Pilgrimage in Hinduism, as in other religions, is the practice of journeying to sites where religious powers, knowledge, or experience are deemed especially accessible. Hindu pilgrimage is rooted in ancient scriptures. According to textual scholars, the earliest reference to Hindu pilgrimage is in the Rigveda (c. 1500 BCE), in which the “wanderer” is praised. Numerous later texts, including the epic Mahabharata (c. 300 BCE–300 CE) and several of the mythological Puranas (c. 300–750 CE), elaborate on the capacities of particular sacred sites to grant boons, such as health, wealth, progeny, and deliverance after death. Texts enjoin Hindu pilgrims to perform rites on behalf of ancestors and recently deceased kin. Sanskrit sources as well as devotional literature in regional vernacular languages praise certain places and their miraculous capacities. Some of the most frequently visited and the most popular pilgrimage places are listed below.
This sacred place is located between the magnificent valleys of Manikoot, Brahmakoot and Vishnukoot valley. The temple is open all day between 5 AM to 6 PM and the entry to the temple is free.
The Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is a Hindu Temple and is located in Rishikesh. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is quite popular among the Hindu pilgrimage sites. According to the Hindu religious text, it is believed that the Neelkanth Mahadev Temple is the exact same place where Lord Shiva consumed a venom called Halahala, that was originated from the sea when the Devas and the Asuras agitated the sea in order to obtain Amrita. Perhaps this is the reason why Lord Shiva has a blue throat and is also popularly known as the “Neelkanth”, which literally means “The blue throated one”.
Being an imperative part of the Char-Dham Pilgrimage, Shri Jagannath Puri Temple is considered to be of utmost importance among the devotees and is located in Puri, Odissa. The temple is dedicated to Jagannath, which is a form of Lord Vishnu – a trinity of supreme divinity in Hinduism. The Puri temple is famous for its annual Ratha Yatra, or chariot festival, in which the three principal deities – Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra, are pulled on huge and elaborately decorated temple cars. Every year the temple witnesses an overwhelming crowd of the devotees for its annual Rath Yatra. The inner sanctum of the temple contains the deities carved from sacred neem logs known as ‘daru’ sitting on the bejeweled platform or ratnabedi, along with deities of Sudarshana Chakra, Madan Mohan, Sridevi and Vishwa Dhatri. The deities are adorned with different clothing and jewels according to the season. Worship of these deities’ pre-dates the building of the temple and may have originated in an ancient tribal shrine.
The temple is open all day between 6 AM and 9 PM. Devotees do not have to pay any token of money to enter inside the temple.
Perched on the Bilwa Parvat on the Sivalik Hills of the Himalayas, the Mansa Devi Temple is a Hindu temple that is dedicated to goddess Mansa Devi in the holy city of Haridwar, in the Uttarakhand state of India. The temple is known for being the holy abode of Mansa Devi, a form of Shakti and is said to have emerged from the mind of the Lord Shiva. The term ‘Mansa’ means wish and it is believed that the goddess fulfils all the wishes of a sincere devotee who visits the temple.
The temple is considered to be a must visit in Haridwar for the pilgrims. The holy shrine offers views of the river Ganges and the plains of Haridwar. To reach the shrine one has to either follow the trekking route up to this holy shrine or ride on rope-way service. The rope-way service known as "Mansa Devi Udankhatola" was introduced for the benefit of the pilgrims and it is also used for transporting pilgrims to the nearly located Chandi Devi Temple.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Badrinath Temple is a prominent holy shrine among the Hindu pilgrims. The temple is located in the town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand, India and is open only for six months every year, between the end of the month of April and the beginning of the month of November due to the extreme climate condition in the Himalayas. On the day of the closure, an Akhanda Jyoti lamp is lit to last for six months and the image of Badrinath is transferred to Narasimha temple at Jyotirmath. Badrinath reopens on Akshaya Tritiya, an auspicious day in April every year.
The Badrinath Temple is believed to be originally established by the saint, Adi Shankaracharya. The temple houses a black stone idol of Lord Vishnu which is 1m tall and is considered to be one of the 8 swayam vyakta kshetras or self-manifested statues of Vishnu. It also finds its mention in the 108 Divya Desams devoted to Lord Vishnu in India.
Standing tall for the past 1200 years approximately, the Kedarnath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is located on the Garhwal Himalayan region in the state of Uttarakhand, India. The temple is one of the most prestigious and sacred Hindu temples as it is a part of Chhota Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand. Set against the beautiful backdrop of the snow-clad mountain, the temple witnesses a humungous crowd of devotees every year due to its religious significance and sanctity.
There are different types of morning and evening poojas that are performed throughout the day in the temple. Devotees have to pay a specific amount of money to attend a particular Pooja. The morning pooja starts from 4:00 and lasts till 7:00. It includes, Mahabhishek, the cost of attending which is INR 1700 per person; Rudrabhishek, this Pooja is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is performed to wipe out all the sins. It costs INR 1300 per person to attend this pooja; Laghurudrabhishek, this Abhishek is done to resolve issues related to health and wealth or to remove the bad effects of planets in the horoscope. This pooja costs INR 1100 to one person; and Shodasopachar Pooja for which INR 1000 has to be paid for each devotee to attend this pooja. Besides these, Balbhog, general morning pooja and several other rituals are also performed which visitors can attend at nominal rates. The evening poojas are held between 6:00 PM to 07:30 PM.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple is a very famous Hindu temple among the devotees and is dedicated to lord Shiva. The temple is located in Vishwanath Gali near Varanasi, in Uttarakhand, India. It is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus and is among the twelve jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. Devotees visiting the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple from now on must wear Dhoti-Kurta (for men) and Saree (for women). According to the recent decision taken by the Kashi Vishwa Parishad, devotees performing sparsh darshan (entering inside the temple sanctum) must follow this dress code strictly. However, devotees dressed in western wear will be allowed to worship the deity outside the sanctum.
Kashi Vishwanath Temple has a great significance in Hindu religion. It is widely believed that a visit to the temple followed by a dip in the holy Ganges is the ultimate way to attain liberation or 'Moksha' and for the same reason it is thronged by devotees throughout the year.
Located on the Rameswaram island in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, the Ramanathaswamy Temple is an integral part of the twelve Jyotirlinga temples. The temple is of great significance to the Hindu devotees and is dedicated to lord Shiva. The word 'Ramanathaswamy' means the master of Rama and refers to Lord Shiva, to whom Lord Rama prayed before setting for his journey towards Lanka to save Goddess Sita from the clutches of Ravana. The architecture of the temple is noted for its intricate carvings, majestic towers and lavish corridors, which are lined with imposing sculptured pillars. The temple remains open on all days of the week from 5 am to 1 pm and then from 3 pm to 9 pm.
Located in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, Amarnath is one of the most important pilgrimages in India for the worshippers of Lord Shiva. The Amarnath cave has an enshrined Shivalinga formed naturally with ice, which resembles Lord Shiva. The temple is visited by millions of tourists every year from all across the world for a challenging mountainous trek called 'Amarnath Yatra'. Legend has it that, this place is regarded to be the same cave where Lord Shiva revealed the secret of life and eternity to Goddess Parvati.
However, the Amarnath Cave is accessible only during the Shravan months of July-August. The temple is also considered to be one of the 18 Maha Shakti Peethas, or the holiest shrines in Hinduism. Besides seeking blessings at the Amarnath Temple, the views surrounding it are extraordinary.
Also referred to as Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Temple and Vaishno Devi Bhavan, the Vaishno Devi Temple is a prominent and widely revered Hindu temple dedicated to goddess Vaishno Devi. The temple is located within the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir in India. The temple is recognized as one of the 108 Maha Shakti Peethas. This renowned shrine allures millions of devotees from all over the world. Popularly known as Mata Rani, Vaishnavi and Trikuta, Vaishno Devi is a manifestation of the Hindu Goddess Durga. It is believed that during the pooja and aarti, Goddesses arrive at the Holy cave to pay their respect to Mata Rani. The darshan of Maa Vaishno Devi in the holy cave is in the form of three naturally formed rocks which are known as pindies. These pindies manifest the three forms of the goddess as Maha Kali, Maha Saraswati and Maha Lakshmi. More than one crore devotees visit the Vaishno Devi temple each year.
The aarti of Maa Vaishno Devi is performed twice a day - before sunrise and after sunset - and is a spectacle to experience. After self-purification, the aarti is performed by the designated priests inside the sanctum sanctorum and then outside the main cave. The goddess is bathed in milk, water, honey, ghee and sugar, and then dressed in a saree and jewellery. Post this, the prasad is offered to the goddess, and the aarti is performed.
Dedicated to lord Ayyappa, the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple is one of the most renowned and prominent temples of all the Sastha temples. Located in the Western Ghats of the Pathanamthitta District in Kerala, the Sabarimala Temple is situated on a hilltop, amongst 18 other hills, at the height of about 4,000 feet above sea level. Not only is the temple significant for its religious elements but also because of the cultural, societal and cultural elements attached to it. Perhaps this is the reason why this is one of the largest annual pilgrimages in the world, and which attracts over 100 million devotees each year.
The temple follows a liberal approach, allowing entry to devotees of all castes and religions. Every pilgrim is given the status of "Ayyappa" which maintains the actual spirit of "Tattvamasi" or "That is you". It means that the devotees are forms of God themselves.
Situated in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, Tirupati is known for Lord Venkateshwara Temple. It is one of the most visited pilgrimage centers in the world. It is also one of the world's richest temples known by different names - Tirumala Temple, Tirupati Temple, and Tirupati Balaji Temple. Tirumala is one of the seven hills in Tirupati, where the main temple is located. The temple is believed to be where Lord Venkateshwara took the form of an idol and is home to the deity Govinda. Tirupati is one of India's oldest cities and is mentioned in many ancient Vedas and Puranas. The most popular legend associated with the temple is that it is the abode of Lord Vishnu, who shall guide his devotees to the end of the present Kali-yuga age. The Lord does this for the emancipation of the troubles of mankind, along with the Goddesses Lakshmi and Padmavati.
The Somnath temple, also called Somanātha temple or Deo Patan, is a Hindu temple located in Prabhas Patan, Veraval in Gujarat, India. It is one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites for Hindus and is believed to be first among the twelve jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. The Somnath Temple is considered to be one of the most revered and holy shrines in India. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the oldest places of pilgrimage in Gujarat. The meaning of the word 'Somnath' is the 'Lord of the Moon God', which refers to Lord Shiva as He is known to wear the Moon on his head. Also, Somnath is believed to be the place where Lord Krishna ended his Lila and thereafter for heavenly abode.
Shri Krishna Janmasthan Temple is located in the holy city of Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. It is built around the prison cell in which Lord Krishna’s parents, Mata Devaki and Vasudeva were imprisoned by his evil uncle Kansa. The temple is of great significance for the Hindus as it is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna.
It is believed that it was first constructed by the great-grandson of Krishna Vajranabha 5000 years ago. Then, it was rebuilt in 400 AD during the reign of Chandragupta Vikramaditya. However, it was destroyed in 1017 AD by Mahmud of Ghazni.
Located at a distance of 122 Km from Nasik in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, Shirdi is the home of Sai Baba. It is believed that Sai Baba arrived at Shirdi in 1858 and spent 60 years of his life here until he attained salvation in 1918. Sai Baba is popularly known as the 'child of God', as he always spread the message of universal brotherhood. Apart from his shrine, there are many small temples in the complex, such as Chavadi, Samadhi Mandir, Dwarkamai. Shani Shignapur is located at a distance of 72km from Shirdi.
Pilgrimage has been increasingly popular since the 20th century, facilitated by ever-improving transportation. Movement over actual distance is critical to pilgrimage, for what is important is not just visiting a sacred space but leaving home.