IMPORTANCE OF PILGRIMAGE
Swami Shivaprakashananda Saraswathi
Pilgrimage is an important discipline in all the major religions of the world. In Hinduism, a visit to holy places is of very great significance. Indian subcontinent is full of holy places like Varanasi, Rameshwaram, Vrindavan etc. Every Hindu desires to visit at least a few of these holy places during his lifetime. A Hindu living down south may spend a lot of money and put a great deal of physical effort to visit Badrinath shrine in deep Himalayas of the North once in his lifetime. Pilgrimage is an essential part of our religion.
Purification of Mind
Pilgrimage is a spiritual discipline which cleanses the mind. The primary purpose of all spiritual disciplines is chitta shuddhi – purification of mind. When we go to a holy place, our mind becomes free from evil thoughts like hatred, revenge etc. We fill our mind with intense devotion and faith. The time is spent in prayers and remembrance of God. This has a lasting and tangible impact on our minds. We feel spiritually uplifted.
Pilgrimage, like every other spiritual discipline, produces an unseen effect called punya. This punya is beneficial to us in many ways in future life. Punya helps us to lead a happier life by giving us good health, basic needs, relations etc. Moreover, it can lead us to a better life after death. It can take us to swarga (heaven) and other meritorious worlds.
Above all, punya can be helpful in increasing the spiritual inclination of our minds. The mind is naturally attracted to materialistic pleasures, which is a strong obstacle to spiritual growth. A mind obsessed with materialistic pursuits can never be peaceful. Punya is helpful in outgrowing this obsession by enhancing the taste in spiritual pursuit. When one is able to enjoy spiritual pursuit, there is real happiness in life.
Obliteration of Papa
The wrong actions like violence, deception etc produce an unseen evil effect called papa, which becomes responsible for undesirable experiences in life. Nobody is free from papa. Every individual carries with him a bundle of papas done in previous lives. All of us make mistakes knowingly or unknowingly, which adds to our account of papas. Some of the papas may make our life very miserable. Some other papas can create obstacles in spiritual pursuit in various ways.
There are special prayers and penances to alleviate the papas. Pilgrimage can serve as an alleviator of the papas. The hardships endured during pilgrimage like walking barefoot for miles can be an effective penance. A dip taken in a holy river like Ganga has a cleansing effect. The name of the Lord remembered during the pilgrimage will wash away the papas and make us free from all obstacles in spiritual pursuit.
Pilgrimage should be carried out with great faith and devotion. A pilgrim should see the place as a seat of sacredness and purity. A pilgrimage will be effective when it is done with right spirit and attitude.