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Hinduism Pilgrimage
by
James Lochtefeld

Introduction

Hindu pilgrimage not only has a long and venerable history in India but is also a vibrant religious practice in modern times. The Sanskrit word usually translated as pilgrimage, tirthayatra, is a compound word meaning a “journey (yatra) to a crossing place (tirtha).” A tirtha is literally a “ford” or a “crossing-place,” and tirthas are places where one can “cross over” to establish contact with sacred forces less easily encountered in everyday life. Thus, the most common meaning of tirtha is a “pilgrimage place” or “holy place.” Yet many other things can be considered as tirthas, including one’s teacher, a saintly person, or even qualities such as compassion and generosity. In this, the tradition seems to stress that the holy is found not only in places but all around us. Yet it is noteworthy that the traditional term for pilgrimage included not only the notion of the holy place but also the pilgrim’s journey (yatra) there. This implies that the journey was part and parcel of the rite, and that the manner in which one traveled was part of the transformative process. The puranas and the Mahabharata both recommend pilgrimage as a less expensive and more easily practiced religious alternative to sacrifice, and they often describe the religious merit of pilgrimages by equating them with Vedic sacrifices such as the ashvamedha. Yet both sources also emphasize that a disciplined way of life and the cultivation of personal qualities are as important as the site itself. Each of these conflicting emphases stresses something profoundly important—on one hand, the sacrality of the site itself, and on the other hand, the importance of genuine sincerity and commitment.

Introductory Works

Hindu tirthas are an illuminating indicator for the tradition as a whole. Just as the Hindu religion has no supreme deity or religious authority, its complex and decentralized character is visible in its pilgrimage sites. As the maps in Schwartzberg 1978 clearly show, the Indian subcontinent is studded with tirthas, and this has been true for millennia. Some of these sites are more important than others, but sectarian and regional differences mean that no single site is the holiest for all Hindus. Yet despite this diversity of sites, Hindus unite in accepting certain fundamental propositions about the tirthas themselves: their nature, their power, and the process by which people can gain access to this power. Eck 1981 describes the different senses of the word tirtha, but primarily addresses the notion of their power: the idea that tirthas are places where the most ordinary religious acts generate extraordinary religious benefits (in the same way, their sanctity also magnifies the demerit from evil actions). Aiyengar 1942 not only describes the religious importance of pilgrimage and pilgrimage sites but also stresses the idea that pilgrimage’s transformational quality is not magical, but results from the pilgrim’s sincerity and faith.

  • Aiyengar, K. V. Rangaswami, ed. Krtyakalpataru of Bhatta Laksmidhara. Vol. 8, Tirthavivecanakhanda. Baroda, India: Oriental Institute, 1942.

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    Aiyengar’s English-language introduction was written to give an overview of this Sanskrit text. It is an excellent summary of ideas both about pilgrimage sites (first in general, followed by subsections devoted to specific sites), and about the more general pilgrimage rites themselves.

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  • Eck, Diana L. “India’s Tirthas: Crossings in Sacred Geography.” History of Religions 20.4 (May 1981): 323–344.

    DOI: 10.1086/462878Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This examines the etymology and the implications of the notion of tirtha, both as a literal place (in its many possible forms) and as a metaphorical concept.

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  • Schwartzberg, Joseph E., ed. A Historical Atlas of South Asia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

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    This is an excellent historical atlas with a wealth of detail. Each of the historical sections has maps devoted to religious sites during a particular historical period, and just about every section has a map relevant to Hindu pilgrimage and pilgrim sites. Available online.

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Sanskrit Texts

Pilgrimage receives no significant emphasis in the Vedas, although Rig Veda 10.75 mentions the names of various rivers (see Introductory Works and Kane 1973 [Vol. 4, pp. 556–557]). This picture becomes very different in later religious texts, particularly the Mahabharata and the puranas. The Mahabharata’s Vana Parva, or “Forest-book,” describes a tour of through India’s pilgrimage sites, as illustrated in Buitenen 1975. The route described in this text has been more carefully plotted in Bhardwaj 1973. Aside from its emphasis on the holy places, the Mahabharata also stresses the need for pilgrims to cultivate religious and moral qualities, as can be seen in Kane 1973. The puranas were sectarian compendia of traditional lore. One of their most important features was specifying the rites to be performed to worship various deities, and also describing the sacred sites associated with these deities. The most complete list of these sites can be found in Volume 4 of Kane 1968–1977. A more limited mapping of these sites appears in Bhardwaj 1973, which fixes the locations of pilgrimage sites in some key Sanskrit sources. From the pilgrimage material in the Mahabharata and puranas grew an entire genre of commentarial literature. Scholars would excerpt material on a particular theme from a variety of texts, and would then draw their learned conclusions. Most of this literature has never been translated, but one fine example is Salomon 1985. Salomon 1979 not only gives a large catalogue of pilgrimage places, but even ranks the holiness of these sites vis-à-vis each other. Another source worth mentioning is Sircar 1983, which contains many inscriptions at or about pilgrimage sites. These provide hard historical data (and in many cases, hard dates) but are varied in their coverage. A different sort of catalogue is Gokulanātha 1985, whose text’s underlying purpose is to glorify the sect’s founder.

  • Bhardwaj, Surinder Mohan. Hindu Places of Pilgrimage in India: A Study in Cultural Geography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

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    The early chapters adroitly map pilgrimage site distribution in several Sanskrit texts: the Mahabharata, the Matsya, Garuda, and Agni Puranas, and Bhatta Lakshmidhara’s Tirthavivecanakhanda. The text’s latter section runs aground when it posits a hierarchy of sites and contends that higher-level sites draw visitors with more abstract goals—a premise unsupported by other researchers’ field data.

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  • Buitenen, J. A. B. van, trans. Mahabharata (Vanaparva). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975.

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    The Mahabharata’s “grand tour” of India’s pilgrimage sites (pp. 366–514) begins at Pushkar in Rajasthan—still associated with the creator-god Brahma—then spirals clockwise to circumambulate the country, ending at Prayag. Although the text mentions sites throughout the subcontinent, it gives far more attention to the Himalayas and the Ganges basin, hinting that these were the core sacred areas.

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  • Gokulanātha. Chaurasi Baithak, Eighty-four Seats of Shri Vallabhacharya. Translated by Shyam Das. Edited by H. H. Goswami Srimat Vrajesh Kumarji Maharaj. Baroda, India: Shri Vallabha, 1985.

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    This lists eighty-four pilgrimage sites associated with the 16th-century reformer Vallabhacharya. One can draw useful inferences about sites’ relative importance by examining the sites in this collection, but since the composer’s ultimate goal was to highlight Vallabhacharya’s spiritual mastery, the text is far more about him than about the sites themselves.

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  • Kane, Pandurang Vaman. History of Dharmasastra (Ancient and Mediaeval Religious and Civil Law). Volume 4. Poona, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, 1973.

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    Volume 4’s second half begins by summarizing pilgrimage in the Vedas, puranas, and Mahabharata (pp. 552–584); this is followed by chapters devoted to individual sites (e.g., Benares). It concludes with an index (pp. 723–833) listing every pilgrimage site mentioned in the epics and puranas, for which Kane gives both the textual reference and (where possible) the actual location. Originally published 1930–1962.

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  • Salomon, Richard. “Tirtha-pratyamnayah: Ranking of Hindu Pilgrimage Sites in Classical Sanskrit Texts.” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft 129.1 (1979): 102–128.

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    This article gives one strategy to rank differing sites’ relative holiness. The text prescribes pilgrimage as an alternative to other sorts of penance (primarily fasting), and tabulates the merit generated by visiting different places (both rivers and pilgrimage sites). The text shows a bias toward North India and the Ganges basin consistent with its Brahmin authors.

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  • Salomon, Richard, ed. and trans. The Bridge to the Three Holy Cities: The Sāmānya-praghaṭṭaka of Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa’s Tristhalīsetu. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1985.

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    Salomon translates the first section of Narayana Bhatta’s Tristhalisetu, a 16th-century Sanskrit pilgrimage manual. This text’s first section prescribes the general rules for any pilgrimage, and the rites to be performed while on pilgrimage. The three later sections are each focused on a specific site: Prayag, Benares, and Gaya.

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  • Sircar, Dinesh Chandra, ed. Select Inscriptions Bearing on Indian History and Civilization. Vol. 2, From the Sixth to the Eighteenth Century A.D. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983.

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    Since inscriptions tended to be written on the most durable materials of the day, they give some of the most reliable dates for premodern India. Most inscriptions were commissioned by royalty and were thus “advertisements” for those rulers, and so the content must be read critically. Within these boundaries, inscriptions offer valuable information about many particular sites.

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Travelers’ Reports

Aside from the Sanskrit sources, other important historical sources about Hindu pilgrimage and pilgrimage sites are travelers’ accounts, official gazetteers, and various reference books. Among the earliest travelers’ accounts are those left by the 7th-century Chinese pilgrim Hsuan-Tsang (Hsuan-Tsang 1969) and the 11th-century observer al-Biruni (al-Biruni 1971), which both contain brief but helpful observations on pilgrimage sites. A concise (if disapproving) account of Hindu pilgrimage practices can be found in the memoirs Timur 1871 and in the 16th-century history al-Bada’uni 1976; an important 18th-century source is Shah 1973, which describes religious groups and practices in contemporary North India. Finally, an invaluable source for travelers’ accounts between the 18th and 20th centuries is Kaul 1979. This work cites accounts from hundreds of personal journals and memoirs, and one can research a particular site by using its helpful index.

  • al-Bada’uni (‘Abdu-l-Qadir Ibn-i-Muluk Shah). Muntakhab-ut-Tawarikh. Vol. 2. Translated by W. H. Lowe. Karachi: Karimson’s, 1976.

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    Bada’uni’s second volume chronicles Emperor Akbar’s reign. It contains several important references to Hindu pilgrimage sites, among them a conflict at Thanesar between Hindu ascetic groups (pp. 94–95), and religious suicide at Prayag (p. 179). Originally published in 1884 (Calcutta: College Press).

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  • al-Biruni, Abu Raihan Muhammad ibn Ahmad. Alberuni’s Indica: A Record of the Cultural History of South Asia about A.D. 1030. Translated by Edward C. Sachau. Edited by Ainslee Embree. New York: Norton, 1971.

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    In chapter 18, al-Biruni gives the general outline of India’s geography; most of the reference points in this chapter are pilgrimage sites. A later section describes various Hindu religious practices, and chapter 61 focuses on pilgrimage and sacred places. A final interesting mention comes in chapter 73’s description of religious suicide at Prayag. Originally published in two volumes in 1888 (London: Trubner).

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  • Hsuan-Tsang. Si-Yu-Ki: Buddhist Records of the Western World. Translated by Samuel Beal. Delhi: Oriental Books Reprint, 1969.

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    Hsuan-Tsang’s account, originally published in 1884 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner), is the most complete for that period, and he mentions not only a number of pilgrimage sites but also a host of other contemporary cultural and religious phenomena.

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  • Kaul, H. K., ed. Travels in South Asia: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography of Guide Books and Travel Books on South Asia. New Delhi: Arnold-Heinemann, 1979.

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    This book indexes hundreds of accounts from journals and personal memoirs. The sources tend toward British colonial perspectives (both female and male) but include accounts by other Europeans and by Indians. The helpful index allows one to search by place name, and the wealth of sources allows a careful reader to mine them for contemporary historical data.

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  • Shah, Mubud. The Dabistan, or School of Manners. Translated by David Shea and Anthony Troyer. Lahore, Pakistan: Khalil, 1973.

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    A religious encyclopedia of 17th-century India, The Dabistan describes the beliefs and practices of all major Indian religious groups. Author Mubud Shah was a Muslim in public life and a Zoroastrian in private, and this secret life may account for his unusually sympathetic portrayal of Hindu religious life. Originally published in 1843 (London: Allen).

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  • Timur. Malfuzat-I-Timuri, in The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians. Vol. 3, The Muhammadan Period. Translated by H. M. Elliot and John Dowson. London: Trubner, 1871.

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    The chronicler’s description of Hindu pilgrimage practices on p. 458 describes the Hindus as bathing in the Ganges, shaving the hair and beards, giving charity to Brahmins, and depositing the ashes of their dead into the Ganges.

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Gazetteers

A second important group of historical sources is gazetteers, official works usually written as some sort of official government record. All of these gazetteers are primarily focused on places, but contain significant information about their mythology, festivals, and religious practices. The earliest examples from the Mughul dynasty were works to record important data, including revenue information. The first of these is Allami 1948, which describes all the territories in the Mughul Empire and includes remarks on pilgrimage sites and practices. Information from about a century later can be found in Sarkar 1901, in which Sarkar translates extracts from two later gazetteers. The most complete gazetteers were written under British colonial rule, beginning with Hamilton 1971 and continuing with India: District and Provincial Gazetteers 1822–1945. These were written to provide information for the colonial state, and they contain a wealth of historical, cultural, social, and environmental detail. These gazetteers become larger and more detailed with the passage of time, although there is significantly more information for areas under direct British rule (e.g., the United Provinces and Punjab) than for regions ruled by native princes. The gazetteers have gone through several further editions since independence in 1947. They are now published by their respective state governments rather than by a single central authority, and their coverage is now more uniform throughout the country. Hunter 1885 and Cotton, et al. 1907 summarize the site information contained in the colonial era district gazetteers and arrange it into one massive alphabetical list. An important specialized gazetteer is Atkinson 1973, which is the first reliable source for places in the Himalayan regions. Another important and relatively early source text is Cunningham 1975.

  • Allami, Abu al-Fazl. Ain-i-Akbari. 3 vols. Translated by H. Blochmann and H. S. Jarrett. Calcutta: Asiatic Society, 1948.

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    The Ain-i-Akbari details every aspect of Emperor Akbar’s administration and administrative procedures in 16th-century India. The latter part of the second volume catalogues the empire’s subahs (provinces) and their constituent districts (sarkars). The latter part of Volume 3 details Hindu religious life, including places of pilgrimage (pp. 303–306). Originally published 1873–1907 (Calcutta: Asiatic Society). Available online.

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  • Atkinson, Edwin T. The Himalayan Gazetteer. 3 vols. Delhi: Cosmo, 1973.

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    First published as The Himalayan Districts of the North-Western Provinces of India (forming Vol. 11 of the Gazetteer N.W.P.; Allahabad, India: 1882). This work focuses on the Himalayan region corresponding to modern Uttarakhand state. Volume 2’s ten chapters are primarily devoted to the region’s history (chapters 3–7) and religion (chapters 8–10); Volume 3 describes regional sites in alphabetical order.

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  • Cotton, James Sutherland, Richard Burn, and William Stevenson Meyer, eds. Imperial Gazetteer of India. 26 vols. New ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1907.

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    The second edition of the Imperial Gazetteer draws from district and provincial gazetteers to catalogue the entire subcontinent, both under British and native rule. The first four volumes provide descriptive, historical, economic, and administrative surveys; Volumes 5–24 give an alphabetized index of sites, and the final volumes are an index and an atlas. Available online.

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  • Cunningham, Alexander. The Ancient Geography of India. Enlarged ed. Varanasi, India: Bhartiya, 1975.

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    Foreword by B. Chhabra; introduction by Asim Kumar Chatterjee; additional notes by Jamna Das Akhtar. This volume details India’s geography between the time of the Buddha (5th century BCE) and Mahmud of Ghazni (11th century CE). The work describes sites throughout India, but Cunningham’s primary sources—the Greek texts associated with Alexander the Great’s campaign, and Chinese pilgrims such as Hsuan Tsang—mean that India’s northern part gets far greater attention. Originally published in 1871 (London: Trubner).

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  • Hamilton, Walter. A Geographical, Statistical, and Historical Description of Hindostan and the Adjacent Countries. Delhi: Oriental Publishers, 1971.

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    Hamilton’s text describes both the subcontinent (broken down by regions and subregions) and the surrounding countries. He begins with Bengal, where British colonial interests were strongest and most entrenched, but eventually describes areas beyond British control (such as the Punjab, then ruled by the Sikhs). Hamilton draws heavily from Abu al-Fazl and other earlier gazetteers. Originally published in 1820 (London: John Murray).

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  • Hunter, William Wilson, ed. Imperial Gazetteer of India. 14 vols. 2d ed. London: Trubner, 1885.

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    Hunter draws material from district and provincial gazetteers to give an alphabetically arranged description of the subcontinent, whether under British or native rule. This edition was the basis for the Imperial Gazetteer’s second edition (Cotton, et al. 1907), which not only expanded the site descriptions but also began with descriptive overviews.

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  • India, District and Provincial Gazetteers. 1,221 vols. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1822–1945.

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    This refers to a microfiche of the entire set of the Gazetteers of British India, including the Imperial and District Gazetteers (originally published by different publishers in different places). After independence, the gazetteers were published by the state governments. These gazetteers contain a wealth of religious, geographical, social, and environmental information.

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    • Sarkar, Jadunath, ed. and trans. The India of Aurangzib (Topography, Statistics and Roads) Compared with the India of Akbar; with Extracts from the Khulasatu-t-tawarikh and the Chahar Gulshan. Calcutta: Bose Brothers, 1901.

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      This contains extracts from two late Mughul gazetteers, the Khulasatu-t-tawarikh (1695) and the Chahar Gulshan (begun in 1759, but finished in 1789). Included in these extracts is information about a number of important pilgrimage sites.

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    Site Catalogues

    These sources have collected information about a variety of pilgrimage sites and have been published relatively recently. They are called “catalogues” because they primarily consist of site information, with little or no analysis. One of the earlier such catalogues is Dave 1957–1961, which describes many different pilgrimage sites and gives relevant citations about them from Sanskrit texts. Bharati 1963 and Bharati 1970 both describe different sets of pilgrim networks, as well as the importance of pilgrimage in Indian civilization. A contemporary English-language tour and travel book is Mehta 2006, which provides historical and religious background for each of the sites, as well as helpful travel information such as places to stay and eat. Similar information can be found in commercial travel guides such as Lonely Planet or Rough Guide. India’s most common pilgrimage texts are locally produced pamphlets, whose ubiquity gives them tremendous influence in shaping popular opinion. One publisher of these is Randhir Book Sales. Finally, there are the documentary films produced at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for South Asia, largely under the direction of Joseph Elder.

    • Bharati, Agehananda. “Pilgrimage in the Indian Tradition.” History of Religions 3 (1963): 135–167.

      DOI: 10.1086/462476Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This article mainly consists of sites and sectarian pilgrimage networks. Bharati ranks these sites hierarchically but gives no rationale for these rankings.

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    • Bharati, Agehananda. “Pilgrimage Sites and Indian Civilization.” In Chapters in Indian Civilization: Handbook of Readings to Accompany Indian Civilization. Vol. 1, Classical and Medieval India. Edited by Joseph W. Elder, 83–126, 229–230. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1970.

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      This is an expanded version of Bharati 1963 and shares the same general characteristics.

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    • Center for South Asia Documentary Film Series, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

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      The films listed on this site were largely made under the direction of the University of Wisconsin’s Joseph Elder. They were made with care and attention to academic detail, but their relative age—many were made in the 1970s—means that their content is sometimes dated and must be contextualized appropriately.

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    • Dave, J. H. Immortal India. 4 vols. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1957–1961.

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      This work describes many different pilgrimage sites, and gives the traditional stories and citations from the puranas associated with each one, but it is so uncritical of its sources that it needs to be read very carefully.

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    • Mehta, Vinod, ed. Outlook Traveller Getaways: 101 Pilgrimages. New Delhi: Outlook Publishing, 2006.

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      This is a tour and travel book written as a vacation guide with a religious theme. It gives some historical and religious context for each site but is not an academic work.

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    • Randhir Book Sales.

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      Randhir Book Sales publishes a wide variety of religious pamphlets, including guidebooks to pilgrimage sites; its publications are ubiquitous throughout Uttarakhand and can be found as far away as Benares. Randhir’s target audience means that the bulk of its offerings are in Hindi, but there is growing demand for English titles from non-resident Indians and English-speaking Indians.

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    Analytical and Theoretical Works

    These works take the “meta” approach to pilgrimage, seeking to move from specific places and journeys to investigate the dynamics of pilgrimage itself, and to abstract an explanatory model from the data. Human preferences for simple explanations mean that certain theories have retained considerable popularity, even when contradicted by field data. Morinis 1984 uses fieldwork in West Bengal to critique many such overarching theories. Other authors’ perspectives are hampered by their governing assumptions. Gold 1988 focuses only on pilgrims and assumes that pilgrimage is an instrumental action to solve some problem. Gold’s work clearly shows that people go to local shrines seeking relief from worldly afflictions, and to others to fulfill “bio-moral duty” (performing death rites), but struggles with the “why” for a month-long “wandering” pilgrimage. Van der Veer 1988 focuses primarily on a site and on how Ayodhya’s ascetics and pandas (hereditary pilgrim guides) create religious meaning; this presupposes that pilgrims are mere “consumers” of the site’s religious meaning and not also active agents in its creation. Most blanket explanations run the risk of reductionism—describing some phenomenon solely as a function of another—but complex behaviors such as pilgrimage tend to resist simple explanations. One theoretical response has been to discard the attempt to create overarching theories and to focus insistently on the particular. This is most concisely stated in Eade and Sallnow 1991, which stresses not only that any pilgrimage must be studied in its context but also that any pilgrimage can have multiple understandings simultaneously contesting for recognition. This recognizes that a pilgrimage can be “about” many different things once, as Preston 1992 explicitly stresses. Two works citing this need for context are Sax 1991 and Lochtefeld 2010—the former examining gender and politics in the Nanda Devi pilgrimages, and the latter examining pilgrimage to Hardwar from multiple perspectives, with particular emphasis on how both the site and larger pilgrimage patterns have changed over time. Both begin with theory but focus primarily on their subject matter. The narrowest contextual study is Kerr 2001, which examines how rail travel profoundly changed pilgrimage patterns.

    • Eade, John, and Michael J. Sallnow. “Introduction.” In Contesting the Sacred: The Anthropology of Christian Pilgrimage. Edited by John Eade and Michael J. Sallnow, 1–29. London: Routledge, 1991.

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      A brief but important essay emphasizing the possibility of multiple simultaneous “meanings” to a pilgrimage.

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    • Gold, Ann Grodzins. Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

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      An evocative and dense ethnography of Rajasthani village life and pilgrimage, but it needs a unifying theme.

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    • Kerr, Ian J. “Reworking a Popular Religious Practice: The Effect of Railways on Pilgrimage in 19th and 20th Century South Asia.” In Railways in Modern India. Edited by Ian J. Kerr, 304–327. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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      This chapter nicely illustrates how train travel affected and changed Hindu pilgrimage.

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    • Lochtefeld, James G. God’s Gateway: Identity and Meaning in a Hindu Pilgrimage Place. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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      A polyvalent study of Hardwar across time and constituencies. Aside from comparing the site’s differing and simultaneous “histories,” it also devotes considerable attention to pandas (hereditary pilgrim guides) and ascetics as the site’s religious “providers,” and to pilgrims as the site’s “consumers.” The final chapter traces how social changes in India are affecting Hindu ideas about pilgrimage.

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    • Morinis, E. Alan. Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: A Case Study of West Bengal. Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

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      A fine ethnography of three sectarian sites in West Bengal (Shaiva, Vaishnava, and Shakta). These are followed by a chapter drawing out the comparisons between them, and a chapter addressing methodological questions.

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    • Preston, James J. “Spiritual Magnetism: An Organizing Principle for the Study of Pilgrimage.” In Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Edited by E. Alan Morinis, 31–46. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.

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      The article’s latter section promotes a multidisciplinary strategy as the most fruitful way to study pilgrimage.

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    • Sax, William S. Mountain Goddess: Gender and Politics in a Himalayan Pilgrimage. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

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      This has a good theoretical opening chapter, and then examines different aspects of Nanda Devi pilgrimage.

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    • van der Veer, Peter. Gods on Earth: The Management of Religious Experience and Identity in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre. London: Athlone, 1988.

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      This book is densely written and is strong on both theory and method. The text focuses on ascetics and pandas (hereditary pilgrim guides) as religious elites at Ayodhya and contains valuable information about both groups. The text’s major drawback is that it largely ignores pilgrims and gives no attention to their idea of what pilgrimage means.

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    Anthologies

    These are either collections of essays about pilgrimage, or book chapters that discuss and compare full-length works. Examples of the latter that specifically pertain to South Asia are Falk 2006 and Fuller 2004; both essays begin with a brief theoretical framework and illustrate this by citing particular examples. As a general rule, collections of essays about pilgrimage are less useful overall: some give only limited attention to South Asia, whereas others are theoretically or analytically weak, but there are some heartening exceptions. Though focused exclusively on European pilgrimage, one such anthology contains essays that move fruitfully beyond the particular to discuss broader theoretical issues (Swatos 2002, Tomasi 2002, Adler 2002). Another good example is Morinis 1992, which begins with a theoretical essay and then has three individual essays with a focus on South Asia.

    • Adler, Judith. “The Holy Man as Traveler and Travel Attraction: Early Christian Asceticism and the Moral Problematic of Modernity.” In From Medieval Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism. Edited by William H. Swatos Jr. and Luigi Tomasi, 25–50. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

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      Examines the economics of charisma in the ancient Christian world, and in particular how monks in remote locations set up and reinforced patronage networks.

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    • Falk, Nancy Auer. “Pilgrimage.” In Living Hinduisms. By Nancy Auer Falk, 161–185. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth 2006.

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      This chapter briefly introduces three key pilgrimage elements—destination, journey, and pilgrim—and then explores these through three different categories: ordinary pilgrims, pilgrim devotees, and permanent pilgrims (sadhus); it ends with a brief conclusion.

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    • Fuller, Christopher J. “Pilgrimage.” In The Camphor Flame: Popular Hinduism and Society in India. Rev. ed. By Christopher J. Fuller, 204–223. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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      This chapter begins with some theoretical consideration on the nature of pilgrimage sites as sacred centers. It then examines pilgrimage accounts by Iravati Karve, E. Valentine Daniel, and Ann Gold before presenting conclusions about pilgrimage’s distinctive qualities—both as shaking up pilgrims’ normal routines, and providing venues for worship and potential transformation.

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    • Morinis, E. Alan, ed. Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.

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      Contains interesting essays by James Preston (see Analytical and Theoretical Works), Colin Turnbull (see Pilgrim Experience), John Stanley (see Maharashtra), and Paul Younger (see Tamil Nadu).

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    • Swatos, William H., Jr. “New Canterbury Trails: Pilgrimage and Tourism in Anglican London.” In From Medieval Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism. Edited by William H. Swatos Jr. and Luigi Tomasi, 91–114. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

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      This essay draws out the longtime interconnection between pilgrimage and tourism in Anglican London, and particularly emphasizes the mundane and “worldly” character of pilgrimage throughout English history.

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    • Tomasi, Luigi. “Homo Viator: From Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism via the Journey.” In From Medieval Pilgrimage to Religious Tourism. Edited by William H. Swatos Jr. and Luigi Tomasi, 1–24. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002.

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      Lays out changing European attitudes about travel in three distinct stages: religious pilgrimage, the “grand tour” of Europe (undertaken as a high-status marker), and finally religious tourism (as an outgrowth of leisure travel).

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    Pilgrim Guides

    Hereditary pilgrim guides (pandas) are a regular and stable feature of Hindu pilgrimage sites. Pandas are usually the site’s local Brahmins who serve as pilgrims’ hosts, ritual facilitators, and general fixers during their stay. When travel was long and difficult, communication poor, and pilgrimage sites had few lodging options, panda homes formed an essential support network that gave pilgrims access to resources far from home and allowed them to travel for long times and distances. The hereditary relationship between panda and pilgrim was (and still is) based on the pilgrim’s ancestral village, and each panda family had the rights to pilgrims from one or more Indian regions. Helpful accounts of this panda-client relationship can be found in Amado 1975 and Jameson 1976 (both for Hardwar’s pandas) and in Caplan 1997 (for the pandas at Prayag). Pandas record each pilgrim’s visit in a ledger known as a bahi, and these records in turn served as evidence that a panda’s claim on a pilgrim was genuine. Given these ledgers’ importance, it is not surprising that most authors mention them, but Goswamy gives them his undivided attention in Goswamy 1966. Particular relationships between clients and pandas have always been shaped by a site’s particular context. The belief that dying in Benares brings immediate liberation has generated a flourishing funeral trade there, and Parry 1980 details the arrangements for dividing the rights to the dead there. Finally, the pandas’ social and economic status has been steadily eroding in the modern era. Better infrastructure for communication and travel has lessened pilgrims’ need for the pandas’ hospitality, though they still call on them for ritual services. The panda community’s conservatism has made it slow to respond to this change, though they have recognized it at work for over a century, as Prior 1993 clearly shows. These shrinking returns have led to different responses at different sites—Ayodhya has been marked by competition and violent conflict between two panda groups, whereas Hardwar’s pandas have formed a professional association to safeguard members’ rights.

    • Amado, M. Pierre. “Les prêtres de pèlerinage à Hardwar.” Annuaire de L’École Pratique des Hautes Études 108 (1975): 961–966.

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      A brief and mainly descriptive article, but notable as a relatively early source describing the organization of Hardwar’s pandas.

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    • Caplan, Anita. “The Role of Pilgrimage Priests in Perpetuating Spatial Organization within Hinduism.” In Sacred Places, Sacred Spaces: The Geography of Pilgrimage. Edited by Robert H. Stoddard and E. Alan Morinis, 209–233. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1997.

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      Caplan examines the Prayagwals’ (pandas at Prayag) interactions with their pilgrim clients and describes the two groups’ hereditary relationships. As a geographer, she is also interested in how the pandas’ hereditary client system helps to maintain and reinforce India’s geographical separateness (i.e., ideas about regional identity).

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    • Goswamy, B. N. “The Records Kept by Priests at Centres of Pilgrimage as a Source of Social and Economic History.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 3.2 (1966): 174–184.

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      This article discusses the pandas’ bahis (pilgrimage ledgers), and their usefulness for historical and genealogical research.

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    • Jameson, Anna S. “Gangaguru: The Private and Public Life of a Brahman Community in North India.” PhD diss., University of Oxford, 1976.

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      An in-depth study of Hardwar’s pandas in their public lives as pilgrim guides, and their private lives as a Brahmin community (in which they differ little from many other Brahmin communities). Dense with ethnographic data, but not always with analysis, and as a (then) unmarried woman, Jameson had her mobility limited by community norms regulating women’s behavior.

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    • Parry, Jonathan. “Ghosts, Greed, and Sin: The Occupational Identity of the Benares Funeral Priests.” Man 15 (1980): 88–111.

      DOI: 10.2307/2802004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      An excellent account of the ritual aspects connected with the extensive funeral business in Benares.

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    • Prior, Katherine. “Angry Pandas: Hindu Priests and the Colonial Government in the Dispersal of the Haridwar Mela in 1892.” South Asia 16.1 (1993): 25–52.

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      This article connects panda protests following the closure of Hardwar’s 1892 Mahavaruni Fair with their anxieties over their steadily eroding status, and over the perceived British colonial threats to their religion.

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    Ascetics

    In addition to being pilgrims themselves—many ascetic groups have annual pilgrimage cycles in which they visit large numbers of pilgrimage places, and many individual ascetics move from one tirtha to another as a form of religious practice—ascetics are often important religious providers at pilgrimage places, serving as gurus, teachers, and advisers, founding religious institutions, and sponsoring religious activities. Both as individuals and in their larger institutional bodies, they are vital for setting and influencing a site’s religious tone. Ascetics of all kinds share many common features that distinguish them from ordinary householders, but are themselves divided by sectarian affiliation—the two largest groups being Shaiva and Vaishnava—and more particularly by guru-disciple lineages. Hausner 2007 and Hartsuiker 1993 both give considerable attention to ascetics’ common religious goals and practices; Hartsuiker also provides a good overview of the community’s subdivisions. More sharply focused sectarian perspectives come from Burghart 1983, Gross 1992, and Lamb 2006, which direct their attention solely to the Vaishnava ascetics known as Ramanandis. These sectarian groups create institutional and organizational structures to manage the group’s resources; Miller 1996 examines monasteries in Bhubaneshvar as one example of this. As McKean 1996 clearly shows, ascetics and ascetic groups can also have considerable political influence, and their generally conservative religious views have often led them to support and to promote Hindu nationalist groups.

    • Burghart, Richard. “Wandering Ascetics of the Ramanandi Sect.” History of Religions 22.4 (1983): 361–380.

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      Among the interesting features in this description of Ramanandi life is an account of the annual pilgrimage cycle, during which Ramanandis circulate throughout North India.

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    • Gross, Robert Lewis. The Sadhus of India: A Study of Hindu Asceticism. New Delhi: Rawat, 1992.

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      This author describes himself as having lived as a Ramanandi ascetic during his field work and gives a detailed ethnography of ascetic life, particularly for the Ramanandis.

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    • Hartsuiker, Dolf. Sadhus: India’s Mystic Holy Men. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1993.

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      A good overview of all of India’s ascetic traditions, illustrated by the author’s stunning photographs. Hartsuiker has clearly had a great deal of firsthand experience with ascetics and identifies most of the ascetics in his photos by name. Hartsuiker also maintains a website containing much of the book’s material, but which has been updated since the book’s publication.

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    • Hausner, Sondra L. Wandering with Sadhus: Ascetics in the Hindu Himalayas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

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      Hausner’s book addresses ascetic life and religious goals by focusing on themes connected with three places: the Body in Space (Hardwar), Time (Allahabad), and Place (Katmandu). One of the book’s productive tensions is between religious practices that aim to transcend the world but that can only be done while embodied, and thus definitively “in” the world.

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    • Lamb, Ramdas. “Monastic Vows and the Ramananda Sampraday.” In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman, 165–185. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

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      Lamb highlights the vow-driven quality of Ramanandi ascetic life and the seriousness with which such vows are made and upheld as a form of religious practice.

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    • McKean, Lise. Divine Enterprise: Gurus and the Hindu Nationalist Movement. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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      Examines the strong connections between Hindu nationalist activism and gurus living in Hardwar and Rishikesh (largely but not exclusively ascetic gurus). In some cases, these connections reflect these gurus’ conservatism (politically as well as religiously), but they also reflect the commoditization of religion, and its manipulation for political gain.

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    • Miller, David M., and Dorothy C. Wertz. Hindu Monastic Life: The Monks and Monasteries of Bhubaneswar. Rev. ed. Delhi: Manohar, 1996.

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      An interesting study of a relatively small number of monks in an urban setting. The authors compare several different kinds of institutions, both in terms of their size and in the strength and depth of their institutional control. Originally published in 1976 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press).

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    Pilgrim Accounts

    Aside from the “providers” at pilgrimage sites (the pandas, gurus, and ascetics), one must also account for the pilgrims. Pilgrim visitors are not simply passive consumers but are often drawn by specific needs or desired outcomes. As such, they are active participants in creating a site’s identity, and they vote with their feet—going in greater numbers to places more likely to deliver what they want or need. Several readings in Analytical and Theoretical Works contain substantial descriptions of pilgrim behavior, including Gold 1988, Sax 1991, and Lochtefeld 2010. The references in this section include both first-person accounts of people describing their own travel (Karve 1962 and Haberman 1994) and also third-person descriptions of pilgrim travel and behavior (Kakar 1982). In some other sources the author is both observer and participant, as in Daniel 1984. These readings exhibit considerable geographic diversity, but one strong common thread is the austerity of traveling on foot. Anand 1990 and Chaubey 1958 focus on pilgrimage to Vaidyanath Dham in Bihar; Karve 1962 and Mokashi 1987 describe the authors’ pilgrimage to Pandharpur; Haberman 1994 relates a journey through the Braj region; and Daniel 1984, and Osella and Osella 2003 recount the annual pilgrimage to Sabari Malai in the Kerala hills. Finally, Raj and Harman 2006 articulates how people’s efforts to gain ease suffering and distress can blur conventional religious boundaries; the book’s essays show not only how Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in Tamil Nadu visit sacred sites associated with communities other than their own, but also that they perform the same sorts of religious vows.

    • Anand, I. M. S. “‘Bol, Bam!’ The Pilgrimage to Vaidyanath Dham.” Sevartham 15 (1990): 121–129.

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      A recent account of Vaidyanath’s kanvar pilgrimage, in which pilgrims draw water at Sultanganj on the Ganges and then walk seventy-eight miles to offer it to Shiva at the Vaidyanath temple. The article’s title comes from a pilgrim chant in which one person says “Bol, Bam!” (“Say Bam,” a sound supposedly pleasing to Shiva), and others respond “Bam, Bam!”

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    • Chaubey, Ganesh. “A Unique Organization of Shaiva Pilgrims.” Indian Folklore 1.2 (1958): 49–59.

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      An early account of Vaidyanath’s kanvar pilgrimage, during which pilgrims draw water at Sultanganj on the Ganges, then carry it seventy-eight miles on foot to offer to Shiva at the Vaidyanath temple.

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    • Daniel, E. Valentine. Fluid Signs: Being a Person the Tamil Way. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

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      Chapter 7 describes Daniel’s journey to Sabari Malai in Kerala. Pilgrims here are almost exclusively male (it is forbidden for women of childbearing age) and pilgrims must perform six weeks of rigorous preparation, in which the primary requirement is celibacy. Daniel contextualizes this rite by first exploring distinctively Tamil perspectives about the person, environmental affinity, and sexuality.

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    • Haberman, David L. Journey through the Twelve Forests: An Encounter with Krishna. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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      A charming account of Haberman’s ban yatra (“forest journey”), an extended foot pilgrimage through the forests surrounding Brindavan. A significant element in Krishna devotion is visualizing the deity as present in one’s experience, and Haberman nicely conveys how this is “real” for pilgrims. The text uses his experience to convey pilgrims’ physical suffering, but also their determination and joy.

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    • Kakar, Sudhir. Shamans, Mystics, and Doctors: A Psychological Inquiry into India and Its Healing Traditions. New York: Knopf, 1982.

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      Three chapters are especially noteworthy. Chapters 1 and 2 examine “possession” and healing—the first in a Muslim context, the second Hindu. Understanding “possession” as an “idiom” for mental illness, he explains the therapeutic process from both traditional and psychiatric perspectives. Chapter 5 investigates how Radha Soamis’ relationship with their guru gives them a sense of community and empowerment.

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    • Karve, Irawati. “On The Road: A Maharashtrian Pilgrimage.” Journal of Asian Studies 22.1 (November 1962): 13–29.

      DOI: 10.2307/2049906Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      A classic first-person account of one pilgrim’s journey to the Vithoba temple in Pandharpur. One of the essay’s charms is in the probing questions that Karve asks herself—particularly in comparing an ostensibly egalitarian devotional ethos with the continuing reality of caste hierarchy.

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    • Mokashi, D. B. Palkhi: An Indian Pilgrimage. Translated by Philip C. Engblom. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

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      A book-length work narrating the author’s journey to Pandharpur. Very readable, but a surface-level description. Originally published in 1964 (Mauja Prakasana Grha).

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    • Osella, Filippo, and Caroline Osella “‘Ayyapan Saranam’: Masculinity and the Sabarimala Pilgrimage in Kerala.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9.4 (December 2003): 729–754.

      DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9655.2003.00171.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This fascinating article shows how the Sabari Malai pilgrimage embodies fundamental tensions in Indian society, particularly that between householder and renunciant. Sabari Malai’s patron deity is an ascetic, and for six weeks before their journey his overwhelmingly male devotees must live as celibate ascetics. Yet many men perform this to gain tangible worldly benefits, particularly the birth of sons.

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    • Raj, Selva J., and William P. Harman, eds. Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Albany: State University of New York, 2006.

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      This text addresses pilgrim vows at many different sites, primarily in Tamil Nadu. The early essays articulate the connection between vows, pilgrimage, and what the editors call “getting what you want”—that is, relief from human troubles—and show that Tamil Hindus, Muslims, and Christians not only share parallel practices, but in many cases make pilgrimages to the same places.

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    Sites, Regions, and Festivals

    This section is by no means exhaustive, since many important pilgrimage sites are not mentioned, such Dwaraka on India’s west coast. Sites are listed alphabetically. Although most entries are for individual sites, there are also regional listings containing multiple sites (Diaspora, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, and Uttarakhand), a festival listing (the Kumbha Mela), and an entry for Sufi Shrines. Many of the texts already mentioned focus on particular sites (e.g., van der Veer 1988 is set in Ayodhya), and to recover these entries, readers should search for site names electronically—especially since these entries are often the best works on these sites.

    Amarnath

    Amarnath (the “undying Lord”) is a Shaiva pilgrimage site in the mountains of Kashmir. The image of Shiva there is a pillar of ice formed by water dripping inside a limestone cave. As a naturally formed image, it is believed to be a spontaneous manifestation of Shiva, and thus carries greater sanctity than an image created and consecrated by human beings. The site is so high and remote that pilgrimage there takes place only during the month of Shravan (July–August), when the snow has melted enough to give access to the site. The annual pilgrimage season is thus so brief that it becomes difficult to do in-depth study; Hassnain, et al. 1987 is one of the few.

    • Hassnain, F. M., Yoshiaki Miura, and Vijay Pandita. Sri Amarnath Cave: The Abode of Shiva. New Delhi: Nirmal, 1987.

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      The text’s useful ethnographic material is confined to the first chapter, which describes the Amarnath cave and the annual pilgrimage to it. The bulk of the remaining text focuses on the site’s sacred history—the Sanskrit charter text describing how Shiva came to reside there.

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    Ayodhya

    Hindus currently consider Ayodhya as the birthplace and home of Rama, divine warrior and hero of the epic Ramayana. Since the 1980s, it has become India’s most contested religious site, as Hindu nationalists have struggled to build—or as its supporters would claim, rebuild—a Rama temple on the site occupied for almost four hundred years by the Babri Masjid, a Muslim mosque. Bakker 1991 details this developing communal tension, and the real possibility (sadly, proved true) that it would lead to widespread violence. Yet Bakker 1986, an earlier and far more detailed monograph, concludes that Ayodhya’s religious identity had shifted considerably over time, and that Rama became the site’s primary deity only in the 15th and 16th centuries.

    • Bakker, Hans. Ayodhya. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1986.

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      Bakker’s magisterial study surveys Ayodhya’s development from the 7th century to the 18th. His work examines archaeological remains from Ayodhya’s sites and compares these with sites mentioned in Sanskrit pilgrimage texts. These latter sources point to a fluid and changing religious identity, in which sites formerly associated with Shiva or Vishnu were changed to associate them with Rama.

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    • Bakker, Hans. “Ayodhya, a Hindu Jerusalem: An Investigation of Holy War as a Religious Idea in the Light of Communal Unrest in India.” Numen 38.1 (June 1991): 20–109.

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      Bakker’s article, which was published eighteen months before the Babri Masjid was razed in December 1992, concludes that the deteriorating relationships between Hindus and Muslims in India have for the first time made a “holy war” between the two communities possible.

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    Braj

    The Braj region (south of Delhi on the Yamuna River) is the childhood home of the god Krishna, and for this reason it is the center for Krishna devotion. As with Ayodhya, Braj’s sacred sites were both “lost” and “recovered,” and it has been a contested site for two competing groups, though in this case both were Hindus. Entwistle 1987 provides a thorough and detailed examination for the entire region, as well as documenting how the site has changed over time. Vaudeville 1976 describes how the competition between the followers of Chaitanya and Vallabhacharya shaped the sacred landscape of modern Braj. This sectarian split is still evident in modern times. Toomey centered his research in the region around Mount Govardhan (Toomey 1994), which still has a strong Vallabhite presence. Hawley and Case both worked with devotees from the Chaitanya tradition, now known as the Gaudiya Vaishnavas (Hawley 1981, Case 2000). These three latter sources all stress the importance of visualization, a devotional practice in which one imagines taking part in the deity’s divine play (lila); through this devotional practice Krishna becomes “present” in one’s everyday life.

    • Case, Margaret H. Seeing Krishna: The Religious World of a Brahmin Family in Vrindaban. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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      Case profiles the Goswamis, a Gaudiya Vaishnava family whose forebears were sent by Chaitanya to settle in the region. The book not only details the family’s ongoing engagement with Krishna throughout their lives—including a wonderful chapter on the funeral ceremonies for the family’s matriarch—but also shows how this practice shapes their view of reality.

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    • Entwistle, Alan W. Braj: Centre of Krishna Pilgrimage. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1987.

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      An exhaustive survey of the Braj region’s multiple dimensions—mythical, geographical, and historical—combined with a short chapter describing typical pilgrimage rituals.

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    • Hawley, John Stratton, and Srivatsa Goswami. At Play With Krishna: Pilgrimage Dramas from Brindavan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981.

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      Hawley’s introduction describes pilgrimage to Brindavan, and some important temples and festivals. This is followed by four “dramas” illustrating different events in Krishna’s life, from birth to the arrival of the messenger who will take him away forever. These dramas are entertainment, but in giving visitors the ability to “see” Krishna’s activity, they are also worship.

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    • Toomey, Paul M. Food from the Mouth of Krishna: Feasts and Festivals in a North Indian Pilgrimage Centre. Delhi: Hindustan Publishing, 1994.

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      Toomey particularly focuses on the area surrounding Mount Govardhan and the rituals and festivals that take place there. Whether public or private, these rituals almost invariably entail food offerings, and Toomey shows how in the context of these sacred sites an everyday activity (cooking and eating) can become an act of worship.

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    • Vaudeville, Charlotte. “Braj, Lost and Found.” Indo-Iranian Journal 18.1–2 (June–July 1976): 195–213.

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      Vaudeville discusses how the sacred sites in the Braj region were first “lost” and then “rediscovered” in the early 16th century by Vallabhacharya (founder of the Pushti Marg), by Chaitanya (founder of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas), and by their disciples.

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    Benares

    Benares (recently spelled Banaras) is the anglicized form of Varanasi, a city on the Ganges in eastern Uttar Pradesh that is one of India’s most important pilgrimage sites. The city’s patron deity is Shiva, and its sacred heart is the region immediately surrounding the ancient Vishvanath temple. This is surrounded by a larger region known as Avimukta (“never-forsaken” by Shiva), which is itself surrounded by the larger regions of Varanasi and finally Kashi; Singh 1987 gives a good overview of the city’s differing sacred zones. As this is one of the Seven Sacred Cities in which death brings final liberation, significant numbers of people come to Benares to die; the arrangements to process the dead are described in Parry 1980 (cited under Pilgrim Guides). As at many other pilgrimage sites, Benares has a dense network of subsites—one of the claims is that it contains all of India’s sacred sites—and these are documented in great detail in both Sherring 1868 and Eck 1982. As the home of the poet Tulsidas (among other religious figures), it has become an important site for Vaishnavas as well as Shaivas, particularly because of the month-long Ram Lila in nearby Ramnagar. Humes and Hertel 1993 begins with several fine essays devoted to this Ram Lila and continues with essays devoted to other aspects of the city’s religious identity. As with many other pilgrimage sites, the city’s history is far more complex than its sacred narrative would indicate, and both Bakker 1996 and Gesler and Pierce 2000 point out how its identity has shifted over time. Finally, Camerini 1970 and Binford and Camerini 1975 provide valuable visual images for understanding traditional religious life in Benares, although their relative age means that they must be used with caution.

    • Bakker, Hans. “Construction and Reconstruction of Sacred Space in Varanasi.” Numen 43.1 (1996): 32–55.

      DOI: 10.1163/1568527962598368Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Bakker compares textual and archeological evidence to argue that the sacred geography of contemporary Benares dates from the 13th–14th centuries CE. His general conclusions parallel that of his larger study on Ayodhya—namely, that even though pilgrimage sites supposedly have an enduring identity, they have often undergone significant changes.

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    • Binford, Mira Reym, and Michael Camerini, dir. An Indian Pilgrimage: Kashi. Madison, WI: Center for South Asia, 1975.

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      This film follows two Telugu-speaking Brahmin families during their pilgrimage to Benares, and shows their pilgrimage rites and their relationship with their hereditary pilgrim guide (panda). This film focuses on the rituals and Brahmanical values articulated in the Sanskrit-based “great” tradition, and thus conveys an accurate but incomplete picture.

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    • Camerini, Michael, dir. Banaras. Madison, WI: Center for South Asia, 1970.

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      This documentary film gives valuable visual images, but its age means that they will have to be carefully contextualized.

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    • Eck, Diana L. Banaras, City of Light. New York: Knopf, 1982.

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      A hymn of praise to the holiness of Benares, based primarily on the mahatmya literature (texts written to praise some place or thing), and the geography of the city itself. Though the text draws an idealized picture of Benares, it also vividly conveys the city’s sacred quality for Hindus.

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    • Gesler, Wilbert M., and Margaret Pierce. “Hindu Varanasi.” Geographical Review 90.2 (April 2000): 222–237.

      DOI: 10.2307/216120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      As geographers, Gesler and Pierce do a good job of discussing changes in Varanasi’s constructed environment and the connections between this environment and notions of sacred space, though they seem to accept idealized notions of sacred space without much critical thought. They are less adept in understanding and interpreting culturally enjoined behaviors, particularly those connected with cremation and death rituals.

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    • Humes, Cynthia, and Bradley Hertel, eds. Living Banaras: Hindu Religion in Cultural Context. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

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      An interesting collection of essays. The first three are devoted to the Ramnagar Ram Lila and thus have a more unified quality. The other essays are all individually sound, but since each treats a different topic within the common geographic framework—some are focused on places, and others on groups—there is no strong common theme tying them together.

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    • Sherring, M. A. The Sacred City of the Hindus: An Account of Benares. London: Trubner, 1868.

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      An invaluable historical resource, despite Sherring’s colonial and religious biases—he was a Protestant missionary and hoped to convert the Hindus to Christianity. Sherring’s text gives a detailed description of contemporary Benares and its sacred sites, and thus provides a reliable description of the city’s geography at that moment in time.

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    • Singh, Rana P. B. “The Pilgrimage Mandala of Varanasi (Kasi): A Study in Sacred Geography.” National Geographical Journal of India 33.4 (1987): 493–524.

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      This article discusses the differing layers of the city’s sacred geography, as well as the symbolization of landscape.

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    Diaspora

    For most of its history, Hindu mythic imagination has restricted Hindu sacred sites to the Indian subcontinent. This is still largely true, and an important practice for nonresident Indians is visiting these sacred sites, as a way to reconnect with their cultural heritage. Yet as Hindus have traveled, lived, and eventually settled outside of India, they have also found holy places in their new homes. Indians emigrated from India in several distinct waves. The first wave was predominantly indentured agricultural laborers—mainly Bhojpuri speakers from present-day Bihar—traveling to work on sugar plantations in Mauritius, Fiji, and the Caribbean. These migrants tended to be poor and uneducated, and these communities abroad were culturally isolated from India. Cascaro and Zimmerman 1987 describes the kanvar pilgrimage to Grand Bassin Lake in Mauritius as an attempt by these migrants to sacralize their new home, based on a ritual pattern drawn from their homeland; Prorok 1988 describes how Trinidad’s cultural isolation prompted new and different pilgrimage patterns there. Changes in US immigration laws after 1945 shifted the demographics of emigration to people who were highly educated and relatively affluent. Many of these immigrants initially came for higher education—with every intention of returning home afterward—but instead found themselves staying on. When these migrants finally accepted that they and the community had left India for good, they began to build temples in their new homelands, to serve as cultural and community centers as well as places of worship. The first such temple in the United States was Pittsburgh’s Shri Venkateshvara temple. This was built with support from Tirupati’s Venkateshvara temple, which has since given financial help to build other temples in the diaspora. As the first large temple in the United States, the Pittsburgh temple attracted considerable attention. Bhardwaj and Rao 1988 discusses its emergence as a pilgrimage site but is more concerned with the visitor demographics. Hess 1990 and Narayanan 1992 both focus more on the site’s ceremonial and religious importance; the latter in particular discusses the attempts to re-create a South Indian context in south central Pennsylvania. Baumann 2006 shifts the focus to Germany, and how patterns from Sri Lanka have been transplanted there.

    • Baumann, Martin. “Performing Vows in Diasporic Contexts: Tamil Hindus, Temples, and Goddesses in Germany.” In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman, 129–144. Albany: State University of New York, 2006.

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      Baumann’s essay highlights how religious vows performed by Sri Lankan Tamils throughout Germany transplant and reconstruct the Sri Lankan cultural context. As the community has become established, there has been a wider variety of transplanted practices, but far less stress on creating new ones, indicating that such practices help to preserve ethnic and religious identity.

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    • Bhardwaj, S. M., and Madhusudana Rao. “Emerging Hindu Pilgrimage Places in the United States: A Case Study.” In Pilgrimage in World Religions: Presented to Prof. Dr. Angelika Sievers on the Occasion of Her 75th Birthday. Edited by S. M. Bhardwaj and Gisbert Rinschede, 159–188. Geographia Religionum 4. Berlin: Reimer, 1988.

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      This article focuses on the Shri Venkateshvara temple near Pittsburgh but is more concerned with analyzing the geographical demographics of its devotees than with the temple’s explicitly religious aspects.

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    • Cascaro, P., and R. Zimmerman. “Du Gange a Grand-Bassin, le Pelerinage de Mahashivaratri a l’Ile Maurice.” In Histoire des pelerinages non chrétiens: Entre magique et sacre, le chemin des dieux. Edited by Jean Chelini and Henry Branthomme, 217–227. Paris: Hachette, 1987.

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      This fascinating article describes establishing a kanvar pilgrimage—a foot pilgrimage in which devotees carry water to offer to Shiva—on the island of Mauritius in the late 19th century. This mimics a ritual at Bihar’s Vaidyanath temple and was an attempt both to reinforce community pride among these indentured laborers, and to sacralize their new home.

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    • Hess, Ron, prod. and dir. Pilgrimage to Pittsburgh. Madison, WI: Center for South Asia, 1990.

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      Shot in 1987, this film records the tenth anniversary celebration of the Pittsburgh Venkateshvara temple. The film includes shots of the celebration’s ceremonial aspects, as well as interviews with visitors and their children.

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    • Narayanan, Vasudha. “Creating the South Indian ‘Hindu’ Experience in the United States.” In A Sacred Thread: Modern Transmission of Hindu Traditions in India and Abroad. Edited by Raymond Brady Williams, 147–176, 319–322. Chambersburg, PA: Anima, 1992.

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      Narayanan describes the process of “sanctifying” the local landscape around the Shri Venkateshvara temple, and the community’s efforts to create a holy place there. One of the important threads running through the piece is her informants’ continuing efforts to explain traditional religious practices as “scientific” or “rational”; these are clearly efforts to harmonize traditions with modernity.

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    • Prorok, Carolyn. “Patterns of Pilgrimage Behavior Among Hindus of Trinidad.” In Pilgrimage in World Religions: Presented to Prof. Dr. Angelika Sievers on the Occasion of Her 75th Birthday. Edited by S. M. Bhardwaj and Gisbert Rinschede, 189–199. Geographia Religionum 4. Berlin: Reimer, 1988.

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      Prorok describes pilgrimage behaviors in Trinidad, to which Indians emigrated to work as laborers in the sugarcane fields. She notes that various factors in Trinidad have diminished the importance of pilgrimage in local religious life—in particular, the dearth of people versed in traditional learning, and the community’s extended period of cultural isolation from India.

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    Gangasagar

    Sagar Island is in West Bengal’s Sunderbans delta and marks where the Ganges River meets the ocean. As at other transitional spots on the Ganges, Gangasagar is deemed an especially holy place. The site is marked by a temple to the sage Kapila (whose anger in killing King Sagar’s sixty thousand sons set in motion the mythic chain of events that brought the Ganges down from heaven to earth), and Gangasagar’s most important annual festival occurs on Makar Sankranti, the day when the sun is deemed to begin its northward journey. Amado 1970 gives one of the only descriptions of this site.

    • Amado, M. Pierre. “Ganga-Sagar, lieu de pèlerinage à l’embouchure du Gange: Quelques caractères géographiques, historiques et religieux.” Annuaire de L’École Pratique des Hautes Études 103 (1970): 709–725.

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      Amado’s article describes Gangasagar from three different perspectives. He begins with the geographic context describing the Ganges River delta and continues with the history of Gangasagar from the earliest recorded times; the final section discusses the site’s religious importance, and some of the particular rituals performed there.

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    Gaya

    Gaya is a city on the Phalgu River (a Ganges tributary) in modern Bihar in eastern India. It is best known as a place to perform the final funerary rites, in which ashes from the cremation pyre are immersed in a sacred river. Gaya draws people for this rite from a very large area all over eastern India and was important enough to be considered as one of the “Three Holy Cities” (tristhali), along with Prayag and Benares. The one substantial text devoted to Gaya is Vidyarthi 1961, which studies Gaya by focusing on three dimensions: Sacred Center, Sacred Performances, and Sacred Specialists. This three-part model provided a ready-made template for further site studies by Vidyarthi and by his students.

    • Vidyarthi, L. P. The Sacred Complex in Hindu Gaya. Bombay: Asia Publishing, 1961.

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      A good ethnography describing the sacred site and the sacred specialists, but it completely ignores the pilgrims themselves, giving the site’s description a strangely depopulated feel. It also suffers from the underlying premise that pilgrimage sites connect the “great” and “little” cultural traditions—terms that are both indistinct and hard to define.

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    Janakpur

    Janakpur is a city in southeastern Nepal that has been identified as the home of King Janaka, father of Sita in the Ramayana; Janakpur is thus Sita’s childhood home. Not surprisingly, Janakpur is most important to Vaishnava pilgrims, particularly the Ramanandi ascetics, who are devoted to Rama and Sita. As with Ayodhya and Benares, Janakpur’s ancient history seems to be a modern construction, as Burghart 1978 clearly demonstrates.

    • Burghart, Richard. “The History of Janakpur.” Kailash 6.4 (1978): 257–284.

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      Burghart’s article examines both oral tradition and historical evidence to investigate the history of Janakpur. These lead him to conclude that Vaishnava ascetics “rediscovered” Janakpur in the early 18th century. Later in that century ascetics were given land grants by the local rulers, which enabled them to build institutions, attract patronage, and make Janakpur a permanent settlement.

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    Kataragama

    Even though Kataragama is in southern Sri Lanka—and thus outside the Indian subcontinent—it is included as an “Indian” site and not a “diaspora” site because it falls within the South Indian cultural orbit. Kataragama is an autochthonous deity identified as a form of Skanda/Murukan—the former representing the Sanskritic, “all-India” Hindu tradition, and the latter a South Indian Tamil deity. The site is visited by people from all over Sri Lanka, including many from the Buddhist majority community, and these conflicting cultural pressures have fashioned an eclectic and unique religious identity. Several articles attempt to use Kataragama as a lens to focus on Sri Lanka’s contemporary politics and culture, such as Obeyesekare 1977, Pfaffenberger 1979, and Nissan 1988—though the first two articles were written before the start of Sri Lanka’s long and bloody civil war. Other sources focus on contemporary religious practice. Gunasekhara 2006 details the ritual vows of Buddhists there, and Holt and Higbee 2007 follows a group of Hindu pilgrims as they walk to Kataragama along Sri Lanka’s eastern coast.

    • Gunasekhara, Sunil. “Bara: Buddhist Vows at Kataragama.” In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman, 107–128. Albany: State University of New York, 2006.

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      Gunasekhara’s essay focuses on Buddhist vows at Kataragama, which are very common, despite the seeming contradiction of Buddhists making vows to a Hindu deity. The vows’ premise is a contractual model, in which the devotee asks for a favor and promises various responses if the favor is granted—the identical pattern found in Hindu religious vows.

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    • Holt, Samuel, and Ethan Higbee, dir. Haro Hara: Pilgrimage to Kataragama Sri Lanka. New York: Nomad Productions, 2007.

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      This documentary film has excellent visual images of the foot pilgrimage down Sri Lanka’s eastern coast to Kataragama, and also of the ceremonies at the temple itself, but the film as a whole lacks a strong story line.

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    • Nissan, Elizabeth. “Polity and Pilgrimage Centres in Sri Lanka.” Man n.s. 23.2 (June 1988): 253–274.

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      Nissan’s article focuses on the contemporary political significance of three Sri Lankan pilgrimage centers—Kandy, Anaradhapura, and Kataragama—each of which appeals to a different clientele in the Sri Lankan political landscape. In this landscape, Kataragama is associated with ecstatic devotion in which pilgrims make vows to the god to obtain concrete temporal benefits.

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    • Obeyesekare, Gananath. “Social Change and the Deities: Rise of the Kataragama Cult in Modern Sri Lanka.” Man n.s. 12.3/4 (December 1977): 377–396.

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      Obeyesekare argues that the rise of Kataragama pilgrimage in modern Sri Lanka stems from economic and social change, and especially reflects the frustrated aspirations of modern urban Buddhists seeking to gain the “goods” of modern society.

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    • Pfaffenberger, Bryan. “The Kataragama Pilgrimage: Hindu Buddhist Interaction and its Significance in Sri Lanka’s Polyethnic Social System.” Journal of Asian Studies 39.2 (February 1979): 253–270.

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      Even though Kataragama attracts both Hindus and Buddhists, the article denies that this reflects communal amity, since the two groups do very different things. Tamil Hindu pilgrimage upholds the traditional social system, particularly the supremacy of the Vellalar landholding caste, whereas Buddhist pilgrimage reflects the breakdown of traditional village rites due to social change.

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    Kumbha Mela

    The Kumbha Mela is almost certainly the world’s largest religious festival. It is celebrated in four different pilgrimage sites—Hardwar, Prayag, Ujjain, and Nasik—and generally returns to each site after twelve years. The festival’s primary ritual activity is bathing in sacred rivers (the Ganges, Shipra, and Godavari), and each festival’s timing is astrologically determined by the zodiacal positions of the sun, moon, and Jupiter (whose journey around the sun takes just under twelve years, hence the festival’s timing). The festival’s primary ritual actors are the ascetic groups known as akharas, who travel to the bathing places on the holiest days in elaborately scripted processions; Lochtefeld 2008 details the logistical problems that have attended these. Festival attendance has increased steadily through the 20th century, and 50 to 100 million people visit during the several months that each festival runs. As the festival’s visitor numbers and logistical complexity have grown, the government (beginning with the British colonial government) has steadily played a greater and greater role in running and managing the festival. Despite the festival’s importance, many contemporary sources remain content either to repeat the festival’s mythic history or to focus on surface-level description, though this latter can provide stunning visual imagery, as Elder 2009 clearly shows. The earliest reliable sources are Amado 1972 and Amado 1974, which briefly describe Kumbha Melas at Prayag and Hardwar in 1966, 1962, and 1974. Amado 1977 points out the interesting discrepancy that Prayag’s 1977 Kumbha Mela was held even though the astrological conditions were unfulfilled. Several sources focus primarily on Prayag, which is the largest of the four festival venues: Dubey 2001 discusses the festival in the context of the site, and MacLean 2003 investigates the festival’s growth against the background of colonialism. The article giving the best overall introduction to the festival and its history is Lochtefeld 2004; Dubey 1987 also gives a good overview, though slanted toward Prayag.

    • Amado, M. Pierre. “La Kumbha-Mela de Prayag en 1966: Tradition et modernité.” Annuaire de L’École Pratique des Hautes Études 105 (1972): 657–661.

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      This brief article is one of the earliest academic works on the Kumbha Mela; Amado attempts to use the 1966 Prayag festival as a lens through which to observe social change in India.

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    • Amado, M. Pierre. “La Kumbha-Mela de Hardwar en 1962 et 1974: Permanance et changement.” Annuaire de L’École Pratique des Hautes Études 107 (1974): 921–929.

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      This brief article compares the 1962 and 1974 Hardwar Kumbha Melas, in an effort to discern social change in contemporary India.

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    • Amado, M. Pierre. “Histoire de la civilisation de la vallée du Gange. À propos de la Kumbha-Mela de 1977: Tradition et information.” Annuaire de L’École Pratique des Hautes Études 110 (1977): 1113–1118.

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      This brief article surveys Prayag’s 1977 Kumbha Mela and notes the festival had been celebrated even though the astrological conditions were incorrect—Jupiter is supposed to be in Taurus, but retrograde motion had carried it back into Aries during the festival days.

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    • Dubey, D. P. “Kumbha Mela: Origin and Historicity of India’s Greatest Pilgrimage Fair.” National Geographical Journal of India 33.4 (1987):469–492.

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      This short but largely reliable article concisely describes each of the four festivals, and the conditions under which each occurs. Dubey lives in Allahabad and teaches at Allahabad University, so the bulk of his attention is understandably focused on Prayag.

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    • Dubey, D. P. Prayaga, the Site of the Kumbha Mela: In Temporal and Traditional Space. New Delhi: Aryan Books International, 2001.

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      As the title indicates, the book is primarily devoted to Prayag as a pilgrimage site, although much of the book is about Prayag’s Kumbha Mela.

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    • Elder, Joseph W., ed. Allahabad’s Mela: The People and Their Great Fair. Madison, WI: Center for South Asia, 2009.

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      An edited version of Sudheer Gupta’s eighty-nine-minute film Searching for Sarasvati, this film interviews devotees and visitors at the 2001 Prayag Kumbha Mela. The Kumbha Mela is an overwhelming spectacle, and visual media are an especially effective way to convey this quality.

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    • Lochtefeld, James G. “The Construction of the Kumbha Mela.” South Asian Popular Culture 2.2 (October 2004): 103–126.

      DOI: 10.1080/1474668042000275707Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This article convincingly shows that the modern Kumbha Mela (one festival, four sites) is relatively recent, probably from the late 19th century, and that the festival’s ubiquitous charter myth was probably composed in the 20th century to link several preexisting festivals.

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    • Lochtefeld, James G. “Getting in Line: The Kumbha Mela Festival Processions.” In South Asian Religions on Display: Religious Procession in South Asia and in the Diaspora. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 29–44. London: Routledge, 2008.

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      The Kumbha Mela’s central ritual agents are the ascetic akharas—organized bands with a long history as traders and mercenary soldiers—who travel to the bathing places in triumphal processions. Since a group’s place in the bathing order reflects its status, the Kumbha Mela’s past has often been marked by bloody conflict, and its present by strict government supervision.

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    • Maclean, Kama. “Making the Colonial State Work for You: The Modern Beginnings of the Ancient Kumbha Mela in Allahabad.” Journal of Asian Studies 62.3 (August 2003): 873–905.

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      Maclean argues that Prayag’s Kumbha Mela begins only after the 1857 rebellion. The area around Allahabad had been a hotbed of resistance, and local elites sought to draw on the Hardwar Kumbha Mela’s established prestige to create a festival that the authorities would be reluctant to ban.

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    Maharashtra

    Maharashtra is a transitional zone between the North Indian Gangetic Plain and Dravidian South India. As such, its religious life tends to be different from the surrounding areas, with greater emphasis on regional cults and communities. Maharashtra has one of the few religious groups for whom Ganesh is the primary deity, and Courtright 1985 discusses the Ganpatyas and their shrine network in his work on the god Ganesh. Stanley 1977 focuses on the regional deity Khandoba, a form of Shiva with temples throughout Maharashtra. Feldhaus 1986 shows how the Mahanubhav sect considered Maharashtra as a holy land that one should not leave, and the chapters in Feldhaus 2003 each describe a differing festival or sacred site in Maharashtra, and the connections between them. One of Maharashtra’s most celebrated religious sites is Pandharpur’s Vithoba temple. Vithoba is a regional deity, and the temple is in the transitional region close to Karnataka; Karve 1962 (cited under Pilgrimage Accounts) describes pilgrimages to Pandharpur, as does Stanley 1992, whereas Deleury 1960 gives a thorough account of the site itself.

    • Courtright, Paul B. Ganesa: Lord of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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      Chapter 5 describes the pilgrimage network of the Ganpatyas, a sectarian Hindu group who worship Ganesh as their primary deity, and whose eight primary shrines are scattered throughout the region.

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    • Deleury, G. A. The Cult of Vithoba. Poona, India: Deccan College, 1960.

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      An early monograph written by a Jesuit scholar. Deleury examines the history and development of Pandharpur, Vithoba, and the Varkari sect, and lays out the Varkari pilgrimage routes that converge on Pandharpur twice a year.

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    • Feldhaus, Anne. “Maharashtra as a Holy Land: A Sectarian Tradition.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 49.3 (1986): 532–548.

      DOI: 10.1017/S0041977X00045080Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      This piece explores the notions of Maharashtra as a holy land found in the writings of the Mahanubhav sect, a Maharashtrian religious community.

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    • Feldhaus, Anne. Connected Places: Region, Pilgrimage, and Geographical Imagination in India. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

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      Each of the book’s chapters describes a different place or festival in Maharashtra. The parts are interesting and ably done, but despite the book’s title, the connections between them are less clearly articulated.

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    • Stanley, John M. “Special Time, Special Power: The Fluidity of Power in a Popular Hindu Festival.” Journal of Asian Studies 37.1 (1977): 27–43.

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      This describes the worship of Khandoba, a regional Maharashtrian deity identified with Shiva, whose primary temple is in the town of Jejuri, about thirty miles southeast of Pune.

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    • Stanley, John M. “The Great Maharashtrian Pilgrimage: Pandharpur and Alandi.” In Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Edited by E. Alan Morinis, 65–88. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.

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      This examines the pilgrimage to Pandharpur and particularly focuses on the group following in the footsteps of the saint Jnaneshvar; the article’s latter part lays out the dominant themes in the pilgrims’ experience.

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    Nathdwara

    A town in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district, Nathdwara owes its importance to the temple of Shri Nath Ji. An image of Krishna originally located in the Braj region, Shri Nath Ji was moved to Nathdwara late in the 17th century because of worries arising from the Emperor Aurangzeb’s iconoclasm. The temple is controlled by the Vallabha sect (also known as the Pushti Marg), and the temple’s importance and the pilgrim traffic it brought stimulated the growth of other shrines surrounding it. The only in-depth study of the site is Jindel 1976; Jindel ably describes the various facets of the town’s culture, but its description stays largely at the surface level.

    • Jindel, Rajendra. Culture of a Sacred Town: A Sociological Study of Nathdwara. Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1976.

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      Jindel gives a good description of the history and development of the Nathdwara temple, the institutions that developed around it (particularly customs for dividing patronage), and the temple’s affects on the town and the larger region.

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    Orissa

    Orissa’s relative geographical isolation—bounded on the west by the Western Ghats and to the north by the Chota Nagpur plateau—has meant that its connections with the larger Indian culture have been filtered and transformed in characteristically regional ways. For example, whereas North Indian temple architecture tends to have a series of smaller peaks leading to a dominant central spire, Orissan temples tend to magnify the main spire and shrink entrance porches into insignificance. The most famous example of this architecture and by far Orissa’s most important pilgrimage site is the temple of Jagannath in Puri. For a long time, Puri was the capital city of a regional empire, and was considered to be actually ruled by the god Jagannath (an autochthonous deity later identified as a form of Krishna), for whom the king served as a regent. Marglin 1985 interrogates the connections between kings and the rituals at the Jagannath temple, and particularly how such rites promoted auspiciousness for individuals and the realm. Eschmann, et al. 1978 gives the most thorough account not only of the temple itself but also how it affected the region’s social and political economy. One of these essays describes the periodic re-creation of Jagannath’s unusual image—a large log of wood with broadly painted designs. The image’s artistic form and the tribal groups connected with its construction are one piece of evidence for the deity’s autochthonous origin. Gupta 2000 films the creation of this image during one of its periodic re-creations. A different perspective on Orissa comes in Freeman 1975. This examines religious change in the city of Bhubaneshvar and notes that the decline in certain traditional forms of religiosity was balanced by a greater emphasis on new forms.

    • Eschmann, Anncharlott, Hermann Kulke, and Gaya Charan Tripathi, eds. The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa. New Delhi: Manohar, 1978.

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      A collection of twenty-five essays examining how Orissa’s regional traditions reflect the interaction between classical Hindu and autochthonous local traditions. This is by far the widest-ranging and most authoritative source.

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    • Freeman, James M. “Religious Change in a Hindu Pilgrimage Center.” Review of Religious Research 16.2 (Winter 1975): 124–133.

      DOI: 10.2307/3510522Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      Examines religious change in Bhubaneshvar (Orissa) resulting from changing demographics and economics, marked by a shift away from traditional ritualism at the Kapileshvar temple (the city’s traditional sacred center) to more popular religious practices such as the Durga Puja.

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    • Gupta, Sudheer, dir. Darubrahma (“Wooden Lord”): Jagannath’s Re-Creation in Puri, India. Madison, WI: Center for South Asia, 2000.

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      This film shows the periodic re-creation of the three images in the Jagannath temple—the god Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra. The images are re-created when the intercalary lunar month (an extra month added to adjust the calendar) is in the month of Ashadh; this condition usually takes place every twelve or nineteen years.

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    • Marglin, Frédérique. Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadasis of Puri. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

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      The devadasis were female temple servants who were considered to be married to the deity Jagannath; Marglin’s text primarily emphasizes their connection with auspiciousness and (through the rituals they perform in conjunction with the king) with sovereignty.

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    Ramdevra

    Ramdevra is in the Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan. Pilgrims travel there to visit the grave of Baba Ramdev, who is venerated by Hindus as a manifestation of Krishna and by Muslims as a Sufi saint. Devotees come from great distances during the site’s primary festival, held during the monsoon month of Bhadon (August–September). As at many other shrines, the primary pattern at Ramdevra is to seek the saint’s help in resolving worldly problems. Mira Reym Binford was part of the documentary film team from the Center for South Asia sent to Ramdevra’s annual festival. Her work there gave her the context for Binford 1976; Binford and Camerini 1974 shows the pilgrimage itself.

    • Binford, Mira Reym. “Mixing in the Color of Ram and Ranuja: A Folk Pilgrimage to the Grave of a Rajput Hero-Saint.” In Hinduism: New Essays in the History of Religions. Edited by Bardwell L. Smith, 120–142. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1976.

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      Binford came to Ramdevra as part of the team making a documentary film about its pilgrimage. The article’s information overlaps with that in the film but includes interesting additions, such as Ramdevra’s changing demographics—his primary devotees used to be untouchables, especially leatherworkers, but the cult is now spreading among newly urbanized mercantile and artisan castes.

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    • Binford, Mira Reym, and Michael Camerini, dir. An Indian Pilgrimage: Ramdevra. Madison, WI: Center for South Asia, 1974.

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      This film follows a group of Bombay pilgrims to the shrine of Baba Ramdev, documents the wishes with which they have come there, and shows the rituals and worship they perform there.

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    Sabari Malai

    Sabari Malai is a temple in the hills of the Western Ghats sacred to Aiyappa, a regional deity who is the son of Shiva and Vishnu (conceived while Vishnu had taken the form of an enchanting woman). It is an unusual pilgrimage not only because the temple is open for only about four months of the year but also because the pilgrims are almost exclusively male, since the pilgrimage is forbidden to women of childbearing age. Pilgrims going to Sabari Malai must undergo an extended period of preparation with many rules of diet, dress, and behavior, but the primary requirement is celibacy. Kjaerholm 1986 describes these rules in detail. In addition, the pilgrimage is both physically and mentally demanding, as Daniel 1984 and Osella and Osella 2003 (both cited under Pilgrim Accounts) describe at length.

    • Kjaerholm, Lars. “Myth, Pilgrimage, and Fascination in the Aiyappa Cult: A View from Fieldwork in Tamilnadu.” In South Asian Religion and Society. Edited by Asko Parpola and Bent Smidt Hansen. New York: Curzon, 1986.

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      The early and middle sections of the article contain detailed information about Aiyappa’s mythology and the pilgrims’ ascetic discipline. The final section attempts to establish what all of this “means” and is much less helpful for understanding the actual pilgrimage.

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    Shiwalik Hills

    The Shiwalik Hills are the boundary zone between the North Indian plain and the Himalayas, and its best-known pilgrimage sites are a group of nine shrines devoted to the Mother Goddess. Each shrine’s patron goddess has a different name and charter myth, but they are all considered to be manifestations of the same Great Mother Goddess. The single best source for these diverse shrines and the sort of worship that takes place at them is Erndl 1993.

    • Erndl, Kathleen. Victory to the Mother: The Hindu Goddess in Northwest India in Myth, Ritual, and Symbol. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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      The materials most relevant to pilgrimage come in the introduction, where Erndl discusses the contours of the research region, and in chapter 3, “The Call of the Goddess: The Dynamics of Pilgrimage,” where she describes the general rites performed on pilgrimage and recounts her own story of accompanying a group on a week-long pilgrimage to different Goddess temples.

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    Sufi Shrines

    Suffering knows no religious boundaries, and neither does the search for relief from it. Throughout South Asia and beyond, the tombs of Muslim Sufi saints are seen as places giving one access to divine grace and power, and they attract people from every Indian religious community. Narayanan 2006 and Uddin 2006 both describe how visits to these tombs and vows taken there—the former in South India, the latter in Bangladesh—help people to cope with life’s troubles and give them a sense of agency. South Asia’s most significant Sufi group is the Chishti order, founded by Mu’in al-din Chishti of Ajmer; Currie 1989 investigates the history of the saint and his shrine as well as modern religious practice there. The Chishtis’ second most important figure was Mu’in al-din’s spiritual great-grandson Nizamuddin Awliya, who lived in Delhi in the 13th century. Pinto 1989 gives a concise account of the life pressures that bring pilgrims to Nizamuddin’s tomb—and the sense of grace that brings them back even after their problems have been solved. Pinto 2006 is a longer and more thorough examination of the same shrine and its institutions.

    • Currie, P. M. The Shrine and Cult of Mu’in al-din Chishti of Ajmer. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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      The text’s first half surveys the biography and hagiography of Mu’in al-din Chishti (founder of the Chishti Sufi order), and the shrine complex associated with his tomb. The latter half examines contemporary pilgrim practices, and the administrative and logistical structures that make this possible—in particular, the pilgrim guides known as khadims.

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    • Narayanan, Vasudha. “Religious Vows at the Shrine of Shahul Hamid.” In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman, 65–86. Albany: State University of New York, 2006.

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      Narayanan’s study in Tamil Nadu notes that the shrine’s ritual idiom—the types of vows and their ritual form—is strikingly similar to those in South Indian Hindu temples, and that most of its visitors are Hindus. These similar practices—often described as family or local custom—point to the shrine as a place where conventional religious boundaries soften.

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    • Pinto, Desiderio. “The Mystery of the Nizamuddin Dargah: The Accounts of Pilgrims.” In Muslim Shrines in India: Their Character, History, and Significance. Edited by Christian Troll, 112–124. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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      This article briefly conveys how pilgrims to Nizamuddin’s tomb encounter the saint as an attentive and loving presence, ready to help them in whatever way they need. This sense of having received the saint’s love keeps many returning to the shrine even after their problems have been resolved.

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    • Pinto, Desiderio. Piri-Muridi Relationship: A Study of the Nizamuddin Dargah. New Delhi: Manohar, 2006.

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      A book-length study of the relationships between teachers and their disciples at the Nizamuddin Dargah.

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    • Uddin, Sufia. “In the Company of Pirs: Making Vows, Receiving Favors at Bangladeshi Sufi Shrines.” In Dealing with Deities: The Ritual Vow in South Asia. Edited by Selva J. Raj and William P. Harman, 87–106. Albany: State University of New York, 2006.

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      Uddin examines vows at three Sufi shrines in Bangladesh, stressing that the vows’ lack of formal structure is central to the shrines’ continued vitality. People do such vows in the manner they see fit, and this ritual fluidity gives illiterate and marginalized groups equal access to the shrine.

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    Tamil Nadu

    Tamil Nadu’s historic center is the fertile rice bowl of the Kaveri River delta, which provided the agricultural wealth that was the basis for several regional dynasties. This is a land and culture far from the Ganges River valley, and even though Sanskrit sources mention southern pilgrimage sites, these texts show a clear bias toward sites in the north. One primary difference in South India’s religious landscape has been the presence of enormous temples—in many cases built by kings, and thus reflecting royal patronage and status—that formed towns in their own right. One of the largest and most regionally important was the temple to the goddess Minakshi in Madurai. Reynolds 1987 describes how this temple historically formed Madurai’s geographic and ritual center; Elder 1976 reiterates these themes and also shows the temple’s continuing importance in Madurai’s religious life. These temples were also important nodes in sectarian religious networks; Peterson 1982 and Peterson 1983 both demonstrate that these networks have been stable for at least the past 1,200 years. As with many Indian regions, Tamil Nadu also has distinctive regional traditions: Clothey 1972 focuses on Murukun, a regional deity who has been brought into the pantheon as Shiva’s son Skanda; Younger 1980 examines the festival of the regional goddess Mariyamman; and Younger 1992 shows how the ritual patterns associated with Mariyamman have been transposed to the Virgin Mary’s shrine at Velankanni.

    • Clothey, Fred W. “Pilgrimage Centers in the Tamil Cultus of Murukun.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 40.1 (1972): 79–95.

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      This article clearly describes the Tamil Nadu shrine network to Murukun, an autochthonous forest deity who has been assimilated into the larger pantheon as Shiva’s son Skanda. The shrines reflect both aspects of Murukan’s background (that is, regional and pan-Indian) and thus help to integrate indigenous Tamil traditions with the larger cultural tradition.

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    • Elder, Joseph W., ed. “The Wedding of the Goddess” (Parts I and II). Madison, WI: Center for South Asia, 1976.

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      These films examine Madurai’s annual Chittirai festival, a nineteen-day festival marking the wedding of the city’s patron goddess Minakshi. Part 1 of the film gives historical background for the temple and festival, and Part 2 shows the festival’s contemporary celebration.

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    • Peterson, Indira V. “Singing of a Place: Pilgrimage as Metaphor and Motif in the Tevaram Songs of the Tamil Saivite Saints.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 102.1 (January–March 1982): 69–90.

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      This article focuses on the songs of the Tamil Saivite saints. One characteristic of these songs was their particularity: each song expressed the saint’s devotion to a particular image of Shiva in a particular temple, thus reinforcing for the Tamil audience both the notion of Shiva as a Tamil deity and their own linguistic and regional identity.

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    • Peterson, Indira V. “Lives of the Wandering Singers: Pilgrimage and Poetry in Tamil Saivite Hagiography.” History of Religions 22.4 (May 1983): 338–360.

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      This article focuses on the songs of the Tamil Saivite saints, and how the specific place names mentioned in these songs allow one to reconstruct the saints’ travels. These saints stressed devotion to Shiva, which their followers could express either by traveling to the places mentioned in the songs, or more simply by learning and singing the songs.

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    • Reynolds, Holly Baker. “Madurai: Koyil Nakar.” In The City as Sacred Center: Essays on Six Asian Contexts. Edited by Bardwell Smith and Holly Baker Reynolds, 12–44. New York: E. J. Brill, 1987.

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      An outstanding account of Madurai as a koyil nakar (temple city). The Minakshi-Sundareshvar temple was at the city center, which developed in layers around the temple so that the old city formed a stylized mandala. The temple’s centrality was also celebrated in ritual, since the goddess’s wedding was the high point of the festival year.

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    • Younger, Paul. “A Temple Festival of Mariyamman.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 48.4 (December 1980): 493–517.

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      Younger analyzes the Mariyamman temple festival of Samayapur and deftly connects various aspects of the temple, deity, and worship style to larger social and regional forces. As a powerful regional goddess, Mariyamman is not only associated with fertility and the quest for healing but also with resolving many other sorts of life troubles.

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    • Younger, Paul. “Velankanni Calling: Hindu Patterns of Pilgrimage at a Christian Shrine.” In Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Edited by E. Alan Morinis, 65–88. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1992.

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      Younger describes how ritual patterns directed toward the Virgin Mary at Velankanni reproduce ritual elements traditionally associated with the goddess Mariyamman. Yet this is more than simple copying, since the newly created Velankanni rites address contemporary social anxieties—especially to help resolve family discord, for which the Virgin Mary is seen as particularly effective.

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    Tarakeshvar

    Tarakeshvar is a Shaiva pilgrimage site in West Bengal, fifty-five miles west of Calcutta. This proximity to such a large population center—when combined with excellent transportation facilities, and the notion that at Tarakeshvar Shiva is a living presence who will grant the wishes of his devotees—makes it the most visited pilgrimage site in West Bengal. Tarakeshvar was one of the sites profiled in Morinis 1984 (cited under Analytical and Theoretical Works), and Morinis 1982 particularly examines the picture of the shrine and its patron deity in a popular film.

    Tirupati

    The Tirupati temple is reputedly the richest in India, and the temple’s management committee (Tirupati-Tirumala Devasthanams) has actively helped to establish temples outside India, including the Pittsburgh temple described in Diaspora. Tirupati’s patron deity, Venkateshvara, is an autochthonous deity who has been assimilated into the pantheon by identifying him as a form of Vishnu. As a wealthy and powerful institution, the temple has also had considerable regional economic influence. Ramesan 1981 and Sastry 1981 both give detailed accounts of the Tirupati temple’s history and regional importance; Ramesan also describes contemporary daily worship and pilgrim behavior. Stein 1960 discusses the Tirupati temple as an example of how such large temples were able to influence their regional economy.

    • Ramesan, Natesa. The Tirumala Temple. Tirupati, India: Tirumala Temple Committee, 1981.

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      A careful and exhaustive study of the Tirupati temple. Ramesan begins with the site’s geography—since the site’s seven hills are symbolically important—then moves through the temple’s daily religious rituals, architecture, and epigraphy, and finally surveys the temple’s importance during different historical eras.

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    • Sastry, Sadhu Subrahmanya. Tirupati Sri Venkatesvara. Tirupati, India: Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, 1981.

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      This text is also published by the temple’s management committee, but it takes a primarily historical perspective toward the temple and its importance.

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    • Stein, Burton. “The Economic Function of a Medieval South Indian Temple.” Journal of Asian Studies 19.2 (February 1960): 163–176.

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      This article examines the Tirupati temple’s historical importance as a regional economic center. Given the temple’s wealth and its position as both attracting and disbursing patronage, it served as an engine to circulate goods and services throughout the region.

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    Uttarakhand

    The newly created state of Uttarakhand, formed in 2000 from the hill districts of Uttar Pradesh state and their contiguous locales, has a long and illustrious history as a pilgrimage region. The locals refer to it as Devabhumi (“the land of the gods”) and consider it a place filled with power, as shown not only by its powerful deities and their temples but also by the healing powers imputed to its roots and herbs. Certainly one reason for the region’s sanctity is that it contains the multiple headwaters of the Ganges tributaries; the ancient temples, awe-inspiring landscape, vibrant local culture, and difficulty of access have all helped to reinforce the region’s sanctity. Fonia 1998 gives the best overall introduction to the region and its holy places; Kaur 1985 describes the area’s historical connection between pilgrimage and tourism, though her interest is promoting the latter. More specialized pictures can be found in Pinkney 2008, whose research area was the four pilgrimage sites known as the char dham: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. Of these, Gangotri was the field site for Oberdiek 1988, which focused on the sadhus living there, whereas Whitmore 2010 is a full-length study devoted to Kedarnath (town, temple, and deity) as a “complex agent” attracting pilgrims.

    • Fonia, Kedar Singh. The Traveler’s Guide to Uttarakhand. Joshimath, India: Garuda, 1998.

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      Fonia was the national tourism minister during the 1999–2004 BJP government and is still a member of Uttarakhand’s state legislature. Fonia’s text provides religious and practical information about sacred sites in Uttarakhand, though he gives far more attention to Garhwal than to Kumaon. Though not written for an academic audience, Fonia’s text nicely conveys Hindu reverence for these sites. First published under the title Uttarakhand: The Land of Jungles, Temples, and Snows (New Delhi: Lancers, 1987).

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    • Kaur, Jagdish. Himalayan Pilgrimages and the New Tourism. New Delhi: Himalayan Books, 1985.

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      The introduction and first chapter give a general overview on pilgrimage in the Hindu tradition and in the Garhwal Himalayas, but most of the book is concerned with how best to develop this region for tourism—that is, identifying the region’s assets and resources, and figuring out how to maximize these as tourist attractions.

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    • Oberdiek, Ulrich. “Sadhus in Gangotri.” In Pilgrimage in World Religions: Presented to Prof. Dr. Angelika Sievers on the Occasion of Her 75th Birthday. Edited by S. M. Bhardwaj and Gisbert Rinschede, 117–158. Geographia Religionum 4. Berlin: Reimer, 1988.

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      This gives a good overview of Gangotri, including descriptions by early Europeans. It was published the year after Gangotri became accessible by road—after which it grew uncontrollably—and his description and sketch of the town clearly show how things have changed since then.

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    • Pinkney, Andrea M. “The Sacred Share: Prasada in South Asia.” PhD diss., Columbia University, 2008.

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      Though particularly focused on the understanding of prasada (an often edible manifestation of the deity’s divine “grace”), chapter 3 explores this notion in sectarian contexts—Vaishnava, Shaiva, and Shakta—in the Garhwal’s “4-dham” pilgrimage circuit (Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath).

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    • Whitmore, Luke. “In Pursuit of Maheshvara: Understanding Kedarnath as Place and as Tirtha.” PhD diss., Emory University, 2010.

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      This work is a full-length ethnographic study of Kedarnath, one of the four major pilgrim centers in the Garhwal Himalaya. It is the first such in-depth work on any of these Himalayan shrines and focuses on the notion of Kedarnath (town, temple, and deity) as a “complex agent” attracting pilgrims.

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    Vaidyanath

    Vaidyanath (“Lord of Physicians”) is one of the twelve jyotirlingas, a set of shrines deemed especially sacred to Shiva, and is also the name for the manifestation of Shiva at that site. It is most famous for the kanvar pilgrimage, in which pilgrims walk seventy-eight miles from Sultanganj, carrying Ganges water to offer to Shiva; the Vaidyanath festival has become the model for similar festivals in Hardwar (Lochtefeld 2010, cited under Analytical and Theoretical Works), Tarakeshvar (Morinis 1984, cited under Analytical and Theoretical Works), and Mauritius (Cascaro and Zimmerman 1987, cited under Diaspora). Chaubey 1958 and Anand 1990 (see Pilgrim Accounts) both describe this pilgrim behavior in detail; the most detailed description of the site itself is Mitra 1883.

    • Mitra, R. “On the Temples of Deoghar.” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 53.2 (1883): 164–204.

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      Despite its age, Mitra’s article gives an excellent description of the Vaidyanath temple and its surroundings, including an engraved ground plan of the temple complex. The article also thoroughly reviews the site’s mythology and ritual practices, and descriptions of current pilgrimage reveal that these patterns have been remarkably consistent.

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    LAST MODIFIED: 01/27/2011

    DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195399318-0096

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