Hindu Tradition of Pilgrimage (Sacred Space and System)

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Item Code: NAE945
Publisher: Dev Publishers And Distributors
Author: Rana P. B. Singh
Language: English
Edition: 2013
ISBN: 9789381406250
Pages: 288 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 670 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This book, consisting of ten essays, and annotated list of important 108 pilgrimage places, deals with deeper awareness and understanding of the complexities and subtleties of pilgrim in the contexts of mythology, history, system, structure and functioning of Hindu pilgrimage and Sacred Space in India, Green Pilgrimages initiatives for environmental awakening, and illustrated with case studies of Shaktipithas, Chitrakut, Varanasi, Gaya, Vindhyachal, Mathura, Kumbha Mela, while emphasising the textual traditions, historical outline, contemporary pilgrimage tourism, issues of contestations and seduction of history, sacred geometry and cosmic order, use of SOC theory, interplay of sacrality of space-time-function, and contemporary environmental concerns. The exhaustive review of literature and critical appraisal of various concepts and notions of pilgrimages are narrated in detail. This is the first full book of its kind and to be used as the major reference and text; it will open new directions of understanding in pilgrimage studies.


About the Author

Rana P.B. Singh (b.1950), Professor & Head, Department of Geography, Banaras Hindu University, is researching in the fields of cultural geography, heritage planning, pilgrimages, sacred geography and cultural landscapes since four decades as consultant, project director, collaborator and or organiser. On these topics he lectured at centre in all parts of the world. His publications include over 210 papers and 42 books on these subjects, including Banaras, the Heritage City of India: Geography, History, and Bibliography (2009), Uprooting Geographical Thoughts in India (2009), UK), Geographic Thoughts in India: Snapshots and Vision for the 21st Century (2009, UK), Cosmic Order & Cultural Astronomy (200, UK), Banaras, Making of India’s Heritage City (2009, UK), Sacred Geography of Goddesses in South Asia (2010, UK), Heritagescapes and Cultural Landscapes(2011, New Delhi), Sacredscapes and Pilgrimage Systems (2011, New Delhi), Holy Places and Pilgrimage Systems (2011, New Delhi), Holy Places and Pilgrimages: Essays on India (2011, New Delhi), Indo-Kyosei Global Ordering: Gandhi’s Vision, Harmonious Coexistence, & Ecospirituality (2011, Japan).



The nine essays in this book continue a long and rich body of information about Hindu pilgrimages. Written materials in the form of pamphlets, guidebooks, manuals, intineraries, and treatises about pilgrimages date from antiquity. Travelling to places regarded by worshippers as having extraordinary spiritual power is a phenomenon permeating all religious traditions, but more prevalent in Hindu traditions, so it is logical that it appears in various literary forms.

Even though the term pilgrimage may apply also to an inner quest for a spiritual goal, comments here pertain to the physical journey to a sacred places as an act of religious devotion. This form of pilgrimage incorporates movement, which is always necessary for reaching the ultimate destination-becoming intimate with divine. This aspect of pilgrimage is significant in two ways. For one, the effects of distance involved with journeying to sacred places often contrasts with the ubiquitous travel to places having economic importance. That is, a major geographic principle states that most human movement between places close together tends to be much greater than that between widely separated places. Although this tendency for greater interaction between places in close proximity does apply to some pilgrimage movements, there is also evidence that numerous pilgrims regard the added hardship of travelling longer distances as a form of sacrifice that accrues greater merit. Thus, the travelling component of pilgrimage is itself an important ingredient in the religious experience.

The importance of movement per se is especially obvious in religious walks, processions and circumambulations, where the goal is certainly not to arrive at some distant place. Although religious processions, often along designated sacred routes, may not necessarily involve a pilgrimage, they clearly demonstrate the role of movement as a form of religious devotion. Circumambulations that require travelling considerable distance around a sacred site, such as the Panchakroshi around Varanasi and the Chaurashikroshi around Vrindavana, do incorporate the concept of religious movement with pilgrimages.

Pilgrimage systems normally are characterized by the length of journey, the number of persons attracted to the site, and the motivation for undertaking the peregrination. Consequently, true pilgrimages are differentiated from trips to local places of worship, and the term is seldom applied to travel to places visited by only a few individuals. Likewise, all who journey to a particular place may not be motivated religiously because some may be attracted to large assemblages of people for economic gain while others yearn to visit famous sights primarily as tourists. Difficulty in differentiating ‘pilgrims’ from ‘religious tourists’ is especially difficult because of the complexity of human motivations. Even though conceptually a purely devoted pilgrim may be placed at one end of a continuum and an entirely secular tourist at the other, in reality many who worship at pilgrimage sites can be considered both a tourist and a pilgrim. In spite of these definitional, this commentary refers principally to scholarly studies of the pilgrimage phenomenon as it is generally understood.

As is true with all attempts to understand human behaviour, numerous disciplines overlap and complement each other while bringing a distinctive perspective to the whole. Researchers in cultural geography, anthropology, religious studies, art, landscape architecture, and tourism have all contributed to recent studies of pilgrimage. This book provides the reader with a broad mixture of these disciplinary viewpoint while also focusing on common themes of Hindu pilgrimages.

A major theme running through several essays concerns the landscape setting and change that have occurred as a result of pilgrimages-as to how it is conceptualized, and inscribed in the body through circumambulation , auspicious vision, and ritualscapes. Discussion also include the dynamic aspect of Hindu pilgrimage as they evolve in popularity, meaning, site amenities, and similar elements through the ages, especially emphasizing the temporal transformations. The literary appraisal of pilgrimages in India. However, the more secular analyses of this human activity are comparatively recent and reflect more diverse disciplinary examinations than the earlier treatises. These are also spots of contestations, as described in this book.

The development and expansion of this academic field after these first couple decades can be obtained by reviewing six publications that summarize pervious work: ‘Geography and Religion’ by D.E. Sopher; ‘Geography and Religion: Trends and Prospects’ by L. Kong; Sacred World: An Introduction to Geography and Religion by Chris Park ; Geography of Religion and Belief Systems Specialty Group,’ by R. Stoddard and C. Prorok, in Geography at the Dawn of the 21st Century, eds C. Willmott and G. Gaile; The Geography of Religion: Faith, Place, and Space by R. Stump; and Sacredscapes and Pilgrimage Systems, ed. Rana Singh (New Delhi, 2011).

The Development of a body of literature concerning the geographic aspects of pilgrimage closely resembles that of religion in general with most of the analytical studies coming in the last half century. Although E. Rutter published a short paper in Geographical Journal in 1929 on ‘The Muslim Pilgrimage’, most of the earliest publications first appeared in the 1960s. Three that set the stage for subsequent spatial analysis of pilgrims, sacred sites, and other attributes of pilgrimages were the following: ‘An Analysis of the Distribution of the Distribution of Major Hindu Holy Sites’ by R. Stoddard in National Geographical Journal of India in 1968; ‘Pilgrim Circulation in Gujarat’ by D.E. Sopher in Geographical Review, and Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: A Study in Cultural Geography by Surinder Bhardwaj in 1973. Two other studies during this initial period, which are more descriptive, were: ‘Pilgrims to Badrinath’ by F. Watson in Geographical Magazine; and ‘Tourism and Pilgrimage in Varanasi’ by K.K. Dube in National Geographical Journal of India (1968).

The publication on the geography of pilgrimages vary considerably and merge into once having the perspective of other social science as well as those with an emphasis on tourism. A sample of these include ‘Single Religion Shrines, Multi-religion Pilgrimages’ by S. Bhardwaj in National Geographical Journal of India (1987); ‘Emerging Hindu Pilgrimage in the United States: A Case Study’ by S.Bhardwaj and M. Rao in Geographia Religionum; Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe by M.L. Nolan; ‘Development of Pilgrimage Studies: Text and Context, eds. L. Gopal and D.P. Dubey ; Sacred Places and Profane Spaces: Essays in the Geographics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, eds. J. Scott and P. Simpson-Housley , and ‘Non-Hajj Pilgrimage in Islam: A Neglected Dimension of Religious Circulation’ by S. Bhardwaj in the Journal of Cultural Geography(1998).

In India, the first attempt on this subject was produce as a festschrift volume honouring David Sopher, i.e. R.L. Singh and Rana Singh, Trends in the Geography of Pilgrimages that volume consists of ten essays, including essays related to India like message of place, Kumbha Mela, Pilgrimage mandala of Varanasi, and a detailed bibliography along with a short introducing. This anthology also consists of two essays that describe pilgrimage traditions in Nepal. After passing twenty-four years Rana Singh again took the lead to produce an excellent anthology, viz. Holy Places and Pilgrimages: Essays on India(2011). And finally, the present pioneer book, Hindu Tradition of Pilgrimage: Sacred Space and System by Rana P.B. Singh(2013), consisting of ten thematic essays and gazetteer of 108 sacred places.

Illustrative of the polific writing by Rana R.B. Singh are ‘The Geography of Pilgrimages in India: Perspective and Prospects’; ‘Sacred Space and Pilgrimage in Hindu Society: The Case of Varanasi’ in Sacred Places, Sacred Spaces, eds. Stoddard and Morinis ; ‘Sacred Journey and Faithscape: An Experience of the Punchakroshi, Varanasi’; ‘Pilgrims to Kashi: Self-Organized Patterns in Space and Time’ with Malville in Sociology of Pilgrims, ed. By Choudhary (2004); ‘The Geography of Hindu Pilgrimage in India: From Trend to Perspective’ in Geografia I Sacrum, eds. Domanski and Skiba; ‘Pilgrimage in Hinduism: Historical Context and Perspective’ in Tourism, Religion, and Spiritual Journeys, eds. Timothy and Oslen; and chapters in a recent anthology, Holy Places and Pilgrimages decades, 1982-2013, are analytically synthesised in this book.

As evident from this brief review, the abundant research on the geography of pilgrimages, especially on India, during the last half century has provided readers with a variety of viewpoint; and when extrapolated to other disciplines, it is apparent that this field of study in totality has a rich body of literature. This master-piece, written from insiders’ spirit and long personal experiences, continues this scholarly tradition with a set of well-researched theoretical and empirical essays on the Hindu pilgrimage systems and associated sacredscapes, illustrating different sacred and cultural landscapes of India.



Throughout the history of human civilisation, human beings have tried to link themselves with the spirit of the mature, most commonly as a quest to know their identity and mystery of interconnectedness: ko aham, kut ayatah- ‘Who am I? , from where I came?’. This quest led to go across this world and enter into the ream of invisible power; this journey in Indian thought referred as tirtha-yatra, literally “journey to a fording place”- generally translated as ‘pilgrimage’. Of course, all the places consist of nature spirit, some are thought to stand out from their surroundings and become associated with special experiences and part of ordered geography where sacrality plays a major role. The sacred places attracted people, since the remote past, for establishing contact with supernatural powers, thus was evolved the idea of pilgrimages-an interplaying drama of sacrality, space, time, and cultural functions. That is how pilgrimages are the product of the complex networks and co-functioning of sacrality of spatiotemporal cycles consisting of spatiality of time, temporality and associated performance are continued to inspire s for making the present precious through which we understand our journey from the past, and also envision our future.

Pilgrimages are common to all the world religions. Like other major religions, in Hindu traditions, pilgrimages provide an opportunity to people seeking direct experiences of the transcendent and deeper experiences of the spirit, showing devotion, and seeking blessings for overall wellbeing and peace. By having darshan of the place, its deities and their shrines, and its holy persons, they feel themselves as blessed ones whose wishes are fulfilled. These places developed a hierophanic system and complex web of sacredscapes and faithscapes, possessing the characteristic of an eternal bond between the human psyche and the spirit of nature.

Prof. Robert H. Stoddard, the pioneer of Hindu pilgrimage studies, has been kind enough to go through major parts of the book and gracefully wrote the ‘Foreword’. A heartfelt sense of obligation offered to you Bob. With all due appreciation I acknowledge the kindness of all the experienced scholars of pilgrimages who shown their trust in this project and supported me by sending their materials, stories and inspired me at different stages, and especially my friends Prof. Diana L. Eck (US), Prof. Kunt A. Jacobsen (Norway), Dr. Mark S.G. Dyczkowski (U.K.), AND Dr. D.P. Dubey (India).

The three grandmasters, mentors and co-pilgrim, who constantly encouraged and helped me in understanding sacredscapes, since over decades, are pioneers of pilgrimage studies: Prof. Surinder M. Bhardwaj, German architect Prof. Niels Gutschow, and American astronomer Prof. John McKim Malville, who constantly directed me towards ways of walking on sacred paths, envisioning the built architectures and encompassing landscapes, communicating with images, fulfilling the quest of deeper experience, and after all narrating the experiences and expositions of cultural and sacred landscapes in the frames of phenomenology through the lenses of interdisciplinarity.

Many of the distinguished and established scholars and professors working in the field of cultural studies and pilgrimages from different countries have encouraged and supported this project by sending their views and endorsements. I thank and personally acknowledge their kindness, viz. Surinder Bhardwaj, Dan Timothy, Carolyn Prorok, Carolyn Marvin, Roger Housden (USA); Jamie Scott(Canada), Martin Heigh (UK), Erik Cohen (Israel), Taigen Hashimoto, Yoko Yagi (Japan); Johann Hafner (Germany), Bert Brocekaert (Belgium), Eric Sand (Denmark), Michael Staustberge (Norway), Anna Trono (Italy); R.B. Singh and Kiran Shinde (India).

As always, I keep on records name of my wife Manju, who suffered and tolerated consistently negligence and carelessness from my end, however always encouraged me to see this project the final light of release. The working environment was made pleasant by all sorts of innocent and childish disturbances created by my five grandsons: 13-yr old Abhisth, 5yr Vishnu, 2.5yr Krishna, 2yr Om and 0.4yr Omkar, and my daughter-in-law Jyoti and Kirit. My son Pravin took all cares for keeping me in good health, and did indexing. My daughter Pratibha’s writings on Shiva and pilgrimage-tourism have helped me immensely. In the formative period of my pilgrimages our colleague Ravi Singh had also co-shared companion-ship. My son Prashant has prepared the cover. Two of my old doctoral students. Pankaj and Ram Kumar, have been helpful in redrawing some of the figures. I express my thanks to all, As always, thank you Rakesh-Ji for constant support and helping me for new references.

At the M/s Dev Publishers, Pankaj D. Jain has been helpful at different stages of publications in a very short period. I am thankful to all of them and also to other friends for promiting this project.




  Views on the Book i
  List of Tables xiii
  List of Figures xiv
  Foreword 1
  Preface and Acknowledgements 5
Chapter 1 Studies of Hindu Pilgrimage: Emerging Trends and Bibliography 7
Chapter 2 Hindu Pilgrimage: History, Mathology and Present Concerns 49
Chapter 3 Sacredscapes & Pilgrimagfe System: Some Reflections 79
Chapter 4 The 51 Shaktipithas and Sacred Places 121
Chapter 5 The Ganga River: Images, Sacrality and Salvific Places 159
Chapter 6 Hindu Places of Pilgrimage: Communitas and Contestation 195
Chapter 7 Interfaces in Pilgrimage Landscape: Sacrality and Spatial Geometry 245
Chapter 8 Cosmic Ordering and Self Organisation among Sacred Cities 279
Chapter 9 Pilgrimage-Tourism: Perspectives and Vision 305
Chapter 10 Green Pilgrimage Initiatives 333
Chapter 11 Gazetteer of Hindu Pilgrimage Places in India 369
  Index 391
  About the Author 400


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