Tirthas have always fascinated people. Believers, non-believers, travelers, painters, writers and philosophers have all come to Hindu tirthas because they offer such an intriguing mix of sights, sounds and experiences. Few can leave a tirtha untouched by their encounter with these complex, many layered, Vibrant places of Pilgrimage.
Travellers from within the land and abroad, Visit a tirtha to discover the soul of our ancient land. In contrast, a devout Hindu is on a spiritual journey of personal discovery. However at a tirtha a pilgrim is also a tourist. Just as they visit the temples and take a dip in a sacred river, they also shop in the bazaars and go sightseeing. This book is for all visitors to a tirtha, whatever the reason for their journey. So it tries to capture every aspect of these colourful and intricately evolved temple towns.
Tirthas are seldom anonymous places. They all have their unique character and ambience. These ancient cities, wise in the ways of people are like living symbols of history. They have seen the rise and fall of kings, faced the invasion of conquerors, the rage of a mob and survived them all. Their walls tell tales of myths and legends, invasions, wars and triumphs of faith. No one can truly understand the soul of a people without wandering through the crowded lanes of a tirtha, listening to the welcoming clang of temple bells or sitting by the banks of a sacred river flowing by in serene majesty.
Tirthas are often crowded dirty and noisy places and their assault on the senses can be remorseless. But they can also present sights and experiences of unforgettable beauty. Who can forget a dawn over the Ganga at Kashi, as the first rays of the sun illuminate that amazing red gold amphitheatre of the ghats? Or to see the soaring gopurams of Kanchipuram reaching to the sky above the green palm trees. Then there is the experience of watching a cross section of Indian society, villagers holding their meager bundles, city people in silks, the young and old, all gathered before a sanctum with the same faith and devotion. These tirthas have been a uniting force that has connected the people of our diverse land with the power of their sanctity.
When I began planning a book on Hindu tirthasthanas the first challenge was in choosing the ones to be covered in this book. India is covered with a maze of sacred places. Every region has its popular tirthas, every community has its favourite temples. It is virtually impossible to cover all the tirthas in one book. Such an enterprise would run into a couple of volumes and it would still not be comprehensive enough.
However there are ten tirthas that have been declared supreme In our ancient texts-the tirthas of the Saptapuri and the Chaar Dhaam. The seven puris dhaams of Badrinath, Puri, Dwarka and Rameshwaram. The list of these tirthas comes to ten instead of eleven because Dwarka has the unique distinction of being both a puri and a dhaam . So in this book Dwarka has only been included in the section on the Saptapuris.
Usually, the only easily accessible information on tirthas can be found in travel guides and there they are covered merely as tourist destinations. A book exclusively on tirthas could go deeper into aspects of tirthas that interest many of us the history of a place, its special myths, ceremonies and festivals and the rituals performed by the pilgrims. This book tries to understand all the varied aspects of these places of pilgrimage and discover the elements that make them such sacred places.
In this book I have tried to cover all the aspects of a tirtha that could interest a visitor. Many of the myths and legends connected to the tirtha and its temples have been narrated. Next, the history of these ancient cities has been outlined. Then all the sites on a pilgrims' trail-of temples, ghats, auspicious tanks, sacred trees and hills have been described. Finally the rituals, festivals and fairs unique to each tirtha have been covered.
This book can only introduce the pilgrim to these tirthas and I hope it will make their journey easier and more informative. At the end of a tirthayatra, what each pilgrim carries back is a very personal experience and their special communion with their god. This is an experience that is unique to each pilgrim. I hope this book will also be of use to readers who are interested in India's culture and religion because through their survival these vibrant, ancient cities have become living symbols of our heritage. Few of us will be fortunate enough to visit all the puris and dhaams in our lifetime. At least, while reading this book, we can turn ourselves into armchair pilgrims and visit them in our imagination.
About the book:
Discover the ten greatest tirthas of Hindus. Fascinating temple towns that are not just place of pilgrimage but sacred spaces resonant with myths and legends. These ancient cities are the seven sacred tirthas of the Saptapuris Varanasi, Kanchipuram, Haridwar, Ayodhya, Ujjain, Mathura and Dwarka and the four great dhaams of Badrinath, Puri, Dwarka and Rameshwaram, with Dwarka being both a puri and dhaam.
These temple towns represent the finest examples of Indian architecture and continue to be centres of music, dance, sculpture, painting and crafts.
About the Author:
Subhadra Sen Gupta, the author of Devalaya: Great Temples of India and Devi-Devata: Gods & Godesses of India, is a well-known writer on Indian history and culture. Born and brought up in Delhi, Subhadra is an avid traveller and her writings have appeared in Namaste Magazine: She has also published a number of fictional books for children. A Masters Degree holder from the University of Delhi, she has always had a great fascination for the people, places and history of India. She is currently working on a travel website.
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