There are many types of Pilgrimages, but one usually associates them with faith based activity. Taking a journey to a place that for some reason has a special significance plays a big part in many religions and cultures. The great pilgrimages from history play a most important part in formulating art, architecture, social anthropology and of course religion. The actual goal or subject of the pilgrimage may be somewhere that a significant event occurred, or is the shrine or birthplace of a prominent person, it could even be an actual geographical feature. For some it is almost a rite of passage, but for others more material rewards are sought.
The Hajj is the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, each year thousands of devout Muslims from all around the world make the journey. The reason for this pilgrimage is to perform one of the named “five pillars” of Islam – Hajj. The destination is Mecca in Saudi Arabia and is undertaken in the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. There is a quota allocated for each Muslim country of 1,000 pilgrims, and an estimated two million people are expected in Mecca. Each and every Muslim is expected to perform Hajj a minimum of once during their life, and its great significance is to complete the five pillars and signify the individual’s commitment to god.
Lourdes is the most popular pilgrimage shrine in the Christian faith. It is estimated that up to six million pilgrims go to Lourdes every year between April and October. The origins of Lourdes date back to 1858, when a small girl Bernadette, saw an apparition of a white-robed lady who imparted instructions that the village priest should build a chapel in the grotto that Bernadette saw the lady. On the sixteenth occasion that the lady appeared she disclosed her identity as the Blessed Virgin Mary, she began to dig in the earth until a small pool emerged which is now the sacred spring that pilgrims visit for its healing powers.
On the banks of the sacred river Ganges south of Delhi is the most famous of India’s holy places. It is possibly one of the most ancient cities in the world and is one of India’s “seven ancient cities”. The Golden Temple was dedicated to Shiva (Visvanatha) and many Hindus make a pilgrimage to Varanasi in the hope of achieving liberation. It is most famous for its “Ghats” which are cremation steps leading to the river. Many corpses are taken hundreds of miles on their final pilgrimage to be created, and mourners and relatives often scatter the ashes of the deceased in the Ganges in the hope that it will benefit the departed soul.
These three great pilgrimages are all sacred to the people who take them, and they are undertaken by people of different faiths in completely different parts of the world. The pilgrimage is universal, it is not restricted to one person or one place and that is part of its mystical magic. For as long as man has walked, pilgrimages of some sort or another have taken place, and they shall continue forever more.