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Pilgrimage to tirthas, India's sacred zones, is one of the oldest strands of the Hindu tradition, and one of the most prominent forms of popular piety practiced in India today. Tirthas are "crossing places" which act as portals linking heaven and earth. There are many different types of tirthas. There are tirthas whose sanctity is imbued in the landscape, such as the Himalayan mountains and the Ganga river. There are other tirthas famous as pilgrimage sites for the divine images housed there such as the great Vishnu temple of Badrinath in North India. Tirthas vary in importance from small shrines of local significance to places of pan-Indian importance attracting pilgrims from across linguistic, sectarian and regional boundaries. Diana L. Eck, a historian of religions from Harvard University writes, For Hindus, pilgrimage to the tirthas has been an important unifying force, not only for sects and regions, but for the wider Hindu perception of what constitutes the land of India. Everyone knows how diverse India is, in race, language, religion, and sect. In its long history there have been few centuries of political unity until modern times. But one thing Hindu India has held in common is a shared sense of its sacred geography. Furthermore, The whole of India's sacred geography, with its many tirthas - those inherent in its natural landscape and those sanctified by the deeds of gods and the footsteps of heroes, is a living geography...The recognition of India as a sacred landscape woven together north and south, east and west, by the paths of pilgrims, has created a powerful sense of India as Bharat Mata - Mother India. Pilgrims have circumambulated the whole of India, visiting hundreds of tirthas along the way, bringing water from the Ganga in the north to sprinkle the linga at Ramesvaram in the far south and returning north with sands from Ramesvaram to deposit in the riverbed of the Ganga (History of Religions 1981: 323-324). One of the earliest discussions of the efficacy of a "grand tour" of tirthas as ritual practice is found in the chapter "The Tour of Sacred Fords" within the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata. It is suggested here that performing pilgrimage is equal in merit to the great Vedic ritual practice of horse sacrifices. Other texts suggest performing a pilgrimage to the char dham, the four divine abodes residing at the four compass points of India. These four pilgrimage places, Badrinath in the North, Puri in the East, Ramesvaram in the South and Dwarka in the West delineate the furthest limits of the sacred land. Pilgrimage to these four "abodes" is called mahaparikrama, the "great circumambulation." Today, with the advent of modern transportation millions of people go on pilgrimage every year and many accomplish abbreviated forms of Pan-Indian pilgrimage tours. In the modern context pilgrimage functions as a form of religious tourism which justifies and encourages groups of people to travel to the great tirthas and the religious melas (fairs). In traveling to religious festivals villagers are exposed to parts of India they may have never seen before and are able to meet people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. For me, this was held true when I attended the Ganga Sagar Mela at Sagar Island near Calcutta. On a remote island in the mouth of the Ganga river delta over 450,000 pilgrims gathered to pray, bathe and worship. At this festival I met pilgrims from places as far away as Nepal, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The photographs and stories within this website are part of a project re-creating a pan-Indian tirtha-yatra. I am making a clockwise circumambulation of the significant tirthas found throughout India. The goal of this project is to photograph pilgrims in the landscape of the tirtha and to document significant religious festivals that take place in these locations. In traveling the width and breadth of the country a visual record of both the sanctity and the complexity of India will be achieved. Pilgrimage to tirthas, India's sacred zones, is one of the oldest strands of the Hindu tradition, and one of the most prominent forms of popular piety practiced in India today. Tirthas are "crossing places" which act as portals linking heaven and earth. There are many different types of tirthas. There are tirthas whose sanctity is imbued in the landscape, such as the Himalayan mountains and the Ganga river. There are other tirthas famous as pilgrimage sites for the divine images housed there such as the great Vishnu temple of Badrinath in North India. Tirthas vary in importance from small shrines of local significance to places of pan-Indian importance attracting pilgrims from across linguistic, sectarian and regional boundaries. Diana L. Eck, a historian of religions from Harvard University writes, For Hindus, pilgrimage to the tirthas has been an important unifying force, not only for sects and regions, but for the wider Hindu perception of what constitutes the land of India. Everyone knows how diverse India is, in race, language, religion, and sect. In its long history there have been few centuries of political unity until modern times. But one thing Hindu India has held in common is a shared sense of its sacred geography. Furthermore, The whole of India's sacred geography, with its many tirthas - those inherent in its natural landscape and those sanctified by the deeds of gods and the footsteps of heroes, is a living geography...The recognition of India as a sacred landscape woven together north and south, east and west, by the paths of pilgrims, has created a powerful sense of India as Bharat Mata - Mother India. Pilgrims have circumambulated the whole of India, visiting hundreds of tirthas along the way, bringing water from the Ganga in the north to sprinkle the linga at Ramesvaram in the far south and returning north with sands from Ramesvaram to deposit in the riverbed of the Ganga (History of Religions 1981: 323-324). One of the earliest discussions of the efficacy of a "grand tour" of tirthas as ritual practice is found in the chapter "The Tour of Sacred Fords" within the Indian epic poem the Mahabharata. It is suggested here that performing pilgrimage is equal in merit to the great Vedic ritual practice of horse sacrifices. Other texts suggest performing a pilgrimage to the char dham, the four divine abodes residing at the four compass poi

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