Tourism/ Hinduism term paper 11582

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Pilgrimage to tirthas, India's sacred zones, is one of the oldest

strands of the Hindu tradition, and one of the most prominent forms of

popular piety practiced in India today. Tirthas are "crossing places"

which act as portals linking heaven and earth. There are many different

types of tirthas. There are tirthas whose sanctity is imbued in the

landscape, such as the Himalayan mountains and the Ganga river. There

are other tirthas famous as pilgrimage sites for the divine images

housed there such as the great Vishnu temple of Badrinath in North

India. Tirthas vary in importance from small shrines of local

significance to places of pan-Indian importance attracting pilgrims from

across linguistic, sectarian and regional boundaries.

Diana L. Eck, a historian of religions from Harvard University writes,

For Hindus, pilgrimage to the tirthas has been an important unifying

force, not only for sects and regions, but for the wider Hindu

perception of what constitutes the land of India. Everyone knows how

diverse India is, in race, language, religion, and sect. In its long

history there have been few centuries of political unity until modern

times. But one thing Hindu India has held in common is a shared sense of

its sacred geography.

Furthermore,

The whole of India's sacred geography, with its many tirthas - those

inherent in its natural landscape and those sanctified by the deeds of

gods and the footsteps of heroes, is a living geography...The

recognition of India as a sacred landscape woven together north and

south, east and west, by the paths of pilgrims, has created a powerful

sense of India as Bharat Mata - Mother India. Pilgrims have

circumambulated the whole of India, visiting hundreds of tirthas along

the way, bringing water from the Ganga in the north to sprinkle the

linga at Ramesvaram in the far south and returning north with sands from

Ramesvaram to deposit in the riverbed of the Ganga (History of Religions

1981: 323-324).

One of the earliest discussions of the efficacy of a "grand tour" of

tirthas as ritual practice is found in the chapter "The Tour of Sacred

Fords" within the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata. It is suggested here

that performing pilgrimage is equal in merit to the great Vedic ritual

practice of horse sacrifices. Other texts suggest performing a

pilgrimage to the char dham, the four divine abodes residing at the four

compass points of India. These four pilgrimage places, Badrinath in the

North, Puri in the East, Ramesvaram in the South and Dwarka in the West

delineate the furthest limits of the sacred land. Pilgrimage to these

four "abodes" is called mahaparikrama, the "great circumambulation."

Today, with the advent of modern transportation millions of people go on

pilgrimage every year and many accomplish abbreviated forms of

Pan-Indian pilgrimage tours. In the modern context pilgrimage functions

as a form of religious tourism which justifies and encourages groups of

people to travel to the great tirthas and the religious melas (fairs).

In traveling to religious festivals villagers are exposed to parts of

India they may have never seen before and are able to meet people from

diverse ethnic backgrounds. For me, this was held true when I attended

the Ganga Sagar Mela at Sagar Island near Calcutta. On a remote island

in the mouth of the Ganga river delta over 450,000 pilgrims gathered to

pray, bathe and worship. At this festival I met pilgrims from places as

far away as Nepal, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

The photographs and stories within this website are part of a project

re-creating a pan-Indian tirtha-yatra. I am making a clockwise

circumambulation of the significant tirthas found throughout India. The

goal of this project is to photograph pilgrims in the landscape of the

tirtha and to document significant religious festivals that take place

in these locations. In traveling the width and breadth of the country a

visual record of both the sanctity and the complexity of India will be

achieved.

Pilgrimage to tirthas, India's sacred zones, is one of the oldest

strands of the Hindu tradition, and one of the most prominent forms of

popular piety practiced in India today. Tirthas are "crossing places"

which act as portals linking heaven and earth. There are many different

types of tirthas. There are tirthas whose sanctity is imbued in the

landscape, such as the Himalayan mountains and the Ganga river. There

are other tirthas famous as pilgrimage sites for the divine images

housed there such as the great Vishnu temple of Badrinath in North

India. Tirthas vary in importance from small shrines of local

significance to places of pan-Indian importance attracting pilgrims from

across linguistic, sectarian and regional boundaries.

Diana L. Eck, a historian of religions from Harvard University writes,

For Hindus, pilgrimage to the tirthas has been an important unifying

force, not only for sects and regions, but for the wider Hindu

perception of what constitutes the land of India. Everyone knows how

diverse India is, in race, language, religion, and sect. In its long

history there have been few centuries of political unity until modern

times. But one thing Hindu India has held in common is a shared sense of

its sacred geography.

Furthermore,

The whole of India's sacred geography, with its many tirthas - those

inherent in its natural landscape and those sanctified by the deeds of

gods and the footsteps of heroes, is a living geography...The

recognition of India as a sacred landscape woven together north and

south, east and west, by the paths of pilgrims, has created a powerful

sense of India as Bharat Mata - Mother India. Pilgrims have

circumambulated the whole of India, visiting hundreds of tirthas along

the way, bringing water from the Ganga in the north to sprinkle the

linga at Ramesvaram in the far south and returning north with sands from

Ramesvaram to deposit in the riverbed of the Ganga (History of Religions

1981: 323-324).

One of the earliest discussions of the efficacy of a "grand tour" of

tirthas as ritual practice is found in the chapter "The Tour of Sacred

Fords" within the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata. It is suggested here

that performing pilgrimage is equal in merit to the great Vedic ritual

practice of horse sacrifices. Other texts suggest performing a

pilgrimage to the char dham, the four divine abodes residing at the four

compass points of India. These four pilgrimage places, Badrinath in the

North, Puri in the East, Ramesvaram in the South and Dwarka in the West

delineate the furthest limits of the sacred land. Pilgrimage to these

four "abodes" is called mahaparikrama, the "great circumambulation."

Today, with the advent of modern transportation millions of people go on

pilgrimage every year and many accomplish abbreviated forms of

Pan-Indian pilgrimage tours. In the modern context pilgrimage functions

as a form of religious tourism which justifies and encourages groups of

people to travel to the great tirthas and the religious melas (fairs).

In traveling to religious festivals villagers are exposed to parts of

India they may have never seen before and are able to meet people from

diverse ethnic backgrounds. For me, this was held true when I attended

the Ganga Sagar Mela at Sagar Island near Calcutta. On a remote island

in the mouth of the Ganga river delta over 450,000 pilgrims gathered to

pray, bathe and worship. At this festival I met pilgrims from places as

far away as Nepal, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.

The photographs and stories within this website are part of a project

re-creating a pan-Indian tirtha-yatra. I am making a clockwise

circumambulation of the significant tirthas found throughout India. The

goal of this project is to photograph pilgrims in the landscape of the

tirtha and to document significant religious festivals that take place

in these locations. In traveling the width and breadth of the country a

visual record of both the sanctity and the complexity of India will be

achieved.

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