A pilgrimage is a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith, although sometimes it can be a metaphorical journey into someone's own beliefs. Many religions attach spiritual importance to particular places: the place of birth or death of founders or saints, or to the place of their "calling" or spiritual awakening, or of their connection (visual or verbal) with the divine, to locations where miracles were performed or witnessed, or locations where a deity is said to live or be "housed," or any site that is seen to have special spiritual powers. Such sites may be commemorated with shrines or temples that devotees are encouraged to visit for their own spiritual benefit: to be healed or have questions answered or to achieve some other spiritual benefit. A person who makes such a journey is called a pilgrim. As a common human experience, pilgrimage has been proposed as a Jungian archetype by Wallace Clift and Jean Dalby Clift.
The Holy Land acts as a focal point for the pilgrimages of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. According to a Stockholm University study in 2011, these pilgrims visit the Holy Land to touch and see physical manifestations of their faith, confirm their beliefs in the holy context with collective excitation, and connect personally to the Holy Land.
In the early 21st century the numbers of people of all faiths making pilgrimages has continued to rise, with 39 of the most popular sites alone receiving an estimated 200 million visitors every year. There is a growing awareness within the major faith organisations that fulfilling the spiritual obligations of pilgrimage may paradoxically conflict with the spiritual obligation to care for the natural world. In response to these concerns a global Green Pilgrimage Network was inaugurated in 2011, with municipal and religious authorities from Bahá'í, Buddhist, Christian, Daoist, Islamic, Jewish, Shinto and Sikh sacred sites committing to the shared goal of minimising the environmental impact of pilgrims and, ultimately, achieving a 'positive footprint' for pilgrimage. In 2012, an India Chapter of the Green Pilgrimage Network was launched, with a further ten Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic and Sikh pilgrimage sites from across India.
Bahá'u'lláh decreed pilgrimage to two places in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: the House of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad, Iraq, and the House of the Báb in Shiraz, Iran. Later, `Abdu'l-Bahá designated the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh at Bahji, Israel as a site of pilgrimage. The designated sites for pilgrimage are currently not accessible to the majority of Bahá'ís, as they are in Iraq and Iran respectively, and thus when Bahá'ís currently refer to pilgrimage, it refers to a nine-day pilgrimage which consists of visiting the holy places at the Bahá'í World Centre in northwest Israel in Haifa, Acre, and Bahjí.
There are four places that Buddhists make pilgrimage to:
- Lumbini: Buddha's birthplace (in Nepal)
- Bodh Gaya: place of Enlightenment
- Sarnath: where he delivered his first teaching
- Kusinara: (now Kusinagar, India) where he attained mahaparinirvana (died).
Other famous places for Buddhist pilgrimage include:
- India: Sanchi, Ellora, Ajanta.
- Thailand: Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Doi Suthep.
- Tibet: Lhasa (traditional home of the Dalai Lama), Mount Kailash, Lake Nam-tso.
- Cambodia: Angkor Wat, Silver Pagoda.
- Sri Lanka: Polonnaruwa, Temple of the Tooth (Kandy), Anuradhapura.
- Laos: Luang Prabang.
- Myanmar: Bagan, Sagaing Hill.
- Nepal: Boudhanath, Swayambhunath.
- Indonesia: Borobudur.
- China: Yung-kang, Lung-men caves. The Four Sacred Mountains
- Shikoku Pilgrimage, 88 Temple pilgrimage in the Shikoku island.
- Japan 100 Kannon, pilgrimage composed of the Saigoku, Bandō and Chichibu pilgrimages.
- Chūgoku 33 Kannon, pilgrimage in the Chūgoku region.
- Kumano Kodō
- Mount Kōya.
Christian pilgrimage was first made to sites connected with the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Aside from the early example of Origen in the third century, surviving descriptions of Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land date from the 4th century, when pilgrimage was encouraged by church fathers including Saint Jerome, and established by Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great.
Pilgrimages were, and are, also made to Rome and other sites associated with the apostles, saints and Christian martyrs, as well as to places where there have been apparitions of the Virgin Mary. A popular pilgrimage site is along the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela, in Galicia, Spain, to the shrine of the apostle James. Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales recounts tales told by Christian pilgrims on their way to Canterbury Cathedral and the shrine of Thomas Becket.
According to Karel Werner's Popular Dictionary of Hinduism, "[m]ost Hindu places of pilgrimage are associated with legendary events from the lives of various gods.... Almost any place can become a focus for pilgrimage, but in most cases they are sacred cities, rivers, lakes, and mountains." Hindus are encouraged to undertake pilgrimages during their lifetime, though this practice is not considered absolutely mandatory. Most Hindus visit sites within their region or locale.
Kumbh Mela: Kumbh Mela is the largest pilgrimage recorded in history. Kumbh Mela is also credited with the largest gathering of humans in the entire world. The location is rotated among Allahabad, Haridwar, Nashik, and Ujjain.
Char Dham (Famous Four Pilgrimage sites): The four holy sites Puri, Rameswaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath (or alternatively the Himalayan towns of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri) compose the Char Dham (four abodes) pilgrimage circuit.
Major Temple cities: Puri, which hosts a major Vaishnava Jagannath temple and Rath Yatra celebration; Katra, home to the Vaishno Devi temple; Three comparatively recent temples of fame and huge pilgrimage are Shirdi, home to Sai Baba of Shirdi, Tirumala - Tirupati, home to the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple; and Sabarimala,where Swami Ayyappan is worshipped.
The pilgrimage to Mecca (the Hajj) is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. It should be attempted at least once in the lifetime of all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to do so. It is the most important of all Muslim pilgrimages, and is the largest pilgrimage for Muslims.
The ihram (white robes of pilgrimage) is meant to show equality of all pilgrims in the eyes of Allah: that there is no difference between a prince and a pauper. Ihram is also symbolic for holy virtue and pardon from all past sins.
While wearing the ihram in Mecca, a pilgrim may not shave, clip their nails, wear perfume, swear or quarrel, hunt, kill any creature, uproot or damage plants, cover the head for men or the face and hands for women, marry, wear shoes over the ankles, perform any dishonest acts or carry weapons. If they do any of these their pilgrimage is invalid.
The Arba'een, meaning the 40th day, is the 40th day of the martyrdom of Shia Muslims' 3rd Imam, Imam Hussain. Approximately a week before this day, pilgrims set out on foot to visit their Imam's Shrine and mourn his tragic death in Karbala. Their numbers reach and surpass 17 million making it one of the largest Muslim gatherings in the world.
Visiting the Imam Reza shrine can be considered the second largest Muslim Pilgrim in the world. Imam Reza is the Shia Muslims' 8th Imam. According to some estimates, This Shrine receives around 20 million pilgrims every year, which peaks during the Iranian Norouz holidays.
While Solomon's Temple stood, Jerusalem was the centre of the Jewish religious life and the site of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals of Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, and all adult men who were able were required to visit and offer sacrifices (korbanot) at the Temple. After the destruction of the Temple, the obligation to visit Jerusalem and to make sacrifices no longer applied. The obligation was restored with the rebuilding of the Temple, but following its destruction in 70 CE, the obligation to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and offer sacrifices again went into abeyance.
The western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, known as the Western Wall or Wailing Wall, remains in the Old City of Jerusalem and is the most sacred and visited site for Jews. Pilgrimage to this area was off-limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967, when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control.
There are numerous lesser Jewish pilgrimage destinations, mainly tombs of tzadikim, throughout the Land of Israel and all over the world, including: Hebron; Bethlehem; Mt. Meron; Netivot; Uman, Ukraine; Silistra, Bulgaria; Damanhur, Egypt; and many others.
The Sikh religion does not place great importance on pilgrimage. Guru Nanak Dev was asked "Should I go and bathe at pilgrimage places?" and replied: "God's name is the real pilgrimage place which consists of contemplation of the word of God, and the cultivation of inner knowledge."
In Iran, there are pilgrimage destinations called pirs in several provinces, although the most familiar ones are in the province of Yazd. In addition to the traditional Yazdi shrines, new sites may be in the process of becoming pilgrimage destinations. The ruins are the ruins of ancient fire temples. One such site is the ruin of the Sassanian era Azargoshasb Fire Temple in Iran's Azarbaijan Province. Other sites are the ruins of fire temples at Rey, south of the capital Tehran, and the Firouzabad ruins sixty kilometres south of Shiraz in the province of Pars.
- Burial places of founders of world religions
- HCPT – The Pilgrimage Trust
- List of shrines
- List of significant religious sites
- Pardon (ceremony)
- Sacred travel
- World Youth Day
- Cleft, Jean Darby; Cleft, Wallace (1996). The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action With Inner Meaning. The Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-3599-X.
- Metti, Michael Sebastian (2011-06-01). "Jerusalem - the most powerful brand in history". Stockholm University School of Business. Retrieved 1 July 2011.
- Numbers compiled from local sources where possible. See  for breakdown and notes.
- "Explanation of the aims and origins of the Green Pilgrimage Network". Arcworld.org. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF) account of its role in developing Green Pilgrimage Network[dead link]
- Punjabi Newsline (14-10-2012) account of launch of India Chapter [dead link]
- Smith, Peter (2000). "Pilgrimage". A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: eworld Publications. p. 269. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
- Werner, Karel (1994). A Popular Dictionary of Hinduism. Curzon Press. ISBN 0-7007-1049-3.
- "Digitaljournal.com". Digitaljournal.com. 2007-01-03. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- "Washingtonpost.com". Washingtonpost.com. 2007-01-15. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- "News.bbc.co.uk". News.bbc.co.uk. 2007-01-03. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Colin Wilson (1996). Atlas of Holy Places & Sacred Sites. DK Adult. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-7894-1051-1.
- See David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson, Pilgrimage and the Jews (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006) for history and data on several pilgrimages to both Ashkenazi and Sephardic holy sites.
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- al-Naqar, Umar. 1972. The Pilgrimage Tradition in West Africa. Khartoum: Khartoum University Press. [includes a map 'African Pilgrimage Routes to Mecca, ca. 1300-1900']
- Coleman, Simon and John Elsner (1995), Pilgrimage: Past and Present in the World Religions. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
- Coleman, Simon & John Eade (eds) (2005), Reframing Pilgrimage. Cultures in Motion. London: Routledge.
- Davidson, Linda Kay and David M. Gitlitz (2002), Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland: An Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC-CLIO.
- Gitlitz, David M. and Linda Kay Davidson (2006). Pilgrimage and the Jews. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Jackowski, Antoni. 1998. Pielgrzymowanie [Pilgrimage]. Wroclaw: Wydawnictwo Dolnoslaskie.
- Kerschbaum & Gattinger, Via Francigena - DVD- Documentation, of a modern pilgrimage to Rome, ISBN 3-200-00500-9, Verlag EUROVIA, Vienna 2005
- Margry, Peter Jan (ed.) (2008), Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World. New Itineraries into the Sacred. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
- Sumption, Jonathan. 2002. Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion. London: Faber and Faber Ltd.
- Wolfe, Michael (ed.). 1997. One Thousands Roads to Mecca. New York: Grove Press.
- Zarnecki, George (1985), The Monastic World: The Contributions of The Orders. pp. 36–66, in Evans, Joan (ed.). 1985. The Flowering of the Middle Ages. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.
- Media related to Pilgrimage at Wikimedia Commons