The following essay addresses that of the Hindu pilgrimage as to why

 

pilgrimage is an important aspect of Hindu religion? Firstly, the essay
focusses on points which support pilgrimage as a fundamental and key
aspect of the Hindu community. 

Secondly, a perspective denying pilgrimages have any significant role
for Hindu and their religion is discussed. It does seem though, to me,
that without the aspect of pilgrimage, the Hindu religion would still
function quite noramally because although the pilgrimage sites give
darsan, they do not seem to be able to assist people with their day to
day problems, whereas holy men do.

First though we need to know exactly what darsan means to Hindus. 
Darsan means seeing in Hindu religion and when people go to a temple,
they say they do not go to worship but rather for darsan - they go to
see the image of the deity. The pinacle act of Hindu worship, is to
stand in the presence of the deity and to look upon the image with their
eyes, so as to see and be seen by the deity. The deity is believed to
actually be within the image, and beholding the deity image is a form of
worship where through the eyes one gains blessings.

A pilgrimage is a religious journey; people undertake pilgrimages so
they can worship at special places which are connected to their
religion. Journeying to holy places of pilgrimage are generally carried
out as acts of faith and devotion in accummulating religious merit or to
atone for sins. Pilgrimages are also regarded by Hindus as a religious
duty from which darsan can be attained.

There are thousands of pilgrimage sites - tirthas (sacred, fords or
crossings) in India, where many places of pilgrimage are renowned for
their divine images. And it is the darsan of these divine images that
are sought , because the darsan is believed by Hindus to be far greater
and significant than that which can be granted and given by holy men
i.e. sadhus. It entails then, that holy places of pilgrimages are an
extension of additional darsan, of which can be given and received by
travelling on a pilgrimage.

For example, pilgrims go to the sacred hill of Tirupati for the darsan
of
Sri Venkatesvara, an ancient icon believed to be a form of Visnu. 
According to legend, the Lord came to bless a particular devotee who was
faithful in his duties towards his parents. The devotee took no time
out from his duties to greet the Lord properly, and so threw a brick
for him to stand on which impressed Krsna, and so Krsna has stood there
ever since.

It is important, however, to understand that Hindus do not only travel
as pilgrims for the darsan of divine images but also seek thedarsan of 
the pilgrimage places themselves, which are believed to be the natural
places of where gods have dwelled. For instance, the river Ganga also
known as the Ganges is said to have flowed in heaven before she agreed
to come to earth.

Siva caught Ganga in his tangled hair to break her fall, and from his
head she flowed down through the Himalayas, so legend goes. And this is
why in Hindu hymns, the Ganga is praised as a liquid form of Siva's
divine energy. The Ganges is the holiest river of all , where all
Hindus desire to bathe in this river, for it is believed by Hindus to
wash away all their sins.

No sin is too heinous, and no character too black to be washed away by
the waters of the Ganges. Essentially, all water used in rituals by
Hindus is symbollically transformed into sacred water by summoning the
presence of Ganga and other sacred rivers. Every great river is
supposed to hold the divine essence, and its waters held to cleanse
people from all moral guilt and contamination. On the whole,
pilgrimages are very significant to Hindus due to being able to, by and
large, eradicate all their sins and wrong doing by bathing in the water
of holy rivers.

There are difficulties that have to be endured when undertaking a
pilgrimage, however, Hindus believe it is well worth it. As an extreme
example, for hundreds of years some tirthas were the final goal of many
pilgrims, who committed suicide there in order to be released from the
cycle of rebirths. Hinduism generally considers suicide a crime, but at
certain places, it can become an act of liberation, though this is not
the norm for pilgrims.( Klostermaier , K , 1989 , p 312 )

A Hindu pilgrim may journey barefoot, dress scantily in cold weather,
and fast, which is all very distressing, but the idea is that the
pilgrims have to forget being comfortable , where through their
suffering they will be able to realise and understand other less
fortunate and oppressed peoples' suffering aswell. In this sense,
pilgrimages enable pilgrims, especially the very powerful and rich to
relate to the very poor, sick, and needy-bringing them closer together .

Pilgrimages also have a unifying effect in terms of bringing together
Hindus, not only from around India, but from all around the world. The
journey of a pilgrimage gives Hindus an opportunity to come together,
and to relate to one another as well as strengthen their faith. Through
the contact between Hindus resulting from journeys to pilgrimage sites,
faith can be made stronger due to being around and in touch with those
who seek the same goal- the release from the cycle of death and
re-birth.

Pilgrimages are also associated with myths where there are many tirthas
associated with the great events of the mythological tradition. The
tirtha is the counterpart of the avatara, the word used to describe the
divine descents of the gods. Avatara means, to cross down precisely at
those places where the gods have crossed down into this world, where
avataras are the tirthas - places where earthly pilgrims are able to
make their spiritual crossings. (Eck, D, 1985, PP 67 - 68) .The essay
now will focuss on the opposite perspective - a discussion that attempts
to justify that pilgrimages are not, and should not be of importance to
Hindus. 

Although darsan of temple images and sacred places are sought by Hindus,
Hindus also value the darsan of holy persons, such as sants (saints),
sadhus (holy men), and sannyasins (renouncers). Since Hindus are able
to attain darsan from holy people,then there is no need for pilgrimages
as it suggests that pilgrimages are unecessary and therefore should not
be an important aspect of Hindu religion .

Hindus seek the darsan of sadhus and sanayasins; the term sadhu is
translated as "holy man" or "ascetic", though in broad terms sadhu means
"good man" or virtuous man". A sadhu is a man endowed with high
spiritual learnings, and holding high religious values. Essentially,
those who lead a saintly life, realise their goal in the shortest
possible time may be called sadhu. a saintly life is a means to proceed
directly to the ultimate goal of salvation.

In this sense, a sadhu is someone who has been initiated into an ascetic
sect, devoting himself to achieving release from the cycle of death and
relbirth. Some sadhus describe themselves as sanayasis or renouncers. 
The way a person lives their life is sannyas; you can only become it
because you cannot give it or take it. Therefore, Sannyas occurs from
within - on the inside. Sannyas entails a symbolic death whereby all
personal ties and possessions are renounced as they must devote
themselves to the inner self. ( Aylett , L , 1992 , p 31 )

Sadhus are believed to live between the living and the dead - living in
a state between the world of illusion, of which we live in and the world
of reality, of which gods dwell and reside in. Essentially, sadhus are
regarded as being dead and are a means by which to link the living to
the dead.Sadhus believe experience is far more important than knowledge
when assuming the role of a spiritual practitioner. Many sadhus accept
disciples, regardless of caste and are expected and obligated to accept
people whether they are rich, poor, powerful or powerless .

So what does the sadhu give to the people? A sadhu is a diety, and the
diety of the sadhu gives darsan, and the people take darsan. The
worshipper cannot initiate the act of seeing, therefore, the deity
enables itself to be seen in its image. The contact between the
worshipper and diety, is thus, carried out solely through the eyes.Since
sadhus are able to given people darsan, it seems then, that pilgrimages
in reality are unnecessary because one can attain darsan without having
to incur all of the strenuous problems and hardship associated with a
pilgrimage and without having to leave their place of domicile .

If pilgrimages are an important necessity for Hindus to undertake, and
if the darsan received from pilgrimage is far greater than that which
can be obtained from a sadhu, then it deprives, and places of those
Hindus that tdo not have the means and ability to go on a pilgrimage -
the paralysed and physically sick, at an unfair disadvantage. Simply
put, they would not be able to get as close as they could, to becoming
released from the cycle of death and rebirth, as a result of not being
capable of journeying on a pilgrimage which is totally unfair . 

Therefore, pilgrimage should not play a major role within the Hindu
religion. By placing great importance and significance on pilgrimages,
a bad message is transgressed to and adopted by Hindu. For they will
believe that through physical means of travelling on a pilgrimage, they
will attain additional darsan and that their sins can be completely
washed away. However, if I was a Hindu who did not have the means by
which to go on a pilgrimage then this would not bode well for me. I
could be a Hindu who lives a saintly life, compared to a pilgrim that
sins time after time, and yet receive less darsan than a pilgrim that
sins to a far greater extent than i , as long as pilgrimages are
regarded as being a significant aspect Hinduism.
(Chaduri , N , 1979 ,p 153 )

Sadhus are essentially regarded as walking temples that are believed to
carry the sacred fire within their being, and of which fire is signified
as the messenger of God that depicts purity and salvation. Since sadhus
are believed, by Hindus, to be walking temples, it seems that there is
not really a need for pilgrimages. Sadhus expound blessings though they
have the added advantage over pilgrimages , in that they teach, advise,
guide peoples' lives, and can be turned to, in times of desparation, 
trouble and despair .

Sadhus act as spiritual advisors, councillors, and psycho therapist, all
wraped in one. On the whole, sadhus give people a sense of security in
the form of offering psycholgical assurance. Pilgrimage sites may give
darsan, however, they cannot speak to Hindus, or give them sound advice
and which road or path in life to travel. Sadhus do a great deal more
for Hindus than pilgrimages do and in actual fact pilgrimages have lead
to great despair, through the rigours of journeying on pilgrimage
sites, and in many cases has, as a result, led to many deaths. 

Pilgrimages seem to be very detrimental to livelihood of Hindu people
in comparison to the sadhus who can directly assist Hindus in the flesh
- physically. On this note, I see no reason or justification to say
pilgrimages are more significant thn sadhus because sadhus are temples
themselves. And based on this, the Hindu religion would in no way be
dramatically affected if pilrimages were emphasised less than they are
today. However, because of all the activities sadhus carry out for
people, it would be extremely detrimental for the Hindu religion as a
whole if sadhus had no recognition because Hindus would have to deal
with obstacles and problems in life without the aid of sadhus.

Brahmans are attached to the locality of pilgrimage sites, who exact
fees even from the poorest and receive large sums of money from the
richest people. This implies or suggests that pilgrimage sites are
stamped with a scared character primarily so as to attain money. for
example, the river Ganges and the city Benares occupied a position far
greater than all other rivers and other sacred cities , but the
brahmans became jealous of the monopoly enjoyed by those in Benares. 
(Narayan , K , 1989 , pp 65-68 )

What happened was that, the development of free trade in the inventing
of myths for the consecration of particular places was introduced, where
place after place was claimed to be sacred ground. It seems very
deceitful in leading Hindus to believe many places are sacred, when they
are not, just so as to attain large sums of money.
It occurs to me that many pilgrimage destinations are sort of marketed
if you like , in no way dissimilar to the way holiday destinations like
for instance, hawaii are marketed to attract tourists and their money . 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, i have argued from both sides of the coin ,so-to-speak .
what we know is that Hindus accord pilgrimages with great importance. A
pilgrimage is believed to be a way by which Hindus can atone for their
sins and even to eradicate them. Without a doubt, millions of Hindus
around the world recognise pilgrimages as being the pinacle of their
religion, for they feel and believe the darsan that can be gained from
journeying as a pilgrim and experiencing a pilgrimage from the holy
place, or from the divine image of the deity exceeds, by far, darsan of
that which can be given by holy men, such as sadhus. However, sadhus
themselves are walking temples and are regarded as divine deities as
well. Why go on a pilgrimage ,in the quest for darsan , which is
extremely arduous , when you can remain within your place of domicile 
and attain darsan from a sadhu? Are we to believe then that the most
prolific sinner will gain more darsan than the person who acts as, and
has the heart of a saint ? Yes , we are , If we are to accept that the
pilgrimage is an extremely important part of Hinduism, though, this
should not be the case.

Sadhus offer more in the way of giving Hindus sound advice, and
generally guiding followers onto the appropriate path in life in
comparison to the pilgrimage. Also , wherever there is a pilgrimage
site, there is a brahman that collects offerings and sums of money from
pilgrims suggesting that some or many of the sites are in a sense
marketed like a holiday tour destination primarily to extract money even
from the poorest of the poor. Rather , the poorest should not have to go
through increased hardship by paying a collection fee just to go to a
pilgrimage site, it should primarily be the rich that pay ,and what may
i ask do the brahmen use the money for ,of which they collect? I suggest
,soley for themselves.

BIBLIOGRPAHY
 
1. Aylett, L, 1992 The Hindu Experience, Hodder and Stoughton,
 London, pp 30 - 32

2. Chaduri, N, 1979 Hinduism: A Religion to live by, Chatto
and Windus Ltd,London, pp 150 - 173

3. Eck, D, 1985 Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, Anima
Books,
 Pennsylvania, pp 3 - 75

4. Ganeri, A, 1995 What Do We Know About Hinduism, Hodder and 
Stoughton, London, pp 42 - 55

5. Klostermaier, K, 1989 A Survey of Hinduism, State University of
New York,pp 311 - 315

6. Narayan, K, 1989 Storytellers, Saints and Scoundrels,
University of Pe