Traveling Towards Earth’s Threshold
One of the oldest practices in Hindu tradition is travelling. It is not travelling in the sense of site seeing but religious travelling and it is profoundly linked to specific places and geographical features such as hilltops, rocks, confluences of rivers, pools, lakes, rivers and groves of forests. Along the roads you may see groups of people walking towards an obscure destination. You may also see passionate religious gatherings in the middle of what you might consider nowhere. In the Indian subcontinent, under every rock lies a story, an ancient story, which tells about Gods, Goddess, heroes, heroines and sages.
In this particular geographical spot stories are very much alive, as well as the deities which are attached to them. They are often a focal point in many aspects of local lives. This is where history, religion and geography are getting united. (In some cases also economy is an integral part of the bundle as this holy place may be very profitable).
Almost, if not all these places are connected to a larger story which links the local tradition with an all-India tradition. In the thousands of particular tales which you may hear, the theme of the appearance of the divine, whether as Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, or the Goddesses comes up repeatedly. Often, the local story will subscribe to the larger one by linking its sanctity to the great events of the popular Indian Epics (Mahabharata and Ramayana) and Puranas (Indian mythology).
Few places in India throughout the years have become highly significant not only for the local population but to all Hindus. Places that possess such strong religious connections that every Hindu aspires to be there at least once in his lifetime are known as Tirthas. Tirthas are where gods, goddesses and sages are breaking upon the earth. They are the ultimate places of devotion for Hindus; Tirthas are geographical thresholds of two worlds which merge into one – heaven and earth. Gods and Goddesses are descending from upper reality and manifesting in their earthly appearance, changing their form and wearing a new Avatar. Nothing can be more religiously powerful than to be present at these places.
Even the term Tirthas in the Sanskrit language suggests how big and promising the spiritual opportunity for the one who seeks to reach there. Tirtha, as a verb means “to cross” and as noun it means “crossing”. The devotee will be entitled to cross the “line” of his familiar earthly world into a higher state of consciousness which belongs to the domains of Gods. Tirtha is a domain of purification where everything is left behind desires and sins.
Although most of the Tirthayatras ( pilgrimage to Tirthas) are usually associated with water hence rivers and pools such as the famous Ganga River, Pushkar lake in Rajasthan, Prayag in Uttar Pradesh, Yamuna river, Godavari, Narmanda and plenty of others are well known Tirthas destination, there are more geographical features which are dotted around India’s sacred geography and are targets for Tirthayatras.
The Himalayan mountains have always been desirable Tirthas for being hard to access which emphasizes the mental power essential for a spiritual growth. Chota Char Dham (Badrinath Kedernath in Uttar Khand) to Kinnor Kailash In Himachal Pradesh are only part of the Tirtha destinations up in the high mountains.
Forests too are considered as places with highly spiritual attributes. They represent detachment and freedom from earthly desires. The forest in India stands for a place where men can acquire spiritual guidance. Naimisha Forest in Uttar Pradesh is one of the most famous pilgrimage places where major parts of the Mahabharata’s narration took place.
Cities like Haridwar where the Ganaga hits the plains, Ayodhya the capital of lord Rama, Mathura Krishna’s birthplace, Varanasi the city of Shiva are also popular pilgrimage destinations.
Throughout the years with the arrival of modernization to India it has become easier for many people to fulfill their spiritual goals and religious aspirations enabling to take to the pilgrim road by buses and trains and airplanes.
But even with the most comfortable means of transport, even with online travel booking and yatra tours agents, this journey towards the thresholds hits the most traditional nerve of every Hindu in India. For most of them it will be a journey of a life time which they will never return home the same.