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Tirtha and Kshetra

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Title: Tirtha and Kshetra  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Hindu temple, Kumbh Mela, Yatra, Pushkar Lake, Vithoba
Collection: Hindu Holy Cities, Hindu Philosophical Concepts, Hindu Pilgrimage Sites
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Tirtha and Kshetra

In Hinduism, tirtha and kshetra are two terms denoting sites of pilgrimage.


  • Tirtha 1
  • Kshetra 2
  • India 3
  • Scriptural disclaimer 4
  • Another definition of Tirtha 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8


A tīrtha (Sanskrit: तीर्थ), which literally means "a ford, a shallow part of a body of water that may be easily crossed", has come to connote places of pilgrimage associated with sacred water.


A kṣētra (Sanskrit: क्षेत्र "field, area, tract of land") denotes a holy precinct or temenos. The Kurukshetra specifically is the "field" or "precinct" where the Pandavas and Kauravas fought a religious war as told in the Bhagavad Gita section of the Mahabharata. In common parlance, kshetra may denote a place where there is a temple or where there is held to have been a person or event of sacred, religious or dharmic importance. As sacred precincts, both yantras and mandalas are kshetras.

Buddhism has two analogues to the kshetra, the Pure Land or buddhakṣetra and the refuge tree.

Kshetra is also an etymon of the Avestan term Xšaθra "[Desirable] Dominion", which holds the semantic field "power" and is also a personal name for a divinity or immortal who comprises one of the Amesha Spentas of Zoroastrianism. Xšaθra or Shahrevar conquered that which was evil and annexed territory thus won, proffering it to the honest, peaceable and humble.

The Garuda Purana enumerates seven sites as givers of Moksha: Ayodhya, Mathura, Māyā, Kāsi, Kāñchī, Avantikā, Purī and Dvārāvatī.


The Indian subcontinent is full of tirthas and kshetras.

Allahabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Pushkar, Naimisha Forest, Kurukshetra, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri, Lake Manasarovar and Nashik are some of the most important kshetras.

The various bathing ghats on the Ganges, Kaveri, Yamuna, Narmada River, Krishna River and Godavari River are important tirthas. One of the holiest tirthas is the island of Rameswaram at almost the southern tip of India. Almost every temple-city there is considered a kshetra.

There are kshetras of very long standing like Varanasi, Kanchipuram and Haridwar, which are believed by pious Hindus to have the longest continuing life in the history of the human race. He who gives a gift in a tirtha or a kshetra, say the scriptures, shakes off his poverty; and he who accepts a gift in such places, purchases poverty for himself. Long pilgrimages are made to such holy tirthas and kshetras, the pilgrims practising austerities and often walking on foot great distances into almost inaccessible regions. The Kumbh Mela held once in twelve years at different auspicious dates in different kshetras like Allahabad, Varanasi, Kurukshetra, Haridwar, Ujjain, Nashik (and also in Kumbakonam where it is called Mahamaham), draw lakhs of devotees congregating at the same place to have the holy dip in the respective Tirthas. In Kumbakonam it is all centred round the central Mahamaham tank, which has twenty different tirthas on its banks.

Scriptural disclaimer

But however holy a tirtha or a kshetra may be, if the mind and intention are not pure and if the attitude is not spiritually oriented towards God, no dips in tirthas or visits to kshetras can be of spiritual avail. This is also the refrain repeated by all scriptures pertaining to tirthas and kshetras. Thousands of watery creatures like fish, etc. are born in water and also die in water, even in the tirthas. Flocks of birds reside in temples and temple towers. But as the required mental approach is lacking in them, none would suggest that these creatures acquire any religious merit or a place in heaven. The proper faith or devotional approach is a necessary prerequisite. Scriptures declare that this is as much true in the matter of a tirtha or a kshetra as it is in the case of a doctor, a preceptor, an astrologer, a deity and a Mantra.

... India and its sacred places are sacred by and large for one reason alone. Sacred places are such because sacred persons, who have crossed over the river of samsara, reside in them. There is no more sacred place than the heart of the sadhu, wherein God himself resides.[1]

Another definition of Tirtha

Adi Shankaracharya set up 10 monastic orders in India, and Tirtha is one of them: 1) Tirtha, 2) Ashrama, 3) Vana, 4) Aranya, 5) Giri, 6) Parvata, 7) Sagara, 8) Saraswati, 9) Bharati, 10) Puri.[2]

Modern day Tirtha lineage monastic orders include Tirtha-Siddhayoga, and Tirtha lineage monks include Swami Shankar Purushottam Tirtha, Swami Narayan Tirtha and Jagadguru Swami Sri Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaja.

See also


  1. ^ Tripurari, Swami, Sacred of the Sacred, Harmonist, 2009.
  2. ^ Saraswati, His Holiness Jagadguru Sri Chandrasekharendra; Sri Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Pitha (1988). Adi Shankara, His Life and Times. Mumbai: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. 

Further reading

  • Baidyanath Saraswati (1985). Traditions of Tirthas in India: The Anthropology of Hindu Pilgrimage. N.K. Bose Memorial Foundation. 
  • Michael Rudolph; Klaus-Peter Kopping; Bernhard Leistle (2007). Ritual and Identity: Performative Practices as Effective Transformations of Social Reality (Performances). Münster [Germany]: Lit Verlag. pp. 267–269  
  • Sacred of the Sacred by Swami Tripurari
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