Historically, Hindu rituals, sacred journeys, festivities, deities and their symmetrical links, have come together to form sacred spatial systems that are still observed by both pilgrims and devotees. These pilgrimage traditions are deeply rooted in local space / place, as well as in the cultural inheritance and mentality of their adherents. This structure is reflected symbolically in the spatial frame of Hinduism in which both complexity and temporal stability meet, mediating between people and the cosmos, i.e., in a mesocosm. In Varanasi (Banaras/Kashi) this spatial frame is clearly expressed in a series of sacred territorial boundaries defined by pilgrimage routes. Varanasi, known as the microcosm of India and one of the most sacred cities of Hinduism, has maintained its cosmic layout which was developed in the deep historical past. The passage from macrocosmos (heaven) into the mesocosmos (earth) and further down into the microcosmos (temple or body) is made spatially visible here, and is regulated by the network of pilgrimage routes. This is what we call pilgrimage mandala. In theory, the four inner sacred routes of Kashi meet at the point of axis mundi, Jnanavapi, while the outer circle covers the rest and meets in the west at Dehli Vinayaka, the gate to the cosmic territory. The five circuits symbolise the five heavenly gross elements of Hindu cosmogony - sky / ether, earth, air, water and fire - parallel to five parts of the human body, i.e. head, legs, face, blood and heart. In this paper, these five extraordinary pilgrimage routes are described and their present scenarios illustrated.



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