Top 12 spiritual destinations in Uttar Pradesh
Spirituality in India boasts a pallette of religions. Incidentally, the term ‘Hindu’ was used by the Arab traders to identify the people living east of the River Indus. Indus came to be known as Sindhu and the term Hindu was born. Uttar Pradesh, a state in the Indo-Gangetic plains had a flourishing trade, and became a political citadel as well. Many faiths and religions have mingled and coexisted in this land. Quite like the rest of India, there are thousands of holy places here, marked with the presence of sages, seers, devotees and mystics, bygone and present.
1. Varanasi and Sarnath
Varanasi is the oldest living city in the world. It is on the banks of Ganga, and not far from Sarnath where Lord Buddha gave his first sermon. Kashi Vishwanath temple, Durga temple, Bharat mata temple, Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple, Kashi fort, Manikarnika ghat, Kabir chaura, the homes of famous classical Hindustani sangeet muscians and singers like Girija Devi and Ustad Bismillah Khan and the Gyanvapi mosque have stories and experiences to share with travellers.
2. Vrindavan (Braj bhoomi: Mathura, Vrindavan, Govardhan, Barsana, Nandgaon, Gokul, Mahavan, Baldeo)
Vrindavan is the international headquarter for all those in love with Krishna. Just a 2 hour drive from Delhi and 1 hour drive from Agra, Vrindavan has been a hotspot for millenia, whereas Agra and Delhi for all their 500 years of history are considerably young. The village of Vrindavan is the hub of Braj bhoomi or Braj Mandal, a collective name for the villages in this area where Krishna spent his boyhood days till age 12. He moved to neighbouring Mathura and later to Dwarikadheesh in Gujarat.
Although Braj Mandal is said to extend to Agra (Agar van, scented forest), but Mathura, Govardhan, Barsana, Gokul, Nandgaon, Mahavan, Baldeo and Chhatikara are some of the current popular places. Mathura was on the ancient silk trade route and has a Government Museum with a great collection of sculpture from the time of Lord Buddha.
Kusum sarovar at Govardhan and Sri Radha’s temple at Barsana
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The Kumbh mela and the annual Magh mela are held at Prayag.
Allahabad’s older name is Prayag. The Kumbh mela and the annual Magh mela are held at Prayag, the confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna, and the now invisible Saraswati. Like the Kumbh mela where sages and aspirants come together, the Magha mela is held for a month in January where aspirants and sages take time off from regular work to just be and meditate. I have personally known a foreigner and a high court judge to never miss the annual spiritual retreat. Allahabad is a 6 hour drive from Lucknow.
Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord Rama. It was an important place during the time of Lord Buddha and has Buddhist temples to commemorate that connection. The Rishabhadeo Jain temple at Ayodhya makes it a place of pilgrimage for Jains also. Ayodhya, on the banks of River Saryu or Ghaghra is a 3 hour drive from Lucknow.
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Chitrakoot is shared by the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. It is associated with Lord Rama’s stay here for about 11 years. Chitrakoot gets its name from its natural beauty. River Mandakini, Atri-Anusuya ashram, Bharat koop, Gupt Godavari, Hanuman dhara, Sphatik shila and Kamadgiri hill are places in the midst of nature. A daily evening train from Lucknow lands one in Chitrakoot after midnight. Rajapur, the birthplace of Goswami Tulsidas is on the banks of River Yamuna.
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Gupt Godavari, Bharat Koop and a handwritten manuscript of Ramayana by Goswami Tulsidas
6. Agra and Fatehpur Sikri
Agra may be better known for its Taj Mahal, but it also holds the distinction of having 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one being the Taj of course. The Agra Fort, another of the world heriatge sites has three beautiful mosques. The third UNESCO World Heritage Site, Fatehpur Sikri has the shrine of sufi saint Salim Chishti. The saint died in the year 1572 AD. The dargah was rebuilt in marble by Akbar’s son Jahangir (1580-81). It is a place where prayers for a child are answered as was Emperor Akbar’s.
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7. Kushinagar and Pawanagar
Kushinagar in Eastern UP is a place of Buddhist pilgrimage. Lord Buddha gave his last sermon at Kushinagar and breathed his last at Kushinagar. Lord Buddha date of birth, date of enlightenment and date of Mahanirvana all happen to be Vaishakh Purnima (a full moon day in April/May). Pawanagar, an important center of Jain pilgrimage is just a half an hour’s drive from Kushinagar.
8. Lucknow and Deva Sharif
Lucknow, the capital city of Uttar Pradesh has some of the best Shia Islamic architecture and religious study by way of a Sanskrit University and Nadwa College of Islamic studies. Baba Neem Karauri’s Hanuman temple, Ramakrishna Math temple, Koneshwar Mahadev, Aliganj Hanuman temples, Kalibari temple, Chandrika Devi temple and Mankameshwar temples are places of celebration. 28 km from Lucknow, Deva Sharif is a shrine of Sufi saint Syed Haji Waris Ali Shah. The annual Urs is celebrated with a month long fair in the month of Kartik (October/November). Deva Sharif is open to people of all religions.
A great way to know Naimisharanya is by taking the 14 day Naimish Parikrama, by walking the 250 km in Naimish Mandal to visit the sacred places in the month of Phalgun/March.
10. Naimisharanaya and Misrikh
Naimisharanya is also known as Naimish and Neemsar. It is an ancient center of Sanskrit learning in district Sitapur. It finds mention in the Rig Veda and Srimad Bhagwat Purana. Naimisharanya is on the banks of River Gomti, 80 km from Lucknow.
The holy places include Chakra Teerth, Lalita devi temple, Vyas Gaddi, Hanuman Garhi temple, the Puran Mandir established by Anand Mayee Maa, Naradananda Ashram, Ramkrishna Mission Ashram, Balaji Temple, Kali temple and several other ashrams. I saw a young sadhak practicing Panch-agni sadhna in an ashram along a dusty road near the Kali temple.
Just 11 km from Naimisharanya, Misrikh is famous for its Dadheechi kund.
Sravasti is where Lord Buddha spent 24 rainy seasons in meditation and sermons. He stayed at the Jetvana gardens there. Balrampur railway station is the closest to Sravasti. The closest airport is at Lucknow.
Navratri is a splash of colour, sound and fragrance celebrating Shakti-Puja in Vindhyachal.
Vindhyachal is on the banks of River Ganga. The temple of Vindhyavasini is an ancient Shaktipeeth. Vindhyavasini, Kali-Khoh and Ashtabhuja temples are the three main Shakti temples here. Vindhyachal is in District Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. It is accessible by train, and the closest airports are at Varanasi and Patna.
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When my ego was there, God realisation was missing. Now on realising God, my ego is lost. There is no darkness now that I see light. ~ Kabir
Magahar is the resting place of revered saint Kabir Das, who is considered a Hindu by Hindus, a Muslim by Muslims, and a Sufi seer by sufis. Religion was no barrier for this sage, and even in death, his remains were honoured by both Hindus and Muslims. Two shrines, a samadhi and a mazar at Magahar, hold the remains of Kabir, who was born in Varanasi.
A drive from Lucknow the state capital of Uttar Pradesh, to Maghar takes about 6 hours. …Starting from Lucknow, taking NH28 via Barabanki, Faizabad and Basti.
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A map of Uttar Pradesh in Northern India
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