Pilgrimage Tours in India

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Ashtavinayak Darshan from Mumbai 02 Nights

Places Covered - Pune » Lenyadri

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Shirdi Shani Shingnapur Package 02 Nights

Places Covered - Lonavala » Nasik

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Pandharpur Tuljapur Package 05 Nights

Places Covered - Pandharpur » Jyotrilangas » Mahur » Aurangabad » Nasik

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Nau Devi Darshan Tour Package 7 Nights

Places Covered - Chandigarh » Kangra » Dharamshala » Katra » Amritsar

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Char Dham Tour 10 Nights

Places Covered - Haridwar » Barkot » Harsil » Uttarkashi » Guptakashi » Joshimath » Rishikesh

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Char Dham Tour 10 Nights

Places Covered - Rishikesh » Barkot » Harsil » Guptkashi » Kedarnath » Joshimath

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Do Dham Yatra 7 Nights

Places Covered - Haridwar – Guptakashi – Kedarnath - Joshimath – Rishikesh

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Dwarka Somnath Tour 03 Nights

Places Covered - Jamnagar » Dwarka » Somnath

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Kailash Mansarovar Yatra by Helicopter - 09 Nights

Places Covered - Kathmandu » Nepalgunj » Simikot » Purang » Mansarovar » Diraphuk » Zuthulphuk

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Kailash Mansarovar Yatra by Road - 12 Nights

Places Covered - Kathmandu » Nyalam » Paryang » Darchen » Diraphuk » Zuthulphuk » Paryang » Nyalam » Kathmandu

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Vaishno Devi Helicopter Booking - 01 Night

Places Covered - Vaishno Devi

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Vaishnodevi Patnitop Package 03 Nights

Stay at Katra (2N) » Patnitop (1N)

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5 Jyotirlinga in Maharashtra - 07 Nights

Places Covered - Nashik » Shirdi » Aurangabad » Parli Vaijnath

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Pune Mahabaleshwar Shirdi Package - 04 Nights

Places Covered - Shirdi » Pune » Mahableshwar

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Chennai Tirupati Tour - 04 Nights

Places Covered - Chennai » Tirupati » Tiruvannamalai » Madurai

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Pilgrimage Tours in India

A multiple of faiths exist side-by-side in India, shaping the country's heritage, its life, culture, traditions and mythology
Four of the world's major faiths meet on the Indian soil: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. The first two were born in India. Jainism, Sikhism and countless minor cults and regional sects arose. India has also given refuge to Jews and Zoroastrians.

Prehistoric times

There was a time when historians looked upon the peoples who came to India in the second millennium BC as the founders of the Indian cultural tradition. But recent archaeological studies have changed the picture. It is now realised that existing elements played an important part in shaping religious practices. These were the indigenous inhabitants of India, the Dravidians, and the people of the Harappan Culture, to whom the Dravidians were probably related and who worshipped a Mother Goddess, and several animal deities. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Many features of later Hinduism were anticipated by the Harappans. A statuette from this period shows a man meditating in a yogic posture. Figures of ascetics, standing rigidly, point to a world-negating attitude. The worship of images seems to have been popular. One of the images, which appears on clay seals, is that of a god carrying a three-pronged weapon, surrounded by an elephant, a tiger and other animals. This figure has been described as proto-Siva because it anticipates many features of Pashupati (Lord of the Beasts), a form of Siva still worshipped several centuries later in many Hindu temples. The arrival of the Indo-European speaking peoples, probably from southern Russia, marks the beginning of the religious tradition known historically as Hinduism.

Hinduism

A museum of religions: that seems to be the only way to describe Hinduism. No other religious tradition is so eclectic. It is the only major religion that has not been traced to a specific founder, and the only one which does not have a holy book as the one and only scriptural authority. One may regard the Rig Veda as one's personal Bible, or one may turn to the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad Gila; or one may dispense with all sacred texts and still claim to be a good Hindu. One may worship Visnu or Siva or some other gods or goddesses; or one may not worship any deity and meditate on the Supreme Spirit dwelling within one's own heart. Some Hindus visit temples for prayer, worship or devotional music; others prefer sacrificial ritual, or to bathe in holy rivers, or to go on pilgrimages; others regard all rituals as redundant. The same flexibility can be seen in Hindu theories of creation or the nature of God. Hinduism thrives on contrasts. At one end is the most abstruse metaphysical speculation about Ultimate Reality; at the other there are popular practices based on the propitiation of tree-spirits and animal deities. Absolute monism goes hand-in-hand with extreme pluralism. On the one hand, Hinduism accepts the validity of many paths leading to the same goal, and is willing to recognise the divinity of the prophets of other religions. But along with this tolerance one sees rigid adherence to caste distinctions and custom-ridden practices. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

The Vedic Age

The Harappan cities were supplanted by a new wave of peoples. They brought with them a new language. Sanskrit, and their own concepts of the cosmos. Their reverence for the Divine was recorded in beautiful hymns and prayers, which have been collected in the four y (from the Sanskrit root rid, to know). The most important is the Rig Veda.

The Vedic hymns, composed between 1600 and 1000 BC, were addressed to gods and goddesses who were regarded as Personification of the powers of nature: India, god of rain and thunder. Piajapati, lord of the creatures; Agni. god of the sacred fire; the Maruts, gods. of winds and storms: Savitr, the sun god; Ushas goddess of dawn: and Varuna, god of the sea and upholder of the moral law. The hymns are believed to have been composed by rishis (sages) who were divinely inspired.

The Vedas are regarded as the fountainhead of Hinduism. They contain ideas and suggestions that have shaped the entire Hindu traditions and show a tendency to move from monism. Although different gods were, and continue to be, worshipped, they were increasingly seen as manifestations of a single Divine Principle. The Vedic concept of rita (cosmic law) points to a single rhythmic force animating the entire universe.

Also, by combining religion with philosophy and poetry, the Vedas initiated a typical Hindu concept of perfection, the concept that the man of wisdom must combine the intellectual clarity of the philosopher with the faith of the sage and the aestheticism of the artist. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Lighting the sacred flame

Vedic religion consisted mainly of sacrificial ritual. The sacred flame was kindled in the centre of a raised platform. The sacrificer offered oblations to the flame while the priest chanted hymns and invocations. In the centuries that followed, the mystical and symbolic meaning of the yajna (sacrifice) receded into the back- ground. The ritual became all-important. Every detail had to be meticulously followed: the kindling of the fuel, the shape of the vessel containing the holy water, the intonation of the words. The Brahmans, who performed this ritual, became the dominant class of society.

The Upanishads (800-400 BC) represent a reaction against this decline in values. They dialogues between teachers and disciples are regarded as a continuation of the Vedas.

The most popular text in the Vedic traditions is the Bhagavad Gita (Song of God). Although is a part of the Mahabharata, an epic in poem that belongs to a later period, the Bhagavad

Gita is strongly influenced by the Upanishads. The Upanishads are the cows, says a Sanskrit couplet, and the Gila is the sweet. nourishine milk that the cows yield. Mahatma Gandhi once described the Gita as his spiritual Dictionary.

The Mahabharata revolves around the conflict between the five pandava brothers and cousins, the Kauravas, who had wrongly usurped the kingdom. Krishna, an incarnation of the God Visnu, became the charioteer of Arjuna. the commander of the Pandava army. On the eve of battle Arjuna was beset with doubt and refused to fight against his kith and kin. In this dramatic setting. Krishna gave him a discourse on the immortality of the soul and his obligation to fulfil his dharma (sacred duty). Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Krishna's discourse, with occasional questions from Arjuna, covers almost every aspect of human life. The Gita's tremendous appeal derives from its earnestness, optimism and tolerance. As with many popular religious texts, there is something in it for everyone. The Gila accepts the validity of three different paths leading to the common goal of self-realisation: the path of Jnana (Knowledge), the path of Bhakti (Devotion and Love). and the path of Karma (Work). These are said to equate with the intellectual, and the practical sides of human nature. In addition, special path, the path of Yoga, is also recognized. The central messge of the Giza is sometimes said to be: work without attachment, dedicating the fruit of your work to the Divine.

Hindu mythology

In India. mythology has always been very close to the actual life of the people. There are hundreds of myths about gods, goddesses, heroes, sages, demons, and natural phenomena like the sun and the moon, lakes, rivers, mountains, trees, flowers and animals. They are kept alive through fairs and festivals, in traditional songs, dramas and dances, and provide the main motifs in court and stage performances.

As the Vedic deities lost some of their importance, other gods, Rama and Krishna in particular, became popular. Visnu and Siva, who were minor deities in the Vedas, became predominant in the later Hindu pantheon. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

The two great epic poems, Ramayana and Mahabharata, are a treasure-house of mythology. Stories from these epics, and other myths derived from various sources, were later elaborated in a literature known as the Puranas. Of these, the Siva Purana, the Visnu Purana and the Bhagavata are especially important since they contain myths of Siva, Visnu and Krishna respectively.

The Ramayana, whose author, Valmiki, is a legendary figure, has exerted a deep influence on the religious and cultural life of India. Rama, eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, was banished for 14 years through the machinations of his stepmother. He went into the forest, accompanied by his wife, Sita, and younger brother, Lakshmana. Sita was kidnapped and taken to Sri Lanka on the orders of the demon-king, Ravana. Rama, supported by an army of monkeys led by Hanuman, defeated Ravana and rescued his wife. Rama, an incarnation of Visnu, emerges from the narrative as Purushottama (Perfect Man). He is the ideal king, the ideal brother, the ideal son. Stories of Rama's devotion to his parents and teachers, his courage and compassion, have been woven into the poem. There are vivid descriptions of the regions through which he passed. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Hindu ideas and practices

The Hindu epics were probably composed in the 1st century AD, and the later Puranas were completed by 500 AD. The basic principles of Hinduism received fresh support from the Vedanta philosophy. Based on Upanishads, Vedanta was brilliantly systematised by Shankaracharya in the 8th century.

In the Vedanta it was asserted that, from the transcendental viewpoint, Brahman is the sole Reality and everything else is a mere appearance. But from the empirical viewpoint, the reality of the world and the values and distinctions of human life must be accepted. The fundamentals of the traditional Hindu world may be summarised thus:

Goal and Paths. The ultimate goal is moksha, liberation from the cycle of existence.

Karma and Rebirth. Until moksha is attained, all human beings are subject to rebirth. The conditions of life in each birth are determined by the cumulative results of the karma (deeds) that were performed in previous lifetimes.

Four Objectives. In addition to the final objective (moksha), three proximate ends are recognised as legitimate: kama (pleasure, including sex), artha (prosperity, fame), and dharma (truth, righteousness). Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Four Stages in Life. These are: the stage of the learner, demanding self-control and abstinence; the stage of the householder, when kama and artha are valid ends; the stage of detachment; and the stage of renunciation, when one leads a wholly spiritual life, preparing for moksha.

Four Castes. Differences in aptitudes and temperaments are reflected in society's division into four castes: Brahmans (priests, teachers); Kshatriyas (warriors, rulers); Vaishyas (traders, merchants); and Shudras (agriculturalists).

Yoga. Through yoga (inner integration) one can proceed from physical control, through mental control, to the recognition of one's own reality as Pure Spirit.

Hinduism through the ages

The coming of Islam to India in the 12th century was a turning point in the evolution of Hinduism. The Sikh religion, founded by Guru Nanak in the 15th century, played an important part in bringing the two faiths (Islam and Hinduism) together. In the 16th century, Catholic missionaries came to India and Hinduism began to feel the impact of Christianity. However, in spite of these influences, Hinduism remained the dominant religion of India. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

In the Middle Ages, poetry, rather than philosophy or mythology, was the chief medium of religious expression. This was the age of the great poet-saints whose songs are still on the lips of millions of Hindus.

The consolidation of British rule in India at the end of the 18th century exposed India to new influences from the West: Western liberal-ism and humanism, Christianity, scientific thought and technology. In the new situation, Hinduism once again showed its diversity and power to assimilate elements from other traditions while retaining its own basic values.

Hinduism reacted to the West in two divergent ways. There was a strong movement for reform, led by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, with a positive approach to Western culture. There was also a revivalist trend represented by Dayanand Sarasvati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, and others who felt that the West had nothing valuable to offer. They urged Hindus to go back to the wisdom of the Vedic sages. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

In the 20th century, two famous Hindus were Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Gandhi described himself as an orthodox Hindu, but he believed firmly that the essential message of all religions is the same. He was inspired as much by the New Testament as by the Bhagavad Gita. His ancestors were Jains and some of his closest friends were Muslims- In interpreting Hinduism he gave primacy to Truth and Non-violence. While Gandhi represented a moral force in 20th-century Hinduism, Tagore focused on its creative and aesthetic achievements.

Buddhism

The personality and teachings of the Buddha illuminated the lives and thoughts of millions in Asia It was in India that the light, was first kindled. The Buddha was born i7 India. and he lived and died there. His teachings, were imparted in the context of his Indian heitage. A thousand years after his death, he was accepted as an incarnation of Visnu, one of the three highest gods in the Hindu pantheon. Buddhism remained an Indian religion for many centuries before it became a pan-Asian one.

Siddhartha, who was later known as the Buddha, the Enlightened One, was the son of King Shuddhodana of Kapilavastu and his queen, Maya He was born at Lumbini in the Himalayan foothills. His family name was Gautama and he belonged to the Shakya clan. Hence he is sometimes called Shakyamuni (Shakya Sage) or Shakyasimha (Shakya Lion). Among his other epithets are Amitabha (Infinite Light) and Tathagata (He Who Has Arrived At Perfection). Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Queen Maya died a week after delivering the prince. At Siddhartha's birth, the royal astrologer prophesied that he would one day become disillusioned with worldly pleasures and go forth as a mendicant in search of the wisdom that can overcome suffering. Siddhartha grew up into a handsome youth, gentle and compassionate, skilled in all the arts.

The king, remembering the astrologer's prophecy, tried to save his son from unpleasant sights. He was surrounded by luxury. The king found for him a lovely wife, Yashodhara, princess of a neighbouring kingdom. Yashoihara bore him a son. But the seeds of disenchantment had already sprouted in Siddhartha's heart. He named his son Rahula (Impediment). Pilgrimage Tours in India...

As prophesied, Siddhanha saw the three signs of suffering: sickness, old age and death; On the night of the full moon in the month et Vaishakha, corresponding with April-MaY the Western calendar, Siddhartha prepared Rat the Great Renunciation. He stood at the dorr, of his bedchamber, looked at his sleeping wife and son for a few moments, and then left the palace.

Siddhartha sat at the feet of famous masters, but none of them could explain to him the cause of sorrow. For a while he joined a group of ascetics and performed severe austerities. He became suffering extremely weak in body and mind, and realised that wisdom could not be attained through self-mortification. At last, meditating under a tree near Gaya, he attained Bodhi (Illumination). Prince Siddhartha had become the Buddha, the Fully Awakened One. And the tree that had sheltered him came to be known as the Bodhi Tree. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

After becoming enlightened, Gautama the Buddha could have immediately released himself from the cycle of rebirths and attained Nirvana, supreme liberation. But the com-passionate side of his nature prevented him from tasting the fruit of liberation so long as a single living creature was in pain. His first sermon was preached in the Deer Park at Samath, near the ancient holy city of Varanasi. The ascetics from whom he had parted company a few months earlier became his first audience. According to legend, deer from the forest listened enraptured to the Buddha, sensing that his message was for all living beings. It contained the Four Noble Truths, which form the basis of Buddhist thought. As the number of his followers increased, the Bhikshusangha (Order of Monks) was formed. At first, only men were admitted. But later, urged by his foster-mother Gotami, the Buddha admitted women and an Order of Nuns was formed.

After a few months the Buddha visited Kapilavastu and met his father, wife and son. He had left as a prince: he returned as a mendicant. He was hailed as a hero, a conqueror in the spiritual realm. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

During the remaining 40 years of his life the Buddha travelled from village to village, except during the rainy season, preaching the message of love, compassion, tolerance, self-restraint. He led a humble life. He died in 483 BC, in his 80th year at Kusinara, not far from the place of his birth. His last words were to his favourite disciple, Ananda: "A Buddha can only point

Symbolic Design

Religious buildings in India come in all shapes and sizes and their architecture various form region to region. Hindu temples (mandir), are built with beams, and features low ceiling, narrow doorways, and hundreds of pillars, unlike the Indian mosques (masjid), which have spacious interiors reflecting the introduction of the true arch rn Muslim architecture.

Hindu temple architecture is highly symbolic – a cosmology in miniature planned to entice a particular deity back to visit a place, (there are sold to be 300 million different gods). Complex astrologic and numerological calculations come into play. Temple blueprints follow vastu-shastras, sacred principals similar to the Feng Shui of the Far East, which can correct any on-site Imperfections.

Most temples started out as a simple shelter over a sacred spot beneath a tree or beside a river. Many have become awesome stone monuments as worshippers have built elaborate extensions. Water, which represents the place where spirits may cross over to the far shore of wisdom (tirth) is integral to the temple's layout. Ritual cleansing takes place here. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

The sacred sanctum, where an idol of the presiding deity resides in a darkened chamber, is almost always square-shaped and must be orien-tated towads one of the cardinal points. East is most auspicious because represents the Constancy of sunrise.

Depending on the time of year the temple was constructed and to which deity it is devoted, this womb chamber (garbha gnha) may face elsewhere. West denotes Varun, ever-changing .domain of the north. towards the navigators' North ocean god; North Star, represents performance; south, the domain of Yama, the Lord of Death, denotes decay or destruction. Regardless of the direction, the inner sanctum must be enclosed on three sides.

The main entrance is flanked by sculpted river goddesses, and niches on the outer walls depict various manifestations of the god within, whose face will be carved in the middle of the main lintel. Protective mythological guardians deter evil. The vahana, or the animal vehicle of a god, is placed directly in front of the shrine, near a lamp that symbolically eliminates ignorance. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

A towering roof structure soars above the inner sanctum to make the holy place visible from a distance. Called shikharas, these sloping towers vary in shape according to region. An elaborate cluster of multiple carved layers represents the Himalayan mountains, where Hindu gods dwell. Always balanced on top is a kalash, an emblem for a pot of ambrosia, which symbolises the ultimate end of prayer - freedom from the cycles of rebirth.

Smaller shrines for related deities are often added to a temple complex. Ancient Hindu temples in the South and Orissa include additional pavilions for dance and food distribution.

There are no set rules for designing Sikh temples (gurdwara). The Golden Temple, Amritsar, for instance, is a mixture of Muslim and Hindu styles.

Early Buddhist temples centre on stupa, which contain relics of the Buddha or sages, and worshippers circumambulate clockwise to show respect. The image of the Buddha and an interior place for worship were late developments, and normally placed at the end of a hallway or quadrangle. The earliest examples of temples were cut from rocks, but were sculpted to resemble timber constructions. Later, free-standing temples were built using bricks. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Buddha's teachings

While Hindu thought was preoccupied with the essential nature of Absolute Reality, the Buddha avoided metaphysical controversies. "The arising of " sorrow, the termination of sorrow, that is all I teach," he once said. TWO philosophical principles are implicit in the Buddha's teaching. First, there is the Law of Impermanence. Everything in the phenomenal world is subject to change. The second assumption is the Law of Causation. Nothing happens by chance. Apart from natural causes, we are subject to the operation of our karma. It follows that the popular notion of a soul which somehow survives the body is illusory. The Buddha urges us to discard this illusion. He did not, however, reject the Universal Spirit of Self (Atman) of the Upanishads. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

The Buddha's first sermon is called the Sermon of the Middle Way and steers between two sets of extremes: on the ethical plane, the extremes of self-indulgence and asceticism; on the philosophical plane, the extremes of naive acceptance of everything as real and the total denial of everything as unreal. The Middle Way now becomes the Eightfold Path of the good life, consisting of right conduct, right motive, right resolve, right speech, right livelihood, right attention, right effort and right meditation.

By following this path of restraint and self-perfection, one can conquer craving. Then one is within sight of Nirvana, the transcendental state of complete emancipation.

Shortly after the Buddha's death, his oldest disciple, Kashyapa, convened a Council at Rajagriha. The master's teachings were classified into three sections, known as Tripitaka (Three Baskets). These, along with later commentaries, became the scriptures of Buddhism.

In the 3rd century BC the great Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, saddened by the bloodshed of war, became a Buddhist. Ashoka's conversion marked the beginning of a period of Buddhist expansion. Ashoka set up inscriptions throughout South Asia exhorting his subjects to follow the Buddha's message of compassion and tolerance. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

In modern India. there has been a revival of interest in Buddhism, particularly among Dalits following Dr Ambedkar's public conversion. Yet Buddhists constitute a very small proportion Indian population. This has led some people to assert that India banished Buddhism. But something that has been assimilated until it floss. through the very bloodstream of Indian culture cannot be said to have been rejected simply because we cannot see it on the surface. Even when there was an ideological conflict between Hinduism and Buddhism, the Buddha's personality and character attracted the admiration of Hindus and Buddhists alike.

The Buddha's emphasis on compassion, love and non-violence has become a permanent part of India's spiritual heritage. Buddhism has inspired some of the finest architecture, sculpture and painting. The stupas of Sanchi and Amaravati, the frescoes of Ajanta, the remains of the university of Nalanda, the monasteries of Bodhgaya and Rajagriha and, above all, the Buddha images of the Mathura and Sarnath schools — all these bear witness to the fact that the influence of Buddhism has endured. Refugee communities of Tibetan Buddhists and Dalit converts have significantly boosted the numbers of Indian Buddhists WAVING T since the 1960s. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Jainism

About the same time as the Buddha was preaching his dharma, and in the same region, another religious tradition was being established. Vardhamana, better known by his title Mahavira (Great Hero) was an elder contemporary of the Buddha. The two teachers had much in common: both were Kshatriyas of royal descent but renounced the worldly life; both rejected caste bathers and questioned the sacredness of the Vedas. Mahavira's fame has been eclipsed by the Buddha's; Jainism, the religion preached by Mahavira, counts more than 3 million adherents in India today, whereas the Buddha's faith has almost twice as many.

The theme of self-conquest, common to many religions, is supremely important to the Jains. The very word Jain is derived from jina (conqueror). Carrying the idea of self-conquest to its extreme, Jainism has become the world's most rigorously ascetic faith. God has little or no place in this system. The popular gods of Hinduism are accepted, but they at placed lower than the jinas, who are regarded as the true focus of deviton.

Mahavira, through usually accepted as the balmier of the faith in the contest of history. is said to be the last of a line of 24 jinas. All of them are said to have attained perfect wisdom (Kaivalya), through different penances, to vanquish desire and break their bomb with the material world. The jinas are also known as Tirthankaras (crossing-makers). The crossing refers to the passage from the material to the spiritual realm, from bondage to freedom. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Jainism not only rejects the notion of a Per-canal God, but also the ideas of a single impersonal Absolute Reality. It regards each living bring as an independent jiva, (soul). In its mundane condition, the soul is permeated by material panicles through the working of karma. To attain liberation, a double process is necessary: the incursion of new karma-particles must be stopped: and those that have already tainted the soul must be expelled. This is possible only through right faith, right knowledge and right conduct: the tri-ratna (three jewels) of Jainism.

Right conduct is the rejection of falsehood. theft, lust, greed and violence. Of these five sins violence is the most heinous. The highest virtue is the total abjuration of any thought or action that can hurt a living being. Ahimsaparamo dharma: (non-violence is the supreme religion) — this Jain motto was adopted by Mahatma Gandhi. Sometimes the Jains carry their non-violence, like their asceticism, to extreme limits. For instance, Jain monks are often seen with their nose and mouth covered by a fine cloth mask to ensure that they do not involuntarily kill insects while breathing.

Jains have made valuable contributions in many areas of Indian culture: philosophy, literature, painting, sculpture and architecture. The greatest glory of Jain religious art lies in temple architecture, particularly at Girnar, palitana and Mount Abu.

Opposites together

No two religions in the world appear on the surface to be as dissimilar as Hinduism and Islam. Islam was founded by a historical person and has a specific scripture, the Qur'an.

Hinduism is eclectic and pluralistic: Islam is homogeneous anti has a definite concept of God. The Hindu temple is enclosed on three sides, and there is mystery in the dark inner sanctum., the Muslim mosque is open on all sides, exposed to light and air. The Hindu worships sculptured images of deities; to the Muslim, idol-worship is the most grievous sin. Hinduism shuns proselytisation; Islam welcomes converts. Yet these two faiths met in India, influenced each other and, after initial conflict, enriched each other. Within a few decades of their arrival in India, Muslims began to consider India as their home. Between the 13th and the 18th centuries, northern India witnessed a synthesis of Hindu and Islamic elements in almost every sphere of life. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Muhammad and his creed

Muhammad was born at Makka (Mecca) in 570 AD, a fatherless child. His mother died when he was four. Muhammad's childhood was not a happy one. As a boy. he earned a paltry living doing odd jobs for traders in caravans. He was 25 when he married Khadijah, a wealthy widow who had employed him. Arabia was at that time a battleground for warring tribes. Religion was pantheistic and centred around the worship of stone images of deities. Muhammad, introspective and sensitive by nature, felt opposed to this and often sought solitude in the desert. He had his first mystical experience at the age of 40. The archangel Gabriel appeared before him in a vision, hailed him as the Rasul (Messenger) of God and called upon him to proclaim the glory of Allah, "the one true God". Gabriel again appeared and showed Muhammad a written text which later became a part of the Qur'an.

As the number of his followers increased, Muhammad became bolder in his denunciation of idolatry. The tribesmen harassed and threatened him. In 622 AD Muhammad left Makka and went to Medina, a town 200 miles to the north, at the invitation of some merchants. The Islamic calendar is dated from this migration (hijrah). In Medina. he consolidated his new religion. Islam (Submission to God). His followers, the Muslims ("Those Who Have Sub-mitted") now numbered thousands. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Eight years later he returned to Makka and defeated his opponents in battle. He died in 632 AD. Within two decades, the Muslims had conquered Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Turkey. By 670 the Arabs were masters of Iran and the whole of northern Africa. Their success was the result of their faith in the Prophet and the holy book,their shims sense of brotherhood and equality of till Muslims, and the precision and simplicity of their creed. Its success cannot be attributed to force alone. Muhammad himself was a man of deep generosity and wisdom. The toil of Islam is compassionate and merciful (Rahman and Itakim).

Islam In India

Arab traders came to India as early as the 7th century. After that, Muslim invaders made sporadic raids into India from time to time until, at the end of the 12th century. the first Muslim kingdom was established at Delhi. The Muslims gradually extended their rule eastwards and southwards. The Mughal Empire was founded by Babur in 1506. One of the greatest Mughal emperors was Akbar (1556-1605), whose policy of religious tolerance bought Hindus and Muslims together.

In its first phase, Islamic rule in India was aggressive. But the mystics of Islam, known as Sufis, played an important part in spreading the message of universal love. This message was conveyed most effectively by the classical Persian poets, particularly by Rumi, who expressed the spirit of Sufism through beautiful symbols and images. Persian, not Arabic, was the court language during Muslim rule.

Renowned Sufi saints settled in India. Among these, Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer and Nizamuddin Aulia of Delhi were the most influential. Annual festivals in their honour are celebrated. Amir Khusrau, poet, musician and historian, was a disciple of Nizarnuddin. Khusrau was famous as a poet in the classical Persian tradition, but he also wrote religious poetry in Urdu. The prevalent spirit of Hindu-Muslim integra-tion was reflected admirably in Khusrau's work. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Sikhism

This process of bringing Hinduism and Islam close to each other was continued by Kabir and Nanak. Born into a Brahman family, Kabir was brought up by Muslim foster-parents. He was a disciple of Ramananda, a famous Hindu saint, but he was also deeply influenced by Sufism and used Sufi terminology in many of his poems. Inspired by Kabir, Guru Nanak (1469-1539) founded the Sikh religion with the avowed purpose of synthesising Hinduism and Islam. Islam's spirit of brotherhood helped in loosening the rigidity of the caste system.

Nanak came from the Punjab, a region where Hindus and Muslims had come in closer con tact than in any other pan of India. A Hindu by birth and training, Nanak was attracted from his childhood towards Hindu as well as Muslim saints and poets. He visited the sacred places of Hinduism and also made the pilgrimage to makka. He saw the essential teaching of both religions as being the same. Nanak began to preach his message of unity. He attracted many followers and soon came together, and a new religious tradition was born. The term Sikh is derived from the Sanskrit shishya (disciple). Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Angad, who succeeded Nanak as the Guru of the Sikhs, started compiling the master's writings. He also introduced a script that was already being used by some Punjabis. He called it Gurmukhi and made it the official script of the Sikhs. Guru Arjun, the fifth in succession, started building the temple at Amritsar that later became the holiest of Sikh shrines. Arjun also systematised the collection of sacred hymns and poems by Nanak, Kabir and other saints. This collection became the holy scripture of the Sikhs. It is known as Adi Granth (The First Book), or Granth Sahib (Book of the Lord).

The spread of the Sikh faith alarmed orthodox Muslims. The Sikhs were persecuted. Guru Arjun was put to death on a charge of sedition in 1606. Arjun's martyrdom convinced his successors that Sikhs must have military training to defend themselves. The 10th Guru, Govind Singh, transformed the pacifist Sikh sect into a martial community. He introduced rites of ini-tiation into a well-organised Sikh army known as the Khalsa. Govind Singh also decided to terminate the succession of gurus. He asked his followers to look upon the Granth Sahib as the sole object of veneration. The Holy Book became the symbol of God. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Christians and Jews

According to a strong tradition prevalent in the South, Christianity in India is as old as Saint Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. The saint is said to have spent a few years near Chennai and to have died there. Other legends describe Saint Bartholomew as the first Christian missionary in India. Latin historians in the Middle Ages made frequent references to Christian settlements in India. However, Christian missionary activity from the West began with the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier in 1542.

His tomb in Goa is still visited by thousands of Catholics every year.

Saint Francis Xavier was succeeded by Portuguese missionaries. Some of them visited Akbar's court, and even entertained the hope of converting the emperor. Other Catholic countries soon began to send missionaries to India. In the 18th century, Protestant missionaries, especially from Denmark, Holland and Germany, started their work in India.

The British conquest naturally gave the Anglican Church an advantage over others. William Carey and Alexander Duff played key roles in establishing Christianity. Carey founded the Seminary at Serampore. Alexander Duff came to India in 1830 and continued Carey's work. Throughout the 19th century, Catholic as well as Protestant missionaries, besides preaching Christian doctrines, made contributions to education and scholarship.

Indian Christians, who number nearly 25 million, represent almost every denomination: (Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Maronite, Seventh-Day Adventist, and others.

India has two ancient indigenous Jewish communities: the Malayalam-speaking Cochinis and the Marathi-speaking Bene Israel (children of Israel). Today, migration to Israel, England, the United States and Canada, has reduced the Indian Jewish population to 5,000. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

Religions in contemporary India

Religion still has a tremendous hold on contemporary India. Mahatma Gandhi, one of leaders of the Indian Independence movement, was deeply religious, and some of the worst excesses of recent history can be ascribed to intolerance between religious communities. In the 20th century India captured the religious imagination of the West, as many religious leaders established spiritual centres that continue to attract thousands of people.

South Asia has been a meeting ground for all the major religions of the world. Even today, Muslim Sufi saints are venerated all over India. Meher Baba, the silent sage of Maharashtra, was a Parsi. Mother Teresa was given a state funeral following her death in Calcutta in 1997 and was considered an Indian treasure, even though she was a Roman Catholic.

India is a secular republic. The protection of religious minorities is recognized as one of the obligations of the state and the constitution of India guarantees the right of IS freedom to all citizens. Pilgrimage Tours in India...

In the beautiful national anthem, composed by Rabindranath Tagore, a tribute is paid to the different religions of India. Addressing the Divine Power as Bharata-bhagya-vidhata the poet says; "Your call goes out to the Hindus, the Buddhists, the Sikhs, the Jains, the Parsis, the Muslims and the Christians. They all come, gather around your throne, and weave a garland of love for your worship."

For more information on Pilgrimage Tours in India, contact Swan Tours at www.swantour.com, One of the leading travel agents in India