Divinity plays a role in even the most mundane aspects of day-to-day life in India, and this spiritually rich land has been attracting seekers for generations. The following is a list of some of the most significant spiritual sites in and around Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra.
India’s capital is home to numerous holy sites for people of all faiths. The shrine of Nizamuddin Auliya, Nizamuddin Dargah, is an important site for Sufis, and even the nondevout are likely to find the evening Qawwali (devotional music) performances moving. The Sikh temple, or gurudwara, of Bangla Sahib is another significant holy spot in Delhi, and the water that comes from its large outdoor tank is considered holy. The Hindu goddess Kali is extoled at South Delhi’s Kalkaji Mandir, and for centuries people have been making offerings to this terrific manifestation of female divinity at this very spot. The large IS KCON Temple nearby is the Delhi base for the ISKCON organization (a.k.a. the Hare Krishnas). Just behind this temple is the Baha’i House of Worship, also called the Lotus Temple, a beautiful, silent place of worship and quiet reflection that is open to all.
Agra is better known for tombs and archaeological sites than for places of worship, although there are a great number of mosques and temples. The holiest spot for Sufis in the area is arguably the Dargah of Salim Chisti at the Jama Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri. The twin towns of Mathura and Vrindavan, north of Agra, are significant to devotees of Krishna, who is said to have grown up here. The Banke Bihari Mandir is Vrindavan’s most famous temple.
Jaipur is more known for its royalty than its religion, although the city is home to a couple of significant spiritual sites. Amber Fort’s Sheela Mata Temple is an important stop for Hindu visitors to the palace, as it is believed that the goddess idol kept here was found after a local king located it in a prophetic dream. Galtaji is another important site that houses a number of temples, including one dedicated to the sun god Surya, as well as tanks containing holy water.
Rishikesh and Haridwar
On the banks of the Ganges River, Rishikesh and Haridwar are among India’s holiest cities. Evening aartis (prayer ceremonies) are held along the banks of the Ganges in both cities, when hundreds of tiny candle-containing boats are floated across the waters. Both cities are home to hundreds of temples, including famous ones such as Haridwar’s hilltop Mansa Devi Mandir as well as Neelkanth Mahadev, a forest temple dedicated to Shiva at the end of an 13-kilometer trekking path from Rishikesh.
Pushkar and Ajmer
Pushkar is one of India’s holiest towns and is considered by some to be the earthly abode of Brahma, the creator in the Hindu trinity. The city is full of temples, and most of its residents are of the Brahman, or priestly, caste. Pushkar is most famous for the Jagatpita Shri Brahma Temple, one of the only Brahma temples in the world. It sits on the banks of Pushkar Lake, which attracts pilgrims from across the Hindu world who come to bathe in its holy waters. Ajmer’s Dargah Sharif is the shrine of the founder of the Chishti order of Sufism and is probably India’s holiest spot for South Asian Muslims.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Taj Mahal, Delhi & Jaipur.