About the Book:
Combining historical analysis with his own fieldwork, Dr. Bhardwaj not only established the importance of the institution of pilgrimage in Indian history and the persistence of similar distribution patterns of sacred places over long periods, but also furnished the normative background for contemporary practices. He is concerned with the relationship of the rank-order of a shrine to its degree of sanctity, kind of deity, and caste and motivation of the pilgrim. Using both objective statistical surveys and the pilgrims' subjective perceptions (as reflected in a special questionnaire), he posits the existence of two models of religious circulation: a "general pattern" characteristic of the pilgrimages of the religiously-oriented upper castes to all-India and supra-regional shrines in pursuit of religious merit, and a "specific pattern" more characteristic of lower caste visits to local and regional shrines for specific, practical purposes. Unlike earlier writers on the subject, Mr. Bhardwaj examines both the historical and the contemporary patterns of pilgrimage at various levels - pan-Hindu, supra-regional, sub-regional, and local.
About the Author:
Dr. Surinder Mohan Bhardwaj is Professor of Geography at Kent State University, Kent, USA.
The institution of pilgrimage to holy places (tirtha-yatra ) is an
ancient and continuing religious tradition of the Hindus. Numerous
sacred places distributed in various parts of India attract millions
of pilgrims; some places draw pilgrims from all over the country,
others largely from the neighboring villages. Thus, religion assumes
an important role in generating a circulation mechanism in which
all the social strata of Hinduism participate. The liberal distribution
of sacred places throughout India has created an essentially
continuous religious space in which the otherwise great regional
cultural diversity becomes less significant for the movement of
pilgrims over long distances. Religion provides the basis of pil-
grimage by offering the reward of purification of the soul and the
attainment of objectives related to the problems of mundane
existence. The study of this circulatory mechanism of Hinduism,
with its roots in religion, forms the subject matter of our inquiry.
HINDU PILGRIMAGE, ITS NATURE, DEVELOPMENT, AND MOTIYE
Every religion has its sacred foci to which men of faith
periodically converge. From the most ancient civilizations to the
present times sacred centers have exerted a powerful pull on the
believers. The Sumerians of antiquity, who reverently ascended
the steps of the Ziggurat to reach the gate of heaven, have their
modern counterpart in the devout Jews and Christians who visit
the Holy Land, and in the multitudes of Muslims from diverse
parts of the world who undertake the hajj to Mecca. Millions of
Hindus, since time immemorial, have similarly been attracted to
their numerous holy sites in India. Pilgrimage is thus a panhuman
phenomenon albeit its importance is reduced in the industrial-
commercial nations of the Western world. The concept of pilgri-
mage exists in all major religions, although, not unexpectedly, its
meaning varies widely within the canonical structure of each
The nature of Hindu pilgrimage is capsuled in the Indian
expression tirtha-yatra, which literally means "undertaking journey
to river fords." In common parlance, visitation to sacred places
is considered tirtha-yatra. There is, however, much more implied
in the term tirtha-yatra, and it is essential to understand those
implications in order to avoid confusion, which is bound to arise
if the English expression "pilgrimage" is equated with the strictly
Indian terminology. Agehananda Bharati has rightly pointed out
that Indian terms for pilgrimage are often to be understood
metaphorically.' A yogi, for example, may physically stay put and
yet, through a specific type of meditation, may "perform a pil-
grimage" to the seven "shrines." Here both the "pilgrimage" and
"shrine" are to be understood in their generalized meaning.
Pilgrimage here means to "partake of' and the "shrine" implies
a certain quality such as "truth." We may further clarify this
metonymy by referring to a verse from Skandapurana (a religious
treatise): "Truth, forgiveness, control of senses, kindness to all
living beings and simplicity are tirthas,"? Thus, tirtha-yatra not
only means the physical act of visiting the holy places but implies
mental and moral discipline. In fact, without the latter, pilgrimage
in the physical sense has little significance in the Hindu tradition.
The practice of pilgrimage in Hinduism follows from some of
the basic underpinnings of its philosophy. Four dominant ideas
have persisted in Hindu thought concerning attitudes to life.
These are dharma, artha, kama, and moksa Dharma is charac-
terized by "considerations of righteousness, duty and virtue.
Artha entails material gain, worldly advantage, and success. Kama
signifies love and pleasure. The fourth, moksa, is the spiritual
realization and self-emancipation which has been equated by some
scholars with salvation or freedom from transmigration The first
three aspects of life converge toward the final goal, spiritual bliss.
Within this philosophical concept of life those activities, obser-
vances, rituals, and rites become meaningful which help in the
attainment of liberation of the self from the bondage of repeated
birth and rebirth. Hinduism provides a wide variety of courses
that individuals may take toward religious fulfillment. For example,
there is the path of knowledge, jnana-yoga; the way of-action,
karma-yoga; and the path of unmixed devotion, bhakti-yoga.
Pilgrimage, though not one of the major recognized paths of
achieving moksa, is nevertheless accepted as a desirable practice
to earn religious merit within a life lived according to dharma.
It is one of the many ways toward self-realization and bliss.
Pilgrimage to sacred places is of no avail if a person does not
lead a moral life. There are repeated references in Hindu religious
literature that suggest moral life as a precondition for deriving
any merit (phala) from sojourn to holy sanctuaries and bathing
in sacred rivers Journey to sacred places provides opportunity
for the householder to detach himself for some time from the
cares and worries of daily life and to devote that time to prayer,
contemplation, and listening to the spiritual discourses of holy men.
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