Hindu Pilgrimage

Hindu Pilgrimage annon The following essay addresses that of the Hindu pilgrimage as to why pilgrimage is an important aspect of Hindu religion? Firstly, the essay focusses on points which support pilgrimage as a fundamental and key aspect of the Hindu community. Secondly, a perspective denying pilgrimages have any significant role for Hindu and their religion is discussed. It does seem though, to me, that without the aspect of pilgrimage, the Hindu religion would still function quite noramally because although the pilgrimage sites give darsan, they do not seem to be able to assist people with their day to day problems, whereas holy men do. First though we need to know exactly what darsan means to Hindus. Darsan means seeing in Hindu religion and when people go to a temple, they say they do not go to worship but rather for darsan – they go to see the image of the deity. The pinacle act of Hindu worship, is to stand in the presence of the deity and to look upon the image with their eyes, so as to see and be seen by the deity.

The deity is believed to actually be within the image, and beholding the deity image is a form of worship where through the eyes one gains blessings. A pilgrimage is a religious journey; people undertake pilgrimages so they can worship at special places which are connected to their religion. Journeying to holy places of pilgrimage are generally carried out as acts of faith and devotion in accummulating religious merit or to atone for sins. Pilgrimages are also regarded by Hindus as a religious duty from which darsan can be attained. There are thousands of pilgrimage sites – tirthas (sacred, fords or crossings) in India, where many places of pilgrimage are renowned for their divine images.

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And it is the darsan of these divine images that are sought , because the darsan is believed by Hindus to be far greater and significant than that which can be granted and given by holy men i.e. sadhus. It entails then, that holy places of pilgrimages are an extension of additional darsan, of which can be given and received by travelling on a pilgrimage. For example, pilgrims go to the sacred hill of Tirupati for the darsan of Sri Venkatesvara, an ancient icon believed to be a form of Visnu. According to legend, the Lord came to bless a particular devotee who was faithful in his duties towards his parents. The devotee took no time out from his duties to greet the Lord properly, and so threw a brick for him to stand on which impressed Krsna, and so Krsna has stood there ever since. It is important, however, to understand that Hindus do not only travel as pilgrims for the darsan of divine images but also seek thedarsan of the pilgrimage places themselves, which are believed to be the natural places of where gods have dwelled.

For instance, the river Ganga also known as the Ganges is said to have flowed in heaven before she agreed to come to earth. Siva caught Ganga in his tangled hair to break her fall, and from his head she flowed down through the Himalayas, so legend goes. And this is why in Hindu hymns, the Ganga is praised as a liquid form of Siva’s divine energy. The Ganges is the holiest river of all , where all Hindus desire to bathe in this river, for it is believed by Hindus to wash away all their sins. No sin is too heinous, and no character too black to be washed away by the waters of the Ganges.

Essentially, all water used in rituals by Hindus is symbollically transformed into sacred water by summoning the presence of Ganga and other sacred rivers. Every great river is supposed to hold the divine essence, and its waters held to cleanse people from all moral guilt and contamination. On the whole, pilgrimages are very significant to Hindus due to being able to, by and large, eradicate all their sins and wrong doing by bathing in the water of holy rivers. There are difficulties that have to be endured when undertaking a pilgrimage, however, Hindus believe it is well worth it. As an extreme example, for hundreds of years some tirthas were the final goal of many pilgrims, who committed suicide there in order to be released from the cycle of rebirths. Hinduism generally considers suicide a crime, but at certain places, it can become an act of liberation, though this is not the norm for pilgrims.( Klostermaier , K , 1989 , p 312 ) A Hindu pilgrim may journey barefoot, dress scantily in cold weather, and fast, which is all very distressing, but the idea is that the pilgrims have to forget being comfortable , where through their suffering they will be able to realise and understand other less fortunate and oppressed peoples’ suffering aswell.

In this sense, pilgrimages enable pilgrims, especially the very powerful and rich to relate to the very poor, sick, and needy-bringing them closer together. Pilgrimages also have a unifying effect in terms of bringing together Hindus, not only from around India, but from all around the world. The journey of a pilgrimage gives Hindus an opportunity to come together, and to relate to one another as well as strengthen their faith. Through the contact between Hindus resulting from journeys to pilgrimage sites, faith can be made stronger due to being around and in touch with those who seek the same goal- the release from the cycle of death and re-birth. Pilgrimages are also associated with myths where there are many tirthas associated with the great events of the mythological tradition. The tirtha is the counterpart of the avatara, the word used to describe the divine descents of the gods. Avatara means, to cross down precisely at those places where the gods have crossed down into this world, where avataras are the tirthas – places where earthly pilgrims are able to make their spiritual crossings.

(Eck, D, 1985, PP 67 – 68) .The essay now will focuss on the opposite perspective – a discussion that attempts to justify that pilgrimages are not, and should not be of importance to Hindus. Although darsan of temple images and sacred places are sought by Hindus, Hindus also value the darsan of holy persons, such as sants (saints), sadhus (holy men), and sannyasins (renouncers). Since Hindus are able to attain darsan from holy people,then there is no need for pilgrimages as it suggests that pilgrimages are unecessary and therefore should not be an important aspect of Hindu religion. Hindus seek the darsan of sadhus and sanayasins; the term sadhu is translated as ‘holy man’ or ‘ascetic’, though in broad terms sadhu means ‘good man’ or virtuous man’. A sadhu is a man endowed with high spiritual learnings, and holding high religious values.

Essentially, those who lead a saintly life, realise their goal in the shortest possible time may be called sadhu. a saintly life is a means to proceed directly to the ultimate goal of salvation. In this sense, a sadhu is someone who has been initiated into an ascetic sect, devoting himself to achieving release from the cycle of death and relbirth. Some sadhus describe themselves as sanayasis or renouncers. The way a person lives their life is sannyas; you can only become it because you cannot give it or take it. Therefore, Sannyas occurs from within – on the inside.

Sannyas entails a symbolic death whereby all personal ties and possessions are renounced as they must devote themselves to the inner self. ( Aylett , L , 1992 , p 31 ) Sadhus are believed to live between the living and the dead – living in a state between the world of illusion, of which we live in and the world of reality, of which gods dwell and reside in. Essentially, sadhus are …


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