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What is a Holy Place?

Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur explains the superiority of Vaiṣṇava-sevā over pilgrimage.

The following song is found in the Upadeś [‘Advice’] section of Śrī Kalyāṇa-kalpa-taru (1.14).

mana, tumi tīrthe sadā rata
ayodhyā, mathurā, māyā, kāśī, kāñchī, avantīyā,
dvārāvatī āra āchhe yata [1]

O mind, you are always attached to holy places like Ayodhyā, Mathurā, Haridvār, Kāśī, Kāñchī, Avantī, and Dvārakā.

tumi chāha bhramibāre, e sakala bāre bāre,
mukti-lābha karibāra tare
se sakala tava bhrama, nirarthaka pariśrama,
chitta sthira tīrthe nāhi kare [2]

You want visit all of these holy places again and again to attain liberation. All such travelling is your fantasy and is simply useless labour. Holy places do not make your heart steady.

tīrtha-phala sādhu-saṅga, sādhu-saṅge antaraṅga
śrī-kṛṣṇa-bhajana manohara
yathā sādhu, tathā tīrtha, sthira kari’ nija chitta,
sādhu-saṅga kara nirantara [3]

The purpose of visiting holy places is associating with sādhus. Closely associate with sādhus and beautifully serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Wherever sādhus are present is a holy place. Steady your heart and constantly associate with sādhus.

ye tīrthe vaiṣṇava nāi’, se tīrthete nāhi yāi,
ki lābha hā̐ṭiyā dūra-deśa
yathāya vaiṣṇava-gaṇa, sei sthāna vṛndāvana,
sei sthāne ānanda aśeṣa [4]

Do not go to ‘holy places’ where Vaiṣṇavas are not present. What is the benefit of walking to such distant places? Wherever Vaiṣṇavas are present is Vṛndāvan and is an abode of unlimited joy.

kṛṣṇa-bhakti yei sthāne, mukti-dāsī seikhāne,
salila tathāya mandākinī
giri tathā govardhana, bhūmi tathā vṛndāvana,
āvirbhūtā āpani hlādinī [5]

Wherever devotion to Kṛṣṇa is present, liberation is present as a maidservant. There the water is Ganges water, the mountains are Govardhan, and the land is Vṛndāvan. There the hlādinī-śakti is personally present.

vinoda kahichhe bhāi, bhramiyā ki phala pāi,
vaiṣṇava-sevana mora vrata [6]

Vinod says, “O brother, what benefit is there in travelling? My vow is to serve the Vaiṣṇavas.