- Visiting holy sites is one of the central activities in Hinduism. Many pilgrims visit shrines, rivers, sacred mountains, and sacred groves to obtain spiritual benefits; others go to achieve the worldly benefits that can also accrue from visiting a holy place. Women commonly vow to visit the shrine of a certain saint or god in order to have a child, especially a son. Some may visit a shrine and shave their heads there in order to win success at an exam or important business deal.All sects in Hinduism do pilgrimage. SHAIVITES, SHAKTAS, and VAISHNAVITES alike have myriad important sites. Vaishnavites target the many places where RAMA or KRISHNA visited or lived, as well as the many temples where other forms of VISHNU are enshrined. Mathura, BRINDAVAN, and DVARAKA are particularly important for the devotees of Krishna, while AYODHYA is visited as the birthplace of Rama. Shaivites visit the many Religious mendicants on pilgrimage in Sonnamarg, Kashmir (Constance A. Jones) temples and shrines with SHIVA LINGAM, in addi-tion to many other temples to Shiva that can be pilgrimage destinations. SHAKTAS or goddess worshippers have 53 shrines where parts of the goddess are said to have fallen when she was cut into pieces.Among important pilgrimage cities are Gaya, BENARES (Varanasi), HARIDVAR, and Ujjain. Impor-tant rivers are GANGES, YAMUNA, Godavari, Nar-mada, and CAUVERY.Perhaps the most significant pilgrimage site for Hindus is Benares. The primary aim of pil-grims in Benares is to bathe in the holy Ganges, which is said to confer heaven upon those who bathe in her. People nearing the end of their lives often go there, so that their ashes can be thrown into the river, and they can reach liberation from birth and rebirth.Further reading: Anne Feldhaus, Connected Places: Region, Pilgrimage and Geographical Imagination in India (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003); Baidyanath Saraswati, Traditions of Tirthas in India: The Anthropol-ogy of Hindu Pilgrimage (Varanasi: N. K. Bose Memorial Foundation, 1983); Man Mohan Sharma, Yatra: Pilgrim-ages in the Western Himalayas (Noida: Trishul, 1989).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.