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Tirtha and Kshetra

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Coupled with the concept of the power of the Mantra, in Hinduism, there is the concept of the holiness of a place. A holy place or a place of pilgrimage has two technical equivalents in Hindu tradition, namely, Tirtha and Kshetra.

Tirtha

A Tirtha is a holy place where there is a well, pond, lake, river or sea, the waters of which are considered to be holy. The Sanskrit word Tirtha, meaning 'water' has come to connote, by religious tradition, any place of pilgrimage on the banks of sacred streams of water.

Kshetra

A Kshetra is a holy precinct, a sacred field, a temenos. The precinct may be either an analogue or an actual physical abode. In common parlance, kshetra may denote a place where there is a holy temple or where there is held to have been a person or event of sacred, religious or dharmic importance. As sacred precincts, both yantra and mandala are kshetra. Buddha Dharma has two analogue 'kshetra': the buddha-field and the refuge field.hei kjekken

'Kshetra' is held to be an etymon of the Zoroastrian (ancient Iranian language) word 'Kshatra' which holds the semantic field "power" and is also a personal name for a divinity or immortal who comprises one of the Amesa Spentas of Zoroastrianism. This Kshatra alternatively known as Shatevar, is held in the Zoroastrian tradition to have conquered that which was evil and annexing territory thus won, proffered it to the honest, peaceable and humble. In Sanskrit kshetra may denote a tract of land and the Kurukshetra specifically is the 'field' or 'precinct' where the Pandavas and Kauravas fought their holy war enshrined in the Bhagavadgita section of the Mahabharata.

India

The subcontinent of India is full of such Tirthas and Kshetras.Pushkar, Naimisharanya,Kurukshetra,kedarnath,badrinath,Kailash mansarovar and nashik are some of the hindu plimigriage. The various bathing ghats on the holy rivers like Ganga, Kaveri, Yamuna, Narmada, Krishna and Godavari are important Tirthas. One of the holiest Tirthas is the island of Rameswaram at almost the southern tip of India. Almost every temple city is considered a Kshetra. There are Kshetras of very long standing like Kashi, Kanchipuram and Haridwar, which are believed by pious Hindus to have the longest continuing life in the history of the human race. He who gives a gift, in a Tirtha or a Kshetra, say the scriptures, shakes off his poverty and he who accepts a gift in such places, purchases poverty for himself. Long pilgrimages are made to such holy Tirthas and Kshetras, the pilgrims practising austerities and often walking on foot great distances into almost inaccessible regions. The Kumbh Mela held once in twelve years at different auspicious dates in different kshetras like Prayag (Allahabad), Kashi-kshetra (Varanasi), Kurukshetra, Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik (and also in Kumbakonam where it is called Mahamaham), draw lakhs of devotees congregating at the same place to have the holy dip in the respective Tirthas. In Kumbakonam it is all centred round the central Mahamaham tank which has twenty different tirthas on its banks.

Scriptural disclaimer

But however holy a Tirtha or a Kshetra may be, if the mind and intention are not pure and if the attitude is not spiritually oriented towards God, no dips in Tirthas or visits to Kshetras can be of spiritual avail. This is also the refrain repeated by all scriptures pertaining to Tirthas and Kshetras. Thousands of watery creatures like fish, etc. are born in water and also die in water, even in the Tirthas. Flocks of birds reside in temples and temple towers. But as the required mental approach is lacking in them, none would suggest that these creatures acquire any religious merit or a place in heaven. The proper faith or devotional approach is a necessary prerequisite. Scriptures declare that this is as much true in the matter of a Tirtha or a Kshetra as it is in the case of a doctor, a preceptor, an astrologer, a deity and a Mantra.

... India and its sacred places are sacred by and large for one reason alone. Sacred places are such because sacred persons, who have crossed over the river of samsara, reside in them. There is no more sacred place than the heart of the sadhu, wherein God himself resides.[1]

Another Tirtha definition

Adi Shankaracharya set up 10 monastic orders in India, and Tirtha is one of them:
1) Tirtha, 2) Ashrama, 3) Vana, 4) Aranya, 5) Giri, 6) Parvata, 7) Sagara, 8) Saraswati, 9) Bharati, 10) Puri. [2]

Modern day Tirtha lineage monastic orders include Tirtha-Siddhayoga
and Tirtha lineage monks include Swami Shankar Purushottam Tirtha, Swami Narayan Tirtha and Jagadguru Swami Sri Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaja

References

  1. Tripurari, Swami, Sacred of the Sacred, Harmonist, 2009.
  2. Saraswati, His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra; Sri Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha (1988). Adi Shankara, His Life and Times. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 

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