It may be argued that all of humanity are on a pilgrimage. A life journey of discovery and experiences which bind us all together in a common bond. Spiritual journeys that are made add to the human experience bringing magic and wonder on our journey offering fascinating dimensions to our very existence.
Quote from Ancient Sanskrit Text:
“Flower like the heels of the wanderer
His body growth and is fruitful
All his sins disappear
Slain by the toil of his journey”
Mythological traditions embrace the whole of Hindu life. None more so than the Northern territories of India where the great river Indus flows. All the great rivers in India are believed to have divine essence. . One such place the river Ganges is the place where the river is said to be the liquid form of the energy of the Lord Shiva Vast. It is here where vast crowds gather to b cleansed and decontaminated form the physical world along with other geographical locations where Great sagas and magical events were said to have taken place. The ancient Veda( knowledge) scriptures as far back as 1500 bce recorded the events of the Gods and Goddesses at these dwelling places (tirthas). It is at these places that are the focal point for millions not only Hindus but for many people from all over the world regardless of religion.
The importance of the geography of tirthas cannot be overlooked. The places themselves are deemed to be sacred in the eyes of Hindus. The Vedas informs of the great rivers leading to forests, mountains, waterfalls, springs, valley’s and hills. Opinions vary as to the value of pilgrimages and try to point out the connection between pilgrimage and tourism. One such comment as by Smith V.L, 1992 Introduction- the quest in guest. Annuls of Tourism Research 19; 1-17. Where he claims the original purpose of pilgrimage had evolved into becoming more secular and perhaps more cynically have become commercial projects. Though this may not be overlooked. The fact remains that pilgrimage is a significant part of Hinduism and for a significant number of Hindus a way of life which will be discussed further on.
The Intrinsic worthiness that is sought by Hindus has created and still does create many views in both Ethical and Philosophical terms. Hindus and secular tourists a like may hope to achieve the same goals on pilgrimage. Whether it be to “experience” (Darshan) where the viewer gets to see the divine and the divine gets to see the worshipper. Darshan awakens the existence of there being more to life than what is seen in the physical world. In part all observers Hindus and tourists alike may share a common experience, if this happens intentionally or not merits further research.
The importance of the spiritual well being of Hindus is very important and whatever sacrifices are made to eventually achieve Moksha ( liberation) from the continuous life and death cycle are indeed worthwhile. The path to the Ultimate Reality may be a combination of many aspects of Hinduism and not just pilgrimage. The realization of the ultimate truth (Brahman) according to The Gita (Hindu sacred text) refers to the world as “impermanent and the abode of universal suffering”. This suffering does not enable freedom and growth. All things are in fact transitional where moments of pleasure in life are superseded by moments of suffering. No one can avoid this no matter what is achieved in life. True happiness may be achieved when the attachment to our wants and desires are cast aside . Francis Story in Suffering , Vol.11 of The Three Basic Facts of Existence comments on (Duhkha) a concept in which suffering arises from three sources. Self relating to ones mind and body. Others referring to people animals etc. and lastly the environment for example storms,earthquakes,heat and cold.
The thirst for “forgiveness” is unquenchable in Hinduism and for Hindus there is no sin or crime is too great that cannot be forgiven it may be on these pilgrimages that Hindus re affirm their faith and devotion as well as a sense of belonging to a unified if not coherent population The relief from the reality of existence, from the never ending suffering in the physical world. Though for some that pain and suffering is part of the requirement for Hindus especially on pilgrimage and whatever agony exists is worthwhile when the devotee eventually reaches the Divine. Purity of thought, word and deed is necessary according to Brahmanism (Priestley class) so that one cannot be accused of hypocrisy. This may be another reason for pilgrimage. Mohandis Ghandi himself seen as divine stresses the importance of maintaining control of ones senses. For some especially groups like the ascetics, pilgrimage simplifies life setting one free from the attachment of possessions and money. Pilgrimage maybe an integral part of life in the goal to achieve mastery over their bodies living a life of self-denial from the physical world. As well as the spiritual well being perhaps another value of pilgrimage is achieved. The therapeutic value for many sufferers may achieved at tirthas. For example; people with mental problems who would pilgrimage to the Balaji shrine where the deity is said to drive out demons. Another example being the suicide by some who seek to get release from the continuous cycle of life as mentioned by Kloistermaier,K; A survey of Hinduism 1989,p312.
At the tirthas themselves rituals and rights of passage are performed as well as acts of worship (puja) and devotion. Not only these but also a whole range of activities. Social,educational events also take place. For example the singing of Bhajams (hymns) the reciting of scriptures along with lectures and dissertations performed by teachers and religious leaders. Great throngs of people will gather often Watling for days to meet their deity. Darshan could perhaps have a humbling effect on those seeking the Divine as they gaze into the eyes of the deity. A two way relationship ensues. The divine crosses into the physical and the physical crosses into the divine and for the believer right into the presence of the divine itself. What emerges from pilgrimages may be a cleansed people nation both physically and mentally ready for the continuing cycle of life and death.
Pilgrimage re-affirms cultural identity for Hindus which in turn on the whole give social order and integration. Hinduism in general is a system of worship that works for one of the worlds largest populations and pilgrimage is an integral part of that. Morrinis points out in Theoretical Perspectives on Pilgrimage 1984 p 233-75 as well as Peter Van der Veer in Gods on Earth ( 1988) see pilgrimages as rights of passage and show what is important in Hindu culture. Modernisation has seen the growth in the number of pilgrims. This in turn sees the increase in tales, folklore, rituals and traditions for the coming generations. Pilgrimage may be considered a family event with ever increasing members of the family joining their husbands on the journey. An integrated rail and road system may increase pilgrimages even more. People will no longer have to walk long distances. Though the priests may argue that to achieve Darshan in the fullest suffering is essential.
In conclusion despite whatever political system is at work in India. Pilgrimage can be seen a beautiful human experience which many people can achieve. It can break down barriers of class, colour , creed and status etc. for those who are soul searching. A persons standing in life cannot define who or what a person is. Pilgrimages may give that definition when someone has achieved what they they set out to do on a pilgrimage. Though many negative forces may be at work in he lives of millions of Hindus namely, social, economical and political forces. To go on pilgrimage and experience Darshan should in my view overcome any negative force on ones life. I believe spiritual enlightenment can be achieved on pilgrimage and is of value and merit even in todayaa‚¬a„?s materialistic world.