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Pictorial Pilgrimage Guide Map for Uttarakhand, India Showing Important Holy Sites for Multiple Religions

This interesting pictorial guide map shows pilgrimage routes for all the temples on the Chota Char Dam pilgrimage circuit, Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri, and Yamnotri, as well as routes to Mt. Kailash, the abode of Shiva, and nearby holy Lake Mansarovar. A fascinating allegorical depiction of the Hindu goddess Ganga’s descent to Earth to form the Ganges River is included across the top right section of this map.

The map illustrates the region to the north and east of the city Haridwar, part of the Uttarakhand region of India. The Uttarakhand region is considered “the playground of the Gods” (Sastry 1981, p. 43) for the beauty of the Himalayan region and the existence of numerous holy sites. The area around Badrinath in particular was celebrated in Padma Purana as abounding in spiritual treasures. The city of Haridwar, located in the bottom left corner, is considered one of the seven holy cities in Hinduism.

The map is in both Hindi and English. Its Hindi title is at top left, and English is at top right. Both titles are located above an illustration of the Himalayan mountain range denoting India’s northern border. Nestled among the mountains at top left is a neat north arrow illustration. Cities and temples on this map are illustrated according to their size and characteristics, making this map visually engaging. Figures of pilgrims drawn along pilgrimage routes further emphasize their visual importance. A legend at bottom right denotes the symbols for motor roads, pilgrim routes and other trails, railroads, and rivers.

Along the map’s lower border, the publication information is provided as Bhai Harnam Singh Sohan Singh Booksellers in Hardwar (Haridwar). Although its publication date is not noted, it was probably created before the 1962 war between India and China and the subsequent moratorium on pilgrimages past the China/Tibet border to Mt. Kailash and Lake Mansarovar.

The Chota Char Dam (“the small circuit of four abodes”) depicted on this map is an important Hindu pilgrimage circuit. It is second only to the Char Dam (“circuit of four abodes”) which is the main Hindu pilgrimage circuit spanning the four corners of India. This map depicts routes leading from the city of Haridwar to the Chota Char Dam’s four temples:

  • Badrinath is dedicated to Krishna and is the major pilgrimage site among the four temples. It also one of the four sites on the main Char Dam pilgrimage circuit.
  • Kedarnath is the foremost of all shrines dedicated to Shiva.
  • Yamnotri is the temple for the goddess Yamuna, whose sacred river flows from this site.
  • Gangotri is the temple for the goddess Ganga and the birthplace of the Ganges River, the holiest river in India.

The Goddess Ganga’s descent to Earth

The top right section of this map pictorially relates the creation myth of the Ganges River, depicting its three main characters: King Bhagiratha, the goddess Ganga, and Lord Shiva. As described in the Puranas, King Bhagiratha prayed for Ganga to descend to Earth and wash away the sins of his ancestors by flowing over their ashes. As she descended, she fell on Shiva’s head and was caught by his hair, from which he let her stream forth, creating the Ganges River. King Bhagiratha is said to have walked across the Himalayas sounding a conch shell in order to clear a path through the mountains for Ganga. Shiva is shown here rising from his mythical home of Mt. Kailash in Nepal, with the Ganges streaming from his head and Ganga riding the water. King Bhagiratha is clearly shown with his conch shell trekking across the Himalayas, with the headwaters of the Ganges flowing from a steer located near his feet at Gangotri Temple.

Sacred area for multiple religions

Mt. Kailash, the highest peak illustrated at top right, with the large illustration of Shiva alongside, is a sacred place for many religions. For Hindus, Mt. Kailash is the home of the Hindu god Shiva and it is believed that Shiva resides there; for Jains it is where their first leader was enlightened; for Buddhists, the center of the universe; and for adherents of Bon, it is the home of the sky goddess Sipaimen.

Badrinath, highly sacred in Hinduism as discussed, is also sacred in Jainism as a place of enlightenment and connectedness to nature.

This historical pilgrimage guide to northern India’s holiest sites is a fascinating and visually engaging map.

T. Suryanarayana Sastry, A Guide to Pilgrimage to Uttar Khand: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedar & Badri, (Tirupati: Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, 1981). ACA.