The tour of India becomes ‘Incredible’ because of the credible cultural bonds of unity that have been existing for thousands of years. The idea of ‘Yatras’ that is there since time immemorial has kept us connected despite apparent diversities and made us realise the inherent unity. Many of these places are either neglected or are not known as popular tourist destinations. Organiser brings back the idea of Yatras by exploring some of the significant but unknown destinations
D.K.Hari & D.K.Hema Hari
India is a vast country with diverse terrain, from the Himalayas in the North to the Indian Ocean in the South, to the Thar Desert in the West to Arunachal in the East. The diverse landscape, seascape and snowscape make India a distinct Tourist destination.
India is also an ancient, continuously living civilisation where there is no dearth of ancient temples, palaces and other structures built in an intricate and distinct style. These add to the beauty of the landscape and enhance its tourist appeal.
The land of India also abounds in Natural Wonders. From the majestic Himalayas in the North to the Seas in the South, India is a land filled with Natural Wonders.
The flora and fauna of this land are very distinct too and held as exotic by Indians and other civilizations as well.
The scope for Tourism in this country is thus diverse indeed.
However, tourism is not a newfound potential of India. India has not suddenly become a tourist destination because of the few monuments that are much touted in the Golden Triangle of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur.
The whole civilization of India is steeped in the spirit of travel and tourism. Travel and tourism has been an integral part of the Indian ethos, be it travel for practicing trade, Vyapari meaning one who makes his wares pervade, Vyapt, reach various regions travel for rendering medicare, Charaka meaning one who travels on foot, chara and treats the sick and infirm travel for undertaking pilgrimage and visits, Yatri, meaning one who undertakes travel to go and visit a destination or family / friends travel for disseminating knowledge, Yati, meaning one who has journeyed across the realm of knowledge and journeys across land to reach out to people and spread that knowledge. Sant Ramanujacharya was given the title YatiRaja meaning King among such Yati for His service to furtherance of knowledge. This Yati is also the basis for the mysterious, manlike, elusive being Yeti who roams about in the higher reaches of the Himalayas, travels for education and for entertaining too.
The notion of journey / travel itself is described by different words to imply different nuances of travel.
Pravas – meaning special stay or residence, stay outside for a while, as well as a term for emmigrants, those who have moved out. This comes from Vas meaning to stay, just like Nivas meaning to reside. Pra denotes a special form of stay, a stay away from home. Thus immigrants or Non-Resident people of India are also called Pravasi.
Yatra – Derived from the root Ya to spread, reach out. A travel, journey, tour is an act of not merely reaching but reaching out to another place / geography. A yatra is a journey with a purpose behind it. Teertha Yatra – pilgrimage, a Yatra, journey to a Teertha, holy place. Paryatan – for going around, touring, from paryak meaning in all directions, go around Bhraman – Going around, tour With so many aspects and nuances of travel, India has been a land of much travel internally too, besides foreign travel for trade and cultural exchanges.
In fact, every generation likes to connect with its past to feel rooted, feel proud of its own identity and thus get inspired and recharged.
Every generation also likes to travel to other regions and visit monuments there, to see what it can learn of contemporaries of its own ancestors and their mutual connects.
Aren’t such monuments the places where we can really come in physical contact with our past, our heritage, our legacy?
Our ancestors too had felt this need to connect physically with their past and glory and had hence designed a concept called pilgrimage, teertha yatra.
A journey to visit monuments coming down through tradition, in reverence of the Divine, of Nature, of heroes or of historic events, which continues to be of great significance on this land even today.
Such sites are called Teertha since every such site had a water body within it or by it and water is called Teertha. Teertha Yatra is thus a hoary tradition coming down to us from more than 7 Millennia, the times of Ramayana and before.Pilgrims travelled to such sites to take a dip (not bathe) in this water and avail the benefit of good vibrations and positivity of all chants, prayers and good wishes.
This is because, water is one medium which is demonstrable as a matter that gets structurally, visibly and qualitatively transformed with sound and thought waves. A higher positivity gives it a better crystallized and healing form and the opposite holds for a high negativity around. Rivers and holy places with water tanks thus used to attract Indians from across the land to reap the results of all prayers.
Even Balarama, the brother of Lord Krishna had undertaken a Teertha Yatra up the course of the river Sarasvati, from his kingdom Dwaraka, all the way upto Yamunotri and then down to Braj, Mathura and finally to Kurukshetra to witness the last day of the war, the clash between 2 of his own students, Bhima, the Pandava and Duryodhana, the Kaurava. We can specifically date this Yatra to the day, month and year, 5100 years ago, based on the Sankalpa he takes each day, which is recorded in the Mahabharata. More on this can be obtained from our book Historical Krishna.
Tradition of Expedition
Guru Nanak Dev, the founder Guru of the Sikh religion, himself travelled across India and even Arabia, to visit places of pilgrimage. One such site He visited was the temple built commemorating the birth of His ancestor Rama at Ayodhya.
Guru Nanak Dev, as a Vedi, traced His lineage to Kusha, the son of Rama and thereon upwards to Rama and others above Him. Hence He wanted to visit the monument to Rama to connect with His ancestors.
A classic example of this need of monuments that connect generations 5100 years ago, lies in the Rama Setu. The Rama Setu as we know was built during the days of Rama of Ayodhya. This was the time period 7100 years ago, as we have shown in our book Historical Rama.
Later, around 5100 years ago, during the time of Krishna and the Pandava, the Mahabharata period, we find Rishi Markandeya regaling the Pandava with stories of Rama and the Rama Setu. He infact narrates how it was being preserved even then as a heritage monument.
Ghatotkacha, the Rakshasa son of Bhima, undertakes a sojourn to the South with his uncle Sahadeva. One of the places he visits then, is the Nala Setu / Rama Setu, which he crosses over, to meet his Rakshasa relatives in Lanka. For Ghatotkacha, it was not just a heritage monument, but a vital link too.
Further, during Ramayana times itself, we find Maharishi Vishwamitra regaling Rama and Lakshmana with stories of achievements of their ancestors from their past. Maharishi Vishwamitra takes them across the Ganga river and specifically tells them how the Ganga is a living imprint of one of their ancestors called Bhagiratha, who had brought Ganga down from the heights of the Himalaya to the plains of North India. This narration can be found in Bala Khanda of Ramayana.
For us too today, Ganga flows as a thread connecting our past with our present and future. Ganga is more than a river for India. Ganga is an edifice over which a large part of the Indian civilization has grown and continues to live even today.
In order to encourage such insightful travel of people across the land and to experience the spirit of oneness with other regions and their past, our ancients had consecrated sacred spots all across the country, in all directions. Life or attainment of old age was not considered complete unless one had visited these temples, i.e undertaken such pilgrimages.
The classic case is that of Char Dham, meaning the four abodes, which is a circuit of 4 prominent temples in the country. From the times of the Mahabharata, four sites in the Himalayan range were held sacred and temples were instituted there for people to come, identify, offer prayers and experience the tranquility that comes with the silence there. Gangotri for the Ganga, Yamunotri for the Yamuna, Badrinath for Lord Vishnu, and Kedarnath for Lord Shiva.
A larger Char Dham circuit that has come into prevalence since then is that of places with equally ancient history, Divinity as well as connectivity. Badrinath in the North, Ramanath in the South, Dwarakaanath in the West and Jagannath in the East. If one notices carefully, these 4 spots also formed the ancient gateways to India from the respective directions.
Badrinath in the North is located at the border with Tibet. Further legends and customs confirm that the temple is meant for worship for 6 months during summer, whereas from Deepavali onwards, the temple remains shut for 6 months, for prayers by the Deva who would descend into the valley then. The original, native name for Tibet is Trivishtup which in certain contexts is also construed as Swarga.
Ramanath is in the South at Rameshwaram which is the closest point from where one can cross over to the land mass of Lanka / Sri Lanka.
Dwarakaanath is in Dwaraka in the West, which going by its very name itself, used to be the Gateway (Dwar) to India from the seas in the west.
Jagannath in Puri in the East used to be the Gateway to India from the seas in the East. Visiting these spots in 4 different corners of the land, automatically meant that one has to travel the vast expanse of the land.
Why, even every Kumbh Mela, in different parts of India each year, along with different river banks, was a reason for people to travel in order to congregate and share knowledge, culture and philosophies with others like-minded.
Completion of a circuit of choice, in one’s lifetime, is a pledge taken by many. As people usually travelled to these pilgrim centres on foot or on horse and bullock-drawn carts, on the way they would also visit other tourist destinations or interact and live with people in different villages, far away from their homes. All this facilitated unity in the country and made India, One Cultural Unit.
Adi Shankara too chose four different corners of India to set up His mutts. He walked to all the four mutts. Even though different Rajas, kings ruled different parts of the country, He still considered Bharath as One Cultural Country.
As people walked to and fro, all over this land, to various Punya Teertha, the holy spots, their need for a place to stay in between their journeys was met by rest houses known as Chatrams. This word comes from the root chat, meaning roof, shelter. In Malayalam, they were known as Chaawathi, and in Telugu and Tamil as Chaawadi. They are known as Sarai in North India.
But these Chatrams were neither poor feeding places nor religious mutts. They were organized series of Tourist Guest Houses, built as a tradition of this land in almost every town and village. At these Chatrams, the pilgrims could stay in clean surroundings, partake free food offered by the local community, conduct religious rites and continue with their pilgrimage. These were all free of cost.
While most lands today, can only boast of museums and monumental relics of their ancient civilisation and ancestors, India has the potential to offer tourism that revolves not only around the monuments of the past but also around a living culture.
Every temple, place of art, home, haveli or palace is a living museum as what one sees or experiences here is what has come down from generations.
So, besides the Taj, which has become the de facto symbol of tourist attractions in India, there are innumerable structures and traditions, strewn all across India, which are archaeological relics as well as living expressions with a similar history, mystery, mysticism and marvel.
Being so diverse in appearance and features but united in underlying ethos and history, they offer a common ground for tourism even amongst Indians themselves.
One can get a larger purpose of Tourism from the Indian term Yatra i.e travelling with a purpose. And what may the purpose be? – expanding the horizons of the traveller’s notion of space, time and expression to reach out to the underlying thread of unity in mind and spirit – with both, the people of the past and the present, so that the future gets to stay rooted.
( The writers are founders of the Bharath Gyan)