India is a vibrant, colourful nation like no other and thanks to its religious diversity, is the perfect place to visit if you wish to get a sprinkling of spirituality while travelling the globe. Many religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism and Islam have their roots deeply embedded in this miraculous country, making it a must-visit destination. Take a look at some of the top sites of religious wonder below.
The Golden Temple, Amritsar
The Golden Temple or Sri Harmandir Sahib (literally ‘the abode of God’) in India’s Amritsar is a truly breathtaking sight. Built in 1577 by fourth Sikh Guru, Ramdass Sahib Ji, the gurdwara (meaning residence of the guru) was built to commemorate Sikh heritage. And, while this is one of Sikhism’s holiest spots, it prides itself on welcoming everybody, irrespective of religion, race, gender or creed. It attracts around three million visitors every month and if you’re planning to visit, there are a few things to look out for:
The Golden Temple is a beguiling blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture, with an elegant marble lower level and a shimmering second level, encased in intricately engraved gold panels, and topped by a gilded dome. In the glimmering inner sanctum, a continuous religious chant takes place from the Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book). Given the millions of visitors, it’s likely that you won’t get to stay long before being urged onwards but it’s most certainly worth every second.
Surrounding the gleaming central shine is the Amrit Sarovar (from which the city of Amritsar takes its name), this man-made pool is considered by devotees to have healing powers and is the spiritual focus for many pilgrims who come to bathe in its sacred waters.
The legendary Golden Temple and pool are actually just a small part of this sprawling complex which also includes The Central Sikh Museum. Established in 1958, the Museum has a rich collection of coins, old arms and ancient manuscripts. It also houses an excellent library. Entry is free and the museum is open seven days a week.
Not to be missed is the Langar – a free Sikh community-run kitchen that serves a simple vegetarian meal to all visitors without discrimination. It is thought that on religious holidays it can feed up to 100,000 people.
Secular tourists come to The Golden Temple for the spectacle of the golden domes yet stay for the warm, welcoming feeling of the Sikh people. Be sure to put this place on your list when visiting India.
Venkateswara Temple, Tirupati
Venkateswara Temple goes by many names; Kaliyuga Vaikuntam, Tirumala Temple, Tirupati Temple to name a few, but whichever you choose to call it, this landmark temple situated in the hill town of Tirumala is most definitely worth a visit. The Temple is dedicated to Lord Sri Venkateswara, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who is believed to have appeared here to save mankind from trials and troubles of Kali Yuga – the age of strife associated with Demon Kali.
It is believed that construction of the temple could have started as early as 300AD and part of its enduring popularity for those not of the Hindu religion is the idea that Venkateswara will grant any wish made at this holy site. Visitors wishing to visit the temple itself will experience waiting times of between 2-8 hours in claustrophobic metal cages, although a special entry ticket will cut this time considerably. The main temple is atmospheric but as it can be visited by up to 100,000 pilgrims daily, you certainly won’t find soothing solitude! During religious holidays and festivals, the number of pilgrims shoots up even higher, making it one of the most-visited holy places in the world.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus
Famous throughout the Roman Catholic world, the striking Basilica of Bom Jesus is the most popular church in India and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A grisly sight to some, the church displays the shrivelled body of Saint Francis Xavier in a gilded tomb for visitors to observe.
The simple yet elegant church displays Jesuit architecture and is home to a gallery of modern art. The crowds are particularly busy during the Feast of St Francis Xavier, which is held on 3 December following a nine-day festival. Once every 10 years, the body of St. Francis Xavier is removed from his tomb and paraded around Old Goa. The next one isn’t until 2024 though so you’ll have to make do with the spectacle of his ancient remains lying in rest.
Jama Masjid, Delhi
Reckoned to be the largest mosque in India, Jama Masjid is amongst the top must-visit places for Muslims in India. Able to accommodate a jaw-dropping 25,000 devotees during prayer, the sacred mosque was constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1644 with the aid of 5,000 workers. The mosque is elevated 10 metres above Old Delhi and acts as a welcome pocket of calm in this otherwise bustling city. Climb one of the two 40-metre high, red sandstone and marble minarets for incredible views across the hubbub of India. Entrance is free but you will be asked to pay a small fee for using your camera.
The city of Varanasi
Varanasi is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. It was already considered an ancient city during the time of the Buddha, born more than 500 years before Christ. Situated on the banks of the Ganges, this colourful, sacred city is a centre of faith for Hindus. The holy Ganga river (which is considered of divine origin by Hindus) meanders through this city amplifying the sense of spirituality that can be found in abundance here. Every sunset you can witness the Aarti ceremony, where saffron-robed Hindus light lamps and incense sticks as they chant hymns. This is sure to be an experience like no other.
If you’re travelling to India as part of your cruise, be sure to take in some of these top picks for immersing yourself in India’s rich religious heritage. For a great selection of deals, head over to our homepage, or call us today on 0808 274 6777.