What is TIRTHA


The word ‘tirtha’ is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word ‘tirtha’ is pilgrimage. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.


The word ‘tirtha’ is formed by adding the suffix thak to the root word tri. The root word tri means to pass across or over, cross over, sail across, float, swim, get through, attain an end or aim, live through a definite period, study to the end, fulfil, accomplish, perform, surpass, overcome, subdue, escape, acquire, gain, contend, compete, carry through or over, or save.


The word ‘tirtha’ means sacred science or any of the branches of knowledge esteemed holy, a holy place of pilgrimage, place along the course of sacred rivers as the Ganga, place in the vicinity of some water body or sacred spring, any piece of water, a ghat or flight of steps leading to a river, a spiritual teacher, guru, sacrifice, an avatara, descent of a deity, a school of philosophy, a sect, a counsellor, adviser, a means of success, the menses, pudendum muliebre, a vessel, a royal vessel, Brahman, ascertainment of a disease, fire, a part of the hand that is controlled by a deity, a passage, road, way, ford, remedy, shrine dedicated to some holy object, a channel, medium, an object of veneration, a fit recipient, source, origin, minister, advice, instruction, the right place or moment, the right or usual manner, a brahmana, the path to the altar between the sacrificial pit and the heap of waste or between the chatvala and the utkara, a science, an auxiliary, a help, a person or official connected with the king and being in close attendance on the king, one of the ten orders of monks founded by Acharya Shankara, sacred, liberator, saviour, or a bathing place.


All religions believe in the sacredness of certain places and they consider a pilgrimage to these places integral to their religious practices. The Puranas extol the greatness of these sacred places. There are legends associated with every one of such sacred places. Visiting these sacred places and bathing in the rivers or other water bodies found there is often considered a means to moksha or freedom from the transmigratory cycle of repeated births and deaths. Holy persons transform ordinary places into places of pilgrimage.


‘Tirtha’ need not necessarily refer to a physical location, object, or person, but could also refer to a mental state achieved through meditation or other spiritual practices. It could also refer to the attainment of virtues like truthfulness, kindness, and simplicity. ‘Tirtha’ is a quite ancient word and is found in the Rig Veda. The most important connotation of the word ‘tirtha’ is the crossing over of the ocean of samsara to be free from this transmigratory cycle of mortal existence.


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article.


To read all articles by the Author

This article was first published in the March 2020 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/

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