|Abstract:||Sacred landscapes in India play a pivotal role in the celebration of religious traditions and the mythological stories associated with them. A pilgrimage is an act of journeying to the sacred landscapes primarily for religious reasons and spiritual benefits but is not limited to them. Pilgrimages have various types of paths like circular, linear, spiral, converging at a central point, etc. Circular pilgrimage like the Panchkroshi in Varanasi, India, ends at the same point it started, thus forming an endless loop. The Panchkroshi Pilgrimage is about circumambulating around the holy territory, along a 25-mile long route, protected by 108 shrines of Hindu gods and goddesses. There are a number of goals identified for performing a pilgrimage, with the most important being the attainment of divine salvation. The act of achieving these goals is to walk through the sacred landscapes of the pilgrimage. However, with rapid urbanization and lack of preservation, these heritage landscapes have suffered degradation. The pilgrimage path has become fragmented, breaking the continuity and flow of movement. The pilgrimage route has become a palimpsest of urban residential, commercial zones, state and national highways with no designated pathway for pilgrims to walk on.
My master’s in landscape architecture has contributed immensely towards the sensitivity I feel for the environment. The landscapes of the Panchkroshi pilgrimage create an experience for the pilgrims when they walk on the route and my education helps in understanding the experience and re-envisioning it suitable for pilgrims’ convenience. With a formal academic training in landscape architecture, I could craft an appropriate proposal for this project and work through it from research, site study, conceptual design to detailed design and proposals. In this project, I study the landscapes of the pilgrimage route of Panchkroshi that references to the mandala, a sacred circle whose design symbolizes Varanasi, the cosmic center of Hinduism. Pilgrims complete the pilgrimage in five days, once every three years, in the intercalary month, halting each night at the five main temple destinations respectively and visiting only the major shrines during the one-day version of the walk. Residents in the temple site neighborhoods play a significant role in this pilgrimage too as they receive the pilgrims in huge number during pilgrimage. Pilgrimage practice creates a relationship between them. Through this project, I aim to revive a sacred landscape that acts as a medium for the ultimate goals of the journey: salvation, self-fulfillment, collective experience, humility, or any of the other extensive reasons pilgrims undertake this process. The design goal is to reconnect the existing fragmented pilgrimage route and mark its legibility through a sustainable design approach to heritage cultural conservation. This goal is achieved through the development of a tree- and plant-lined continuous walking route connecting all the shrines. The village and community engagement program for the maintenance of water, trees, food and amenities for the pilgrims cultivates the healthy exchange of resources and generate sustainable environment enjoyed by the local as well as pilgrim communities. Way-finding legibility, rest portals, and sanitation are the core elements of this program.