Sacred Pilgrimages & Educational Tours
SHARANYA offers guided sacred pilgrimages to India and educational programs to prepare travelers for their own journeys to South Asia and other goddess sites around the world. We also offer classes, lectures, seminars and workshops on a variety of topics including the Dark Goddesses and the Devi traditions of India. Tours include appropriate information about culture and religion.
We currently offer the following tours:
The Festival of Ambubachi
Pilgrimage to Goddess Sites and Festivals of Tantrick India
This tour is open to men and women who seek a spiritual and cultural introduction to the ancient roots as well as the modern realities of Goddess (Devi) worship in India. Here, in India, Devi is alive and well; in Her myriad manifestations as Universal Mother, Warrior, Consort, Crone and Supreme Reality, She is a complexity to both honor and explore. By visiting some of Her most important sacred sites of power, this pilgrimage tour will help unfold and deepen a connection to Her mysteries through temple visits, puja (worship), discussion, lecture, time for self-exploration and group ritual.
Specifically, this pilgrimage tour visits the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal and Orissa in order to investigate the goddess-centered, embodied spirituality of India known as Sakta Tantra. Sakta Tantra theology reveres the goddess as primary—devi (often called Kali, Mahamaya, Durga, Tara and other names) is both creator of this world and this world itself. We will together walk among, and participate in ceremonies and festivals alongside, devotees who consider Female/Feminine energy to be fundamental and activating, the source of all existence without which the gods and humanity would perish. In addition to providing context and site-specific details, this tour both arranges formal meetings and creates opportunities for informal engagement with those dedicated to Maa (devi is often simply called “mother”). Fundamentally, participating in this pilgrimage tour enables a first-hand look at one of the world’s oldest living goddess traditions.
Participants will: learn about social customs, temple etiquette, ritual symbolism and Tantrick cosmology; experience the annual festival of Ambubachi in Assam during the time of the goddess’ menstruation; receive darshan of Maa Kali at the holy temples of Kalighat and Dakshineswar in Kolkata; visit sacred sites in Orissa, including the sun temple at Konark and the circular yogini temple at Hirapur; explore India’s two famous temples dedicated to the navagraha, or nine planets; …and more!
Some Sample Program Details:
Day One: Arrive in Kolkata or Delhi to rendezvous with tour at hotel. Meet up with group for welcome lunch and introductions, followed by a guided visit to the National Museum (Delhi) or Indian Museum (Kolkata). Relaxing evening and open social hour at hotel facility.
Day Two: Fly to Guwahati (Assam) via Jet Airlines. Freshen up and visit Kamakhya Mandir in the afternoon to take in the mela (festival) atmosphere. Introduction to the celebration of Ambubachi (detailed below). Read about last year's experience to whet your appetite and inspiration! Check out SHARANYA in the news during some of our most recent pilgrimages!
Kamakhya is a famous pilgrimage site located just outside of Guwahati in Assam, in the northeast region of India. Primarily important to Saktas, the site functions as the most important Sakta pitha, or sacred “seat” of the goddess for devotees. Fifty-one sacred pilgrimage sites exist on the Indian sub-continent; the most sacred for Saktas is Kamakhya. The mandir, or sacred temple, to which pilgrims and devotees come to worship is situated on a beautiful hill overlooking the Brahmaputra river and the green lushness of Assam’s tea plantations and jungles. It is here, the puranas (sacred texts) tell us, that the yoni (vulva) of Devi fell to Earth.
The Festival of the 'Gypsies'
At Kamakhya Mandir during a dark moon phase occurring once during the equivalent of our solar calendar year, devi’s yoni is believed to release menstrual blood. The celebration and honoring during this time is known as Ambubachi. Annually drawing over 40,000 devotees primarily from eastern India, Ambubachi, is at once a spiritual gathering and a celebration of connection to the fundamental life mysteries.
Day Three: Visit to Hazo temples for Vishnu, Ganesh, Durga and Shiva. (N.B. temples' inner sanctums are closed, but the views, people, architecture and ambiance is very much alive.) One small school of Buddhism believes the Buddha achieved enlightenment here, and there is also a mosque, with Muslim’s receiving the spiritual value of one-quarter of a visit to Mecca by making pilgrimage to this site. Late lunch at hotel. Free afternoon for shopping/exploring in Guwahati and reflection time.
Day Four: Morning Kamakhya temple visit (temple doors closed) to introduce landscape of tantrick cosmology on the hillside. Meet with members of the temple heritage foundation project. Plenty of photo opportunities. Lunch and group ritual in early evening in preparation for Kamakhya sanctum sanctorum experience.
Day Five: Temple doors open at Kamakhya Mandir. Receive darshan at the temple. Day at other temples on Nilachal Hill, including Bhubaneshwari at the very top (525 ft. above sea level) and Durga Ban.
Day Six: Visit the Shiva Temple, Umananda, by taking a boat ride across the Brahmaputra River to Peacock Island. Evening ritual optional at the Bhubaneshwari temple.
Day Seven: Fly to Kolkata (Calcutta). Evening: traditional Bengali dinner.
Day Eight: Morning visit to Aadya Pith, Maa Kali as Primordial Mother, and the children's orphanage.
Day Nine: Lecture on Ramakrishna. Darshan at Dakshineswar Kali Mandir and visit across the river to Belur Math.
Day Ten: Day at Kalighat Mandir honoring Maa, Shiva, Hanuman, Radha & the Black Krishna.
Day Eleven: Shopping and touring Kolkata sites: Jain Temple, Victoria Memorial, Indian Museum, Birla Temple and/or planetarium (English show available).
Day Twelve: Flight to Bhubaneshwar (1 hour) from Kolkata. Visit Yogini Temple en route to Puri. Enjoy town, seaside, and rath yatra atmosphere.
Day Thirteen: Visit Konark temple to Surya, Nine Planets and Lord of the Universe.
Day Fourteen: Journey back to Kolkata, prepare for departure with last-minute shopping and temple experiences.
Day Fifteen: Homeward bound.
Dates for SHARANYA's India Pilgrimage 2009 are June 21 - July 5th. Complete itinerary is available on request. Ritual work and study as well as cultural exchange guaranteed; academic credit is possible.
Cost: $2,851 complete (excluding international airfare); or $501 donation suggested for an arranged and accompanied tour (pay-as-you-go). Tours include lecture, ritual, worship facilitated at sacred sites and guided visits to museums. Contact us for more information regarding sacred pilgrimages; or to join us next year!
In the Footsteps of Marie Madeleine and the Black Madonna: A Pilgrimage to the Divine Female in Southern France
More images of the Black Virgin are located in France than anywhere else in the world. Who is this Madonna today and what are Her ancient beginnings? During this pilgrimage tour, we visit the south of France at the time known in Catholicism as the Visitation of Mary, and known to many outside of the Catholic faith for the feast day honoring Sara-la-Kali, Patron Saint of the Roma (Gypsies).
Come on this tour to unravel pre-Christian tradition as seen in the rituals of today’s cathedrals and to hear the chapel bells and the strum of guitars in Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer for the annual festival honoring Sara and the Queen of the Gitans. Taste the special boat-shaped breads and cookies, called les navettes, that the bakeries make to commemorate the arrival of the Magdalene (and other saints) to the Camargue.
Through recent books, including The DaVinci Code, we today know of the various beliefs that enable us to tie together Isis, Mary Magdalene and the Black Virgin. Succinctly, the Egyptian Isis later became the Black Virgin during Christian times. She was venerated in places as Mary the Egyptian (e.g., at Orléans) and was then tied to worship of Mary Magdalene through the Song of Songs and traditions committed to retaining a focus upon the Divine Feminine such as those carried by the troubadours. Led by a French speaker and scholar, this tour will delve into the heretical Christian tradition that honors the Magdalene as first among the apostles; the magic and healing power of the Black Virgin and her mysteries; the beauty of France; and the wonder and celebration of devotion to Goddess.
Day One: Welcome in Paris. Afternoon visit to Notre Dame; tour of St. Chapelle; sites of the City.
Day Two: Fly to Marseille. Visit the monastery of St. Victor to see the Vierge Noire (Black Virgin) Notre Dame de Confession, who is honored in the crypt. This Madonna takes us to the heart of ancient Provençal veneration of the goddess, recalling Epona (a face of the moon and untamed nature) as well as Diana (the Roman version of Artemis) and even Hecate, who was worshipped at crossroads in Marseilles and still has an enduring presence.
Day Three: Morning drive (72 kms) to the Cathedral of St. Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. Visit the place where the Magdalene’s skull is kept as an honored relic; following, the grotto where she is said to have died. Next, visit to the cathedral of Sainte Marie-Madeleine, catching sight above the main altar of the beautiful stained-glass window called, “La Gloire,” which is a white dove encircled by angels. In this majestic cathedral in the heart of a land overlaid with heretical and pagan influences, learn how the dove is also a profound and significant icon of the basilica’s namesake, Sainte Marie Madeleine, she who is said to have been elevated on the wings of angels and carried from her grotto cave in order to die here in the arms of her friend, St. Maximin. Learn also of the ancient ties to the love goddesses of Greece (Aphrodite) and Syria (Ashtoreth) to this region, particularly in the tradition of troubadours and bards who sang love-inspired works.
Descending now down the narrow stairs leading to the crypt (we enter the small space quietly), there’s a sense that reverence is due the personages honored inside. Here, along with the sarcophagus of St. Maximin and those of three other individuals (Sidoine, Suzanne and Marcelle), lies what are said to be the remains of Marie Madeleine enshrined in the third most important tomb in the world.
Days Four-Five: A retracing, to best approximation, of the saint’s footsteps through precious little villages scattered in the area. This is where the Magdalene fled after leaving the Holy Land. The question some are more hesitant to answer is that of whether or not she carried the Davidian bloodline (the ancestral father-line of Jesus) in her womb when she got here. Thus, we have the story of The Magdalene as Holy Grail, carrier of the sangraal or “royal blood” of future French kings. Explore and discover what you think the truth to be!
Day Six: Visit Aix-en-Provence (122 kms) for lunch; on to the wonders of Avignon, including the Papal Palace, in the afternoon.
Days Seven - Nine: Today, we travel (77 kms) to Les Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer, meaning “the Saint Marys of the Sea.” This is renowned as the landing spot of Marie Madeleine after her voyage/flight from the Holy Land. It is understood that the reason for her departure was fear of persecution at the hands of the Romans, but to that the speculation may be added that it was also to protect the life of her unborn child. Given this lore, Saintes Maries has taken on special significance, becoming a focal point for the veneration of the Magdalene.
Every May 24/25th about 15,000 people converge on this small seaside town to honor Saint Sara. She is small, standing less than five feet tall; but she is just the right size to fit in the corner of the arched and low-ceilinged crypt of the town’s basilica, a crypt situated on a former temple to Artemis (or possibly Isis, as these two goddesses were strongly identified with one another in Hellenistic times). Her statue is dark, as her name meaning, “The Black One” attests.
During her festival, those who seek her healing and blessings come to touch her skirts, put scarves around her neck, offer flowers, light candles, and give thanks for miracles and prayers answered in the preceding years. She is paid homage to in the Gypsy Prayer, a copy of which sits framed to the right of her feet. Through her, the Magdalene, a pagan goddess, and Black Madonna are tied together. Even the crown that sits upon her head holds a symbolic key to revealing the union within her of pre-patriarchal tradition and contemporary Mariology. In it rests thirteen pearls, the number itself recalling the lunar round, and the pearl both Aphrodite’s and Mary’s sacred gem.
Further, Sara’s veneration by the Roma (who have origins in India), and indeed the very name they call her, Sara-la-Kali, make the connection to the Eastern goddess Kali much more explicit. Even her ritual bathing in the ocean at the culmination of festivities make her worship akin to that of the goddesses of the Hindu East who are taken to be immersed in the Ganges River (or other waters in proximity to the temple) after puja (worship) rites are performed during the major holy days. We visit when the Queen of the Gypsies is elected. (Read more about Sara-la-Kali...)
Day Ten: Travel (365 kms) to Rocamadour to visit the Black Virgin, Notre Dame de Rocamadour, she who is said to reconcile masculine and feminine. Reputedly over 1000 years old, she is given offerings of boats, much like Isis was, and her bell is said to miraculously ring when sailors in danger invoke her. There is a Druid stone under her altar, much like the black stones of Cybele. She is believed to be a miracle worker, with the power to resuscitate un-baptized babies. She also is said to free captives and promote fertility.
Day Eleven: Visit Albi (183 kms), last stronghold of the Cathars.
Day Twelve: Return to Paris via Toulouse/Marseilles.
Tentative dates for SHARANYA's France Pilgrimage 2005 are May 17 - May 28th. Ritual work and study as well as cultural exchange and academic credit is possible.
Cost: for 2 weeks: $3,851 complete (excluding international airfare). Tours include lecture, ritual, worship facilitated at sacred sites and guided visits to cathedrals and museums. Contact us for more information regarding sacred pilgrimages; or to join us next year!