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Much of what marks the contemporary Hindu ritual scene finds its origin in the activities of Indus Valley Civilisation. There has been, without doubt, a corrosion of religious faith with the progress of modernity, but surprisingly the bathing tradition for ritual ablution spanning across centuries of time has not faded, despite the passage of so many ages and despite changes all around. Hinduism has a strong and ancient tradition of pilgrimage, widely recognised as Tīrtha-yatra (tour of the sacred fords), which involves holy baths in water bodies as a symbolic purification ritual. Most of the Hindu pilgrimage places are along rivers or river confluences or next to lakes, or temple pilgrimages with pools or wells, indicating a strong association with water. At a pan-India level, religious events like Kumbh Mela, Gaṇgā Sāgar Melā in West Bengal, Mahamaham festival at Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu and many other local or regional fairs have seen a mass congregation of pilgrims during a particular astrological conjunction for a holy dip in the river or sacred water bodies. A quick survey of the historical and tourism-related literature shows that, no serious attempt has been undertaken for promoting these ritualistic bathing sites as points of religious tourist-attractions. Given the magnitude of this bathing practice, an exploration of water tīrthas as pilgrimage centres and the implication of such mass congregations from the perspective of tourism needs academic attention. This paper examines the beliefs and rituals associated with the bathing tradition and provide a brief account of the bathing fairs in India. The paper also shows how sacred literature, using the language of myths and allegories shaped and reaffirmed the deified status of such sites.





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