India is the land of the gods and the many - many shrines dedicated to them. But there are four pilgrimages that are special in the land of a million shrines. All four are located near each other in a region that is traditionally considered the playground of the gods; Uttarakhand. The holiest of holy
The most challenging & revered circuit
Char Dham Literally means "The four abodes and the purpose of the Char Dham Yatra of the Himalayas is pilgrimages to the heavenly abode." Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, all in the beautiful mountain state of Uttarakhand, are the pilgrim's focus. Not to be mistaken with the longer Char Dham Yatra to the prilgrimage of Jagannath Puri, Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Badrinath shrines that are located at four different comers of India. Badrinath is the only site which features in both Yatras.
The Char Dham Yatra generally starts at Haridwar as the 'gateway to Himalayan pilgrimage' and moves from west to east. The pilgrim's first halt is Yamunotri and then they proceed to Gangotri, onto Kedarnath, and then the yatra finally ends at the holy site of Badrinath.
Yamunotri is the place of origin of the sacred river Yamuna. The temple of the goddess is situated here.
Gangotri is believed to be the origin of the river Ganga, the holiest of all rivers, through the glacier from which the river originally gets its water lies a little north at Gaumukh. At Gangotri, which is accessible by vehicles, temples are sprinkled across the landscape and the aarti performed at the banks of the river is mesmerising.
Kenarnath, the third venue in the Char Dham Yatra, is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Kedarnath is one of only twelve jyotirlingas (Where Lord Shiva is supposed to be permanently residing) and is of one the holiest sites for Hindus. The temple, it is believed was built in 8th century AD by Adi Shankaracharya himself.
Badrinath: The last destination of the Yatra is Badrinath, the shrine dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The small town and temple lie at a height of approximately 3,750m from sea level. The legend goes that when Lord Vishnu was residing in this place, goddess Lakshmi, his wife, took the form of Badri, a local berry tree, to protect Vishnu from the direct heat of the sun. Pleased, Vishnu pronounced that his temple would be named after the goddess; hence the name Badrinath for the temple.
While the longer Char Dham is dedicated only to Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu, the Himalayan Char Dham also includes the third important section of Hindu spirituality i.e. Shakti(goddess) in the form of Yamunotri and Gangotri.
Apart from the main four attractions of the Yatra, there are other picturesque villages and tourist spots nearby.
Barkot, adjacent to Yamunotri, is fast gaining its place as a natural tourist and adventure spot. Sprinkled with apple orchards, it sits at 1,200m, offering awesome views of snowcapped Himalayan peaks, the most prominent of which is Bandarpoonch.
Guptkashi, another abode of Lord Shiva, lies en route to Kedarnath and is known for its ancient Vishwanath temple, which shares its name with the one in Varanasi. Another temple, the Ardhanarishwar, also dedicated to Lord Shiva, houses the delty in the form of half man and half woman, resonating the Hindu concept of the co-existence of Shiva (Universe) and Shakti(Energy).
GauriKund, on the way to Kedarnath, is one of the most important pilgrimage, for Hindus, Legend has it that Parvati, also kn own as Gauri, did penance here to win over Lord Shiva, Shiva finally accepted her love and married her Lord Ganesha is believed to have got his elephant countenance in this place, which makes the site extremely important for Hindus. Pilgrims throng to the hot springs here too.
The entire Yatra takes ten to eleven days to complete. For mystics and pilgrims who prefer to travel on foot, it may take longer.
The ideal time for the Yatra is from May to July and from September to October.
The portals of famous Himalayan shrine of Badrinath were reopened on April 29 amid snowfall a day after Kedarnath was thrown open for pilgrims. Amid blowing of conches and chanting of vedic hymns and shlokas, the chief priest of Badrinath shrine opened the door of the shrine at 04:00 am on Sunday morning.
During the opening ceremony of the shrine, situated at a height of 3,133 meter in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, hundreds of devotees, including industrialist Anil Ambani and corporate lobbyist Nira Radia, were present outside the sanctum sanctorum braving snowfall and chilly winds.
Badrinath and Kedarnath are among the four holy places visited by pilgrims during the “Char dham yatra” in Uttarakhand. The two other places are Gangotri and Yamunotri.
The Char Dhams nestling in dizzying heights of Garhwal Himalayas reopen for pilgrims in April-May every year after remaining closed for nearly six months during winters as the area remain snow-bound during the period.
After a gap of six months portals of famous Kedarnath shrine were opened on Saturday for pilgrims. The Temple, situated in Rudraprayag district at a height of 3,584 meter, was reopenedat 0715 am, according to ‘mahurat’, sources said. The ‘mahurat’ was decided on Mahashivrati at Ukhimath area on February 20.
The head priest of the temple, Rawal, performed the ‘Abhishek’ after opening of the doors, sources said. Thousnads of pilgrims flocked the temple after opening of the doors.
The Chardhams, comprising the shrines of Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri in Garhwal Himalayas reopen for pilgrims in April-May every year after remaining closed for nearly six months during winters as the area remain snow-bound during the period. The annual Chardham yatra is considered as a backbone of the thriving religious tourism in the state that attracts nearly 15-16 lakh pilgrims every year from home and abroad.
Efforts in this regard have started gaining momentum with MP Tarun Vijay recently kicking off a preparatory march to take a stock of things, apart from various regional organizing committees which have already joined in to finalise various modalities.
The festival involves a journey of around 280 kilometres, totally on foot due to the very difficult terrain that disallows reliance on any vehicular traffic.
Organisers, however, are faced with the Herculean task of infrastructure development and maintenance, especially of those narrow link routes to be taken by the devotees during their journey.
Further more, the fact that number of devotees may multiply various times compared to the previous figure of around 20,000 is also giving jitters to them.
“There is no arrangement to withhold even a population of 5,000 people. The journey is tough and devotees have to pass through a difficult terrain to reach to the culmination point of Bedini Bugyal. Authorities need to start work on war footing level,” says Vijay.
As mythology has it, the route taken by the devotees is believed to be the one taken by Lord Shiva while he was on his way to Kailash Parvat after marrying Goddess Parvati.
A religious extravaganza organized once in every 12 year, ‘Nanda Rajajat’ is also called the ‘Mahakumbh’ of the hills and is often comapared with the likes of other such religious events organized in holy Hindu cities of Allahabad, Haridwar and Ujjain.
At a height of 3133m (10248 feet) above sea level in shrine, built in 8th century AD, consecrated to Vishnu in the form of Badrinath. Legend has it that while Vishnu was doing his penance here, goddess Lakshmi assumed the form of a Badri tree to shelter him from the elements. Thus the temple of Badri Narayan i.e. lord of Badri (Lakshmi). Apart from the temple to lord badri vishal, there is also the laksshmi narayan temple, and the famous hot water springs of Taptkund on the tanks of the chilly river Alaknanda. The route to Badrinath is itself redolent with history and various pilgrim sites as it winds its way up the hills. The winter home of the lord Badri Vishal is Joshimath.
The current temple was built by the Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century Ad. The Kedarnath shrine is dedicated to lord shiva. This magnificient temple is located in the Rudra Himalaya range, and is the highest mong the 12 Jyotirlingas. According to legends the Pandavas sought the blessings of lord Shiva to atone theirs in after the battle of Mahabharata. Lord Shiva eluded them repatedly and while fleeing took refuge at Kedarnath in the form of a bull. On being followed, he dived into ground leaving behind his hump on the surface. Outside the temple door a large statue of the Nandi Bull stands as guard. A conical rock formation inside the temple is worshipped as Lord Shiva in his Sadashiva form. At the approach of winters in the month of November, the holy statue of Lord Shiva, is carried down from Kedarnath to Ukhimath, and is reinstated at Kedarnath, in the first week of May.