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Early Pilgrimage Traditions in South Asia

This lecture series is presented by Professor Knut A. Jacobsen (University of Bergen). Read more about his research here. 


Part 1: Pre-Buddhist and Early Buddhist Ritual Sites

About the lecture

South Asia is one of the major pilgrimage regions in the world. All the four religions of Indian origin have numerous pilgrimage sites, which are centers of ritual activities, and their sacred geographies continue to develop, not only in South Asia but increasingly also globally. In Jainism and Buddhism, the sacred sites are primarily associated with the events and teachings of tīrthaṅkaras, buddhas, and bodhisattvas, and sacred structures such as temples and stūpas.

In this lecture, Professor Jacobsen talks in extensive detail about the traditions of pilgrimage beginning from the non-Vedic, pre-Buddhist era in India, and goes on to talk about the more established rituals associated to pilgrimages and holy shrines within Hinduism in India today. Detailing a history of a traditions spanning over centuries, Professor Jacobsen tries to bring in various debates within his explanation.


Part 2: Sacred Sites and Religious Travel in Early Brahmanical Hindu Traditions

About the lecture

Continuing his lecture on pilgrimage traditions in the post-Buddhist era, Professor Jacobsen states that the idea of a permanently demarcated sacred place most likely represented a continuation of the pre-Buddhist, non-Vedic substrate culture. The evidence from inscriptions from Aśokan times would indicate that Buddhist pilgrimage originated before the pilgrimage texts of the Mahābhārata. 

While the source of this ritual in South Asia may very well have been the pre-Buddhist, non-Vedic substrate culture, the expansion of Hindu places promoted in the Tīrthayātrāparvan of the Mahābhārata, which encompasses large parts of India, may perhaps be read as a textual response to the Aśokan and post-Aśokan expansion of Buddhist sacred sites with the construction of a large number of stūpas and monastic institutions.