Religion has been the predominant element in the Indian civilisation. In fact, the four major religions of the world, i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism originated in India. The country has been attracting people from other countries for spiritual guidance since time immemorial. Hinduism, the main religion of India is considered the world’s oldest religion and philosophical system.
It is known as a way of life-preaching the cult of non-violence, non-vegetarianism, meditation-and making salvation or freedom from the cycle of births and deaths as the ultimate objective of the soul. Besides Hinduism, Islam is practised by around 14 per cent of the Indians. There are also other religious followers like the Sikhs and the Christians. All this makes India as a country of religious temperament.
As a confluence of religions India has several places of worship. Some places have more to offer than others, and are considered more sacred to specific religious or spiritual paths. For Hindus the temples are the source of spirituality and present a living culture and art. These temples are the places where the followers perform activities like worship which assist in reaching higher dimensions. They are the realms where devotees go and make an open display of their devotion to the deities.
India has a number of such holy and sacred places in almost every part of the country. Northern India is fortunate in having several prominent religious places. As a matter of fact North India is called ‘the land of devas’. Haridwar-the gateway to God is one of the holiest places according to Hindu mythology as the gods are believed to have left their footprints on that land.
Haridwar is an access point/for the cities that form the char dham-Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamnotri. Rishikesh is another holy place which represents the sight where Lord Vishnu overpowered the demon Madhu. Mathura-the birthplace of Lord Krishna, the reincarnation of Vishnu is another famous holy place of the Hindus. Ayodhya the birthplace of Lord Rama has been under some controversies because of the demolition of Babri Masjid at that place, but is another holy place nevertheless.
For Sikhs, North India has several holy places called gurdwaras. Golden Temple at Amritsar, Harmandir at Tarn Taran, Chandni Chowk and Bangla Sahib at Delhi, Fatehgarh Sahib at Sarhind are some of the sacred places for the Sikhs in India while Nankana Sahib the birthplace of Guru Nanak-the founder of Sikhism has gone to Pakistan after partition.
South India is also blessed with the presence of spiritual places like Tanjore where Brihadeshwar Temple built by the Chola King Raja Raja Chola. Meenakshi Temple of Madurai is over two thousand years old and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati. Then there is Srirangam Temple of Tirucherapalli situated on the banks of river Cauveri. East India too has its religious traditions and holy places. Kolkata, the cultural capital of India is famous for the enthusiastic worship of goddess Kali.
Puri is another sacred centre that marks the cosmic focal point of India as defined by saint Sankaracharya in the 9th century. Since that time the great temple of Jagannath has been hosting the Rath Yatra festival every year when huge chariots are pulled through the roads of the city followed by thousand of devotees.
Buddhism flourished in India. The holy places for Buddhists include Bodh Gaya where the Buddha gained enlightenment and Vaishali where the Buddha delivered his^ last sermon and announced his impending Nirvana. Mahavira, the founder of Jainism is uniquely Indian.
The most important Jain temple is at Sravanabelagola in Karnataka. Christianity too has had long and glorious relations with India. Goa particularly has many places of worship for the Christians. To the Muslims, mosques are the sacred and spiritual places representing the Islamic tradition. Jama Masjid in Delhi and Fatehpuri Sikri in Agra are the glorious mosques in India. India is thus blessed with sacred sites and holy places in large number. Many of them are not only the places of worship but also the centres of learning. India holds the power to guide and lead the word in religious matter.
India’s famed spirituality has made it a popular destination for the spiritually inclined travellers and seekers of truth. India’s ancient universities of Nalanda and Taxila attracted students from around the world to learn about spirituality. All Indian rulers in the ancient and medieval times were deeply religious.
Even during the British rule there was a revival of India’s culture, heritage and religion. The Bhakti Movement of the 15th century led by Guru Nanak, Kabir, and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu showed the right path to the public in difficult times. Scholars like Max Muller have given a glorious tribute to India as the spiritual leader of the world in their writings. It is the responsibility of all of us to maintain India’s great image by moulding our lives in the true religious traditions with piety of mind and heart.