India, home to more than one billion people, bursts at the seams with culture and history. Travelers to this massive country can explore a seemingly infinite number of temples, shrines, ancient runes and holy sites. Indeed, religion plays a significant role in India's culture and Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other faiths have also shaped the country throughout the centuries.
Hindu Pilgrimage Sites
Followers of Hinduism visit various sites throughout India on religious pilgrimages. Badrinath is located in a mountainous region in India's north and has a special connection to the god Vishnu. The town is also home to a large temple, which includes a special bathing pool used for purification rites. Varanasi is another holy Hindu pilgrimage site and is home to a section of the Ganges River, where people bathe away their sins. The ancient city is also the site of many open-air cremations.
Members of the Sikh religion, who wear turbans, have various temples throughout India. Sri Harmandir Sahib, also known as the Golden Temple, is the holiest site to Sikhs and rests on a platform surrounded by water. Construction of the temple began in the 17th century and it is capped with a dome that resembles an upside-down louts. Sri Akal Takht Sahib is one of the five seats of Sikh religious authorities and was built in 1609 and is home to weapons of famed Sikh heroes.
The history of India goes back thousands of years and cave art preserves ancient culture and lore. The Ajanta Caves date from the first and second centuries BC, according to UNESCO and contain various sculptures and paintings relating to Buddhism. The caves were carved from volcanic rock on a cliff and their art depicts the life of the Buddha. The Elephanta Caves are located on an island near Mumbai and contain hundreds of ancient Hindu carvings, including a large statue of Shiva and a temple.
Sites of Bodh Gaya
Bodh Gaya is a center of Buddhism in India and the site of pilgrimages for followers from all over the world. The town is home to the very bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat and meditated before finally achieving enlightenment and it still thrives centuries later. Also, Bodh Gaya is the site of the Maha Bodhi Temple, an imposing pyramid-shaped structure with four towers. Inside the temple is a massive image of the Buddha believed to be more than 1,700 years old.
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