India's religious history is highly diverse and is the land of birth of many religions such Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism suggesting a certain degree of religious tolerance to have existed in the country. It is this quality of religious tolerance that is integral to country's heritage that we recognise and be proud of. The advent of various religions, each gaining an upper hand in different eras, led to the construction of numerous places of worship mostly raised by yesteryear's monarchs and petty kings. There is no dearth of pilgrimage destinations in India and mentioning each and everyone of them in this space is inconceivable. Pilgrimage is an expedition in search of our better selves, a journey to achieve introspection and to reflect on the way we lead our every day lives. If you are planning a pilgrimage to India, we hope you find this information useful.
India, for the majority of its history has always been a hindu kingdom and this is evidenced by the plethora of temples found throughout the length and breadth of the country. No religious trip in India is complete without the Varanasi pilgrimage visit. Varanasi, also known as Kashi or Benaras, in Uttar Pradesh is one of the holiest pilgrimage places in India. The holy city host millions upon millions of piligrims every year, who arrive to take dip in the holy Ganges to absolve themselves of sins. The number of temples in Varanasi alone number approximately 2000. India is also host to one of the largest peaceful gathering of pilgrims in the world which is dubbed as Kumbh Mela hosted in 4 places, Haridwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain and occurs in a gap of 3 years in each of the four places respectively. The pilgrims at Kumbh Mela gather to bathe in the holy rivers that flow through these cities to absolve themselves of all earthly sins. The timing of Kumbha Mela is designated based on the alignment of the stars and planets.
Historically, Hinduism is divided into sections of Saivites and Vaishnavites, and the monarchs who raised the places of worship either built Shiva or Vishnu temples depending on their caste. Hindu pilgrimage tours to the numerous Shiva temples built in India necessarily include a visit to the twelve jyothirlinga sites among which the famous temples of Somnath in Gujarat, Kedarnath in Uttarakand, Rameshwar in Rameshwaram Tamil Nadu, Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi Uttar Pradesh and Tryambakeshwar in Nashik Maharashtra. Thousands of pilgrims flock every year to the Amarnath cave in Jammu and Kashmir which is believed to be the site where Shiva revealed the secrets of the universe to his consort. The pilgrimage tour packages also include the tour to the panchabootha stalam where each of the five Shiva temples is said to represent one element of nature. All of these temples are found in South India.
Among the Vishnu temples, the most famous temple is the Sri Venkateshwara Temple situated in Tirupati. The temple is located on the Tirumala hills which is part of a series of seven hills of the Seshachalam range. This is the richest temple in the world and close to half a million pligrim flock to Tirupati every year. In fact, pilgrimage tourism is the mainstay of the economy in Tirupati. Some of the famous Vishnu temples which must be included as part of your pilgrimage tour include Sri Padmanabha swamy temple in Thiruvanathapuram, Sri Ranganthaswamy temple in Srirangam and Vittalrukmini in Pandharpur
Temples and other places of worship are marvels of architecture, standing testimony to the style of workmanship during the era of their construction. Some of the notable mentions are the Brihadeeshwara temple in Tanjore, Meenakshi Amman temple in Madurai, Hoysaleswara temple in Karnataka and Sun temple in Modhera.
The brief period that Buddhism had the upper hand in India was enough to ensure a small population of Indians remained practising Buddhists. India is home to some of the spectacular monasteries in the world, all situated in the Trans Himalayan region. Buddhist pilgrimages in India include Hemis and Thiksey monasteries in Ladakh, Spiti monasteries in Shimla, Tawang monasteries in Arunachal Pradesh and the spectacularly lavish Namdroling monastery and Golden Temple, Karnataka.
Buddhist pilgrimages are not complete without visits to Gaya, Bodh gaya, Lumbini, Sarnath and other places that have been integral in the life and evolution of Prince Siddhartha to Gautama Buddha. Pilgrimage in India is not complete without visiting Annai Velankanni shrine in Nagapattinam. Largely hailed as the 'Lourdes of East' thousands of pilgrims flock to Velankanni in the hopes of being healed of their bodily ailments.