Pilgrimages are quintessential to Hinduism, they go hand in hand. The purpose of going on pilgrimages in Hinduism is to connect with the inner and higher self and attain freedom from the karmic cycle of birth and rebirth. This quest to attain liberation or moksha is as old as the Vedas. The entire nation is crisscrossed with pilgrimages dedicated to various gods and goddesses. Each Yatra holds a special significance in their own way. These pilgrimages are the best way to experience the rich diversity, culture and scenic beauty of India. Check out these 10 pilgrimage places in North India to add to your next vacation plans.
1. Vaishno Devi Temple
The famous Shakti Peeth of Vaishno is situated on the hills of Jammu and is one of the most important places for Devi worship in India. Lovingly referred to as Mata rani, Vaishno Devi is a manifestation of the Hindu mother goddess Durga and is worshipped as a combination of all the powerful Mata ranis of Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. This is one of the most important and powerful Shaktipeeth of all since Mata Rani’s skull fell here. This cave temple is located in Katra on the Trikuta Hills and the whole 13 km of uphill route is very well paved for the pilgrims. Vaishno Devi Temple is also the 2nd most visited Hindu pilgrimage destination in India. It is believed that Mata Rani fulfils the wishes of anyone taking up this journey.
2. Amarnath Yatra
Famous as one of the most challenging pilgrimages in north India, the Amarnath cave temple is situated in Pahalgam, Jammu and Kashmir. Placed at a whopping altitude of 3,888 meters above sea level, the presiding deity inside the cave temple is the ice Shivling of Lord Shiva which is made out of a stalagmite formation. This natural Shiv Ling is also one of the 51 Shakti Peeth since it is the place where Lord Shiva had revealed the secrets of immortality to Goddess Parvati, his consort. This holy pilgrimage of 36 to 48 kms has also found its mention in the Hindu epics of Mahabharat and Purans. Surrounded by glaciers and snowy peaks on all sides, the journey to Amarnath cave is a challenging one and takes 3 to 5 days to cover from one side.
Bodhgaya in Bihar is the place where Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha. It was near the Falgu River that Lord Buddha was wandering around looking for the meaning of life that he chanced upon a peaceful Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya and the rest is history. Buddhists, monks, nuns and various religious leaders belonging to different communities make it a point to take the pilgrimage to this holy land of Buddha and pay their homage. The Mahabodhi Temple forms the cornerstone of this Yatra and is an architectural marvel in itself. The visit to the Bodhi Tree is an integral part of Buddhism and it has been frequented by believers from all over the world since the conception of Buddhism including the great leader Ashok.
4. Char Dham Yatra
Char Dham Yatra takes place in Devbhoomi Uttarakhand and covers the four major pilgrimage temples of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The journey starts off from Rishikesh which is often referred to as the gateway to Chardham and crosses through the 5 major Prayags to reach these pious centres of spirituality on the hills. There was once a time when reaching these temples was a distant dream due to the irregular terrain, challenging weather conditions and unexpected challenges. Many pilgrims now prefer Chardham Yatra by Helicopter where the time taken to complete the Char Dham Yatra gets substantially cut down from 11 days to just 2 days but the deep spiritual impact it leaves you with remains unparalleled. These temples remain open for a limited duration of just 6 months from spring to winter and shut down by the end of the year owing to constant, heavy snowfall. Taking this Char Dham Yatra is the way of attaining liberation or moksha from the karmic cycle of birth and rebirth.
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5. Panch Kedar Yatra
Devbhoomi Uttarakhand has often been mentioned as the ‘land of gods’ so there is no dearth of pilgrimage spots here. Ever since time immemorial, Lord Shiva has been the centre of many pilgrimages and Panch Kedar is one such major pilgrimage dedicated to the lord. As the name suggests, this Yatra covers the holy Kedars of Kedarnath, Kalpeshwar Mahadev, Madmaheshwar, Rudranath and Tungnath temple. Out of all the Shiva temples in the world, these are the 5 most important shrines dedicated to the lord. While going on this Yatra pilgrims will be walking on the same route as the Pandavas did during their search for Lord Shiva while asking him for forgiveness for killing their own kin in Mahabharat. The Yatra will unfold one of the most scenic natural beauties of Uttarakhand complete with stunning views, exhilarating hikes and a sense of deep spirituality.
6. Mathura Vrindavan
Mathura and Vrindavan are two of the most important towns related to Lord Krishna and have an ancient past as the birthplace of lord Krishna. Krishna Bhakts from all over the globe make it a point to make this pilgrimage to Krishna Nagri and experience pure devotion. Along with Mathura and Vrindavan, Nandgaon is another famous Krishna pilgrimage destination. Vrindavan is the place where the lord and 8th incarnation of Vishnu is said to have spent most of his time in life. This holy abode of Lord Krishna is just an hour’s drive away from Agra, on the banks of the Yamuna River. These twin cities are a real personification of Lord Krishna that is represented through stunning temples, calming gardens and mesmerizing surroundings. This historical destination is a treasure of a place that seems like a window to the glorious past. Some of the must-visit temples here are the Govind Dev Temple, Rangaji Temple, Dwarikadhish Temple, Bankey Bihari Temple, Prem Mandir, and ISKCON Temple.
7. Baba Baidyanath Dham
Baba Baidyanath or Vaidyanath Temple is one of the most famous pilgrimage temples in Deoghar, Jharkhand. As the anime suggests, this temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is also a very famous Siddh Peeth. The holy journey to this temple starts off during the Shravan month of July or August where pilgrims fill up their vessels with Ganga water and move towards the Baidyanath Temple in large groups to offer this water. This Kanwar Yatra is attended by millions of Shiva devotees from across the country every year. The entire temple complex comprises a central shrine along with 21 other additional temples. It is believed that anyone who worships the presiding Linga of Kamna, they get their wishes fulfilled. The Shiv Linga in the temple is extremely powerful as it has also been worshipped by the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and other important deities. The temple is even a part of the 12 Jyotirlinga Tour of India which takes pilgrims to all the major Shiva temples dotted all over the subcontinent.
8. Dwarkadhish Temple
The iconic temple of Dwarkadheesh is also known as Jagat Mandir and is located in the heart of Dwarka city in Gujarat. The temple’s presiding deity is Lord Krishna who is worshipped here as the king of Dwarka. Dwarkadheesh is a part of the All India Char Dham Yatra along with Badrinath, Jagannath temple and Rameswaram temple. The main shrine of this 5-storied temple building is supported by 72 intricately carved pillars making it an architectural marvel as well. According to archaeological findings, the temple was built in 200 BCE and it was rebuilt and enlarged during the 15th and 16th centuries. The original temple structure was built by Lord Krishna’s grandson, Vajranabha, on the site of Lord Krishna’s residence. This fact makes Dwarkadheesh temple an extremely important place of Krishna worship.
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Gracing the western banks of the holy Ganga River, Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. Also referred to as Kashi, Varanasi is known as the centre of Hindu spirituality and religion. Every aspect of the city is doused in a deep sense of exhilarating spirituality and pure devotion. Lord Shiva is considered to be the founder of the city with Kashi Vishwanath Jyotirlinga being the centre of the city’s pilgrimage. Lined with colourful Ghats and dotted with important temples, Varanasi’s vibe remains unmatched. The city’s antiquity have often been defined in great detail by various big-time thinkers, philosophers, sages and travellers. Being the cradle of culture, art, religion and more, Varanasi is not just a place it’s an experience.
10. Jagannath Temple
Dedicated to the Jagannath form of Lord Vishnu, Jagannath temple in Puri, Odisha is one of the most important places of Vishnu worship and a major Char Dham Yatra site. Famous for its annual Rath Yatra or the chariot festival, the temple has many fascinating folktales surrounding it, one of the most vital ones being that Krishna’s heart was placed here. The temple, which is also one of the 108 holy Vishnu temples, is sacred to all Hindus and especially believers of the Vaishnava traditions. The temple has been frequented by many great Vaishnava saints. The presiding deities inside the temple are Jagannath, Subhadra and Balabhadra, carved out of sacred neem logs and adorned with colourful clothing and jewels. These deities are older than the temple and is also believed to have originated from an ancient tribal shrine.