India can be truly described as the land of temples; a land that pulsates with the devotion of the natives; a land where the tolling of the bells, the smell of the incense sticks and camphor permeate the air venerating the innumerable Gods, as per the Hindu religion. In this land there are seven holy tirthas or pilgrimage centres known as the Sapta Puri, where Gods in different incarnations known as avatars are believed to have descended. Sapta means seven and Puri means a town. It is believed that if one makes a pilgrimage to all the seven centres, one will attain Moksha or salvation. The word Teertha is derived from the Sanskrit word Tri which means to be rid of all sins, and the seven teerthas of spiritual importance, as per the Holy Scriptures in India are Ayodhya, Mathura, Dwarka, Haridwar, Varanasi (Benaras, Kashi), Kanchipuram, and Ujjain (Avanti).
The birthplace of Lord Ram, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is considered to be one of the holiest cities in India. Located on the banks of the Sarayu river in Uttar Pradesh, the Ram Janma Bhoomi has more than a 100 temples. Among the many temples, the Kanak Bhavan and the Kala Ram Temple with the deities Sita-Ram are of great importance. The other temples that are significant include:
- The Vashishtha Kund, in the shape of a well.
- Treth Ka Mandir where Lord Rama is believed to have performed a yajna, a fire sacrifice.
- Kshireshwaranath temple of Sita established by Lord Rama’s mother Kaushalya.
- Hanuman Gadhi, a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, the monkey god who dedicated his life in the service of Lord Rama.
Ayodhya is also dotted with many kunds or wells built in the honour of some of the important characters of the epic Ramayana including Brahma, Sita and Bharat. There are some auspicious ghats, steps leading to the river, like the Lakshman Ghat where Lakshman, Rama’s brother, took a bath, and the Rama Ghat, also known as the Swaragdwar, literally meaning gateway to heaven.
The Krishna Janma Bhoomi, the birthplace of Lord Krishna who is the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is located on the banks of River Yamuna. Also known as Braj Bhoomi, Mathura is considered to be a holy city and has been mentioned in the Vedic and Purana literatures. This city has been a pilgrimage centre since the 7th C. The present Keshav Dev Temple has been constructed on the same site as the one built 5000 years ago by Vajranabha, the great grandson of Lord Krishna. This is the main temple of Mathura with the idols of Radha-Krishna, Jagannath, which is a form of Krishna, Balarama and Subhadra. Other places of worship in Mathrua include:
- The Vishramaghat – it is a ghat on the bank of River Yamuna where Lord Krishna is believed to have rested after killing the evil king and his uncle Kamsa. On the ghat are also the idols of Yamuna and her brother, the God of Death, Yama.
- Rangabhumi on the Kansatila Hill where Krishna killed Kamsa
- Within the premises of the Keshav Dev Temple there is a small shrine, which is believed to have been the prison during the rule of Kamsa where Devki gave birth to Krishna. The shrine has the idols of Vasudev, Devki and four-armed baby Krishna.
- Some of the other important temples include Prem Mandir Vrindavan, Govindji temple, Madan Mohan temple, Radha Damodar temple, Radha Gopinath temple, Banke Bihari temple, Krishna Balarama temple, Rangaji temple and Seva Kunja.
Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, is 12 km away from Mathura and has nearly 5000 temples.
As per Bhagavat Purana, Lord Krishna shifted the capital of the Yadava Kingdom from Mathura to Dwarka, in Gujarat, on the banks of the Gomti River, about 5000 years ago. Dwarka is one of the seven holy cities of India and forms one of the Char Dham Yatra including Badrinath, Puri and Rameswaram. Some of the famous temples include:
- Also known as the Jagat Mandir and the oldest temple in Dwarka, the Dwarakadheesh Temple was built by Vajranabha, the great grandson of Lord Krishna with an idol of Krishna. Later Adi Shankaracharya added an idol of Adi Shakti to the temple. The edifice of the temple seems to be rising from the Arabian Sea.
- There is a temple dedicated to Rukmini, the consort of Lord Krishna in Bet Dwarka, 2 km away from Dwarka.
Haridwar is the holiest state in Uttarkhand and literally means the “gateway to Lord Vishnu” It is located on the western banks of River Ganga, where the river begins flowing on the plains. As per legend, King Bhagirath succeeded in bringing Ganga to the earth after praying to Lord Shiva to help his ancestors atone for their sins. Har-ki-Pauri ghat or Gangadwara has been constructed at the exact location where River Ganga descends on the plains. Thousands of Pilgrims flock to this ghat every year to take a holy dip in the most sacred river in India. A rock with the footprint of Lord Vishnu is preserved here. As per legend, Haridwar is one of the places where a drop of Amrit, the elixir of immortality obtained from the churning of the cosmic oceans, spilled over while Garuda the celestial bird was carrying the vessel holding it. The famous Kumbh Mela is held in Haridwar every 12 years when lakhs of people make a beeline for this holy city. The famous temples of Haridwar include:
- Mansa Devi Temple
- Chandi Devi Temple
- Maya Devi Temple
- Bharat Mata Mandir
Kashi, known also as Varanasi, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. It is located on the banks of River Ganga. Believed to be the favourite city of Lord Shiva, and known as “Shiv ki Nagri”, the first Jyotirlinga emerged here. The Pandavas are also believed to have visited Kashi to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva. It is believed that anyone who dies in Kashi will attain moksha or liberation. With a mention in the Mahabharata, Ramayana and even the Puranas dating back to 5000 years, Kashi has more than 2000 temples and 81 ghats. The more important ghats and temples include:
- Ghats: Manikarnika, Dashashwamedha and Pancha-ganga, Asi Sangam and Varana Sangam.
- Temples: Adi Keshava Vishnu temple located at the confluence of River Ganga and River Varana.
Adi Keshava temple
Sankat Mochan temple
Located on the banks of the Vegavathy river in Tamil Nadu, Kanchipuram is one of the seven sacred Indian cities. The city has 108 Shaiva and 18 Vaishnava exquisitely designed temples and is famous among the Saivites and Vaishnavites. Some of the famous temples include:
- Kamakshi Amman temple is the most famous temple of Kanchipuram and is one of the most ancient with association with Adi Shankara. It is believed that Goddess Shakti in the form of Kamakshi had made a shivling of sand here and offered prayers to Lord Shiva seeking to be his consort.
- Ekambareswarar Temple
- Kailasanathar Temple
- Vaikunta Perumal Temple.
On the bank of the Kshipra river is one of the four sites that host the Kumbh Mela. The Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga of Lord Shiva, one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, is located in this holy city. It is believed that Lord Shiva killed the demon Tripura in Ujjain. Lord Krishna and Balarama were tutored here by Muni Sandipani. Apart from the Mahakaleshwas Temple with the Jyotirlinga, the Gopal Temple with a silver idol of Krishna and Balarama, and Muni Sandipani is also very famous.
India is indeed a blessed country where not one but many gods in their different incarnations have roamed. The undying devotion of the people of India keeps the faith and the trust in the Supreme Being alive and eternal.