For thousands of years, human beings have made pilgrimages to places of spiritual power and significance. There are thousands of such sites around the world today. Let’s take a look at 5 well-known ones.
Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar
Located in Tibet, the “Roof of the World”, Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar are at an altitude of over 15,000 feet, and are considered among the most sacred places on the planet by 5 religions. For Hindus, Kailash is where Lord Shiva, one of the gods of the Hindu trinity, resides. For Jains, it is the resting place of Rishabha, the first Tirthankar or teacher of their lineage. Buddhists believe that the Buddha’s mother bathed in Mansarovar before conceiving him. For the Sikhs and the Bons too, many of their teachers are said to have resided in the region.
The city of Varanasi sprawls across the banks of the river Ganga in North India. Originally known as Kashi, meaning the “City of Light”, Varanasi is also known as Banaras. 2500 years ago, when the Buddha gave his first sermon in nearby Sarnath, Varanasi had already been a renowned center of spirituality and learning for millennia. With thousands of temples, almost one in every corner, Varanasi is a spectacular blend of art, religion and architecture.
Mecca in Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Muhammad and the site of his first revelation of the Quran. The holiest city in the religion of Islam is visited by 2 million Muslims on the final month of the Islamic calendar alone, and by around 13 million Muslims throughout the year. For Muslims, the hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca is one of the high points of their religious life. The most important feature of the pilgrimage is the circumambulation of the Kaaba or Sacred House, at the center of Islam’s most holy mosque.
The Vatican in Rome, Italy, is the seat of the Pope, the ecclesiastical leader of the Catholics. Monuments to many saints, the city’s unique artistic and architectural history and a chance to see the Pope draw an estimated 4.2 million people to the Vatican every year. The Vatican is an independent, self-governing city-state ruled by the Pope, and is the only city-state to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety.
Bodh Gaya is the most important pilgrimage site for Buddhists around the world. It was at Bodh Gaya, under the Bodhi tree, that the Buddha attained enlightenment. The original Bodhi tree no longer stands, having died over the centuries, but its direct descendant has taken its place and attracts many thousands of pilgrims today. The ancient Mahabodhi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, enshrines the space where the Buddha attained.