The power of sacred travel!
Pilgrimage is a way God answers our yearning to physically travel to discover God and the truths about ourselves. This page is a brief introductory commentary of my unique experiences in India.
Pilgrimage and its significance!
The idea of sacred travel runs deep in human religion, dating back to the days when early humans would climb hilltops to be closer to God or go to specific spots, like the Himalayas, to meditate on Him. One of the many great spiritual discoveries of all religions is that we are all pilgrims, strangers seeking God in our own distinctive ways. Spiritual talk is full of the language of travel, following God's paths on our spiritual journey of life.
Pilgrimage is a way God answers that yearning to physically travel to discover God and the truths about ourselves. By going to a specific place where God and God's own have moved mightily in the past, it sinks in that God really does exist, and is at work among us. Trusting that, we can search for (and be eager for) what God is doing within us right now.
The pilgrimage, done out of devotion and true eagerness, lets us answer a yearning to be intimate with God, and sends wisdom to soul and mind. It helps to set aside our doubts and make our surrender to God less half-hearted. The most common effect of a pilgrimage is that it solidifies something that is growing within us. Perhaps we are doubting what we are doing now with our life: the pilgrimage may end that doubt, or may give it shape so that we can change course with confidence. After all, life itself can be called a pilgrimage!
To the Christians going to Rome and seeking blessings from the Pope is auspicious, while to the Muslims performing the 'haj' in Mecca is considered particularly significant. Similarly other religious faiths have their respective congregational venues. For Hindus the 'Kasi yatra' is fulfilling because through the performance of 'pitru karmas' they seek the blessings of their ancestors. Likewise making a pilgrimage to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Puri-Jagannath or the holy sites of Gangotri, Yamunotri, Vaishnudevi, Amarnath and other religious retreats confers untold delight to the Hindu. In the same way devotees throng the Hare Krishna Temple retreat at Mayapur (near Kolkata). There are of course many more spiritual sites all over India. These religious offerings and journeys of faith give us spiritual succour, but spiritual benefit must necessarily spring from the heart and its faith - the faith that is the very life-breath of the spirit of Man - without which no spiritual achievement is possible. Finally, says the late Swami Shivananda of the Divine Life Society at Rishikesh, the ultimate test of faith is whether the 'yatra' pilgrim is filled with spiritual vibrations of the sublime atmosphere he has sojourned during his pilgrimage.
A pilgrimage sometimes seems eerily quiet when done right. No TV, no radio, no laptop, no wireless phones, no idle chatter, no touristy photo sessions, no store-hopping for knicknacks, not much fussing with money or travel details. The pilgrim's entire focus gets turned toward God. That may mean no talk at all for long stretches of time. Silent time is time to concentrate on opening to God, or for meditating or on the significance of the sacred place. Yet it is an important part of the holy experience to talk with fellow pilgrims who are also focusing on God and the pilgrimage. Much can be learned that way, and a shared spiritual outlook may emerge from it.
There are as many ways of experiencing a pilgrimage as there are pilgrims, so the important thing is to choose what matters to you most. Many pilgrims undertake their pilgrimage in stages, going when their schedule allows, choosing the sections that hold the most appeal for them or picking up where they left off on their previous visit.
With hearts filled with excitement, eager anticipation, motivation and desire for spiritual fulfilment, my wife and I therefore decided to make pilgrimages to some important holy sites in India a couple of years ago. While everybody cannot aspire to such holy trips - even if they do, circumstances may deny them the opportunity - getting such a "fortune" gives anyone boundless joy and contentment. Such an opportunity was given to us by God, and it is through his benevolence and grace that we managed to perform and complete our pilgrimages.
Our pilgrimage included the 'Kasi yatra', covering Varanasi, Gaya, Allahabad (Prayag) - all in North India - and Rameswaram in South India; the 'Dev Bhoomi' pilgrimage in Uttarakhand, covering Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath and Kedarnath; and pilgrimages to Bhubaneswar, Puri-Jagannath and Mayapur.
I would be glad to hear from other nuts who have done pilgrimages, similar or otherwise, to share their experiences too.
Attached are some photos taken during our pilgrimages.