All established religions have places of pilgrimage. The devotee believes that a visit to the shrine will wash his sins, cleanse him, refresh his spiritual qualities, and strengthen him to live a moral life. Places with water – rivers, tanks – best symbolise this aspect. Most places of pilgrimage are situated on the banks of rivers, and a dip in the water is an essential ceremony, followed by acts of charity. By bowing our head, we rid ourselves and leave behind a little of our arrogance. Through charity, we shake off and leave behind some of our greed.
As the devotee bows, arrogance is transferred to the shrine managers. By accepting charity in routine, the receivers at the shrine also accept greed. Thus pilgrimages continue to gather arrogance and greed, and ultimately show signs of moral decay, and we end up seeing unholy practices at holy places.
The devotee may feel cleansed of arrogance and greed, but who will now clean the river and the shrine? The shrine will remain pure only if the daily receipts of arrogance and greed do not add up. The presence of His saints ensures this balance. The realised saint can accept an obeisance, and it does not affect his ego, since he is aware that the gesture is for Him and not for the mortal frame. The saint can accept a devotee’s charity without a sense of possession, since he is aware that all creation belongs only to Him.
Any shrine or temple, however imposing or pleasing to the eye, is only made of brick and mortar. A single earthquake, and it will be ruins. Within any pilgrimage, the real and eternal shrines are the Holy Saints. Guru Granth Sahib says:
The Ganges, the Jamuna, the Godavari and the Saraswati – these rivers strive for the dust of the feet of the Holy.
They say – overflowing with sins, the mortals take cleansing baths in us.
Our pollution is washed away by the dust of the feet of His Saints.