For the Hindus, to visit the holy places is an act of great religious merit. Throughout India there are centres of pilgrimage, some of them very holy, others less so. Great emphasis is laid on visiting the holy places (yatra) once in a life-time for the attainment of salvation. Four of the holy places have been established by Adi Shankaracharya (a saint) and it signifies a farsightedness of vision towards national integration as they are situated at the four corners of India, making the devotees criss-cross the country.
Benares:- is the most sacred among the holy places. Also known as Varanasi and Kashi, it is the city of Shiva, having over two thousand temples and over half a million idols, most of them dedicated to Shiva and his family. It is situated on the banks of the holy river Ganga.
Mathura:- on the banks of Jamuna, near Agra, is the birth place of Krishna. The atmosphere of Mathura is in direct contrast to that of Benares. Mathura represents the religion of the living, while Benaras emphasizes the permanence of death.
Dwaraka:- in Gujarat is another important shrine. It was the capital of Krishna’s kingdom and has some very important temples devoted to hit. The city is located on the Western coast of India.
Puri:- in Orissa has the Jagannath temple which attracts pilgrims from all over India. It has an idol considered to be a manifestation of Krishna. The temple, containing idols of Balarama and Subhadra (sister of Krishna), is on the Eastern corner of India.
Rameswaram:- from where Rama is said to have launched his attack on Lanka is in the extreme south of India. Rama is said to have installed a Shiva lingam here; hence the place is sacred to both Shaivas (Shiva worshippers) and Vaishnavas (Vishnu worshippers).
Gaya:- on the Ganges, once a stronghold of the Buddhists, is for the Hindus connected with the death ceremonies of ancestors for which they visit the place. After the rituals are performed at Gaya the soul of the dead is supposed to attain salvation.
Ujjain:- It is called the navel of earth. It has the famous temples of Ganesha and Kal-Bhairav. During the time of Vikramaditya it used to be the capital of India. Two parts of the Skanda-Purana were said to have been written here.
Haridwar:- It is another very important holy city of India. It is at the foothills of the Himalayas and is the place where the Ganga enters the plains. It is also called the ‘gateway of the Ganga’.
Other important holy places are; Ayodhya (Rama’s capital), Kanchi (Conjeevaram), Kedarnath, Somnath, Amarnath and Kamakhya.