Swami Sivananda: "Mahatmas and devotees go on pilgrimage and visit sacred places as a part of spiritual Sadhana. They have different objects in view. Mahatmas come in contact with sincere devotees at various centres and impart their knowledge and experiences, and guide them. They select suitable places for meditation where they find inspiration and facility for intense Sadhana. They clear the doubts of the householders, give their blessings and guide them. Devotees who take to pilgrimage get Darshan of Mahatmas and have their doubts cleared. They receive inspiration by seeing holy men and sacred places and develop various kinds of divine qualities by mixing with various types of people. They are trained to adopt a simple living and bear hardships.
"There are some who spend their entire life in pilgrimage by wandering frequently from Kadirkamam (in Ceylon) to Mount Kailas (in Tibet), Puri to Dwaraka, Amarnath (in Kashmir) to Allahabad, Banaras to Rameswaram. I have seen many persons repenting in old age that they had so wasted their youth in such a wandering life. I led the life of a wandering monk, just for a short period, in search of my Guru and of a suitable place charged with spiritual vibrations, for spending my life in seclusion and to do rigorous Sadhana."
(pgs. 15-16, Autobiography of Swami Sivananda)
How are people benefited by a pilgrimage?
Swami Sivananda: "This question has to be answered by each pilgrim for himself. The spiritual benefit always depends entirely upon the heart’s faith. Faith is the life-breath of the spirit in man. No spiritual endeavour can be fruitful without it. With it, no spiritual achievement is impossible. If a pilgrim heartily believed, was convinced, and was certain-at-heart that all his sins would be washed away, that he would attain Moksha and get beyond the wheel of Samsara, there is absolutely no reason why it should not actually prove to be so. A pilgrimage like Badri-Yatra can wash off all your sins and enable you to take great strides towards the Great Goal— Self-realization—if you have firm faith in its glory. But, remember, the test of this faith is what you are after you return from the pilgrimage; if, after the pilgrimage, you prove that you have been thoroughly purged of all your sins, that all the evil Samskaras have been washed away by the holy waters of the rivers you have bathed in, and that you have been filled with the spiritual vibrations of the sublime atmosphere you have sojourned in, and if you live a pure life of righteousness, devotion, truth, love and purity, you have certainly been liberated. The pilgrimage has served its supreme purpose.
"Some pilgrims do rise to such spiritual heights, though their number may be small, and though they may not advertise their achievements."
(pgs. 17-18, May I Answer That)
Swami Sivananda: "Guru is the place of pilgrimage. Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Parvathi, Indra, all Devas and sacred rivers are in Him." ("Sayings", Thus Awakens Swami Sivananda)