritual merit
- For purification and atonement of sins
- For meeting and taking guidance from holy people
- To perform specific religious rites
- For self-reflection and contemplation
- For an uplifting and memorable experience (spiritual inspiration)
Activities Performed on Pilgrimage
- Taking darshan of specific deities (or saints)
- Participating in worship and glorification (e.g. kirtan)
- Charity, especially to priests and temples
- Austerities and penance (such as shaving the head, and following certain vows such as celibacy)
- Listening to talks and receiving advice on spiritual life
- Specific rites (such as the shraddha ceremony in Gaya)
- Circumambulation of holy places (shrines, towns etc.)
Is India Special?
Although Hindus have a natural affection for their home country, attempts to combine patriotism with religious sentiment are a relatively new phenomenon.These have given birth to various forms of Hindu nationalism.
For many, India is special purely for spiritual reasons. Its climate and atmosphere are considered especially conducive to spiritual life, and it is the land where many avatars and Hindu saints appeared. India is traditionally called “Bharata” after a powerful king, renowned for his spiritual qualities.