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Hindu places of worship in Dharamshala by Maryama

Butter Lamp in Dharamshala

28 May 2015

Though Dharamsala is renowned around the world for being the residence of the Dalai Lama, the guru of Tibetan Buddhism, this tranquil hamlet plays host to many an ancient Hindu temple. Hinduism and Buddhism co-exist peacefully in this beautiful hill town, located in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Here is a list of some of the popular Hindu temples in and around Dharamshala: Baijnath temple The Baijnath temple is the shrine of Lord Shiva, one of the members of the supreme trinity of Hindu Gods. The mandir was constructed in early thirteenth century by two local merchants named Ahuka and Manyaka. The temple is an excellent example of medieval Indian architecture. The walls of the temple are adorned with beautiful paintings and carvings of numerous Hindu deities. The water in the temple is believed to contain therapeutic properties that cure people of their illnesses. A unique feature of this temple is the presence of the two Nandi statues (Nandi is the gatekeeper of Lord Shiva) unlike the other Shiva temples where only one Nandi statue can be seen. Devotees perform a famous ritual whereby they whisper their wishes into the ears of the Nandi idol and their wishes would be granted by the God. On a sunny day, one can be treated to spectacular views of the Dhauladhar hills of the Himalayan mountain range. The tall peaks stand majestically on either side of the Beas valley where the temple is located. Chamunda devi mandir Located on the banks of Baner river in Kangra district (approximately 15 km away from Dharamshala) of Himachal Pradesh, the Chamunda Devi mandir is the abode of the deity Goddess Durga, known locally as Chamunda. According to the legends, the Goddess killed the two demons Chand and Munda in a fierce battle, and was thus endowed with the title Chamunda Devi. The Devi’s idol is flanked on either sides by the idols of Lord Hanuman and Lord Bhairo. Devout followers believe that worshipping at this shrine would give them and their ancestors mohksha (salvation). The temple itself features a diverse range of images from various Hindu sacred texts such as the Devi Mahatmyam, the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha. These images vividly portray various aspects of Hindu folklore and tradition. Jwalamukhi temple Located in the valley of Beas nearly 60 km away from Dharamshala, the Jwalamukhi temple is believed to be more than 1000 years old […]

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You can visit Mount Kailash through the Nathula pass by Stéphanie

Mount Kailash

23 May 2015

Tourists from India can undertake a pilgrimage to Kailash through the Nathula pass in the Indian state of Sikkim. Located in the Tibetan Autonomous region of China, Mount Kailash is held sacred by not one but four religions namely Hinduism, Bonism, Jainism and Buddhism. To know more about Mount Kailash, please click here. In the past, pilgrims going to Kailash and Mansarovar had to make do with the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand. Otherwise, they had to go to Nepal before reaching Tibet. In the existing routes, pilgrims had to undergo extreme hardships as they involved heavy trekking on rugged terrain and high altitudes reaching up to 6000 metres. Moreover, these routes could accommodate only a limited number of pilgrims. Acknowledging the limitations, the Governments of India and China signed a bilateral agreement in September, 2014 thereby opening the alternative Nathula route. The first batch of pilgrims are expected to make use of this route in June this year. The Government expects 1600 pilgrims to use the Nathula route in 2015. The biggest advantage of the Nathula pass is that it allows pilgrims to drive all along and they don’t have to go on foot. Pilgrims would first travel from Gangtok in Sikkim to Shigatse in Tibet. From there, well laid roads extend all the way to Kailash and Mansarovar which the they can make use of. The Nathula route would not only  reduce the hardships and travel time of the tourists but also enhance the visitor capacity. Many more pilgrims, especially senior citizens, are expected to evince interest now that they have more options to choose from. While the Nepal route takes 10 days to weeks, the Uttarkhand route takes almost a month. In contrast, the Nathula route is expected to take just 8 days.

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The four places that shaped Buddhism by Stéphanie

Eyes of Buddha

20 May 2015

Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Its principles are based primarily on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known popularly as the Buddha (meaning ‘the Enlightened one’). Born into a family of Kings, Siddhartha renounced his material pleasures in search for a higher meaning in life. He wandered far and wide in the Indian subcontinent before he became Lord Buddha. His principles on which the religion was founded were shaped by four places namely: Lumbini – Buddha’s birthplace Bodh Gaya – the site of his englightenment Sarnath – the site where Buddha delivered his first discourse Kushi Nagar – his place of death In fact, the Buddhist text Parinibbana Sutta says that Buddha himself identified these four places before coming into this world. Lumbini Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in modern day Nepal, Lumbini is the place where Queen Mayadevi is said to have given birth to Siddhartha Gautama. Legend says that the Queen visited Lumbini during her pregnancy and was enthralled by its natural grandeur. Once when she was standing in a garden she felt labour pains, caught hold of a branch of the nearby sal tree for support and delivered the baby. A temple was erected in honour of the Queen and she was worshiped as a Goddess in the past. In 294 BC, the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini and constructed a stone pillar and four stupas as symbol of Buddhism. Though it had suffered serious neglect for many centuries, Lumbini is today a very popular tourist spot. Bodh Gaya Perhaps the most sacred Buddhist site, The North Indian town of Bodh Gaya is the place where Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became Buddha. Enlightenment is a state where one has a profound wisdom about the universal truths that guide mankind. Siddhartha is said to have undergone a rigorous six-year long penance in Bodh Gaya before he finally became awakened. A huge temple complex known as the Maha Bodhi defines the town’s landscape today. Millions of tourists from all around the world visit Bodh Gaya year after year. You can also read  our exclusive article about Bodh Gaya to know how this quaint Indian town became the birthplace of Buddhism. Sarnath Located a stone’s throw away from the holy Indian city of Varanasi, Sarnath is fortunate to have played host to Buddha’s first ever sermon known as Dhammacakkhapavathana Sutta. After becoming enlightened in Bodh Gaya, Buddha went to Sarnath to impart his learnings to […]

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The Himalayas: a sacred land by Gokul

The Himalayas a sacred land

15 May 2015

In many religious faiths, mountains are held with a strong reverence and are associated with sanctity. It is perhaps because they rise majestically into the sky and stand tall above the rest of the world they are considered as religious abodes. The Himalayas, home to some of the tallest peaks in the world, is an eminently sacred land for many a religion. From Hindu temples such as Amarnath and Kedarnath in the west to Buddhist temples in Lumbini in the east, hundreds of temples are located all across the mountain range. Some of these temples are hundreds and even thousands of years old. Year after year, devotees brave challenging weather conditions and steep slopes to undertake pilgrimages to various places of worship in the Himalayas. These devotees come from many different religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bönism. One particular peak, Mount Kailash is held sacred by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Böns alike. It would be no exaggeration if one were to say that Kailash is the most revered mountain in Asia. To know more about the religious significance of Mount Kailash, please click here. There is such might, such grandeur and such beauty in each of those majestic peaks that one cannot help but feel where else in this world can one be closer to God. Even if one were to view the Himalayas from a non-religious perspective, it is certainly more than just a range of mountains. It is the source of many a river in Asia – rivers that provide the livelihood to millions of people living in the plains.  No wonder the Himalayas is held sacred!

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Amritapuri embraces the ideal ‘The world is one big family’ by Fanny

Eyes of Buddha

13 May 2015

Many philosophers across the world have enthusiastically embraced the philosophy that the world is one big family. Mata Amritanandamayi Devi is one such philosopher and spiritualist who professes to live by this noble ideal. Popularly known as Amma (‘Amma’ means mother) among her followers, Mata Amritanandamayi is an Indian spiritual leader whose sayings are followed with firm reverence by millions of people all across the world. She was born in a village called Parayakadavu in the South Indian state of Kerala. Parayakadavu is now known as Amritapuri and it houses the main ashram (monastery) of Amma. In this ashram, it is quite common to find people from virtually all parts of the world. Though these people are divided various parameters such as nationality, religion, language, race and customs they are united by a common pursuit to find the meaning of life. The ashram is open all round the year to any individual who is interested in this higher quest for meaning. There have been numerous instances where foreign nationals have lived here for years together and some of them have even made Amritapuri their home. This quaint little South-Indian coastal town has truly become a global village and the number of international residents has grown to more than 3000. The ashram provides meals and accommodation facilities to all its residents for as low as 3 US dollars a day. The ashram does not subscribe to any particular religion nor does it preach any. The mission of the Amritapuri ashram as well as the organization is to attain spiritual unity and therefore there is no visible presence of any religious undertones. As Amma herself has so often proclaimed, “My religion is love”, the only religion practised here is love and kindness for fellow human beings. Such a virtuous principle not only melts away all the differences that separate people but it also unifies them into one huge family. In order to sustain the principle, the ashram offers yoga retreats, meditation programmes and studies in traditional spiritual practices to interested individuals. These programmes not only help improve the physical and mental wellbeing of the participants but cultivate inner peace in the hearts of individuals. Peace is the platform on which the concept of ‘Love thy neighbour’ is built. A stay in the Amritapuri ashram would certainly be an enriching and enlightening experience for any human being.

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Kochi is a blissful fusion of religious faiths by Julianne

Kochi a blissful fusion of religious faiths

11 May 2015

The sea-side metropolis of Kochi is one of the biggest cities in Kerala, the South Indian state that is known popularly as God’s own country primarily for its lush green landscapes dotted by pristine backwaters and lagoons. Kochi acts as a gateway to many popular tourist destinations in Kerala such as Munnar, Alleppey, Wayanad, Thekkadi etc. However, Kochi is a unique in itself for it is a prime example of peaceful coexistence of major religions. The followers of the world’s major faiths – Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Buddhism – all form a part of the Kochi cityscape. In a country where more than 80% of the people follow Hinduism, Kochi stands as an exception because just one out of every two residents of the city is a Hindu. The existence of a healthy mixture of religious faiths in this region is due to the fact that it witnessed many waves of migrations during the course of its history. For instance, records establish the creation of settlements by Jews in Kodungallur, a port near Kochi, in the first century AD. It is believed that Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, arrived in Kerala in 52 AD and laid the foundations for the spread of Christianity. Today, the descendants of St.Thomas Christians call themselves Syrian Christians, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The city’s Islamic history can be traced back to the eighth century. As early as 3rd century B.C, Buddhism finds a mention in Malayali (Malayalam is the language spoken by the locals) literature. There is a significant presence of Jainism and Sikhism as well. The atmosphere in the city is filled with religious harmony and is evident from the presence of shrines for every major religion. Each individual follows the faith of his choice and at the same time acknowledge the presence of other religious faiths. Some of the renowned religious abodes in the city are: Santa Cruz Basilica With a history spanning more than five hundred years, Santa Cruz Basilica is one of the oldest churches in India. Renowned for its grand décor, the church was constructed in gothic-style architecture. Though it was deemed as a cathedral for most of its timespan, it received the status of a Basilica from Pope John Paul II in the year 1984. Apart from being a centre for religious congregation, the basilica receives […]

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