There are two ends of any spectrum and travel is no different. How would one define the two ends of the travel spectrum? The most expensive to the least expensive could be one parameter. The most visited holiday destinations to the least popular vacation spots could be another distinction. In the Indian context while the rich and famous go to Leela Beach and Ananda in the Hills, the AAM AADMI that is the common man of Laxman and KeJriwal fame goes on a pilgrimage to Holy Lands, Temples, Churches, Gurudwars, Dargahs and Fire Temples.
To think of Parsis as the common man would seem odd to some, but come come ….. given what this community has done in this country and given the humility with which they have gone about their business, anybody with the even the vaguest idea about the Zoroastrians will understand completely and totally why I call the Parsis “The Common Man”. Others need only to look at the picture presented above, the droop of shoulder, the weight of the world on them, the footwear, the easy charm of the boy and they will quickly see what I am going on about.
The Parsis travel to Udvada in Gujrat state to pray at the Iranshah Atash Behram, the fire temple. After the Muslim conquest of Iran the Zoroastrians became marginalized, one group to the west coast of India in order to preserve their religious customs and beliefs. According to the legend, the Zoroastrians carried ash from a sacred fire which a priest is said to have then used for the bed of the Sanjan fire. Sanjan was attacked by troops of the Delhi Sultanate and the Parsis fled, the sacred fire went with them. Several years later it was installed in Navsari. In the 18th century, a decision was made to return the flame to Sanjan, but along the way, the priests preferred to remain in Udvada, where the fire temple was consecrated in 1742. Today the community is supposedly only 1.2 lakh strong and hence hardly qualifies as a mass, but the impact of this faith and its people can only be defined in one word MASSIVE.
I see buses packed with people. I see them parked outside the Nizamuddin Basti. I see them cooking, sleeping, talking, praying all in and around the bus. It’s the time for the annual Urs of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer and Muslim people from all over India come to offers prayers and place the Chadar of their love and faith over his final resting place at his Dargah in Ajmer. This 10th Century Muslim saint established the Chishti order of Sufi Islam in India.
During his childhood in Eastern Iran he was always found in prayers. The story goes that he was visited by a revered Sufi, Shaikh Ibrāhim Kunduzi. The boy offered the saint some fruits. In return, Sheikh Ibrāhīm gave him a piece of bread, the boy eat it and got enlightened. He gave away his lands and other property, and distributed the money to the poor. Hence his name Khawaja Gharib Nawaz. He travelled extensively, Samarkand, Bukhara and all the great centers of Muslim culture including visits to Mecca and Medina.
Moinuddin Chishtī then turned towards India after a dream in which Prophet Muhammad asked him to do so.
Muslim people from all over India come to Ajmer to pray to him and the legend is that people who visit and pray at his door will free their soul from the all bondage. Not just Muslim people but people of all religions pray here. It is said that nobody returns empty handed from Khawaja Garib Nawaz’s Darbar.
It was during the rule of the Mughal emperor Akbar that the Chisti order of Sufi Islam came into national importance and the emperor is said to have prayed to Khawaja Salim Chisti for a son and a heir to the throne of India. He is also believed to have walked from Agra to Ajmer to visit Ajmer and the Khawaja Garib Nawaz’s Darbar, thus the grave importance of this pilgrimage to the common man of India. Allah Be Praised!
As trains and roads crisscross across India so do Sikh people and you will come across them at practically every corner. Sikh people are the face of this country and the globally recognized face of India. Rather than being a symbol of the Aam Admi these gregarious and mirthful people are in fact the aam admi of this country personified. The roads and Sikh people are synonymous and I don’t say this because you will find them at all dhaba’s all over but because travelling to their centre’s of faith is common and central to their culture. We all know about the most important center of the Sikh faith and most of us have seen pictures of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, but there are 5 very important Gurudwars in the Sikh faith and Hazoor Sahib in Nanded is one of them.
Located on the banks of the River Godavari in the city of Nanded in Maharashtra this where the 10th guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji appointed the Guru Granth Sahib as the Guru for all Sikh people and then left this earthly abode. This Gurudwara is called Sach-Khand “Realm of Truth”.
In the year 1708 Guru Gobind Singh was deeply wounded by one close to him. Believing that his time on earth was now over Guru Gobind Singh did not allow anyone to treat his wound instead he ordered his Sikh people to prepare a fire called the ‘Angitha Sahib’ for his light to rejoin with the light of the supreme. But before that the people built a room where Guru Gobind Singh sat in court and placed holy book of the Sikh “The Guru Granth Sahib” on it. Then Guru Gobind Singh, conferred the title of Guru on the holy Book. He named Nanded as “Abchal Nagar” which literally means the “Steadfast city”. Wahe Guru Ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ki Fateh.
Legend suggests that Christianity came to India much before it spread to the western world and that St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus arrived in south India and touchdown on the great and holy land of India at Cochin in Kerala. While this legend may or may not be true, the fact returns that after 2000 years and a lot of hard work by missionaries and the school system set up by the Jesuits, Christianity is deeply rooted in the Indian ethos and like any other AAM ADMI the Indian Christian too undertakes many a pilgrimage. One of the most popular destinations they travel too is to the arms of Our Lady of Velankanni.
The story goes like this, sometime in the 16th century, Our Lady with the infant Jesus appeared to a boy who was carrying milk for delivery. Our Lady asked for milk for her Son and the boy gave her some. On reaching point of delivery, the boy apologized for the milk being less, however, the man found the milk pot to be full. This was a miracle. On hearing the boy’s story the local Catholic community became ecstatic and the legend of Our lady of Velankanni was born.
Velankanni is visited by millions all through the year. The crowds that come here come from all religions and from all parts of the country. The common man of India comes here to pray and give thanks to Mother Mary, it is believed that favours asked of her never go unanswered and one feels compelled to return to her arms to give thanks.
Hail Mary Mother of God, hallowed is thy name.
In this complex multi cultural, multi ethnic, multi religious land the common man has many faces and many avatars but common to all common men in India is the idea of pilgrimage. The most common man of in India in terms of religious identity in the Hindu and there is a virtually endless list of pilgrimage centre’s that they visit. Given the fervor of the people and their endless passion to travel you can well imagine that at any given time the AAM ADMI of India is possibly going to or coming from a holy place and these are the true places for masses in India.
Keep Travelling, Keep Praying. Om Namah Shiva.