(oh my ……… Teerath Yatra)
What is a Teerath Yatra or Pilgrimage?
A journey made to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion or in search of moral or spiritual significance is termed as a teerath yatra or pilgrimage.
I have heard of people saving hard for a pilgrimage and also of some who journey every year as they have the means to do so.
What are they hoping for? Some people do so in the belief that they will attain heavenly aid and come to know God or to access religious powers, knowledge or experience. Others seek boons for health, wealth, progeny and deliverance after death. All are seekers clutching at a straw.
Did our Gurus also subscribe to the concept of travelling to some faraway places to reach certain holy sites? Some of these journeys were long and ardous, too. Well, we all know that Guru Nanak Sahib ji had a unique method of preaching.
He would not just give mantras for reciting as was the religious practice at that time. Instead he adopted the proactive approach. He went to these places himself and made the devotees realise the futility of visiting selected shrines. Remember his visits to Hardwar and Mecca where he demonstrated that God resides everywhere and that one needs to look within oneself for Him.
ਭਰੀਐ ਮਤਿ ਪਾਪਾ ਕੈ ਸੰਗਿ ॥ ਓਹੁ ਧੋਪੈ ਨਾਵੈ ਕੈ ਰੰਗਿ ॥
Bhareeai Math Paapaa Kai Sang || Ouhu Dhhopai Naavai Kai Rang ||
When the intellect is stained and polluted by sin, it can only be cleansed by the Love of the Name.
(SGGS page 4 Japji Pauri 20)
Did you know that Guru Amar Das ji went on pilgrimages twenty times without attaining enlightenment? He saw the light of Gurbani only when he met Guru Angad Ji and realised how futile the teerath yatras were in contrast to attaining the Name.
All the other Gurus also discouraged pilgrimages and stressed on the supremacy of the Name. Our Gurus in fact, avoided all the so-called sacred places and instead set up new townships to encourage the locals to be industrious and self-reliant. The simple maxim of Kirt Kamaao was practised right from the beginning to replace subservience and servility.
Guru Arjun says : Why should I bathe at sacred shrines of pilgrimage?
ਤੀਰਥਿ ਨਾਵਣ ਜਾਉ ਤੀਰਥੁ ਨਾਮੁ ਹੈ ॥
Theerathh Naavan Jaao Theerathh Naam Hai ||
The Naam, the Name of the Lord, is the sacred shrine of pilgrimage.
(SGGS page 687 Thanasree M : 5 )
Yet today, many Sikhs are happily following the old path, bathing at every sarovar they can visit, collecting the water in bottles naming it as Amrit Jal, making offerings of money and rumalas. Donations are made for parsaad and payments for Paath to be done by others on their behalf. All these are rituals associated with their yatra to ‘holy places!’ Anything in order to collect merits, blessings and salvation!
ਜਲ ਕੈ ਮਜਨਿ ਜੇ ਗਤਿ ਹੋਵੈ ਨਿਤ ਨਿਤ ਮੇਂਡੁਕ ਨਾਵਹਿ ॥
Jal Kai Majan Jae Gath Hovai Nith Nith Maenadduk Naavehi ||
If salvation can be obtained by bathing in water, then what about the frog, which is always bathing in water?
(SGGS page 484 Asaa Bhagat Kabir)
So as Bhagat Kabir ji says, if frogs and toads cannot be saved in spite of living in water so humans too cannot expect a bath to remove their sins. But you can still hear some preacher or other relating how a leper was miraculously cured by bathing in a pool of holy water! And people believe all that in the name of ‘sharda’ which is actually blind faith.
In the same vein, can robbers and murderers get forgiveness of their crimes just by dipping in specified places and then continue their crimes again? If so, no need to fear any law. Easy, isn’t it? But this doesn’t happen, right, we all know that.
Harmandir Sahib was built on a sarovar by Guru Arjan ji and so Darbar Sahib was a place for people to congregate and further their learning about Sikhi hence it was a place of true seekers.
ਰਾਮਦਾਸ ਸਰੋਵਰਿ ਨਾਤੇ ॥ ਸਭਿ ਉਤਰੇ ਪਾਪ ਕਮਾਤੇ ॥
Ramdhas Sarovar Nathae || Sabh Outharae Pap Kamathae ||
(SGGS Page 624 Sorath M : 5)
Here Guru Arjan refers to a bath of the soul when you immerse yourself in the company of the servants of God and thus turn over a new leaf by changing yourself. But unfortunately, a wrong interpretation of Gurbani has now been instilled in the Sikh psyche by imparting that Guru Arjan ji is saying that by bathing in the nectar tank of Ram Das, all sins are erased.
Travel agent companies are readily planning massive yatras to the Takhts in India and selected historical gurdwaras in Pakistan as well as to Amritsar! Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar is the spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikhs so it’s a place to visit but surely not as a ‘teerath’ as is being touted.
By the way, gullible Sikhs are now being encouraged to go mountain climbing to the cold Himalayas to a new teerath in Hemkunt.
Some people go on these trips just for a holiday and to visit historical places. Some go ‘to keep up with the Singhs’ meaning that my friends have gone so I mustn’t be left behind! For others it’s a chance to project their ‘spiritual superiority’ and image as a pious person: I am Amritdhari and I have visited ALL the Takhts, etc. And some travel just to visit specific babas and their deras to receive certain blessings. Yet for others, it is to give thanks for the fulfilment of their vow.
It will be sad indeed, if these devotees are chasing false notions of washing their sins or searching for the Creator in contrast to the teachings of SGGS ji.
ਤੀਰਥੁ ਹਮਰਾ ਹਰਿ ਕੋ ਨਾਮੁ ॥
Theerathh Hamaraa Har Ko Naam ||
My sacred shrine of pilgrimage is the Name of the Lord.
(SGGS page 1142 Bhairo M : 5)
Sikhism is unique because we have a Living Guru to guide us via Gurbani. We can receive this Gurmat by understanding Gurbani and abandon our own ego that may make us a Manmukh.
Gurmat teaches us that the Creator is loving and kind so we need not undergo any teerath yatra or pilgrimage to discover Him or receive gifts from Him. He is within us and in everything you see. You only need to reach out via the path shown by our Guru!
ਖਾਲਿਕੁ ਖਲਕ ਖਲਕ ਮਹਿ ਖਾਲਿਕੁ ਪੂਰਿ ਰਹਿਓ ਸ੍ਰਬ ਠਾਂਈ ॥:
khaalik khalak khalak mehi khaalik poor rahiou srab thaa(n)ee:
The Creation is in the Creator (God), and the Creator is in the Creation, totally pervading and permeating all places.
(SGGS page 1350 Bhagat Kabir ji)
The truth is that God lives in the heart of every human being!