The purpose of a Yatra

I recently posted Going on a Yatra and in the process thought I must be more elaborate on the purpose of one.

So, why do the yatra?

As discussed previously seeking a yatra was to seek divinity, to be humbled, and to experience mental cleansing during the process. But this is for those who are spiritually inclined, devotional, and wanting to experience the sacredness of the journey. What else does a Yatra do?

My understanding is that the purpose of a Yatra was Four fold

A. To take a Holiday and break the monotony

B. To experience a new place. India is a place known for its unity in diversity so, visiting a new place meant learning something about the local customs of that place as well.

C. Different temples were built by different Kings/rulers during different times in the past. Their style of architecture to depict their understanding of Hindu vedic scriptures or ancient Hindu history is of prime importance to understand the culture, customs, and practiced traditions. Also, the ways/style of worship in a certain temple could have survived the test of time by being passed on through several generations from when they were built. Learning about these practices helps us understand our history, our roots, the reasoning or emotions behind some practices/customs, and removes unnecessary notions or misconceptions about our faiths and believes.

It is established that Lord Vishnu climbed up Tirumala taking this path where stairs are now built for pilgrims to walk up the hill. Therefore, pilgrims walk up the hill barefoot worshipping each step taken by applying turmeric and kumkuma (vermilion).

D. This fourth point is mainly for those Indians in the post Independence era. Since Hinduism is very open to various ideas and highly receptive to people from across the world, we have had invaders from multiple places across the globe who have tried to loot our mother land, to develop it for their profits, and to destroy our cultural heritage, manipulate our customs, alter our believes, and even to date attempt to impose their practices/believes on us (Turns out other religions do not want to merely co-exist, they want to impose their belief system on Hindus). As you visit these places, you will come across some serious damage caused to our temples/shrines (some will be discussed in future posts).

As a person from the 20th/21st century, you may not understand why temples were important back in the day. Temples/Shrines were not merely places of worship. They were places to discuss societal issues for welfare of the community, for celebrations (even today – events like marriages are arranged in temples), for a get together, for exhibition venues, for festivities, for food during a natural disaster, and for even shelter during adversities. Please understand that there was no television, telephones, internet, mobile network, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Google, Netflix, and even WordPress at the times they were built. Despite technological advancements, even today, everyone seeks shelter in the temple when it rains. This is why temples were and will be of exceptional significance to the Indian community besides being places of worship.

Conclusively, a Yatra or a pilgrimage can be undertaken by both devotees and non-devotees to explore and experience divinity. The unknowns of a journey humbles an individual and promotes inquiry. The need for enquiry or vicharana (in sanskrit) are best emphasised by Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya in his Vivekachudamani. Vivekachudamani is a text where Adi Shankara writes about the criteria required for appropriate development of an individuals discriminative faculty. The following verse is suggestive of the same :

arthasya nishchayo drishto vicharena hitokitthah|

na snanena, na danena pranayamashatena va||

Meaning – The nature of truth is seen by enquiry, reasoning, and understanding the instructions from your guru. It cannot be understood by bathing multiple times, by charity, or by performing controlled breathing.

Therefore, going on a Yatra triggers enquiry which is the spiritual path to understanding the differences between the eternal/absolute from the unreal/temporary. This is why a Yatra is undertaken even by Shankaracharyas in the present day.

Now that you know the purpose of a yatra, when are you planning on one?


Going on a Yatra

My classes in school, especially those in Sanskrit, shaped my personality and taught me lessons that I will remember for life. I guess it is how literature and arts can touch lives of even those who do not pursue them.

In 2004, when I was about fourteen years old, soon after a Sanskrit class, I remember saying to my friends in school that I would one day want to be able to go on a “Yatra” around India and be a Yatri (or a pilgrim). While some ridiculed me, a couple of others thought it was some new concept. I remember using the word “Yatra” which in Sanskrit meant – travel, or in general, a pilgrimage.

I gathered little more information on a Yatra just hoping that I would be able to go on one soon.

I have heard from many that it has been an ancient practice among Indians to go on a Yatra at least once in two years to visit a temple or some such place of traditional and cultural importance located in a village/town/city/state distant from their own. The norm was to travel by foot without footwear and without any protection to natural hazards (even umbrellas were not carried). The reason to do this was to be able to experience the journey and its hardships in full.

To undertake a Yatra was to seek divinity, to be humbled, and to experience mental cleansing in the process. So, when a Yatri successfully completed a Yatra, there was immense fulfilment that came from being able to pursue the destination without compromising on the format of the journey.

Pilgrims walking uphill to visit Tirumala Venkateswara Temple in Tirupati despite other modes of transport being available

With developments in transportation and increased connectivity, people compromised on the format of the journey, travelled in buses and rested in hotels/common shelters with fellow pilgrims.

My great grandparents were Yatris (pilgrims) and so were others in their generation. From the generation beginning with my grandparents, this common practice of going on a pilgrimage started declining. My interaction with people tells me that it was mostly because they got into a growth mentality where they would prioritise their day to day activities over a holiday. When it was time for a holiday, the destination would be a fancy location shown in the movies.

As an excuse, most people started saying that they would do it later in their lives when they can no longer aspire for more in their personal/professional life. This trend of excuses continues even to date.

The aim is not to criticise anyone for where they went but, it is to say that the declining trend meant a decline in the knowledge of these places, especially for the youth and future generations.

Most older excuses become invalid today after much development in the tourism sector. Now you can find plenty of hotels and transport with online booking, at least one hospital and pharmacy, and sufficient mobile network connectivity so you can post a picture of yourself on Instagram as soon as you reach your destination.

But Hindu youth today have modern problems so never mind if you think you’re not religious, not spiritually inclined, not interested in Indian history, or if atheism is your new religion (btw Hinduism incorporates atheists too – there is a whole Wikipedia page on Atheism in Hinduism if you’re interested). Even if you’re confused, going on a Yatra can help you get clarity.

For others in India, be it North/South, I urge you to travel along the length and breadth of the country to visit ancient Indian monuments, to take a break, learn more about them to educate yourself, and impart your knowledge on Indian culture and heritage to future generations.

Stay tuned for more on the purpose of a yatra

Why blog when you have plenty of sh*t to do in grad school ?


Welcome to my blog

And yes, you’re right! I am a grad student and I do have plenty of sh*t to do.

So, what’s this all about?

Ever since a child, I have always enjoyed listening to people narrate their experiences. Listening to these experiences has not only shaped my opinion of the world but has also influenced the way I approach and think through things in general. Even though I make my own judgements, learning from others experiences I felt was important. Much like everyone else, I have my own experiences to share with the world. This is my humble attempt at the same.

What is “The Solo Spiritual Grad Student”?

The Solo Spiritual Grad Student is a convenient description of the individual that I am. Follow my page, and you’ll understand why.

You sound like a new guy in the block. Is this your first time blogging?

Honestly, the answer is Yes. As a first year undergrad, 10 years ago, I started a blog on blogger. Funnily, soon after creating the page, I forgot my username and never bothered 😛 But its like what they say

Change is the only constant

And I have changed quite a lot over the last decade, but surely, enough to keep you entertained.

Now that you have access to my awesomeness, stay tuned and enjoy!