What is a sacred place?
Hindu Scriptures are full of references to pilgrimages ie Yatra. These pilgrimages are undertaken with various intentions and reasons. There are specific places and temples which when visited serve a particular purpose, like conferring wealth, progeny, marriage, health, moksha and the like. Yet others enjoin pilgrims to perform rituals for departed souls and ancestors. Most of the sacred places have an ancient history dating back to the Vedic times. There is a legend associated with each and every place. The Sthal Puran of any sacred place reveals interesting nuggets of information. For example Vraj Yatra bestows freedom from eighty four lakh birth circles while a visit to the four dhams leads to moksha or liberation. Further it is believed that a person who observes vows and undertakes arduous treks and journeys to sacred places has a large part of his karma negated.
Where are they found?
Sacred places and temples are mostly found in areas of great scenic beauty and charm where spiritual vibrations can be absorbed easily. Mountains, valleys, river banks, sea shores – these are places where pilgrim centres abound. Undertaking a yatra to temples on rough terrains is itself a huge challenge and people acquire a certain degree of hardiness and resilience as these help the yatri to become tough and push him beyond his comfort zone. It also helps in the bonding of fellow pilgrims and people are able to contain their individual egos, at least for the time they are on a pilgrimage as there is a sense of caring and sharing among members of the group.
In the present times, good connectivity, transportation and infrastructure are factors that are considered while undertaking pilgrimages. Availability of information on temples and other essential information regarding the sacred places also contribute to a good inflow of pilgrims to various places. Group tours arranged by reputed agencies play a key role too. Many places have fairs, melas, yatras and annual festivals that have become very popular over the years leading to a surge in pilgrim population.
Importance of Temples
Mandir or Devalayam in Sanskrit is the house of god. Why do people visit temples? Vedic lifestyle identifies four kinds of devotees according to their attitude and disposition. These are Arthi, Artharthi, Jignasu and Jnani. The Arthi is one who hopes to be relieved of his sorrow and suffering and escape pain by worshipping god. The artharthi seeks success, fame and fortune and feels the lord can fulfill all his materialistic desires. The Jignasu prays for higher wisdom dissatisfied with the pleasures of the world. The Jnani having attained self illumination seeks the lord without expecting anything in return. He experiences bliss throughout. All these four kinds of devotees visit temples for one reason or the other.
Reasons for visiting temples
Thus we find devotees going to god with a wish list, some on a thanksgiving trip, yet others to enjoy the spiritual vibrations emanating from the sacred precincts of the temple and some to appreciate the grandeur and beauty of the architecture and the idol. Whatever be the reason, Hinduism enjoins every adherent to make periodic trips to temples and places of pilgrimage to recharge one’s spiritual batteries. The sonorous chants of the mantras and the poojas performed soothe and calm agitated minds and lift one’s dull spirits. The sights and smells emanating from the sanctum sanctorum are all designed to invigorate the senses and transport our thoughts upward. There is thus something magical about the ambience in the temples and you feel connected to the Invisible Supreme Power that governs the Universe. There is total communion between the self and the Divine. We are able to uplift our thoughts towards a higher divine power as the ambience aids us greatly.
Social aspects of visiting temples
Since ancient times temples have been a source of education, fine arts, architecture and has served to knit communities bringing people closer. Sacred places were also venues where people would congregate to discuss various issues relating to their life and society. They served as meeting places for people. Many businesses flourished around these places and a robust economy thrived there.
In the past, many activities conducted by the temple authorities provided an opportunity for people to spend their time gainfully. Sathsangathvenissangathvam- the importance of good company is stressed by AdiSankara in his BhajaGovindam. Visiting temples and listening to kirtans and pravachans proved to be a good pastime and a healthy social habit for people as it kept various undesirable practices among the populace at bay.
Agamas detail temple worship. There are treatises on building and maintenance of temples, temple architecture etc. There is a complete science behind the complex structure of a temple especially the ancient ones. The position of the idol, structure of the temple, materials used and rituals to be performed are all clearly mentioned in the Scriptures. Thus tourists flock to temples these days to appreciate the artistry and brilliance of the structure.
Welcome to a grand pilgrimage to various sacred places, embark on a spiritual journey as you browse through these pages.