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Religion Library: Hinduism

Sacred Space

Written by: Jacob N. Kinnard

This list of sacred places is by no means exhaustive. There are thousands of minor and dozens of major tirthas throughout the Indian subcontinent. Indeed, in an important sense the entirety of India is understood to be a sacred space.

Mt. KailashMountains are also often regarded as sacred places; like the tirthas, they are the special, natural abode of the gods and goddesses. For instance, Mount Kailash, in the Tibetan Himalayas, is understood by many Hindus (and Buddhists as well) to be the special abode of Shiva and his consort, Parvati. Likewise, Mata Vaishno Devi Temple, in the Indian Himalayas (in the modern state of Jammu Kashmir), is the sacred abode and, according to some myths, the birthplace of the goddess Vaishno Devi. Mata Vaishno DeviTens of thousands of pilgrims make the arduous trek to the temple each year, a pilgrimage that ends at the natural cave where the goddess' murti resides. Pilgrims crowd into the cramped cave to take darshan of the goddess and to make offerings to her.

The sheer number and variety of sacred spaces and places in the Hindu world is staggering. In an important sense, the whole of the Indian subcontinent is sacred space, the abode of the gods and goddesses. This, in part, explains why Hinduism has tended not to spread outside of India.

map of India

Study Questions:
1.     What are mandir, and why are they sacred?
2.     How does the Hindu concept of darshan differ from other religious traditions’ use of imagery?
3.     Describe the major components of a Hindu temple.
4.     How has the conception of sacred space limited the spread of Hinduism?


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