Why do I go on pilgrimages?

Why do I go on Pilgrimage?

It may be a question that is troubling many of my friends who see me in one temple or the other almost every month. I also have this question – why am I on this pilgrimage spree from last few years?

The answer can only be subjective but with commonality with some people. If this helps, I would be very happy.

I was on unconscious pilgrimages with my grandmother and other relatives early in my childhood. Every month on one Saturday, they used to visit one Shani Temple in a place called Janur Hosur. We were all very small – myself, my sister, and some of my cousins.  We just accompanied our elders. We didn’t understand any of their Puja and guidance seeking from the chief priest. We busied ourselves in exploring the places closer to the temple.  We always enjoyed going with them. It was seldom easy.  There used to be very few private buses and they were loaded to the full. We somehow used to sneak in and stand there till our destination arrived.  This was with my paternal grandmother. When I stayed with my maternal grandmother for about one and half years, she made me to salute God daily after the morning bath and pray for goodness. Of course I followed her advice. That is it as I remember in my childhood till the age of 12 years.  I am not traditional in the sense that I usually do not offer flower etc to God.  At the most I light a lamp and give a full pledged namaskar.

The next phase I remember going to temple was when I was in Engineering.  I used to go with couple of my friends every now and then. It was after the first year. In the first year, I used to debate with a Muslim friend who also happened to be my room mate – Zeeshan Ahmed.  I always told him that there can’t be something called God and he used to tell me that there is a God. He was very good both technically and religiously. I remember him teaching me stuff related to Mother Board etc.  Somehow I was at peace with God may be from the third semester.

Except for the village side folk songs and some film songs related to God, I don’t remember listening to quality chanting of Vedic Hymns or Stotras in those days.  There was a guy, Siddharudh, who was my junior who came from a traditional orthodox family. He sometimes used to sing ‘Maha Praana Deepam’.  I liked it.  I used to ask him to sing it for me. He always obliged. The first collection of Sanskrit Devotional Hymns I heard was only after I came out of Engineering. It was sung by S P Balasubramaniam. Now I have a pretty decent collection. I don’t see any other music which is as elevating as the devotional music and the Vedic hymns.

Coming to the main point, towards the end of my Engineering, I noticed that my mind was getting many bad thoughts. It was quite a contradiction to what I usually was. Initially the intensity was less and then it became quite intense and I was totally startled about how to get rid of it. May be I have contributed to it through some of my actions but somewhere I think those impressions were deep inside the subconscious. My liking to Swami Vivekananda has nothing do with these impressions. I liked him from the very first when I saw so much substance in his words. But these bad thoughts, I must say, have dragged me into the spiritual practices of which Pilgrimage is one. Japa and Meditation being the other.

It is quite easy to follow the common trend and live like how most people do and go on with life. But somewhere I was not very happy with some of the thoughts that originated in my mind. It was a long drawn battle. I can’t believe that I have lived through it and that am writing this today.

First time, in 2005, I went to Chamundi Hills which was quite close to our office in Mysore. The next week I went to MM Hills which was quite far. It was about 1:00AM when I reached home that day.  In a way that was the first time I went out that far all alone in search of peace.  Ever since then the nature has given me many opportunities and circumstances in which I can undertake pilgrimage – either alone or in a group.

But why do I undertake this pilgrimage? Basically because it helps me see my own mind and my behavior pattern.  I start becoming aware.  It is so easy to forget oneself and one’s goal in life. Coming out to a temple in a far off place usually helps. One thing that you will do is at least develop some devotion to God which is always a good thing, and Secondly, it also provides you an opportunity to explore the nation geographically. If I never went on a pilgrimage, there was very little chance that I could see the Himalayas, Haridwar, Rishikesh, Varanasi, Ujjain, Sri Sailam, Somnath, Dwaraka etc.. Now I have more less traveled all over India and have understood our country a little. I think these two things – purifying my mind and knowing the country have been invaluable and will have a great say in what I am going to do in the rest of my life.

Now I can also relate this to the central theme of life. I read Swami Vivekananda constantly uttering that the real nature of man is that he is God. This idea is to be found in the teachings of all great spiritual people and all our scriptures. The central theme is that man is God and that he should realize it. To be honest,  I sometimes experienced this feeling of being God. Then that saying ‘Aham Brahmasmi’ was not just an utterance. I could really feel that I am God or the Atman, as you choose to call it. It is a wonderful feeling when your mind is free from all thoughts and reflects on the very nature of the Self. But as I have said earlier I was equally troubled by thoughts of the most degrading nature.

Going on regular pilgrimage is also suggested by Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. It helps me to detach myself from the world and see the world from a better angle and associate with it in a better way. Secondly, whenever I have been intense in these pilgrimages, I am able to cleanse my mind a little. I could see the impurities coming out of mind.  In the Indian idea, there is a concept of ‘papa purusha’ which literally means a devil that lives inside us, call it by any name you want – bad qualities, samskaras, Satan, Mara. Why do people do wrong? They are influenced by this. They are not even aware of it.   We have to employ all means to become better. Pilgrimage is one such means. Love of God – Yes! That develops simultaneously.

Sometimes I wish I wanted neither the bad thoughts and nor the pilgrimage. But I don’t have any other option. This is one challenge put forth to every man – purify yourself and realize your identity with God. There is no escape from this challenge. One has to fight his way through. You may delay accepting this challenge but I know a day would come when this becomes the very reason for your living and a paramount question in your mind. Then anything that helps you in this struggle becomes dear and also important to you.

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