Question 14. Where is the need for pilgrimages? Are there set rules to be observed while undertaking them?
A routine daily life in this humdrum world generates boredom very soon. Undertaking Pilgrimages on such occasions will reinvigorate the mind, in the same way as recharging a battery that is rundown. How can a place of Pilgrimage contribute to this? No doubt, God exists everywhere, but He is Manifest more tangibly in these places of Pilgrimage even as milk is drawn through the udder, though it permeates the entire body of the cow in a subtle form.
We have hundreds of such pilgrim centres spread all over the land. Usually they are situated in a beautiful natural location like the sea shore, the bank of a river, the foot or the top of a hill, in a valley or inside a forest. Very often they are associated with saints and sages or with important spiritual and religious events. Visited by millions of devout, Pilgrims over hundreds of years, they will have acquired a spiritual charge and aura, which will naturally affect those that visit them with faith and fervour. It is believed that they contribute to the lessening, if not the destruction, of our sins. That is why Pilgrimage has been advocated practically in all the religions of the world.
As regards the rules to be observed in undertaking pilgrimages, they can be summarized as follows: fixing up an auspicious date for departure; fasting and self control on the previous day; shaving, bath, worship of Ganesha and the nine planets as also the family deity; religious resolve; performing worship and giving gifts at the pilgrim centres according to the local custom; and after returning, worship of the deities mentioned earlier.
It is incumbent on the part of the pilgrims rather to think of God than paying any attention to the irregularities or corruptions obtaining in the place. Though it is necessary to bring such things to the notice of the competent authorities', the chief objective of pilgrimage should not be sacrificed in the process. It is interesting to note here that the Hindu scriptures have provided for a method by which those who are unable to undertake a pilgrimage by themselves, can get its merit through a substitute. Such a person who acts as a substitute is expected to give the ritual bath to an image made of kusha grass and treat it as the original person making the pilgrimage.