India is a diverse country with a number of religions, cultures and faiths. India is an experience which cannot be missed. The faith of people in the deities, the belief in their god, the endless devotion with which people pursue their supreme lord can all be witnessed by the huge gatherings of people at places of worships, the unbending religious rituals, the flocking of pilgrimages on auspicious days and the reverence of prayer-welcome to India.
The four most popular temple destinations in India which are equally visited by the common man, celebrities, politicians and Bollywood stars as well!
North: Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine
The holy shrine of Vaishno Devi is in a holy cave located in the folds of the three peaked mountain named trikuta. The Goddess here is known to fulfill all desires and wishes of the devotees. The enchanting as well as difficult journey to the holy pilgrimage is a fine example of the unflinching faith of the devotees.
The geological study done on the caves indicated the age of the shrine to be about a million years. This shrine is believed to be the holiest of all Shakti peeths where the eternal energy of the Goddess is said to reside. The shrine was discovered some 700 years back by a priest named Pandit Shridhar.
The cave has a natural rock form which has three heads on a single base called as the holy pindies which are considered as the revelation of mother goddess, Mata Maha Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge), Mata Maha Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) and Mata Maha Kali (the Goddess of destruction).
Vaishno Devi temple is located near the town of Katra, Jammu and Kashmir at an altitude of 5300 feet and at a distance of approx. 12 Km from Katra. The temple is second most visited temples in India.
South: Tirupati Balaji
Tirumala Tirupati Devsthanam, the most visited temple in India (approx. 30,000 devotees on an average in a day) is the sacred shrine of Lord Venkateshwara. The temple is located in the hill town of Tirumala, near Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh. The temple is the second richest in India.
The history of the temple goes back to 7th century. The temple was constructed during the rule of Vijayanagara Emperors. The temple was gifted donations of gold and jewels by various rulers. The temple has a monumental tower with a golden roof. The deity stands directly under the gilt dome and wears a gold crown with a large emerald embedded in the front. The forehead has a thick double tilak, and ears are adorned with gold earrings. The right hand carries a gem set chakra, left fist contains a conch shell, front right hand has fingers pointed to its feet and front left hand is akimbo. The body of the deity is draped in clothing tied with gold string and a gold belt with gold bells. Yajnopavita (sacred thread) flows across from his left shoulder, feet covered with gold frames and gold anklets. The lord bears Shri Lakshmi Devi on his right chest and Shri Padmavathi Devi on his left chest.
The temple’s walls are inscribed with inscriptions bearing historical, cultural and linguistic information.
Tirupati is famous for its Tirupati laddoos given as prasadam (offering to the deity), hair tonsuring as offering to the lord, a donation pot termed as hundi, and Thulabharam where a devotee sits on the pan of weighing balance and the other pan is filled with donation greater than the weight of the devotee. The donations include sugar, jiggery, tulsi leaves, banana, gold coins etc. The ritual is mostly done for new born babies and children.
East: Jagannath Puri
World famous for its annual Rath Yatra, Puri is the abode of lord Jagannath. The Jagannath dham is located on the sea shore of Bay of Bengal in Puri, Orissa. Jagannath puri is one of the four holy pilgrimages in India.
The present day Jagannath temple goes back to about 12th century AD. It was constructed by the king Chodganga Deva, founder King of Ganga dynasty. The temple was finished by King Anangabhima Deva.
The temple is divided in four parts, the main temple known as Biman. The deities are seated in the inner sanctum of the Biman. The three other temples are Mukhasala, Jagamohan, and Bhogmandapa. Aruna stambh carrying the idol of Aruna, charioteer of sun god is in the front of the main gate. The temple has four gates, of which the Simhadvara is the main entrance of the temple.
The deities made of wood are of Lord Jagannath (incarnation of Vishnu), his brother Balram and sister Subhadra. It is said that the idols always remain unfinished.
West: Shri Siddhivinayaka temple
Dedicated to Lord Ganesha, Shri Siddhivinayaka temple is the most popular and significant places of worship located at Prabhadevi, Mumbai. Siddhivinayaka (Ganesha who grants all wishes) is the first deity to be worshipped before any new venture. This two century old Ganesha temple is known to fulfill the desires of the worshippers.
Historically, the temple dates back to 1801, when it was built by a contractor Laxman Vithu Patil and funded by Deubai Patil. The temple was built by Deubai Patil with a wish that Ganesha will grant children to other barren women like herself.
The temple started off as a small structure with a black stone idol of Shri Siddhivinayaka, about 2 and half feet wide. The idol of the Vighnaharak has four hands (Chaturbhuj), the trunk tilted to the right side, a lotus in upper right hand, a small axe in upper left hand, rudraksha beads in the lower right hand and modaks. Modaks are a sweet delicacy offered to Lord Ganesha. On the forehead of the deity is an eye, which depicts the third eye of lord Shiva.
Four directions, four abodes of faith and an undying spirit of the people; welcome to India!