Key concepts and central Figures


Crossing point or ford. It comes from the root Tri which means to pass or cross over. It was first used to refer to places where rivers could be crossed, but has been extended to mean anything that provides an opportunity for crossing from this world of rebirth and redeath (samsara) to the ‘other shore.’ It can signify not only places of pilgrimage, but temples, gurus, texts, gods and anything else that facilitates liberation.


The power of ascetic disciple, heat. It is the power which brought forth the universe in the Vedic creation stories (RV 10.129 and 10.190. Tapas, as a creative power can come from a variety of different practices including; celibacy, fasting, bodily mortification, pilgrimage, breath control, exposure to heat, and meditation. As in the case of king Divodasa, (or parvati) the is the way that people are able to gain recognition and benefits from the gods






Seeing, sight or viewpoint. This concept often refers to the interaction between a devotee and the object of his/her focus. It is an intimate and intense interaction which is reciprocal. Not only does one see the form (murti) of the God (one can have darshan of a place, a guru, an image or any other intense manifestation of power), one is also seen.


Horse sacrifice. This is a very difficult ritual often performed by the rulers of ancient India. This ritual requires a year to complete. A fine horse is selected at the beginning of the year and then released and allowed to wander free. It is accompanied by soldiers. Everywhere the horse goes is said to be under the jurisdiction of the ruler. As a result, any territory that the horse wanders into that was not previously under his jurisdiction is either required to submit or fight. If the horse makes it through the year, it is returned to the city where it is sacrificed in a three day ceremony. the horse is then cut up, eaten and offered to the gods through the fire.









He was a saint born into a weaver caste in Benares in the fifteenth century claimed by Muslims and Hindu's alike. Ironically, he ridiculed religion and felt that God could not by named or elaborated any any way.





Grace. This can refer to the grace of god through which the devotee is liberated, as well as the offerings made during Puja which are then returned as offerings of God’s grace. It can include the burning of lamps, camphor, or incense.



This is the offering of light (usually in the form of an oil lamp to a deity (Linga image, river etc.) It can also refer to the entire ceremony of offerings to the deity.





Ancient (pura) stories. This is a class of texts composed from as early as the fourth century B.C. (although they may contain prior oral material) and throughout the medieval period. They are considered Smriti (remembered tradition) as opposed to Shruti (Revealed tradition eg: the Veda)They are an enormous collection of texts which include all sorts of stuff: mythology, historical records, pilgrimage site, teachings on the dharma and liberation, cosmology, geography, physiology and much more.


This is the symbol of /iva. It is an aniconic elongated cylindrical form that resembles and indeed refers to the phallus. It is usually set in a flat oval-shaped base that represents the union of /iva and his partner /akti, the union of male and female powers.





These are the Brahmins who perform rituals for pilgrims along the Ghats. This is also a generic name for many types of ritual performers. They accept ritual gifts (dana) as well as fees (Daksina) for their services.




Pinda pradana:

This is a ritual often performed at Kashi's ghats during which balls of rice or other grains (Pinda) are offered to the ancestors to help them in their journey between births.




This is the statement of intention that accompanies ritual acts. Many learned pilgrims will know how to perform this ritual; however, many other pilgrims will have to hire a Panda to help them out. A typical recitation of the Sankalpa follows a pattern similar to the one Diana Eck has laid out: "I, of this family and this village, am here in Kashi in this year, in this month, on this day, in this place, making the pilgrimage to the five Tirthas." (P.221) If there is a desired result (sakama) it will be stated now.







These are digests or medieval commentaries on puranic literature. Four prominent ones, Tirthavivechana Kanda, Tirtha Chintamani, Tristhalisetu and the Tirtha Prakasha, all contain enormous amounts of information about Kashi, and pilgrimage.


This is the name for the sets of stairs leading down to the Ganges where pilgrims and residence perform various rituals as well as bathe.