Is going on a pilgrimage an important practice for Hindus? The answer is yes, since pilgrimages are an integral part of Hindu worship. Family worship takes the form of puja at home or a local temple, or visiting a famous temple for a ceremony or a sacred river for a dip on specified date.
Spiritual retreats are important in the West. People often go off for a weekend to pray, to visit with priests, and enjoy the fellowship of others. Likewise, in India, a pilgrimage increases the devotions of the people and offers opportunities for them to fulfill their obligations or make new or additional petitions to the gods.
Some of the famous temple towns include Allahabad, Amarnath, Ayod-hya, Benares, Chidambaram, Gangotri, Kanchipuram, Konark, Madurai, and Rameshwaram.
Some of the holy rivers are the Ganges, Sarasvati, Jamuna, Krishna, Kaveri, Vaigai, and Pallar. In a sense, all the Indian rivers could be considered holy. If someone like a Chola king — Rajendra I (1012–1044) or Gan-gaikonda Chola — brought a pitcher of water from the Ganges and poured it into Kaveri, Kaveri water was believed to have been transformed into holy water.
By extending this philosophy to all the rivers, one would imagine the waters of all Indian rivers as holy water worthy of a holy bath. Major pilgrimage cities were founded on the banks of these rivers. Benares is on the banks of the Ganges; Kanchipuram is on the banks of Pallar; Chidambaram is on the banks of Coleroom; and Madurai on the banks of Vaigai. Making a pilgrimage to Benares /Kashi is one of the goals of life; however, it is not complete until a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram is also made. There are five places — called mukti smasthans or release stations — visiting would guarantee entry into moksha, or heaven. These places are: Chidambaram, Kala-hasti, Kanchipuram, Tiruvannamalai, and Tiirvannaikaval.
During festival times, long processions go around the temples. Temple elephants lead the processions, followed by musicians and priests chanting the mantras, interspersed by chariots carrying the idols of the gods. The devotees offer incense, garlands, coconuts, lamps, money, gold, and silver ornaments to the deities.