“One can be free from all sinful reactions after reaching a place of pilgrimage, but one can have the same benefit at home or at any place simply by chanting the holy name of the Lord. For a pure devotee, there is no need to go to the holy place of pilgrimage. He can be delivered from all sinful acts simply by remembering the Lord in earnestness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.15 Purport)Download this episode (right click and save)
Something common to Vedic culture is spiritual tourism. Perfectly suited for those in the vanaprastha ashrama, which is like retirement but not yet complete renunciation from family life, the idea is to use the propensity to travel to different places to become more spiritually aware. Ideally, the atmosphere at tirthas, or places of pilgrimage, is conducive to the continuation of the purification of consciousness, which should be a lifelong pursuit.
“Rupa Gosvami has stated that five kinds of devotional activities - namely, residing in Mathura, worshiping the Deity of the Lord, reciting Shrimad-Bhagavatam, serving a devotee, and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra - are so potent that a small attachment for any one of these five items can arouse devotional ecstasy even in a neophyte.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 13)
It is even recommended that a person serious about their desire for yoga, connection with the Divine, should reside in a place of pilgrimage. There are two benefits. One is the association of saintly people. This is the main benefit. In times past, prior to books, the internet, and advancements in travel, the only way to get knowledge of the soul and the goal of life was to approach a saintly person. Talking to them is one thing, but where to find them? They tend to congregate at tirthas; thus making spiritual tourism all the more important.
The second benefit is remembrance of the Supreme Lord, who is a person in His complete and original feature. The association of saintly people helps in this regard since they can deliver Hari-katha, or discourses about God. The holy name of the Lord is so powerful that it brings the same benefit as visiting these different places. And the power of the word describing God is so strong that simply reading or hearing about these places is as good as visiting them. For the Vaishnava, the devotee of the personal God, there are many places of importance, places that would be ideal for travelling to, either physically or using the mind.
1. Jagannatha Puri
This is a city in the state of Orissa in India. The city’s name is simply Puri, but it has come to be known as Jagannatha Puri since the main focus of the town is worship of God in His role as Lord of the universe. Puri has a specific temple within it that has a rich history. It is the place where Jagannatha was first worshiped formally. His specific deity form is unique from other forms. There are several stories relating to the origin, and they date back prior to the written word itself.
“In the Brahmanda Purana it is said: ‘A person who sees the Lord's Ratha-yatra car festival and then stands up to receive the Lord can purge all kinds of sinful results from his body.’” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 9)
The Jagannatha temple features three main deities: Jagannatha, Subhadra and Baladeva. They represent Shri Krishna, His sister and His brother. During the earthly pastimes of Shri Krishna, there was once a solar eclipse that brought so many people together at the sacred place of Kurukshetra. The same trio was there at that time, and the annual observance of Ratha-yatra celebrates that occasion from a long time back. Lord Jagannatha is known for being especially merciful to the fallen, low-class. Though the temple today restricts entry, the entire city is filled with places of importance. Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the preacher incarnation of God, lived in Puri for many years.
The all-attractive one appeared in this world in the town of Mathura, but shortly thereafter He shifted to Vrindavana. This is a replica of the same land that exists in the spiritual world, Vaikuntha. Vrindavana is a pristine forest area, filled with the tulasi plant. She is known as the goddess of devotion, so bhakti is everywhere in the land of Vrindavana.
When visiting this place a person is reminded of the childhood pastimes of Shri Krishna, which involve the parents Nanda and Yashoda, the friends like Subala and Madhumangala, and the paramours like Radha and Lalita. There are thousands of temples in that small area today, and in every corner a person can find devotees of Radha and Krishna. Visiting this place allows for rapid advancement in the ultimate aim of life: pure God consciousness.
During His earthly pastimes, Krishna did not stay in Vrindavana for long. He left in adulthood and later became the king of a city in the sea, Dvaraka. Protected by gates all around, Krishna lived here with His many queens. The city was very opulent and the citizens were happy. The area can still be found today, though the palaces later became submerged in water. This occurred after Krishna returned to the spiritual world. Visiting Dvaraka, either mentally or physically, reminds one of the opulence of the Supreme Lord. He can maintain over sixteen thousand wives without a problem, and He welcomes guests like Narada Rishi and Sudama Vipra with the utmost care and attention.
This is the birthplace of Shri Rama, who is the same Krishna but appearing on earth many thousands of years prior. Rama is known by many other names, such as Ayodhya-pati, Raghu-pati, and Ikshvaku-nandana. These reference His link to the sacred land of Ayodhya and the dynasty that protected the citizens during ancient times.
To remember Rama is to remember God Himself. By visiting Ayodhya, the struggle of King Dasharatha comes to mind, how he waited so long to have a son. The childhood play of Rama and His three younger brothers brings further attachment to that wonderful family. Ayodhya is where Rama later lived with His beautiful and chaste wife Sita.
Rama’s pastimes weren’t all peaceful or in the joy of family bliss. There were struggles as well, all documented in the Sanskrit work of epic length known as the Ramayana. One time Rama had to leave the kingdom, and He took Sita and Lakshmana with Him. Lakshmana was the younger brother always by Rama’s side. Like a fish taken out of water, he could not live without Rama.
“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)
At one time the trio took up residence in the forest area known as Chitrakuta. The sage Bharadvaja advised them to go there. In the Ramacharitamanasa, which is another telling of Rama’s pastimes on earth, the sage Valmiki points the way to this wonderful place. The creation goes through cycles, so the sequence of events in Rama’s life on earth aren’t always identical. Nevertheless, the importance of Chitrakuta is prominent. The trio lived happily in peace. By remembering Rama at that place, a person strips away the opulence of the Supreme and sees Him in a renounced setting, where even the animals get to offer their devotion.
See God in variety of setting,
Without travel benefit getting.
Just keeping image in the mind,
Peace and tranquility to find.
Importance to such a place,
Since Lord His presence to grace.
Vrindavana, Dvaraka and Puri in this world existing,
God’s pastimes there eternally persisting.