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10 Most Sacred Pilgrimage Sites in Northern India

In the infinite ocean of Hindu mythology, there are innumerable places that hold importance according to the Puranas, and therefore, there are uncountable number of temples and sites that are considered holy by the Hindus. While almost all of them claim to be the ultimate destination to attain salvation, some of the places are revered as pious by not just Hindus but other religions as well. Here are some of the top 10 pilgrimage sites in the Northern part of India that you should visit to achieve the inner peace in life that you have longed for.

  • Vaishno Devi:

Vaishno Devi is one of the most revered pilgrimages among the Hindus and thousands of pilgrims swarm the temple caves every year to get blessings from the Goddess who attained immortality from Lord Rama. The shrine is a collection of three caves nestled in the Trikuta range of Manik Mountains.

 Legend has it that when the Mother Goddess was immersed in fighting and killing the demons that were responsible for causing chaos on earth, her three main manifestations, Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Saraswati united their power into a single stream of energy or tejas and from that pool of that spiritual energy emerged a young girl. The goddesses then instructed the young girl to manifest on earth and lead of life of righteousness and penance. The goddesses said that the girl has to meditate and perform penance to raise her level of consciousness to that of Lord Vishnu so that she can later merge into him.

The girl took birth in the family of Ratnakar Sagar and was named Trikuta. One day, when she was meditating near the seashore, Lord Rama passed by her in search of Sita who had been abducted by Ravana of Lanka. He was impressed by the young girl with a celestial glow on her face meditating and blessed her. Trikuta told Rama that she had already accepted him as her husband but Lord Rama, having vowing for being loyal only to Sita, said that he would marry her in Kaliyuga. Lord Rama instructed her to move to Trikuta range and also gave her a small group of monkeys, a bow and quiver of arrows and a lion for her protection.  Mata Vaishno Ddevi was the first one to observe Navratra and pray for Rama’s victory.

Another legend says that Sage Gorakhnath had a vision of the conversation between Lord Rama and Vaishnavi (Vaishno Devi) and had sent his disciple Bhaironath to know more about the goddess. Bhaironath, while doing so, fell in love with the goddess and pestered her to marry him. Mata Vaishno Devi hid in the caves of Trikuta range for 9 months but rage got better of her and she killed Bhaironath with her Trishul. Out of these three caves, only two are open for worship because of their inaccessibility and difficult trajectory.

  • Varanasi

Varanasi is believed to be one of the oldest cities and pilgrimage sites in the world and is continuously inhabited since its origin. This city is considered holy by the Hindus because this Land is where Shiva himself resided with his consort Parvati. It is believed that Lord Shiva walked here in the beginning of time with Goddess Parvati. According to the Puranas, the mother-in-law of Lord Shiva was worried that Shiva did not have an abode and lived in the mountains because he was free from all the worldly ties. Therefore, Lord Shiva ordered demon Nikumbh to make Kashi suitable for living with a family.

Another legend says that Kashi is the place where Shiva appeared as a piercing column of light from the earth and moved up to the heaven. It is believed that this was the first ray of light that ever fell on earth and all the living beings came to life. Death is of special significance in the city because Shiva is believed to himself provide Moksha to people who are cremated here.

  • Haridwar

Haridwar is one of the seven sacred cities where the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh have blessed the earth with their auspicious presence. Kumbh is held every 12 years here and Ardh Kumbh every 6 years and devotees from all around the world come to witness the cosmic energy of the place. According to the legends, this pilgrimage site is where Goddess Ganga descended on earth to answer the prayers of King Bhagirath.

Goddess Ganga was happy to stay in the heaven and saw no reason to grace earth with her presence until one day Indra got jealous of the growing powers and fortune of King Bhagirath of Suryvanshi clan (ancestors of Lord Rama). In a fit of jealousy, Indra cursed 60,000 sons of King Bhagirath to turn into ashes. Bhagirath then prayed to Goddess Ganga to come down from the heavens and resurrect his sons. Ganga thus decided to come down to earth. But such thunderous was her descent that it would have fractured the earth. So, Lord Shiva decided to intervene and retain her in his locks and thus, Ganga rejuvenated Bhagirath’s progeny. This is the reason why this place is revered to such an extent by the devotees.

  • Amarnath

Also known as Amreshwar, this pilgrimage site fascinates and attracts most number of devotees despite its difficult location. This shrine is closed for the most portions of the year and opens up for the devotees in summer. The cave is where Shiva is believed to have narrated the ultimate secret of the universe or the tale of immortality to his consort Goddess Parvati. The amazing tale of this cave goes on like- Lord Shiva wanted to narrate the tale to his wife so he left all of the people attached to him (his bull Nandi, the moon in his locks, his snake Vasuki, Panch Bhoot, and Lord Ganesh) and created Rudra to destroy and eliminate every living being near and around the cave.

However, an egg remained protected under deer skin by chance which listened to the entire “Amarkatha” and thus, the pair of pigeons that came out of it became immortal. The iced stalagmite that is worshipped as Shivlinga in this 40m long Amarnath cave waxes during the months of May to August and then wanes thereafter.

  • Pushkar

Pushkar is also one of the seven sacred cities or the Sapta Puris and interestingly the only pilgrimage place on earth where Lord Brahma is worshipped! The Pushkar Brahma temple is the only place on earth where Lord Brahma is the main deity among the other deities. The picturesque lake in the heart of Pushkar city has an interesting legend attached to it. It is said that Lord Brahma killed the demon Vajra Nabha with his weapon, a Lotus! The impact of the strike was such that three petals of the lotus flower wafted down on three places, among them being Pushkar, where blue lakes sprang up.

Another legend has it that Lord Brahma was performing a yagna in Pushkar and his wife Goddess Saraswati was not present at the yagna along with other goddesses. Annoyed by the delay, Brahma requested Indra to find a girl he can wed to complete the yagna within auspicious time. But, Indra could only find a gurjar’s daughter (a milkmaid) at that time so Indra asked her to pass through the body of a cow to be purified. She was later named Gayatri. With Gayatri by his side, Brahma started the yagna but when Saraswati came, her anger knew no bounds and she cursed Brahma that he would be forgotten and not be worshipped anywhere in the world. Upon request of other gods-goddesses, she reduced her curse and allowed him to be worshipped only at Pushkar.

  • Guptakashi

Guptakashi at the bank of Mandakini River is another pilgrimage site of utmost importance for the devotees because of the tale attached to it in the Puranas, Upanishads and Mahabharata. According to Puranas, the Pandavas on advice of Lord Krishna and other sages wished to atone the sins of fratricide and Brahmanhatya in the Mahabharata war. Pandavas therefore wanted to seek Lord Shiva’s blessings to attain salvation.  However, Lord Shiva was very upset with the events of the war and did not want to meet them or provide them Moksha. Thus, he disguised himself as a bull but the Pandavas recognised Shiva and Bhima, the second Pandava, caught the bull and thus Lord Shiva had to vanish. This is the reason this place is called Guptakashi. Lord Shiva later reappeared with his hump at Kedarnath and his locks at Kalpeshwar. Guptakashi is also believed to be the place where Shiva proposed to Parvati.

  • Vrindavan

Vrindavan is the ultimate pilgrimage site for the Vaishnavites as it is the place where Lord Krishna spent his childhood and performed all the leelas with his lover Radha and his brother Balram. Just a few kilometres away from Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna, Vrindavan, is a den of mystic treasure for the devotees because of the unusual legends attached to it. The locals believe that there is unexplainable evidence to suggest Lord’s presence in the region. The forests of Nidhivan, located in Vrindavan, have a unique and enthralling tale. It is believed that the trees of the forest turn into Gopis at midnight and perform the Rasleela with Lord Krishna and Sri Radha.

 After the Rasleela, the couple spend the time post-midnight at the Rang Mahal which is decorated with sheets and sandalwood and equipped with food and essentials before the dusk. The locals and priests say that the food is consumed and the essential are found to be used in the morning! Not a single animal or human is allowed in and around the region after evening and it is believed that no person has lived to tell the tale of what he saw when he sneaked into the Nidhivan at midnight. There are various temples that attract the devotees like the Vrindavan Govinda Deva Temple, Bankey Bihari temple, Radha Raman Temple, Prem Mandir etc. The place celebrates the life and love story of Radha and Krishna.

  • Kamakhya Devi Temple

Kamakhya temple in Assam is the most unique temple and pilgrimage site in the entire country where menstruation is celebrated and a bleeding goddess is worshipped. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is believed to store the mythical womb and vagina of the Goddess Shakti. As the legend goes, Goddess Sati, Shiva’s first consort, fought with her husband and went to attend the grand yajna organised by Daksha in which all the gods were invited except them.

Sati ignored Shiva’s advice and went to the yajna only to face insult by her father Daksha. Sati’s anger knew no bounds when Daksha even spoke ill of Shiva, so she entered into the sacrificial fire. When Shiva got to know about it, he caused rampage holding Sati’s burnt corpse in his hands and performing the Tandav Nritya. All the gods cowered with fear but Lord Vishnu used his Sudarshan Chakra to cut the body into 108 pieces in order to cull the anger of Shiva. It is believed that her womb and vagina fell at this place. Surprisingly, the water of Brahmaputra River turns red in the month of Ashaad and people believe that the Goddess is menstruating.

  • Bodh Gaya

Bodh Gaya is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in India as it is considered to be the place where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. Lord Buddha attained the enlightenment while meditating under the banyan tree, also known as the Bodhi tree, after three days and three nights. The Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya was built by King Ashoka in 286 B.C. and is one of the first Buddhist temples. The temple is made entirely of brick and is one of the oldest such temples in Eastern India. The temple is also declared a world heritage site by UNESCO because of its religious and architectural importance. There is a grand statue of Lord Buddha, a Bodhi tree which is believed to be the direct descendant of the original Banyan tree under which Buddha attained salvation, the lotus pond and many ancient stupas.

  • Amritsar

Amritsar is the most revered pilgrimage site for the Sikh community. The Golden Temple is the most visited place in Amritsar and is also termed as world heritage site by UNESCO. The construction of Golden Temple, also known as Harmandir Sahib, was initiated by the 5th Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan. The temple had been invaded numerous times by the Islamic rulers and was completely blown away by gunpowder in 1762.

However, a brave ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh took the charge of constructing the temple again and adorned it with Gold, thus known as the Golden Temple. Lord Buddha is also said to have stayed at the place when the site was just a lake (over which the temple floats) surrounded with thick forests. The Akal Takht situated in Amritsar is considered to be the place where the temporal issues were discussed and the Sikhs consider it as the highest designation of earthly authority.

These pilgrimage sites in India are believed to grant salvation or Moksha to the devotees who visit it. India being the land of Pilgrimages, there obviously are many sites that are to be revered as holy according to the ancient religious texts but these are considered to be most unique and fascinating in their own way. 

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