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Updated by Soubin Nath on Jul 04, 2016
Headline for 12 Most Sacred Places in India
Soubin Nath Soubin Nath
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12 Most Sacred Places in India

Here’s a list of the world’s most sacred places worth visiting, regardless of your religion or spiritual views.



Banaras is the most visited pilgrimage destination in all of India. One of the seven Holy Cities, one of the twelve Jyotir Linga sites and also a Shakti Pitha site, it is the most favored place for Hindus to die and be cremated. Myths and hymns speak of the waters of the Ganges River as the fluid medium of Shiva's divine essence and a bath in the river is believed to wash away all of one's sins. The particular river-side location of Banaras is considered especially potent because, in less than six miles (ten kilometers), the Ganges is met by two other rivers, the Asi and the Varana.

Hardwar (Haridwar)

Hardwar, or Haridwar, is one of the holiest places for Hindus in India. It is significant that pilgrims often go from Haridwar to the two great Himalayan shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath, as Har means Shiva (the deity of Kedarnath), Hari means Vishnu (the deity of Badrinath), and Dwar means gate. Hardwar is therefore the gateway to the two holy shrines of Shiva and Vishnu. The town has also been called Gangadvar, meaning 'Door of the Ganga' because at this place the sacred river Ganges leaves the mountains to flow out upon the Indian plains. Many years ago it was also called Kapilsthan after the great sage Kapil, who lived and meditated there.




Among India's many different pilgrimage sites, particular ones are traditionally viewed as being especially holy for a variety of different mythological reasons. Preeminent among this listing are the Sapta Puri or Seven Sacred Cities and the four Dhamas or “Divine Abodes” (for more information on the Dhamas, see the photos and text for Rameshvaram, on this web site). The Seven Sacred Cities of Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Banaras, Kanchi, Ujjain and Dwarka are known as Mokshada, meaning ‘Bestower of Liberation’, and these sites are believed to confer liberation upon all persons who die within their boundaries. Dwarka, one of these seven sacred cities, is also listed among the Four Divine Abodes.


Located on the banks of the Yamuna River in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the town of Vrindavan is the site of an ancient forest where the Hindu deity Krishna spent his childhood days. Approximately 15 kilometers from Mathura, the city of Krishna’s birthplace, the town has hundreds of temples dedicated to the worship of Krishna and his consort Radha.


In the Indian state of Kerala, only 10 degrees above the equator, is a land of steep mountains thickly covered with splendid tropical forests. The early people of this region, of a Dravidian ancestral stock, lived amongst the trackless valleys and roaring streams in small tribal groups. Farming little, they hunted in the teeming forests, and their primary deity, Ayappa, was a youthful forest god. Various legends explain the birth of Ayappa (also known as Dharmasasta). One begins with Shiva roaming the mountain kingdoms of the Himalayas. There he sees a lovely maiden and, overcome with desire, makes passionate love with her. But the maiden is married to another man, a tribal chieftain who vows revenge on the god. The tribal chieftain retires to an ice cave in the high mountains and practices austerities for a thousand years.

Bodhi Tree, Bodh Gaya

The Bodhi Tree, located at Bodh Gaya in northeastern India is the place where Siddhartha Guatama attained enlightenment and became the Buddha in the 4th century BC.

The Golden Temple, Amritsar

The Golden Temple, located in the city of Amritsar in the state of Punjab,is a place of great beauty and sublime peacefulness. Originally a small lake in the midst of a quiet forest, the site has been a meditation retreat for wandering mendicants and sages since deep antiquity. The Buddha is known to have spent time at this place in contemplation. Two thousand years after Buddha's time, another philosopher-saint came to live and meditate by the peaceful lake. This was Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder of the Sikh religion. After the passing away of Guru Nanak, his disciples continued to frequent the site; over the centuries it became the primary sacred shrine of the Sikhs.




Sanchi, a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is the location of several Buddhist monuments dating from the third century BC to the twelfth century AD. The foundation of the hilltop temple complex was laid by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka (273-236 BC) when he built a total of eight stupas, one of which became known as the Great Stupa. The present Great Stupa (120 feet/37 meters wide and 54 feet/17 meters tall) is, however, not the original one. It encases an earlier stupa of about half its current dimensions that was built of large burnt bricks and mud.

Ellora Caves

The complex of Ellora temples in Maharashtra state represents the greatest example of cave-cut architecture in the world. Dating from the Gupta period of the 6th to 8th centuries AD, the temples were constructed by digging into a mountain side and removing thousands of tons of rock, leaving only the temple structures behind. At Ellora there are 34 cave temples: 12 Buddhist, 17 Hindu, and 5 Jain.


Located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and roughly 620 kilometers (385 miles) southeast of New Delhi, the temples of Khajuraho are famous for their so-called “erotic sculptures”. Khajuraho was the cultural capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled from the 10th to 12th centuries. There were originally more than 80 temples, both Hindu and Jain, but only 25 are left standing over an area of approximately 20 square kilometers (8 square miles).

Amarnath Cave

The Amarnath caves, located in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, are one of the most famous shrines in Hinduism. Dedicated to the god Shiva, the shrine is claimed to be over 5,000 years old and forms an important part of ancient Hindu mythology.

The Temple of Dakshineswar, Calcutta

In the year 1847, the wealthy widow Rani Rasmani prepared to make a pilgrimage to the sacred city of Banaras to express her devotions to the Divine Mother. In those days there were no railway lines between Calcutta and Banaras and it was more comfortable for rich persons to make the journey by boat rather than by road. The convoy of Rani Rasmani consisted of twenty-four boats carrying relatives, servants, and supplies.