Thirthyatra – Holy Pilgrimage in Hinduism



In Hindu religion, a place of pilgrimage is a tirtha or tirthasthana. The act of going on a pilgrimage is tirthayatra or tirtha. The pilgrim is known as tirthayatri. Hindus believe that the sacred space or temple, which is the tirthasthan, has the presence of divine power. Going on a thirthyatra is considered highly auspicious and the aim or end result of it is moksha – liberation from the endless cycle of birth and death.

Literally, a tirtha means a shallow area in a river that can be crossed easily. In fact, some of the most popular tirthas in Hindu religion are located along, including Varanasi (Kashi or Benaras) the most popular and supreme Hindu Tirtha.

Symbolically crossing the river and reaching a tirtha is leaving behind the materialistic world and entering into the spiritual world. At the tirtha, a pilgrim seeks moksha and redemption from sins. In fact, many people go on a ‘thirthyatra’ when they are no longer able to carry the burden of the sins committed.

In Hinduism, a tirtha is not always a temple or a particular place. It can be a foot of a mountain, a place on the banks of a river, islands, a place on the sea, a scared tree or a place where a great saint once lived.

Among the popular tirthas are the jyotirlingam (12 scared places dedicated to Shiva), the 51 Shaktipeethas (dedicated to Shakti, the mother goddess) and the 108 Divya deshams and the Char Dham of Vishnu.

A tirthasthan is also the place many Hindus travel during the fag end of their life. Their aim is to die at the tirtha. Thus many people choose Kashi, the abode of Shiva, to die. It is believed that Shiva will help them in attaining moksha.

A tirtha yatra is also a spiritual quest therefore one need not physically wander; one may find what one is searching from where one seeks it. Thus the Skanda Purana states, ‘Truth, forgiveness, control of senses, kindness to all living beings and simplicity are also tirthas.’