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Hindu Pilgrimages: From Roots to Perspectives

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Among the ancient epics, the Mahabharata, dated ca 5th century BCE, is the first source of Hindu pilgrimages (tirtha-yatra). The mythologies of medieval period eulogised the sacred places and their sacred spots. These works describe how the pilgrimage symbolises spiritual progress and how it would be beneficial in getting relief from sins and worldly affairs. Pilgrimage is prescribed as a duty for spiritual merit. The notion of Hindu pilgrimage symbolised different contexts like route, place, riverbank, and also sites associated to sages. The typology of sacred places is described in ancient texts on the scale of location, merit, associational context, and intensity of power. In general, a four-tier hierarchy of pilgrimage places is accepted. According to ancient mythology and the Hindu mind-set still the most popular sacred place is Kashi (Banaras), eulogised as one of the three ladders to the heaven; the others are Allahabad and Gaya. These three together form ‘bridge to the heaven’.

Keywords: Hindu belief system; Kumbha Mela; cosmic circuit; faithscape; ghostscape; mandala; sacredscape; typology

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5848/CSP.0794.00005

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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