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Bodh Gaya

Why Are Pilgrimage sites important in Indian culture?

India is a country known for being land of “spirituality”. The major reason for this being the existence of varied religions being followed by the people of the country. It is due to the presence of several religions in the Indian Culture that a large number of pilgrimage sites have cropped up.  Now, these religious spots are visited by thousands of visitors from across the country annually. So, the pertinent question to be asked is, why are these pilgrimage sites are so important in the Indian culture? Here, is then presenting a few facts that would provide for an appropriate answer to the question.


a. The “development” of Hinduism in the Indian Culture:

“79.80%” is the figure stated in the 2011 census report pertaining the proportion of people following the Hindu religion in India. However, the evolution of Hinduism first took root in the Indian Culture about 5,000 years ago. It was in fact a few elements found in the “Indus Valley Civilization” that was used to develop Hinduism as a religion. Now, it was only around 200 BC that the Hindu philosophy first began getting “systematic” in the form of six “astika” schools that include Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. Eventually, over the centuries “Hinduism” became a religion that was followed by the majority.

b. The “establishment” of Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism in the Indian Culture:

It was during the 9th century BC, that Jainism first took root in the Indian Culture with the rise of the 23rd Tirthankara Parshvanatha who introduced the basic “non-violent” principles of Jainism. It was however the 24th Tirthankara Mahavira who formalized this religion in the country by introducing five “vows” that include ahimsa (non-violence) and Asetya (non stealing). Furthermore, it was in a town called Bodh Gaya in Bihar under the Pipal tree (renamed Bodhi) that Gautam Buddha, acquired what is known as “Enlightenment” and established Buddhism as a religion in India. It was during the “Mauryan” empire during the reign of “Ashoka the great”, that Buddhism began spreading far and wide throughout the country, and eventually throughout Asia. It was however the resurgence of an aggressive form of “Hinduism” during the 11th century led by “Sankaracharya” that led to the decline of Buddhism in the Indian society.

“A fusion of  religious concepts belonging to the Hindu and Muslim community” is how the religion called Sikhism was first developed in India. It was created by Guru Nanak during the end of the 15th century, who based the religion on the philosophy that stated ” There is one supreme being, the eternal reality, the creator, without fear and devoid of enmity, immortal, never incarnated, self-existent, known by grace through the true Guru”, and which is known as “Ik Onkar”. It was eventually through a sacred book known as the “Guru Granth Sahib” that Sikhism was formalized. Gradually, over the years this religion developed to become the “fourth largest” in the country, being followed by 1.7%  of the population as per the 2011 Census statistic.

c. The “arrival” of Christianity and Islam in the Indian Culture:

“Thomas the Apostle” is supposed to have introduced Christianity in India in 52 BC when he visited a seaport named Muziris in the south Indian state of Kerala. Apparently, on arrival this apostle baptized the “Jewish migrants” who soon became known as Syrian Christians or Nasrani. Furthermore, this religion was further expanded throughout the Indian Culture during the 16th century by the Portuguese as well as by the British and American missionaries in the 18th century. As of today, Christianity is the third largest religion (2.3% of population approximately) and is mainly followed in the north-eastern region or in states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Goa. In addition, this religion within the country has been divided into three sects they are Roman Catholicism, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestantism.

“Malabar Coast in Kerala” is the region where Islam first made its presence felt in the country. Apparently, it was during the 7th century that Muslim traders arrived at the shores of the South Indian state. However, the rapid rise of this religion in India only occurred during the Delhi Sultanate reign (1206-1526), and on the arrival of the Mughal Dynasty (1526-1858). It has gradually over the centuries rapidly grown to become the “second largest religion” in the country with about 14.2% of the population (roughly 172 million) reported as its followers.

So simply put, it is the rapid growth of at least six major religions that includes Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, and Islam and their coexistence within the Indian Culture for centuries, which ensures that pilgrimage sites play an important in the cultural fabric of the country especially in the form of tourism.


Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons 


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