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Temples
 
India Where Gods Reside
 

India is covered with holy sites associated with the exploits of the Gods, the waters of a sacred river, or the presence of holy men. Texts called the Puranas (ancient lore in Sanskrit) contain lengthy sections that describe numerous sacred places and the merit gained by travelling to these in a devout manner. In fact, for many Indians pilgrimage is the preferred form of tourism.

Certain important sites are well known throughout India and attract hundreds of thousands of pilgrims annually. Probably the most significant is Varanasi (also known as Banaras, Benares, or Kashi) in south-eastern Uttar Pradesh on the north bank of the Ganga. It is sacred to Hindus Buddhists, and Jains, who flock to the gnats, or steps leading from temples down to the banks of the sacred Ganga , in their search for an auspicious site for clear cremation or immersion of ashes.

Hardwar, in Uttaranchal, far up the Ganga, in the foothills of the Himalayas, is the Varanasi of north-west India for Hindus and is a favourite spot for ritual bathing. Among numerous other destinations in the Himalayas are the holy sites of Badrinath Kedarnath. In southern India, rivers Kaveri, Krishna, and Godvari attract pilgrims to a large bathing sites.

Major temples such as the Ramalingesvara Temple in Ramesvaram, Tamil Nadu, where Ram and his army crossed over to Lanka to rescue Sita. Pandharpur, in Maharashtra, is the destination for many thousands of devotees of Vitthala, an incarnation of Vishnu, whose tradition goes back at least to the thirteenth century and was written about by the great Marathi bhakti poets Namdev, Tukaram, and Eknath. There are smaller sites for pilgrimages in India near almost every river or scenic hilltop.

 
Rituals and Beliefs
 
For many pilgrims, the process of getting to their destination involves preliminary vows and fasting, intensive cooperative efforts among different families and groups, extensive travelling on foot, and the constant singing of devotional songs. On arrival at pilgrimages in India, groups of pilgrims often make contact with priests who specialise in the pilgrim trade and for a fee plan the group's schedule and ritual activity. At some of the major sites, the families of the priests have served as hereditary guides for groups of pilgrims over many generations. Where a shrine is the focus, the devotee may circumambulate the buildings and wait in line for long hours just for a glimpse of the deity's image, as security personnel move the crowds along. At auspicious bathing sites, pilgrims may have to wade through the crush of other devotees to dip into the sacred waters of a river or a tank. Worshippers engaged in special vows or in praying for the cure of a loved one may purchase shrine amulets or foodstuffs, sanctified by the God's presence, to take to friends and family. Nearby, souvenir hawkers and shopkeepers and sometimes even amusement parks contribute to a lively atmosphere that is certainly part of the attraction of many pilgrimage sites.
 
Jagannath Temple, Puri
 

Where: 56 kms from Bhubaneswar.

For your information: Jagannath is the lord of the universe and incarnation of Vishnu. The temple was built in its present form way back in 1198. Puri is one of the four cardinal centres of pilgrimage, others being Dwarka in the west, Badrinath in the north and Rameswaram in the south.

Unfolds before you: An architectural splendour. The most significant aspects of the temple design are the soaring tower and the intricate carvings encompassing figures of Gods, people, plants, flowers and animals that cover every surface.

Soul-stirring attraction: Rath Yatra (car festival), one of India's greatest annual religious events held in July to commemorate the journey of Krishna from Gokul to Mathura. Attracts tourists from all over the world. It's a major tourist attraction.

 
Sun Temple, Konark
 

Where: 3 kms from the coast, 36 kms from Puri, 64 kms south-east from Bhubaneswar.

For your information: Constructed in the mid-13th century, it is thought to have been built by the Orissan King Narashimhadeva to celebrate his victory.

Unfolds before you: A gigantic chariot of architectural excellence. A continuous procession of carvings runs trough the entire structure.

Soul-stirring attraction: Konark Dance Festival held in December against the backdrop of the spectacular temple.

 
Belur and Halebid
 

Where: Belur-200 kms from Bangalore, Halebid-17 kms from Belur.

For your information: Belur is known as the southern Benaras as it is dotted with magnificent temples while Halebid is called Dwara Samudra, the wealthy capital of Hoysalas.

Unfolds before you: Exquisite Chennakeshava temple at Belur and Hoysaleshwara temple at Halebid, both known for their striking sculptural extravaganza.

 
Vishwanath Temple
 

Where: At Varanasi, 809 kms from New Delhi.

For your information: Viswanath Temple, dedicated to the Vishveswara-Shiva, the lord of the universe, was built in 1776 by Ahallya Bai of Indore and the 800 kg of gold plating which gives the temple its colloquial name was provided by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Lahore some 50 years later.

Varanasi titbits: Varanasi is sprinkled with a string of gnats lining the western bank of the Ganges and religious temples Durga Temple, Tulsi Manas Temple, Bharat Mata Temple.

 
Buddhist Relics at Sanchi
 

Where: 47 kms north of Bhopal.

For your information: Emperor Ashoka first built stupas or relics in the 311 century B.C. and a host of stupas and other religious structures were added over the succeeding centuries.

Unfolds before you: A mammoth original brick stupa enclosed within a stone—one with four entrances through magnificently carved gateways or toranas.

 
Khajuraho Temple
 

Where: 1 hr and 45 minutes by air from Delhi.

For your Information: Once a Chandela capital, Khajuraho is now famous for its erotic temples.

Unfolds before you: Sculptural excellence beautifully blended with architectural magnificence. Each and every sculpture mirrors the erotic aspect of human life.

Soul-stirring attraction: Khajuraho Dance Festival held in March. Classical dancers of rare merit perform with the floodlit temples providing a spectacular backdrop.

 
Vishnupur
 

Where: Located in Bankura district, West Bengal, 151 kms from Kolkata.

For your Information: From the 16th to the early 19th century Vishnupur flourished as the capital of Malla Kings who were great patrons of art and culture.

Unfolds before you: A string of spectacular terracotta temples.

Soul-stirring attraction: Jhapan Festival in August where snake charmers from different regions flock in to honour Devi Mansa – The Goddess of snakes.

Vishnupur titbits: Famous for its pottery, silk and terracotta handicrafts.

 
DID YOU KNOW?
World's First Granite Temple
 
The Brihadeswara Temple at Tanjavur in Tamil Nadu is the first temple in the world to be built with granite. The shikhara (top) is made from a single 80-tonne piece of granite. Also this magnificent temple was built in just five years (between 1004 and 1009 AD) during the reign of Rajaraja Chola.
 
 
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