Saptapuris: The Seven Sacred Cities
Sapta Puri (Sanskrit: सप्त-पुरी) are seven holy pilgrimage centres in India where the word 'puri' means "town" or "city" suffixed to the word 'sapta' meaning "seven". Specifically, the names of the pilgrimage centres, which are tirthas (holy places), are: Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar, Varanasi (Benaras, Kashi), Kanchipuram, Ujjain (Avanti) and Dwarka (अयोध्या, मथुरा, हरिद्वर, वाराणसी, कांचीपूरम्, उजैनी, द्वारका). In Hinduism, tirtha connotes religious places of spiritual importance. The root word in teertha is ‘tri’ in Sanskrit, which means “to get rid of all sins”, a step towards attainment of Nirvana or salvation.
The Sapta Puri are places of birth of religious and spiritual masters, places where Gods have descended as Avatars (incarnations) such as Ayodhya where god Rama was born, and places considered as Nitya tirthas, naturally endowed, with spiritual powers since ages such as Varanasi and Haridwar. Kanchipuram is known for its Kamakshi Amman Temple dedicated to the Mother goddess. Dwarka represents the place where god Krishna, after leaving Mathura spent 100 years before he left for heaven from here, according to the epic Mahabharata. Mathura is the embodiment of events in the life of Krishna during his childhood and young days. Haridwar with shrines of both Shiva and Vishnu, represents the gateway to Uttarakhand, as the sacred river Ganges emerges from the hills into the plains at this place. Varanasi is the place of salvation as it is strongly believed that death at this place will bring salvation. Ujjain, also known by the ancient name Avanti, has one of the 12 Jyotirlingas installed in the Mahakaleshwar Temple. Each of these cities is also famous for the spectacular melas or fairs held. Haridwar and Ujjain are famous for the Kumbh Mela held once every 12 years. Marriage festival of Kamakshi at Kanchipuram is a special occasion. Krishna Janmashtami ( birth day of Krishna - generally held in August as per Hindu calendar) is a special occasion in Dwarka and Mathura.
Thus, the Sapta Puri represents seven holy cities of Ayodhya, Dwarka, Haridwar, Ujjain, Kanchipuram, Mathura and Varanasi; the last city is the holiest in Hinduism.
The seven religious cities are within India's territorial ambit and pilgrimage to these places greatly enhances the unity of the nation, in spite of its linguistic and cultural diversity. The seven sacred urban centers are well connected by road, rail and air transport with the rest of the country