Defined as a journey in search of some personal, religious or spiritual significance, pilgrimages are arguably the planet’s oldest form of travel. Over the course of human history, people from all corners of the globe have made expeditions to holy places and sacred sites.
Typically marked by a voyage towards a particular shrine or holy site of unadulterated importance to the individual pilgrim’s faith or spirituality, many pilgrimages have historically required a somewhat arduous undertaking.
Nowadays however, thanks to the marvels of modern travel and technology, hundreds of millions of pilgrims the world over are able to make the annual expedition to their chosen destination far more conveniently than in eons gone by.
Considering the historic universal significance of the pilgrim’s voyage, we’ve compiled the list below of the world’s greatest pilgrimages.
Mahabodhi Temple and Bodhi Tree, India
As the location where Siddhartha Gautama is claimed to have attained the enlightened state that would result in his becoming the Buddha, the Bodhi Tree at Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya is the holiest of all Buddhist pilgrimage sites.
Though the actual tree under which Buddha is famously said to have gained his eternal wisdom no longer exists, the Sacred Fig Tree at the Mahabodhi Temple – constructed to the east of the famous tree – is believed to be a direct descendant of the original Sacred Fig.
As a result of their significance, both tree and temple have for centuries drawn never-ending streams of Buddhist pilgrims. And though the site is a Buddhist one, its sacredness is truly palpable making it a destination that many are attracted to, regardless of whether they practice Buddhism.
The Ganges River, India
Considering that tens of millions of pilgrims flock every year to various points along the Ganges River, this most sacred and revered of rivers in the Hindu tradition undoubtedly provides the setting for one of the world’s greatest pilgrimages.
Worshipped by devotees as Ganga Ma (or Mother Ganges), this famous Indian waterway is glorified as a life-giving goddess. It’s believed that a dip in these sacred waters cleanses the bather of any impurities, thereby purifying his or her spirit.
Though pilgrims take ritualistic baths in the river all along its course, the three holy Hindu towns of Haridwar, Prayag (Allahabad) and Varanasi attract the largest crowds of Hindu pilgrims and Ganga devotees.