For the Hindus, to visit the holy places is an act of great religious merit. Throughout India there are centres of pilgrimage, some of them very holy, others less so. Great emphasis is laid on visiting the holy places (yatra) once in a life-time for the attainment of salvation. Four of the holy places have been established by Adi Shankaracharya (a saint) and it signifies a farsightedness of vision towards national integration as they are situated at the four corners of India, making the devotees criss-cross the country.

Benares:- is the most sacred among the holy places. Also known as Varanasi and Kashi, it is the city of Shiva, having over two thousand temples and over half a million idols, most of them dedicated to Shiva and his family. It is situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga. 
The Official website of 
Shri Kashi Vishwanath: http://www.shrikashivishwanath.org/


Mathura:- on the banks of Jamuna, near Agra, is the birth place of Krishna. The atmosphere of Mathura is in direct contrast to that of Benares. Mathura represents the religion of the living, while Benaras emphasizes the permanence of death.
The Official website of the ancient and historic temple cities of Mathura;
 http://www.mathura-vrindavan.com/


Dwaraka:- in Gujarat is another important shrine. It was the capital of Krishna’s kingdom and has some very important temples devoted to hit. The city is located on the Western coast of India.

Puri:- in Orissa has the Jagannath temple which attracts pilgrims from all over India. It has an idol considered to be a manifestation of Krishna. The temple, containing idols of Balarama and Subhadra (sister of Krishna), is on the Eastern corner of India.
The Official website of Jagannath Temple Puri, Orissa, India,

Rameswaram:- from where Rama is said to have launched his attack on Lanka is in the extreme south of India. Rama is said to have installed a Shiva lingam here; hence the place is sacred to both Shaivas (Shiva worshippers) and Vaishnavas (Vishnu worshippers).
http://jagannath.nic.in/

Gaya:- on the Ganges, once a stronghold of the Buddhists, is for the Hindus connected with the death ceremonies of ancestors for which they visit the place. After the rituals are performed at Gaya the soul of the dead is supposed to attain salvation.

Ujjain:- It is called the navel of earth. It has the famous temples of Ganesha and Kal-Bhairav. During the time of Vikramaditya it used to be the capital of India. Two parts of the Skanda-Purana were said to have been written here.

Tirupathi Balaji :- Tirupati Balaji Temple is the holiest place and one of the largest temples in the world. It is situated in the Eastern Ghat in Chittoor district. This temple is dedicated to Lord Venkateshwara mean Hindu God Vishnu. It is believed that in this Kalyuga, one can get mukti only by worshipping to Shri Venkateswara at Tirupati. WWW.TIRUMALA.ORG

Haridwar:- It is another very important holy city of India. It is at the foothills of the Himalayas and is the place where the Ganga enters the plains. It is also called the ‘gateway of the Ganga’.

Other important holy places are; Ayodhya (Rama’s capital), Kanchi (Conjeevaram), Kedarnath, Somnath, Amarnath and Kamakhya.

In India there are thousands of tirthas (places of pilgrimage) visited by millions of people every year. Each is somehow special, often associated with a particular deity or saint, and offering its own particular boon or blessing.

The most famous tirtha is Varanasi, also called Benares or Kashi. It is one of seven ancient holy towns (see Important Places of Pilgrimage). There are four great dhamas (holy places), which correspond to the four points of the compass and near which the great teacher Shankara established his four main centres. Another key city is Allahabad, established on the site of the ancient city of Prayaga . It is the one of the four main sites for the twelve-yearly Kumbha Mela. The others are Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik (as shown here).

The map below shows all the major holy places mentioned and also the main sacred rivers and mountains. Further details of most of these sites can be found in this section.


The Seven Ancient Holy Towns:
1. Ayodhya
2. Mathura
3. Haridwar
4. Varanasi
5. Kanchipuram
6. Dvaraka
7. Ujjain

The Four Holy Dhamas
1. Puri (East)
2. Rameshvaram (South)
3. Dvaraka (West)
4. Badrinatha (North)

The Four Maha Kumbha Mela Sites
1. Prayaga ( Allahabad)
2. Haridwar
3. Ujjain
4. Nasik
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Personal Reflection
> What is it that makes a place sacred?
> What experiences do you have of sacred places?
> Are there tangible differences between a holy site and other places, or are they simply imaginary?

Holy Sites for the Four Main Denominations

Vaishnavas

> Mathura/Vrindavana
> Dvaraka
> Badrinatha
> Puri (Jagannatha Puri)
> Tirupati
> Ayodhya
> Nathdwar
> Udupi

Shaivites
> Varanasi
> Kedarnatha
> Somnath
> Rameshvaram
> Chidambaram

Note: for more holy places dedicated to Vishnu or Shiva, see Vaishnavism and Shaivism.

Shaktas
> Kanyakumari
> Madurai
> Vaishno Devi
> Calcutta ( Kali Temple)

Note: there are 51 principle Shakti sites throughout India

Smartas
> Puri
> Rameshvaram
> Dvaraka
> Badrinatha

Note: these correspond to the four dhamas (most holy sites in India)

Glossary Terms
Tirtha – literally means "ford" and refers to places where one can cross from the material world to the spiritual. Many sacred places are considered gateways to the higher realms and to a higher consciousness. Some are thought to be replicas of places within the spiritual realm.


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