India is a country which is often regarded as the richest in tradition and heritage. With more than 2 million gods to worship, India is considered the richest country in terms of religion. From the God of creation to the God of destruction, India has a temple for every one of them. Though there are are literally thousands of temples spread across India that a person must visit, it is no easy journey and can take a lifetime. But then again, there are certain temples that you must visit and see atleast once in your lifetime. From architectural magnificence to large throngs of devotee following, there are certain temples that make India the holiest land in the world.
Tirumala Venkateswara temple
Popularly called the Tirupati temple by Indians, this temple sees at least 50,000 visitors a day. Legend has it that Lord Balaji borrowed a sum from Lord Kubera, the lord of wealth, for his marriage to goddess Lakshmi. It is said that the overheads were so high that Lord Balaji is still paying the interest of his debt to lord Kubera with the help of his followers. The Tirupati Ladoo is a famous sweet prasad from the temple given to followers. The temple is also becoming a large tourist spot of late. Close to 3000 kilo grams of gold is offered to lord Balaji every year by his followers. The Andhra government has done a good job in ensuring that accommodation and food is available for all visitors. Online bookings can be done months before the journey to ensure that everything from accommodation to the temple visit go smoothly.
The Sabarimala temple is yet another temple that is flocked by devotees. It is estimated that around 3 million devotees come every year. The temple is open only from mid November to mid December, first five days of every Malayalam month and on 14th January and 145h April. The Makaravilakku festival is considered the most auspicious day in Sabarimala. Women within the ages of 12 to 50 are not allowed to visit the temple. The pilgrims of this journey can be easily spotted as they take an oath of vegetarianism and do not shave for the duration of their journey. They are clad in black and are required to walk through the dense jungles of the Periyar tiger reserve in which the temple is located.
Palani Murugan Temple
The Palani temple is one of the six abodes of Lord Muruga. A visit to all the abodes of Lord Muruga is usually started with a visit to Palani. Legend has it that Lord Narad, the divine mischief maker, gifted Lord Shiva with the fruit of wisdom. Lord Shivaâ€™s sons, Muruga and Ganesha both wanted the fruit. To solve the dispute, Shiva set a race for his sons. Each of them was asked to circle the world twice and the one who got home first would win the fruit.
Lord Muruga set about the task immediately and encircled the world twice. But lord Ganesha, simply went circled his parents twice, saying that they mean the whole world to him. Needless to say, Lord Ganesha won the fruit. Lord Muruga in blinding rage left his home in the Kailas. He then established his abode in the Hills of Palani. The temple is located in the small town of Palani in the Dindigul district in Tamil Nadu.
This temple located in Rameswaram is considered to be one of the four holiest pilgrimage spots by Hindus. The Ramanathaswamy temple located in Rameshwaram is important as it marks the end of Ramaâ€™s conquest to bring his wife Sita back home. Everyone is familiar with the Ramayana epic, where Ramaâ€™s wife is kidnapped by Ravana, the Demon King of Lanka. After Rama slays the demon king he prays to lord Shiva for forgiveness. This is because Ravan was a Brahmin, and one of Shivaâ€™s devotees. While Ramaâ€™s trusted friend Hanuman goes to the Kailas to bring Shivaâ€™s idol, Goddess Sita makes an idol for Lord Rama to worship. This idol made by Sita is called Ramalingam, and theone bought by Hanuman is called Vishwalingam. Legend has it that the Ramalingam must b worshipped only after the Vishwalingam.
This temple situated in the Himalayan ranges is another one of the four holiest pilgrimage spots in India. The temple is the resting place of Lord Shiva. The Kedarnath Temple is believed to be built by the Pandavas. It was done for them to pray to lord Shiva for the sins they had committed during the great Mahabharatha war. In the war, father killed son and student killed teacher for both sides. These ultimately reflected back to the Pandavas and they were tormented by guilt.
The temple was rebuilt by Adi Shankaracharya around the 8th century. The temple remains closed for six months when the weather is too harsh and the idol is shifted from its resting place for worship.
Though there are other temples as great as the above mentioned five, these temples remain a must visit owing to the pilgrimage and tradition that devotees must follow even after so many years. While some temples have turned more into a tourist destination than a pilgrimage centre, these temples remain as some of the most visited places by worshipers every year.