About the Book:
The tradition of visiting sacred spots, places and buildings to attain religious merit, washing off the sins and accomplishment of desires has been a common practice in India and elsewhere in the Old World since time immemorial. Such an act has traditionally been regarded as noble and often equated with purification of body and mind, and achievement of merits.
The present work makes an attempt to introduce to the reader various pilgrim centers, sacred shrines and holy site connected with different faiths and traditions in India, which, in the words of Lord Lytton, were 'for variety, extent, completeness and beauty unsurpassed, perhaps unequalled in the world'. An account of eighty pilgrim shrines scattered throughout India has been given while many more in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have been listed. Bamiyan in Afghanistan has been described in an appendix. Some hermitages in India have also been listed.
The survey of Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Sikh, Jewish, Christian and Sufi pilgrim shrines in India, their mythology, archaeology, history and art and the listing of pilgrim shrines in neighboring countries vouchsafes an intimate glimpse into the glorious cultural heritage of the Indian subcontinent to the Non-Resident Indians (NRI's) interested in knowing about their roots, cultural tourists from abroad and general readers interested in the art and culture of India.
Profusely illustrated with maps, line-drawings and rare photographs, this is an ideal companion to the treasures of art, religion and culture in the Indian Subcontinent. This is a work of absorbing interest and highly useful for cultural tourism in India. About the Author:
Shri Amar Nath Khanna was born at Multan in West Punjab in 1936. He holds a Master's degree in History and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Archaeology from the School (presently Institute) of Archaeology, Archaeological Survey of India, New Delhi. Shri Khanna has had the rare opportunity of visiting and studying monuments and pilgrim shrines scattered all over the Indian Subcontinent, China, Japan, Nepal and Singapore during the last about half a century. He retired as Senior Technical Officer, Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi, in 1996 while earlier he had been working as a Senior Officer with the President of India. In Venkataraman, former President of India, to work with him even after retirement. He had been the Registering Officer for Antiquities in Himachal Pradesh and was associated with Shri Rajeev Sethi, Padma Bhushan, in the Aditi Exhibition created by him in the Festival of India, U.S.A., and the Basic Human Needs Pavilion set up in Germany in 1998. He was associated with Smt. Pupal Jayakar, Adviser to Prime Minister on Heritage and Cultural Resources, in the Festivals of India held in the U.S.A. and Japan and the Year of India in France. He was a Member of Presidential Delegations which had visited Japan in 1990 and China in 1992. From 1957, he was a member of Archaeological Survey of India for about two decades.
The tradition of visiting sacred spots, places and buildings to attain religious merit, washing off the sins and accomplishment of desires has been a common practice in India and elsewhere in the Old World since time immemorial. Islam enjoins upon its followers to perform Haj i.e. sacred journey to the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina at least once in a lifetime to earn the favour of the Cod and the respectable title of Haji. This is, in fact, one of the essential tenets of Islamic faith. There are, however, no compulsions to visit the hollowed sites/ structures and offer salutations to holy shrines in the belief systems of Buddhists, Jains, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians, though such an act has traditionally been regarded as noble and often equated with purification of body and mind, and achievement of merits.
The book Pilgrim Shrines of India by Shri Amar Nath Khanna, a dear friend and erstwhile colleague in the Archaeological Survey of India, is a work of absorbing interest and highly useful for cultural tourism. Shri Khanna is already known as an author of articles and books on Indian archaeology and culture. His present work makes an attempt to introduce to the lay reader various pilgrim centres, sacred shrines and holy sites connected with different faiths and traditions in India. Before he set out to pen his thoughts, Khannaji travelled to places of pilgrimage and holy shrines to get a feel of the subject first hand, leafed through scores of texts on mythology, history, culture, religion etc. and consulted learned traditionalists, pandits, priests, modern scholars for over two years.
As regards the beginning of the tradition of pilgrimage in India, we do not possess exact data in the historical terms to locate the antiquity of the system. We largely depend on inferences based on indirect archaeological data and the meagre historical literature available to us. Accordingly, many scholars have tried to associate with the Vedic age the practice of visiting holy spots or sages (learned persons) in the forest-dwellings (asramas) which also served as the holy centres of learning and knowledge, and source of hymnal rituals. Probably the institution of asramas itself had a pre-Vedic origin when jungle was the real hub of life, connected with hunting, food gathering, and pastoralism much before the growth of settled life. It is likely that such a belief turned some areas in the forest or semi-forest regions into memorable if not sacred spots. And, the tradition continued throughout the course of history. Here, it may be worthwhile to refer to certain prehistoric painted rock shelters with more than one layer of archaic paintings suggesting the repetitive use of cave as a place to draw scenes of hunt before the actual action for success in the endeavour following the laws of homoeopathic magic. The rock shelter was perhaps considered auspicious, and thereby may have served as a proto-shrine to bring good luck to the generations of early food gatherers. Prof. G.R. Sharma of Allahabad University found a large triangular stone in a prehistoric context, placed on the ground in Vindhyan area, (adjoining Allahabad, U'P) which he identified as shrine of Angari Mata on ethno-archaeological basis. We have good reasons to believe that the continuation of such a tradition may have later crystallized in the worship of the goddess Vindhyavasini in the same region in the historical period with Sanskritization of culture.
The growth of regular agriculture in Copper-Bronze age and Iron-age transformed the epicentre of human activities from forests to village settlements; yet the asramas retained their sanctity as auspicious environs, centres of knowledge and learning (gurukulas) and mystical experience. In the historical period, making visits to such centres of holiness often presided by saints, yogis and great teachers became a general practice to achieve higher goals of life. As early as the time of the compilation of Rig Veda, the aura of holiness was accorded to rivers, a possible result of the development of agriculture and trade. This is' well documented in the Vedic hymns like Nadistuti which eulogize several streams especially Saraswati, styled therein as Supreme Mother (Ambitame) and river par excellence (Naditame). Simultaneously, banks and confluences of rivers also came to be regarded as sacred and gained popularity as holy spots for taking a dip in water for self-purification. Our postulate is further supported by the currency of the Sanskrit term-tirtha (pilgrim centre). Etymologically the word tirtha refers to a landing place or an approach to for descending into a river for the holy dip or crossing it over. Therefore, popularly the term tirtha denotes a place for self-purification, attainment of merit or a site for initiation (diksha) to achieve a higher material or spiritual goal. In the course of time tirtha became a synonym for pilgrimage, for annihilation of sins, to appease the dead ancestors by making offerings of water at a sacred site, to advance to a superior stage of life by crossing the sea of existence.
The centres of pilgrimage in India came into existence at certain spots associated with divinities, yogis, incarnations, great human personalities, often immortalizing significant events (including the performance of miracles) of their lives, be it the Jaina Tirthankars, Buddhas, accomplished saints (Siddhas), the Sikh-Gurus, or Hindu ascetics or Muslim pirs. Similarly mystical natural sites such as Kailasa mountain, Nandadevi peak, Valley of Flowers and Rup- Kund in the Himalayas, Amarnath in Kashmir, source of Kaveri in Karnataka, Sabari Malai in Kerala, etc. have been categorized as tirthas due to their divine, spiritual, and mystical affiliations. In many of such spots, permanent structures were built to further strengthen the 'sacredness' of the venue.
According to the Buddhist tradition, the most notable pilgrim centres are the places where Buddha was born (Lumbini), where he got enlightenment (Bodhgaya), where he delivered the first sermon (Mrigadava or Sarnath) and where he passed away (Kusinagar). In addition to this, stupas enshrining Buddha's mortal relics are also considered holy, for they symbolize the eternal presence of the Master there. Offering worship and salutations to such monuments is common among the believers. Asoka, the great Mauryan ruler, claims in his epigraphs to have visited the birth-place of Buddha, and Bodhyaga, the site of his enlightenment under his policy of dharmayatra. He is also stated to have raised 8,400 stupas on Buddha's bodily relics, and created several new tirthas. Much in the same way the sites of Pancha-Kalyanakas (five auspicious events) connected with each of Jaina Tirthankars are also recognized as tirthas. With the arrival of Islam in India, the sacred tombs of Sufi saints (great mystic souls) known for bestowing graces to people irrespective of their faiths became the new centres of pilgrimage. As per the traditional Indian belief that accomplished souls do not die but only undergo transformation of their physical forms, and that they continue to help seekers, the faithful continue assembling around the graves of Sufi saints to offer prayers and sing their praises along with that of the God and holy prophet. The tombs of the dead Sufis generally called dargah or ziarat (places of pilgrimage) are considered living monuments often venerated by Hindus, Muslims and members of other communities for the fulfilment of their wishes. Some of the well-known dargahs of notable Sufi saints of medieval period are located in Ajmer (Hazrat Muin-ud-Din Chishti), Delhi (Hazrat Bakhtiar Kaki, Nizam-ud-Din Auliya and Roshan Chiragh Delhi), Fatehpur Sikri (Shaikh Salim Chishti), Maner (Hazrat Saif-ud- Din Yahia Maneri), Lahore (Datar Ganj-Baksh), Pakpattan (Hazrat Makhdum Jahania Jahangasht), besides many others in the Indian subcontinent.
. In contrast, there are fewer Christian centres of pilgrimage in India. Of all, the most famous one is that of the complex of the Basilica of Born Jesus in Goa wherein lies the body (relics) of Jesuit father-St. Francis of Xavier who died outside India in East Asia. His body was first brought to Kerala and then transported to Goa. It is generally stated that the dead body of the Saint has not decomposed so far. The sole purpose of installing their relics in a church was to grant the place in question (in Velha Goa), the status of a Christian tirtha in India. With a view to linking it with Pope, a part of arm from the saint's dead body was removed and sent to Rome (Vatican).
The system of creating new tirthas is still popular today. Stories of miracles, myths or legends pertaining to a teacher, faqir or saint impress people and many of them become their devotees. The followers often start raising buildings, shrines and memorials in their honour and pay occasional visits to them. Of recently founded tirthas and holy shrines in India, we may mention Shirdi (Maharashtra) associated with great (first) Sai Baba, Pottaparthi in A.p. connected with living Satya Sai Baba, Pondicherry associated with Shri Aurobindo and Holy Mother, and Belur Math connected with Maa Sarada and Swami Vivekananda. Pilgrim centres in India continue to grow, sustained by the faith and devotion of their followers who believe in miracles and favours to be granted by their gurus. A study of such developments can help a social scientist understand the process of deification of places in India.
Shri Khanna has discussed in this book the traditionally important pilgrim shrines scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country. These comprise well-known holy places associated with various faiths and traditions including Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. His emphasis however, is more on noteworthy Hindu centres of pilgrimage. Yet, the work is quite informative and significant historically and culturally. I am sure, that the book will be well received, and serve as a useful guide to eduated young men and women who despite their curiosity about Indian culture hardly know about the ancient traditions and religious heritage. This work, we hope, will also promote tourism related to Indian religions and culture.
Albert Einstein says "The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the essence of all true Science. He, to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead". There is no discord between God-vision and modern science; rather a concord exists in them. The scientists love unity and so do our seers. The Mahabharata discusses a variety of reasons why certain places are sacred. "Just as certain limbs of the body are purer than others, so are certain places on earth more sacred-some on account of their situation, others because of their sparkling waters, and others because of the association or habitation of saintly people".
The spiritual magnetism of tirthas is often linked either to unique geographic features as high mountains, deep canyons and sacred rivers or the wish-fulfilling capacity revealed through generations of pilgrims. According to Eliade, the sacred is never intentionally chosen, but ' ... in some way or another reveals itself. One should undertake pilgrimage after declaring one's resolve with full faith and devotion for cleansing the mind of all distraction and for purging the heart of all corruption, to acquire spiritual wisdom. Achieving purity of mind and making it still are of supreme importance. The pilgrim must have good company (satsang) to be able to listen only to good talk. He has to observe the codes of good conduct. A Sufi advises thus: 'Stay in the presence of those who remind you of your lord, who not only speak wisdom, but are that'. Purity of thoughts leads to purity of conscience (antahkaran) and the purity of conscience, in turn, leads to the realisation of the Self. J. Krishnamurti says: 'The understanding of what you are brings great peace and contentment, great insight, great love'.
Tirtha (ford, crossing)' is a sacred place of pilgrimage where the river of earthly life may be forded to reach the "far shore". Sarojini Jagannathan writes thus: "At the tirthas, the presence of the sacred is especially intense. There the cosmic and historical time intersect and the distinction between the transcendent and the mundane is blurred, giving individuals a glimpse of the purity and the blissful nature of the divine". Pilgrimage undertaken with faith and devotion turns our thoughts Godward. The word Haj means resolve and in religious terms it refers to the resolve to visit a holy place. Haj is the fifth among the five pillars of Islam, the remaining four being Kalimah, Namaz, Zakat and Roza. A pilgrimage helps us in lessening our attachments to men and material objects or developing detachment. A pilgrim mixes up with all types of people and of all varanas and free of all prejudices and ego receives His blessings.
Cosmic placement, sacred atmosphere, tranquility and peaceful vibrations of the tirthas exercise a powerful influence on the pilgrim which is helpful to him in various ways over a long period and often a transformation for his good occurs. The pilgrim centres also create unity in diversity. They unite people living in far-away places, e.g. Hardwar in the North and Rameswaram in the South. There is unity in diversity. A Tamil pilgrim experiences ecstasy when he places sand from Rameswaram in the Ganga and takes a purifying bath in it at Hardwar while a pilgrim from north India considers himself blessed when he has the darshan of the Jyotirlinga at Rameswaram and pours the sacred water of the Ganga over it. The sanctum- sanctorum of a Hindu temple is dark symbolising the unfathomable mysteries of God. Adi Sankara says: "Brahman alone is real, the world is false, the individual is Brahman and none else".
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