The largest religious gathering is to be witnessed during the triennial Kumbh Mela, in the four holy places of Nasik (Maharashtra), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh), Prayag (Allahabad), and Hardwar. A more serene festival takes place in the temple town of the Madurai, in southern India, where temple deities are carried around the a pool. A triple deity celebration for the temple Lords Jagannath Puri, Balabhadra and Subhadra becomes a spectacular and colourful Car Festival, in which a Devotees pull three decorated wooden carts through the streets of Puri in Orissa.
Ganesh Chaturuthi – the worship of Lord Ganesh- is celebrated by the immersion of giant-sized clay images in the Mumbai waters amid prayers. Bodhgaya is a place of worship for the people of the Buddhist Faith. It is this place where the Lord Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. Gaya has scared shrines of the Jains and Hindus scattered around the city. Mathura, situated on the west bank of river Yamuna is associated with the most revered of Hindu gods- Lord Krishna. Virndavan, which is famous for its association with Lord Krishna, who spent his childhood days here. Rameswaram is an island hallowed by the epic Ramayana.
A devotee who visits Varanasi is also expected to visit this place in order to gain the full fruit of his prayers. Thanjavur is another great Indian temple town. The center of Hinduism and the religious capital of Hindus Varanasi is one to most important place of work ship.
RAMESHWARAM It is situated on an island on the South-eastern tip of the Indian Peninsula. It is believed that Lord Rama bathed at Dhanushkodi, where the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet.
The Sri Ramanathaswami temple is curiously dedicated Lord Shiva. The name indicated that Lord Shiva is all powerful god who was worshipped by Lord Rama who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The important festivals are Mahashivaratri celebrated for ten days during February-March, Bhramotsavam (March-April) and Tirukalyanam (July-August).
The temple has a 3700 feet corridor which is the longest in India. The sea at Agni Tirtham is a sacred bathing ghat. Other temples in Other temples in Rameshwaram include Gandhamadhana where Rama’s footprints are found on a Chakra, the Kothandaramaswami temple, Adi jaganath temple and Koti Tirtam which is a spring supposed to be created by Lord Rama’s arrow.
MAMALLAPURAM All that remains of the great city built by the Pallava ruler Mahendra Varman in the 7th century, are some breathtaking rock sculptures and monuments on a low, boulder-strewn hill by the sea, 60 km south of Chennai. ‘Mandapams’ (cave temples), ‘rathas’(temple chariots), the world’s largest bas-relief (called ‘Arjuna’s Penance’ – 27 m long and 6 m high) and a solitary pagoda-shaped Shore Temple – all hewn out of solid granite, lie scattered in the area.
The serenely beautiful Shore Temple, dedicated to both Lord Vishnu and Shiva, now stands right near the sea and has been protected from the pounding waves by a modern boundary wall.
MADURAI (CITY OF NECTAR) -Tamil Nadu’s second largest city is synonymous with the temple built in honour of Lord Shiva’s consort, the ‘fish-eyed’ goddess Meenakshi Temple. Thousands of pilgrims from all over India visit the temple every day. The enormous gopurams are lavishly covered with multi-coloured carvings of gods, goddesses, mythical figures and animals – the biggest gopuram having more than 1500 sculptures!
TIRUCHIRAPALLI (TRICHY) – A mammoth 83 m high outcrop of rock, rising unexpectedly out of an otherwise flat landscape, and topped by a fort and then a temple – that is the enduring image of Tiruchirapalli, better known as Trichy. Dedicated to the elephant-headed God, Ganesha, the temple is reached by climbing 344 steps carved out of the rock.
Trichy lies on the banks of the Kaveri river 320 kms south of Chennai. Being in the heart of Tamil Nadu it is a convenient base for visiting destinations in the southern part of the State. Five km to its North, at Srirangam, is the enormous Ranganathaswamy Temple set on an island in the river. The temple complex is spread over a staggering 250 hectares, and almost the whole of Srirangam town lies within its 7 concentric walls! And this complex has no less than 22 gopurams, each depicting the architectural style of the times in which it was built. The tallest gopuram is an amazing 73 m (241 ft) high!
THANJAVUR (TANJORE) – The ancient capital of the Cholas, Thanjavur is 55 kms east of Trichy. In addition to the paintings and bronze icons that are made here, Thanjavur is also famous for the Brihadeeshwara Temple built by Raja Raja Chola in the 10th century. An amazing feature of the temple is that the 66.5 m high ‘vimana’ (temple tower above the main shrine) is capped by a massive cupola carved out of a single granite block estimated to weigh more than 80 tonnes.
Char Dham Yatra
Char Dham is a term coined for the four most revered Hindu pilgrimage destinations of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
YAMUNOTRI : A point of paramount religious importance for Hindus and an essiantial pilgrimage. Situated at an altitute of 3,235 mt.
GANGOTRI : A sacred shrine, surrounded by mountain peaks of Shivling, Satopanth and Bhagirathi sisters. Situated at an altitute of 3,200 mt.
KEDARNATH : One of the 12 jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, is a scenic situated against a backdrop of the majestic Kedarnath range. Situated at an altitute of 3,581 mt.
BADRINATH : One of the most revered Hindu shrines of India situated in the lap of Nar-Narayan Parvat, with towering Neelkanth peak (6597 m). Situated at an altitute of 3,133 mt.
YAMUNOTRI » The shrine of Yamunotri, situated at an elevation of about 3,235 mt is a point of paramount religious importance for Hindus and an essential pilgrimage. Situated in the direction opposite to Gangotri, the road bifurcates from a place called Dharasu, somewhere between Rishikesh – Uttarkashi and goes on to Yamunotri. The shrine can also be visited via Mussoorie and Barkot.
How to reach :
Air : Nearest airport is Jolly Grant.
Rail : Nearest railhead is’t Rishikesh.
Road : The road to Yamunotri diverts from Rishikesh – Gangotri road at Dharasu.
Important road distances : Hanumanchatti 13 km; Dharasu 107 km; Tehri 149 km.
Bus : Hanumanchatti, the road head for Yamunotri is connected by bus services of Samyukt Rotation Yatayat Vyavastha Samiti to Rishikesh, Haridwar and other major centres in the region.
Important road distances : Rishikesh to Yamunotri 222 km via Narenranagar 16 km, Chamba 46 km, Brahmkhal 15 km, Barkot 40 km, Sayanachatti 27 km, Hanumanchatti 6 km, Phoolchatti 5 km, Jankichatti 3 km and Yamunotri 6 km.
Temple of Goddess Yamuna – The temple was built by Maharani Gularia of Jaipur in the 19th century. It was destroyed twice in the present century and rebuilt again. The temple remains closed from November to April / May.
Surya Kund – There are a number of thermal springs in the vicinity of the temple which flows into numerous pools. The most important of these is Surya Kund.
Divya Shila – A rock pillar, worshipped before entering the Yamunotri Temple.
GANGOTRI » The shrine of Gangotri is situated at an elevation of 3200 m surrounded by deodars and pines. The original temple was constructed by the Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa. Every year people from all around the world visit this shrine. A number of ashrams and dharamshalas are located on the other side of the river. It is believed that Raja Bhagirath used to worship Shiva on a slab of rock “Bhagirath Shila” situated near the temple. Submerged in the river there is a natural Shivling where, according to mythology, Lord Shiva sat when he received the Goddess Ganga in his matted locks. A days trek takes one to Gaumukh, the source of the mighty Ganges.
How to reach :
Air : Nearest airport is Jolly Grant (26 km from Rishikesh)
Rail : Nearest railhead is at Rishikesh, 249 kms.
Road : Gangotri is connected by road to Uttarkashi, Tehri Garhwal and Rishikesh and from there to other parts of the country. Important road distances are Uttarkashi 27 km, Tehri 167 km, Dharasu 15 km, Yamunotri 232 km, Mussoorie 250 km.
Bus : Bus services of Samyukt Rotation Yatayat Vyawastha Samiti connect Gangotri with many centres in the region like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Tehri, Uttarkashi etc.
Temple of Gangotri : As the legend goes, Raja Bhagirath used to worship Lord Shiva at the sacred stone near which the temple is located. It is believed that goddess Ganga first descended to earth from Heaven, at this stone.
Amar Singh Thapa, the Gorkha Commander of Garhwal, in the 18th century A.d. constructed this temple. It is also believed that the Pandavas, came here to perform the great “Deva Yagna” to atone the death of their kinsmen in the battle of Mahabharat.
Excursions : 10 km from Gangotri, astride the road to Uttarkashi and near the confluence of Jat Ganga and Bhagirathi rivers is situated Bhaironghati. The temple of Bhairav Nath surrounded by thick forests is worth visiting.
Bhairon Mandir : After travelling by road from Lanka to Bhaironghati, one has to cross the Jahanvi river by foot. After crossing the Jahanvi river and moving uphill, the Bhairon Temple can bee seen.
Jagannath Puri Temple
Jagannath Puri, on the east coast of India, in the state of Orissa is a hoary pilgrimage center, enshrining Jagannath, in a colossal temple. Puri is well connected by rail and road with Calcutta and with Bhubaneshwar. Bhubaneshwar, Konark and Jagannath Puri constitute the Golden triangle of Orissa, visited in large numbers by pilgrims and tourists.
Puri is the forerunner of the Jagannath cult in Orissa, which saw the flowering of several temples dedicated to Jagannath all over the state.
Jagannath Puri is an ancient shrine, enshrining Krishna – Jagannath in the form of a wooden image. Also enshrined are wooden images of Balabhadra (Balarama) and Subhadra brother and sister of Krishna respectively. Interestingly, the Rig Veda refers to Purushottama in the form of a wooden image, prepared from a log of wood floating on the ocean. Puri is also referred to in the Bhrama purana.
Orissa has Konark as the Surya Kshetra, Puri as the Vishnu kshetra, Bhubaneshwar as the Hara Kshetra and Jaipur as the Parvati Kshetra.
The main temple of Jaggannathji is vast by any standards. Made of solid stone, the temple has been added to over the years by numerous kings and devotees. Visitors pass through a series of 3 halls to obtain darshan of the Lord Jagannath, Baladeva and their beloved sister Subhadra (wife of the heroic Arjun). The solid mass of the main spire of the temple is crowned by an enormous flag. Fluttering high above the town, the flag beckons pilgrims from all corners of the town to come and visit the shrine of the Lord of the Universe.
The rest of the temple complex consists of various shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, Narashimha, goddess Vimala etc. A number of halls have been built over the centuries, where people can gather for bhajans and religious discourses. The kitchen of the Lord provides the enormous amount of food consumed by the pilgrims. A beautiful garden is also attached to the temple, providing fresh flowers for the Lord everyday. This sea side town has numerous other shrines and temples, belonging to various Hindu sects.
Nearby villages are a treasure trove for the lovers of arts and crafts. Craftsmen of all sorts live within a computable distance from Puri and Bhubeneshwara (capital of Orissa). These villages house the master painters, masons, carvers, weavers, tailors etc. who service the numerous temples in the region. Tourists and pilgrims are their other great source of income.
Orissa is an ideal place to shop for raw silks, paintings (on silk, cloth, local handmade paper), appliqué work (of cloth as well as mirror work), festival umbrellas, gold filigree work, silver jewellery, traditional “bidari” ware etc.
Orissa is also an ideal holiday destination and as yet, undiscovered by majority of the Western tourists. It’s long deserted beaches (an average Indian is not in need of a sun tan), picturesque villages and wildlife is the stuff books and post-cards are made of. It has pleasant climate all year round and is cheaper than some of the more popular destinations destination. It has great deal of history and architecture.
Bada Danda » This is the Grand Road and is as wide as a modern freeway. It extends from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple, and is the scene of the great Festival of the Chariots or Ratha Yatra.
Chilka Lake » Situated southwest of Puri, Chilka is the largest fresh water lake in Asia (65 kms long, 8-20 kms wide, about 2 m deep). One can enjoy boating on the shimmering blue waters and in leisure one can enjoy fishing.
Ramgarh Lake » A huge artificial lake created by constructing a high bund amidst tree-covered hills. While the temple of Jamwa Mata and the ruins of the old fort are some of its antiquities, its beautiful landscape makes it an idyllic picnic spot.
The Beach » The fine white sands of Puri beach and the roar of the breakers rolling in from the Bay of Bengal have fascinated visitors throughout the years. The local fishermen, with their catamarans and wide-brimmed cane hats, are also expert masseurs. With excellent hotels and guesthouses, the Puri beach is an ideal holiday spot.
Varanasi / Kashi – Hindus Pilgrimage Center
Varanasi, the ‘eternal city’, is located in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s northern states. For Hindus it is one of the most important pilgrimage center in India as well as an auspicious place to die, ensuring Nirvana and an end to the cycle of rebirth. Aside from being a religious mecca, Varanasi is also an important cultural center as the home of the Banaras Hindu University, Ravi Shankar, and many Hindu poets. Varanasi’s original name Kashi, is said to have been derived from the word ‘Kasha’ meaning bright which defines its significance as the ‘city of light’ or its spiritual luminance. The present name is believed to be a combination of Varuna and Asi, the two rivers on its northern and southern periphery. Varanasi today, is also a centre of education, art and craft. As a centre of art and craft it has a vast repertoire, right from silver, brass, copper artifacts to perfumeries and trinkets. Varanasi is most reputed for its silk brocade sarees and carpets. A city that should be visited at least once by everyone.
Varanasi can be reached by road, train or air with equal ease. 765 Kms from Delhi, Varanasi is connected to all major cities by road.
The Ghats – The bathing Ghats that line the holy city of Varanasi are best visited by boats that offer a regular service. The most famous among these Ghats are Dasaswamedh, Kedar and Manikarnika.
Vishwanath Temple – This temple, erected by Rani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore in 1776, is the centre of devotion of the city. The domes of this temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, are lined with gold.
Ram Nagar Fort – This fort was the 17th century home of the Raja of Benaras. Now converted into an interesting museum, this fort houses the royal possessions.
Gyanvapi Mosque – Emperor Aurangzeb, in the 17th century destroyed the Vishweswara Temple and built this mosque over it’s ruins.
Banaras Hindu University – This university is housed in an area of nearly 2000 acres. Perhaps the largest residential university in Asia.
Other Temples – Other important temples worth visiting are the Tulsi Manas, Durga Kund, Bharat Mata and New Vishwanath Temple.
Apart from visiting these famous places, you can shop for brocades, brassware, ivory-ware, carpets and gold jewellery. Main shopping areas are Chowk, Vishwanath Lane, Gyanvapi, Thatheri Bazaar and Lahurabir.
Varanasi has some mouth watering spread of sweets. One should definitely try the “Kachauri” and the vegetarian breakfast. And, of course, don’t forget the “Banarasi paan” (Betel leaf).
The important festivals are Buddha Purnima, Chetganj Nakkataiya and Ganga Dussehra.
Konark Temple – Tourist Attractions
Konark is one of the well known tourist attractions of Orissa. It is about 60 kms from Bhubaneswar. If you take the marine drive which is a road that goes along the sea shore, it is 33 Kms from Puri. Bhubaneshwar, Konark and Puri constitute the Golden triangle of Orissa, visited in large numbers by pilgrims and tourists.
Konark is also known as Konaditya. The name Konark is derived form the words Kona – Corner and Arka – Sun; it is situated on the north eastern corner of Puri or the Chakrakshetra. Konark is also known as Arkakshetra.
It is said that the temple was not completed as conceived because the foundation was not strong enough to bear the weight of the heavy dome. Local beleif has it that it was constructed in entirety, however its magnetic dome caused ships to crash near the seashore, and that the dome was removed and destroyed and that the image of the Sun God was taken to Puri.
The Konark temple is widely known not only for its architectural grandeur but also for the intricacy and profusion of sculptural work. Konark sun temple resembles a colossal chariot, with 24 wheels, pulled by seven straining horses, and has a three-tiered pyramidal roof topped off by a fine spire. The Sun – God’s chariot, also represents the seven days of the week, and the 24 hours of the day, in its concept. The temple is a brilliant chronicle in stone, with impressive sculptures. Every aspect of life is represented here, and the erotic imagery, depicts the sublimation of human love manifested in countless forms. Scenes from court, civic life and war are also done with great precision.
Konark temple had two smaller outer halls, completely separate from the main structure. The assembly-hall and the tower were built on an imposing platform, which were carved into meticulously crafted twelve pairs of decorated wheels, each 10 feet in diameter. The entrance is reached by a broad flight of steps, flanked on either side by prancing horses, the whole representing the chariot, in which the Sun-God rides across the heavens. The court of the temple, was decorated with large free-standing sculptures of great strength and beauty. Now protected under the World Heritage List.
Near the Sun Temple there is a beautiful Konark beach which offers a view of the glorius sunrise and sunset. There is a famous Ramachandi Temple on the confluence of the river Kushabhadra and the sea, 8km from the Konark beach.
KONARK DANCE FESTIVALS : The Chandrabhaga Mela or Magha Saptami mela in the month of February, is a grand religious festival. Thousands of pilgrims converge on the pool, on this day to take a holy dip in its curative waters, and then shuffle off to the beach where, in accordance with an age-old custom mentioned in the puranas, they watch the sun rise over the sea. The event is followed by the puja of the Navagraha.
Those interested in attending the Konark Dance Festival, held in the open air auditorium north of the Sun Temple, should visit during the first week of December.