PLACES OF PILGRIMAGE IN INDIA
by T. Subba Row
Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar, Madras. India
THE following communication sent to me by a student of Occult Science will throw some light on the significance attached to the ancient Hindû religious symbology as illustrated in the various places of pilgrimage abounding in India, and account for the high veneration in which these places are held by the masses of the Hindû population. Speaking of "pilgrimage as a means of spiritual education� the said correspondent writes as follows :
"The insistence of the later Brãhminical Scriptures on pilgrimages as a means of spiritual education is well known. At the present day there is hardly a pious Hindû, of whatever set and in whatever part of India, who considers his or her religious duties performed without visiting the principal places of pilgrimage. In this respect the modern Hindû differs so completely from his Christian contemporaries, that the latter would hardly credit what a vast number of pilgrims annually circulate over the country to fulfil their religions obligations, and to what trouble and expense they put themselves for the purpose. [Page 2] With the social aspect of the question, the present paper is not concerned. It is proposed to examine what real good pilgrimage in India does produce in the spiritual education of the people, and what is the rationale of the institution. The places of pilgrimage are so numerous and their esoteric significance so deep, that anything like completeness must be disclaimed by the present writer. At the same time the hope is expressed that the lines of inquiry indicated herein may be followed up by competent scholars and mystics, so that the highly beneficial character of pilgrimages may be made apparent to all open-minded people, and the great wisdom of his ancestors shown to the Hindû of the present day.
"In the first place it is to be remarked that the sacred cities of the Hindûs are well organised and powerful spiritual centres, and from them there radiates an elevating influence which is not the less active because unperceived by the ordinary Philistine.
" Places of pilgrimage are truly spiritual seminaries, which, though completely closed to the idler and the superstitious in selfish quest of personal holiness and personal salvation, are ever open to receive the earnest and devoted searcher after truth. The statement may be boldly made and the support of all true mystics confidently expected on its behalf, that there is no important place of pilgrimage in India which does not enjoy the presence, in most cases permanent, [Page 3] of some adept or initiate of a high order, who is ever ready to point the path to the higher life into which he himself has entered. It is a matter of common experience that people's spiritual eyes have been opened in these holy cities under the benign influence of some great Sãdhu (sinless man). But, for reasons which will be readily understood, the pious hand must not seek to withdraw the veil of obscurity which shrouds the holy men and their work. The members of the silent brotherhood will but speak to those whose karma deserves it. Shankarãchãrya says :
These three are difficult to attain and are due to the favor of the gods (i.e., the good karma of previous births): - Humanity, desire for liberation, and contact with great spiritually-minded men.
"The holy cities were built, or at all events completed, in the later epochs of Brãhmanic history. When the spirituality of mankind began to be clouded by progressive materiality, consequent upon the desire of selfish enjoyment, the seclusion of the adepts became greater, and the sacred Samskrt language became daily less understood. As a remedy for this great cyclic evil, the holy ones of the earth left to the profane vulgar the symbolical architecture of the great temples, which yet serve as finger-posts to the mystical student. Very few persons are aware that as the [Page 4] pilgrim stands on the bridge of boats on the Ganges before Benares, he is face to face with a most sublime and awful mystery, the full import of which none but the higher initiates comprehend. This mystery is represented by the general aspect of the holy city, whose two Samskrt names - Kãshî and Vãranasi - will yield a mine of truth to the earnest inquirer. It is not for us to elucidate the point; for the present it will suffice to suggest to the reader a fruitful field of inquiry, where each will be rewarded according to his earnestness and spiritual penetration.
"What is Kãshî ?
question has been answered in a well-known treatise by a celebrated
Satyajñãnãnandatîrtha-yati. He says that Kãshî is
the supreme power of the great God Shiva who is the undifferentiated
Consciousness, and Being. [The word Sat has been
being, as the English language does not afford a better word:
if allowed in English would be a more adequate rendering]
Peace here represents the fourth or unmanifested state of the
is the Chidãkãsha, his other name being Vyoma or space, the
small circle or dot which is placed on the top of the Samskrt mystic
symbol Om ().
What relation it has to the force located in the human body above
and represented by the dot over the crescent moon, the Mystic knows
well. Kãshî is called the
goddess who embodies Consciousness and Bliss, and is the same as the
or Power [Page
5] to whom the sacred verses
of Shankarãchãrya -
Ânandalahari -are addressed. The great teacher says
that if Shiva is not united to Shakti he cannot produce even a
of well-being. Shakti is adorable of Hari, Hara, and Viriñchi.
By once turning the key of the symbology here adopted we find
Hari or Vishnu is the dreaming state of the universe, the
aspect of the darkness, the destroyer or remover Hara.
is usually taken as a loose synonym for Shiva, it is here used
the deliberate object of implying that the transcendental
the universe, emblematized by Shiva, is beyond the state of
as the turîya state is beyond the sushupti,
Shiva is Para-nirvãna, while Hara is Nirvãna. It is easily
intelligible how to the popular mind no distinction is
Para-nirvãna. Hari, we have said, is the first differentiated
condition realized by the human ego. He is therefore the son
by the sign Leo on the Zodiac (see Mr. Subba Row's invaluable
on the Twelve
of the Zodiac
in The Theosophist,
Vol. III). Viriñchi or Brahmã the
Creator is the aggregation of the perceptible universe. Shakti
above these three, and the consort of Shiva. This explains
why Kãshî is
called Tripurãraidhãma, the royal residence of the destroyer
of the three cities, the undifferentiated synthetic condition of
three states mentioned above. With regard to the human ego the [Page
6] three cities are the
three bodies, gross, subtile and causal, beyond which is the
From this it also becomes clear that Kãshî is the eternal Chinmãtra
has been well explained by Mr. Subba Row in his article on Personal
and Impersonal God
Theosophist, Vol. IV). It
also becomes manifest from this that in one of its
Kãshî is prajñã,
in which is realized the great formula "Thou art It" .
This prajñã is the mother of mukti or liberation,
as all Vedãntins
know. The Tîrthayati says: ' I make salutation to that Kãshî
whose favor I am Shiva', and I know Shiva to be the spirit
that is. Kãshî is
Buddhi, Shakti or Mãyã, the different names of the
divine Power which dominates throughout the universe; in
is one aspect of the One Soul. The above-quoted Mystic
'This Kãshî is the
power of Shiva, the supreme consciousness, but not different
him. Know Kãshî to
be the same as Shiva and the supreme Bliss. . . Kãshî is
that by which the supreme reality of the spirit is
manifested or in which
it is so manifested. She is also sung as the Chinmãtra;
I make salutation to her, the supreme Knowledge. Elsewhere
writer calls Kãshî the darkness
(Shyãmã).' This Darkness is the undifferentiated matter
of the Cosmos, beyond which dwelleth the sun-colored one,
In the Psalms this
Asat or Prakrti is referred to in the highly poetical
There is darkness round his pavilion'. [Page
"Krshna, the supreme Spirit, is dark in his human form. No human eye can penetrate beyond this divine darkness. In some Vaishnava work it is stated that on one occasion Krshna transformed himself into Shyãmã in Kãlî (darkness in its feminine aspect), thus hinting at the truth which reveals itself to the spiritual eye of intuition. Unconsciously guided by the higher light, the Christian Church believes that Jesus Christ was black and comely, although the passage in The Song of Solomon in which the expression occurs has no relation whatever to Christ.
"To return to Kãshî in its aspect of Buddhi. It is to be remembered that Buddhi is the first differentiation of Prakrti. According to Kapila, Buddhi is the determination (adhyavasãya) in nature of Prakrti to evolve egotism. Buddhi has three conditions or aspects. Its own essentially pure condition is that in which it is identical with Prakrti, in which the three substantive qualities of goodness (sattva), passional activity (rajas) and delusion (tamas), are in a state of equilibrium and in that sense non-existent. This Buddhi is the mother of salvation; in fact it is salvation. When under the influence of rajas the quality of sattva predominates, four things are generated: the practice of virtue (dharma), dispassion (vairãgya), the spiritual powers (aishrarya), and finally salvation, when by the excess of goodness Buddhi returns to its original state of purity. When under some influence tamas predominates, the four opposites of what is [Page 8] stated above are produced. Tamas by its enveloping power (ãvarana shakti) makes the one reality in the universe appear as the differentiated universe of matter, and then rajas by its expansive power (vikshepa shakti} produces the passions which are the cause of bondage.
"These three conditions of Buddhi the Tîrthayati gives as aspects of Kãshî: Nirvishesha (undifferentiated), Shuddha (pure, when the sãttvika quality predominates) and jada (when tamas predominates). One under the domination of tamas looks upon the geographical Kãshî as the reality :
Shuddha Kãshî is the abstract consciousness still limited
"One under the domination of the sattva quality practices virtue, still ascribing good and evil to nature around him.
"In her Nirvishesha condition, Kãshî is self-existent in her glory, and is the supreme God of Shiva and of all liberated souls :
"We shall now understand why it is generally believed that residence in Kãshî removes all sins committed elsewhere, but a sin committed in the [Page 9] temple of the Lord, Kãshî itself renders one incapable of receiving grace - the reference being to the spiritual evil, the sin against the Holy Ghost, for which there is no remission. The wretch who knows the truth and follows the left hand path is doomed to nameless misery in Avîchi Nirvãna.
"The Tîrthayati says: ' Terrible indeed is the suffering of one who commits a sin in Kãshî. Alas ! the state of a Rudra pishãcha that the sinner attains is more intolerable than the suffering of all the hells.'
"By the acquisition of true knowledge all sins are consumed by the fire kindled in the hearth of heart (chidagnikundam), but there is no hope for the damned soul who murders his spirit, as far as that is possible, by the practice of black magic.
"Without prolonging the present paper, the student may be recommended to the Skanda-Purãna for further information on this subject; and in conclusion, it may be stated that the practical Occultist will derive great benefit from a proper study of the Tîrthayati's treatise, which has here been so largely quoted."
I will add a few remarks to the foregoing communication. It will be no exaggeration to say that the secrets of the ancient archaic science, for which an inquirer will search in vain the mystical books of the East, are often symbolically represented in some of the most celebrated places of pilgrimage in India. The mysterious ideas generally associated with the position of Benares (Kãshî), its past history and its [Page 10] innumerable gods and goddesses, contain clearer indications of the secrets of final initiation than a cart-load of books on Yoga philosophy. Look again at Chidambaram and examine carefully the plan on which its celebrated temple was built by Patañjali, by the light of the Kabalistic, the Chaldean, the Egyptian and the Hindû doctrines relating to the great mystery of the Logos. You are far more likely to penetrate this mystery by such a course of study than by examining all the obscure statements of the ancient initiates regarding the sacred voice of the great deep and the impenetrable veil of Isis. Masons are searching in vain for the lost golden delta of Enoch; but an earnest seeker of truth who has comprehended the rules of interpretation which are applicable to such subjects will not find it very difficult to discover this delta in Chidambaram. Similarly, various occult secrets find their true interpretation and explanation in Shrîshailam, Rãmanãth, Jagannãth, Allahabad and other places, justly considered as sacred, owing to their various associations, by the followers of the Hindû religion. It would require several volumes to explain at length the sacred symbols connected with these places and their mystic significance, and to interpret in a proper manner the Sthalapurãnams relating thereto. As no writer was permitted in ancient times to divulge in clear language the secrets of occult science to the public, and as books and libraries could be easily destroyed either by the [Page 11] ravages of time or the vandalism of barbarous invaders, it was thought proper to preserve, for the benefit of posterity, in strong and lasting edifices of granite, some of the greatest secrets known to the designers of these buildings, in the form of signs and symbols. The very same necessity which brought into existence the Sphinx and the great pyramid led the ancient leaders of Hindû religious thought to construct these temples, and express in stone and metal the hidden meaning of their doctrines. A few explanations and suggestions will be sufficient to justify the foregoing statements, and indicate the manner in which these symbols should be interpreted.
A Samskrt verse is often repeated by Hindûs, which says that journeys to seven places of pilgrimage will secure Moksha to the devotee. The places are enumerated thus: (1) Ayodhyã, (2) Mathurã, (3) Mãyã, (4) Kãshî (Benares), (5) Kañchî, (Conjiveram), (6) Avantikã (Ojeen) and (7) Dvãraka. Now, these places are intended to represent the seven centers of occult energy in the human body, known as (1) Sahasrãra, (2) Ãjña, (3) Vishuddhi, (4) Anãhata, (5) Svãdhishthãna, (6) Manipûraka and (7) Mûlãdhãra respectively. The ideas associated with these places will become intelligible when examined by the light of the doctrines connected with these force-centers recognized by Yogis.
It is generally believed by the Hindûs that death in Benares secures final emancipation from the [Page 12] necessity of a rebirth. This belief is so strong in the minds of the ordinary people as to lead a considerable number to resort to this place every year for the purpose of remaining there till they die.
This certainly appears to be a ridiculous superstition. But a great spiritual truth is lurking behind this strange belief. This truth will become apparent when we ascertain what death at Benares is really intended to mean. From the foregoing arrangement of the seven sacred places alluded to, it will be seen that Benares corresponds to the heart in the human body, in the center of which the Anãhata chakram of the Yogîs is located; and the truth of this inference is further strengthened by the manner in which Kãshî is described in the Sankalpam (preliminary recitation before bathing or commencing any worship). It is therein said that Benares is between Asi and Varuna; that it is situated in Ânandavana; that it is in Mahãsmashãna (or the great crematorium or burial ground); that it stands in front of Gaurî; that it is held up by the three points of the trident of Shiva; that it is in the midst of Brahmanãlam (the narrow passage of Brahman), going now northwards, and that it is at the end of Mani (Manikarnikã means Pranavakarnikã). It may be easily seen now how far this is a figurative representation of the Anãhata chakra of the Yogîs. This chakra is between the two Nãdîs, Idã and Pirigala in the human body, which are represented by the two small streams Asi [Page 13] and Varuna named in the foregoing description. The state of ecstasy is realized when consciousness is centered in the germ of prajñã, which is placed in this chakra, and hence Benares is an Ânandavana, which literally means a pleasure garden. When this centralization of consciousness in the germ of prajñã is secured, the objective consciousness realized in the physical body and in the astral body entirely ceases; consequently before the spiritual consciousness of the regenerated Spirit (the Christ after resurrection) is awakened, the condition realized may be compared to that of sound sleep or sushupti - the death of the incarnated Christ, the death of the individual man. This is the time of the great peace and calm after the tempest. Hence Kãshî or Anãhata chakra, wherein this condition is realized, is the great burial ground or burning ground, as everything - the ego and the non-ego - seems to be dead and buried for the time being. Gauri is the Sophia of the Gnostics and the Isis of the Egyptians. When this condition - that of prajñã - is reached, the Spirit is in front of the Divine Light and Wisdom, and ready to behold the mysterious Goddess without the veil as soon as its spiritual eyes are opened on the other side of the Cosmos.
Hence Benares is in Gaurîmukham. This condition again marks the termination of the three conditions of consciousness experienced by the incarnated spirit, viz., the ordinary, the clairvoyant and the Devachanic [Page 14] conditions. These three states of differentiated prajñã are the three points of Shiva's trident. Again Anãhata chakra is in the Sushurnnã nãdi - a mysterious and narrow passage running through the spinal cord to the crown of the head, and through which vital electricity flows, and Benares is therefore said to be in Brahmanãlam, which is another name for Sushmnã nãdî. Further, the condition above alluded to is represented by the dot over Pranava, as our correspondent says, and hence Benares is described as Manikarnikã
It will thus be seen that Benares is an external symbolical representation of the Anãhata chakra of the Yogîs. Death in Benares therefore means the concentration of prajñã, in the original germ consciousness, which constitutes the real individuality of the man. It must further be noticed that Sahasrãra represents the positive pole and mulãdhãra the negative pole in the body. From the mysterious union of their energies in the heart the sacred and irrepressible (anãhata) voice is generated in the Anãhata chakra. This voice is heard when the tempestuous activity of conscious existence terminates in the death of Sushupti, and out of the ashes of the individual man the regenerated man springs into existence electrified by this song of life. Hence it is stated that when a man dies at Benares, Rudra (a form or manifestation of Thoth, the Initiator), communicates to him the secret of the Logos and [Page 15] secures rnoksha for him. It will be clear now that the popular belief is full of meaning to a student of occult science. Similarly the traditions connected with every other important place of pilgrimage will yield much valuable information when properly interpreted.