Pilgrimage in Hindu Religion
By Vidyadhar Mishra
A place is decreed as a place of pilgrimage by virtue of its association with holy rivers like Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari, Sindhu, Kaveri, etc. Or by being the birth place of great Avatars, like Ayodhya and Mathura, or it could be a place where great Rishis, Munis, Mahatmas… have realised the ultimate truth and gained final liberation. It could also be a place where the Supreme Lord has manifested himself. Moreover, it could be a place where devotees congregate to offer prayers on special occasions.
Ayodhya, Mathura, Maya (Haridwar), Kashi (Varanasi), Kanchi, Avantika (Ujjain) and Dwarka are the seven most famous places of pilgrimages for Hindus. They have the power of liberating devotees from bondage to worldly existence.
A place of pilgrimage is a sacred place which one should visit as often as possible. It allows us to associate ourselves with great holy men and inspires us to become God conscious. A place of pilgrimage is where we can discard all our bad karmas (wrongs) and accumulate good karmas (virtues). Our scriptures recommend us to go on pilgrimage and to associate ourselves with virtuous people, to bathe in the holy waters, to carry out religious rites and rituals to purify ourselves, to give donations and charities, to immerse ourselves and meditate in such sacred environment.
It is our good fortune that although being outside the sacred land of Bharata, we can boast of having our own place of pilgrimage in the form of Ganga Talao. Pilgrims going to the Ganga Taloa do so with great faith and devotion. Many of our brothers and sisters start fasting as from a month back, some as from a fortnight and others from a week prior to the pilgrimage of Maha Shivaratree.
The main aim of human life for a Hindu is to realise God and to attain Moksha (final liberation). Who can foresee and forestall death? Realising this fact man must practise some religious asceticism and direct his mind towards God realisation. We must endeavour to detach ourselves from all the attachments we have with our dear and near ones and with what we possess. When we know that our mortal frame is not permanent then why should we invest all our resources and energy on worldly things? Everything in this world is ephemeral and their separation and destruction are bound to cause us sorrows and pains.
Undertaking a pilgrimage provides us with the opportunity of meeting virtuous people (sadhus, sants and mahatmas). By associating with such souls we become purified in our deeds and thoughts, which helps us to overcome our worldly weaknesses like desires, anger, greed, pride, hatred, etc. For our teerthayatra or pilgrimage to be successful it is imperative for us to adhere to some rituals and religious disciplines as prescribed by our scriptures. It is hoped that these guidelines will help all pilgrims to achieve the main aims of their pilgrimages.
When a person has decided to go on a pilgrimage he must first of all forget about all his worldly comforts, pleasures and possessions. He must only meditate on the Supreme Lord (Bhagawan Shiva). If he worries unnecessarily about his home, family and wealth then his mind will not be on the pilgrimage. He may even forget that he has come on a pilgrimage. He must keep on reciting the name of Shiva and not allow any other thoughts to intrude.
Pilgrimage is synonymous with sacrifice – a true pilgrim must have the spirit of sacrifice. He should have a clean shave and a bath before leaving his home. One should wear clean clothes preferably white colour which is the symbol of purity. One should be decently dressed, specially the womenfolk. Inauspicious colours like black, blue, and green should be avoided. One should carry only those essential things that will help one on one’s pilgrimage. No matter how affluent one may be, while on a pilgrimage one should not try to show off nor make other pilgrims feel inferior.
A pilgrim must always behave in an exemplary manner. Any sinful act committed at a place of pilgrimage is bound to destroy all the benefits of our accumulated good deeds. A pilgrim should fast to the extent possible, or live on fruits only while on pilgrimage, or take very light food with little or no salt. A pilgrim should keep all his senses under control, not allowing them to run astray as this may mislead from the goal of pilgrimage. A pilgrim should take the vow of silence (maunvrat) and if he opens his mouth it’s only to sing the glories of God. If necessary, he should speak as little as one can and only when the need to speak arises. Similarly he must not unnecessarily or talk ill of anyone while on pilgrimage.
When we are carrying Kanwaars we must ensure that they are of reasonable size and are being carried by pilgrims. Carrying very big Kaanwaars that cause unnecessary traffic jams and inconveniences to other pilgrims defeats the very purpose of our pilgrimage to Ganga Talao.
It must be remembered that the Ganga Talao is a sacred place for all Mauritians. It is our duty to keep the place as clean as possible. On no account must we litter the area by throwing waste materials here and there. The water of the Ganga Talao is used to worship Shiva throughout the Island. We must never go inside the lake with our shoes or sandals on. We must not throw any leftovers in the lake as they are bound to make the water unclean. Gargling or spitting in the sacred lake must be avoided in all circumstances.
All offerings made to Gangaji at Ganga Talao must be duly picked up and put into the bins provided on site, keeping only what is to be partaken as prasad.
At Ganga Talao, pilgrims will find many volunteers and officials like the policemen helping pilgrims in ensuring their safety and security. As pilgrims, we must comply with their directives and help them to make their task easy.
Great care should be taken by all pilgrims to avoid any unpleasant incident or mishap at Ganga Talao, or on the way to and back from Ganga Talao. In spite of all the care and measures taken by the various authorities to ensure a smooth pilgrimage, there may still be some shortcomings in the organisation of the pilgrimage. A good pilgrim must never criticise the place of pilgrimage, however he must make suggestions to the appropriate authorities to improve on the shortcomings. A pilgrim who adheres to these basic guidelines for pilgrimage attains the high merits of his pilgrimage.
* Published in print edition on 1 March 2019
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