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Religion Library: Hinduism

Sacred Space

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

A single deity, or multiple deities in many temples, is understood to be fully present in the temple. Devotees come to the temple and make ritual offerings to the deity, and take darshan, literally the "sight" of the deity. Shiva temple in JaipurHinduism, however, also holds that the gods and goddesses are simultaneously present in many, potentially infinite, different places. Thus Shiva can be fully and completely present in a temple (or many temples) in northern India and fully and completely present in a temple (or many temples) in southern India and in any other part of the world.

Tirtha Empul temple in BaliThere are many other sorts of sacred space in India, many of them significant pilgrimage destinations. These include rivers, which are understood to be goddesses. Of particular importance in this regard are special "crossings," or tirthas, places where the gods and goddesses "cross" into the human world.

Video: Early Morning on the River Ganga

There are, classically, seven particularly sacred places in India:
1. Benares, or Kashi, the eternal city of Shiva.Benares
2. Allahabad, where the Ganges, Yamuna, and mythical Sarasvati rivers merge.Allahabad
3. Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna.Mathura
4. Hardwar, where the Ganges enters the plains of India.Hardwar
5. Ayodhya, the earthly birthplace of the god Rama. 
6. Dvaraka, Krishna's capital. 
7. Kanchipuram, the site of several ancient temples in southern India.Kanchipuram

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