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.
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?