In the search of spiritual solace
From quaint ashrams reverberating with Vedic chants to Sufi shrines with magical and divine qawwalis, India offers a healing balm to the worn out soul
To walk the spiritual path is to continually step out into the unknown, said author Wallace Huey. And while the traditional pilgrimage has been a part of our culture since time immemorial, it has now turned into a blend of faith and fun where the divinity merges into a desire to explore.
From the ghats of Varanasi to Taktsang in Bhutan, from Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, Iran to Church of St. George, Ethiopia, spiritual experiences range from the religious and intellectual, to those centered in art and nature. These moments of euphoria, a yearning for a connection to something higher than ourselves are usually brought on by travel.
And when it comes to spiritual tourism, how can we forget actor Julia Robert’s tryst with finding meaning at an ashram in India. ”Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it,” says AMerican author Elizabeth Gilbert in the book Eat, Pray, Love.
In its profundity, the partial perceptions and fleeting thoughts, the often unnoticed shifts in awareness that get ignored in most daily life, are allowed to flower into meaning either unexpectedly or through visits to holy places.
A multi cultural and religiously plural society, India has often been called the spiritual capital of the world. A land of mystics and yogis, people travel from across the world seeking answers on human existence and consciousness.
“For centuries, travellers have turned to India for their share of self-discovery and spiritual wisdom. Healing therapies, counseling, meditation, yoga, retreats in India offer a healthy alternative to a regular holiday break. It helps harmonize your body and mental wellbeing getting your natural rhythms back on track,” says Shiv Sadhika Maa Viswaroopa, Astrologer.
And as Alex Norman puts it in Spiritual Tourism: Travel and Religious Practice in Western Society, “Spiritual tourism is the logical outcome of the combined processes of secularisation, post-modernity and the history of tourism.”
Spiritual tourism connotes something bigger and far-reaching than a simple and single action. It’s a whole undertaking that is difficult and requires effort. Travel and faith helps in broadening experiences and allows oneself to become open to alternative ideas and beliefs that may alter or deepen the ideals of existing faith. It allows you to dive headfirst into your faith and get a much deeper understanding of what your belief means. And as travel influencer, Jagnoor Aneja puts it, “The pandemic has made people realize the value of togetherness rather than the materialistic greeds of the common man. Being locked in houses has made people connect with their inner self and after the lockdown being lifted, people have started seeking spiritual retreats.”
He adds, “ Meditation is a great way to access the inner workings of your mind and help you experience a faith that you may experience superficially.”
This year, start on a pilgrimage of your own, explore and create spiritual assets.
The ghats of Varanasi have healing and purifying properties. ”As a traveller, I take pleasure in unravelling the mystical theories and rituals associated with places. Varanasi is my favourite as I have always felt a surge of positive energy that bubbles in me while walking around the ghats and the evening Aarti is mesmerizing,” says Manjulika Pramod, travel influencer and author. She adds,”Spiritual travel helps to instill more faith in my belief in one super power. It also inspires my soul and mind to introspect and clear the clutter of mind. Every time, I sit down inside a temple and meditate, I feel peace within.”
Located at the site where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment, the Mahabodhi Temple is also a UNESCO World heritage site. Surrounded by uniquely designed monasteries, this place tops the bucket list of any world traveller. Dotted with history and spiritual background, Gaya finds an important place in the religious books for Hindus.
Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah, New Delhi
This place awakens the soul and helps heal spiritually. ”Every traveller’s experience at the Sufi shrine is soul enriching. Sufi traditions include practices such as music, qawwali and other forms of poetry of love, and relations. The music is bound to give ruhaani sukoon to all,” says Sufi Ajmal Nizami, Custodian Dargah Nizamuddin Aulia
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu
“Tiruvannamalai attracts spiritual seekers to its Sri Ramana Ashram and Hindu pilgrims who walk around holy Mount Arunachala and pray at Arunachaleswar Temple, where Lord Shiva is worshiped as the element of fire,” says Manu Rishi Guptha, CEO, Niraamaya Wellness Retreats