Early Pilgrimage Traditions in South Asia

Location: OCHS Library
Speaker: Professor Knut Axel Jakobsen
Date: February 3, 2022
Time: 2.00pm – 3.00pm (GMT)

The lecture looks at the early history of pilgrimage and sites of pilgrimage in South Asia. Pilgrimage sites that were believed to offer rewards to those who visited them have been a feature of South Asian religious traditions since at least the first centuries CE. I suggest that some pre-Buddhist, non-Vedic religious sites in north and central India associated with sacred trees, pools of water, and shrines in the form of stones, might have been objects of pilgrimage travel also in pre-historic times. Yakṣas and other divinities were connected to sites and in some cases in order to worship them the worshipper would have to travel to them. An analysis of the two earliest texts that promote Buddhist and Hindu pilgrimage, the Mahāparinibbānasutta and the Mahābhārata, indicates that the pre-Buddhist, non-Vedic religious traditions were of some importance for the development of both pilgrimage traditions. In. the lecture I argue that two different forms of ritual travel are found in the Mahābhārata, the ritual royal procession, and the individual pilgrimage ritual, and argue that they have different origins. Both types of ritual travel are found in the Hindu pilgrimage traditions.

Prof. Knut A. Jacobsen is Professor of the Study of Religion at the University of Bergen and specialises in the religions of India. He is also a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. He has published around 40 books as author or editor, and is the editor-in-chief of the landmark six-volume work Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Prof. Jacobsen obtained his PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1994, and has been professor at the University of Bergen since 1996. His main areas of research is the Hindu philosophical schools of Sāṃkhya and Yoga, especially in its classical forms but also exploring how these traditions survive in the modern world. In addition, he has also written extensively on the practice of pilgrimage in South Asia, and on the migration of South Asian religions, especially in Europe.