Char Dham of Uttarakhand or Chota Char Dham (small four abodes) is one of the most important Hindu Pilgrimages in India. It comprises of four most holy sites of Uttarakhand, namely - Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. When and how these places got linked in a pilgrimage circuit together is not known. Each of the places has its own individual and legendary history. But perhaps it is the greatness and mysticism of each site that has qualified them to form a sacred pilgrimage tour. Till 1950s going to the four most sacred sites of Uttarakhand meant embarking on a strenuous journey on foot through the hilly trails. People, like wandering sadhus, and those who could afford to travel with an entourage, were the most likely and regular pilgrims of Chota Char Dham. After the 1962 Indo - China war, India put massive efforts in building means of better connectivity to and infrastructure at border areas. Now the roads could take one till the nearest points of the holy abodes. This encouraged people from other backgrounds (economic or social) to initiate a tour of Char Dham circuit in Himalayas.
HISTORY OF YAMUNOTRI
Yamunotri is where the second most holy of river of India, the River Yamuna, takes birth. Situated in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Yamunotri Dham is the first stop in the pilgrimage. It is believed that bathing in its water cleanses all sins and protects from untimely and painful death. The shrine of Yamunotri is believed to be built in 1839 by the king of Tehri, Naresh Sudarshan Shah. Besides the Yamuna Devi (goddess), the idol of Ganga Devi too is housed in the revered temple. There are many hot water springs near the temple; Surya Kund is the most important among them. Devotees boil rice and potatoes in the kund and accept it as a Prasad of the devi.
Yamuna Goddess is believed to be Sun’s daughter and twin sister of Yama (the god of death). It is said that sage Asit Muni lived here and bathed in both Ganga and Yamuna. In his old age, when he was unable to go to Gangotri, a stream of Ganga started to flow across the steam of Yamuna.
HISTORY OF GANGOTRI
Gangotri Dham is dedicated to Goddess Ganga, who is said to have descended on earth to absolve the sins of human kind. The river originates at Gaumukh from the Gangotri glacier which is some 18 km from the town of Gangotri. Situated in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, the original temple of Gangotri was built by by Amar Singh Thapa, a Gurkha general, in the early 19th century.
King Sagar undertook an Ashwamedha Yagna and sent his 60,000 sons along with the horse. The horse was lost; tracing the horse to the Sage Kapila’s ashram, the 60,000 sons stormed the ashram and disturbed sage who was in deep meditation. Enraged Kapila opened his fiery eyes that turned all 60,000 sons into ashes. Later, on Kapila’s advice, Anshuman (Sagar’s grandson) started praying to Goddess Ganga, requesting her to come down to earth to cleanse the ashes of his relatives and grant salvation to them. Anshuman failed in his aim; it was his grandson Bhagirath whose rigorous meditation made Ganga to come down to earth. Lord Shiva tied Ganga and distributed its water in a number of streams to save the earth from its mighty force.
HISTORY OF KEDARNATH
Situated in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, Kedarnath is the most remote pilgrimage spot in the yatra. It is believed that originally the temple of Kedarnath was built by Pandavas. And Adi Shankaracharya got the present structure constructed in the 8th century adjacent to the old temple site. The grey stone structure is an architectural marvel because of its imposing design and its ability to survive for so many centuries in such a harsh terrain.
Pandavas were searching for Lord Shiva to absolve themselves from their sins committed at the battlefield of Mahabharata. Lord Shiva was in no mood to forgive them so easily, so he converted himself into a bull and went to Garhwal side of Uttarakhand. On being found by the Pandavas, he dived into the ground. Different parts of the Lord came up at different parts – hump at Kedarnath, arms at Tunganath, navel at Madhya-Maheshwar, face at Rudranath and hair emerged at Kalpeshwar. Taken together, these five sites are known as Panch-kedar. Pandavas got temples made at each of the five places.
HISTORY OF BADRINATH
Badrinath is considered one of the most holy places in Hindu religion. One of the 108 Divya Desams, Badrinath temple is part of both Char Dham and Chota Char Dham. Adi Shankaracharya found the idol of Lord Badri in Alaknanda River and put it up in a cave near the Tapt Kund. In 16th century, a Garhwal King got the temple erected, which has been renovated many times as a result of natural calamities. Sandwiched between Nar and Narayan peaks, the beauty of Badrinath Dham is further enhanced with the glorious background of Neelkanth peak.
As per one of the legends, the indulgent lifestyle of Lord Vishnu was criticised by a sage, after which Vishnu went to meditate as an act of penance, over here. Goddess Laxmi (his wife) became a berry tree to shade him from the sun and other harsh elements of nature. Another divine tale states that Badrinath used to be the realm of Shiva. Vishnu tricked Shiva into leaving the site and established himself instead.
Interesting Fact You Might not Know about Chardham
Chardham is the name given to the four most divine pilgrimages of India comprising Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath located in the state of Uttarakhand. According to Hindu legends, undertaking a journey to the Chardham in Uttarakhand helps one to wash away sins and get Moksha. From time immemorial, devotees and saints from around the world have been visiting these sacred shrines to quench their spiritual urges and get god’s blessing. While most of the people are aware of only these popular facts associated with the four religious dhams, there are yet many other unknown facts that are hardly known to the devotees.
As per the Hindu tradition of parikrama, pilgrims undertake this holy journey from left to right. Pilgrimage to Chardham yatra begins from Yamunotri Temple, the westernmost shrine in the Garhwal dedicated to the Goddess Yamuna, before proceeding to Gangotri Temple which is devoted to Goddess Ganga, and then further moves to Kedarnath temple which stands as one of the 12 ‘Jyotirlingas’ of Lord Shiva and finally concludes at Badrinath temple which is devoted to Lord Vishnu.
Chardham Represents Three Major Sectarians
The sacred sites of the Chardham in Uttarakhand are not allied to any single sect. Rather, it represents three major sectarians with the Vaisnava site at Badrinath, joined by a Saiva site at Kedarnath and two Devi sites at Yamunotri and Gangotri.
The Original Shrine of Lord Badri
The original shrine of Lord Badrinath was not where it is today. According to history, the original Badrinath idol was discovered by Adi Shankaracharya in the Alaknanda River and the temple of Lord Badrinath was built in the Garud Caves, which are located near the hot springs of Tapt Kund. Many centuries later, the king of Garhwal moved the shrine to its present location.
Located near Gangotri temple, Jalamagna Shivalinga is a natural rock Shivling which is visible only during the winter, when the level of the water goes down. This site is believed to be the place where Lord Shiva held Ganga in his matted locks.
Located close to the freezing Yamunotri glacier, Surya Kund is another hot water spring which holds an important religious significance. The water of this spring is so hot that the Prasad is prepared in the water of kund only that too within just a few minutes.
Story Behind Kedar’s Construction
According to the historical facts, the initial temple of Kedarnath which now stands adjacent to the present temple was built by the Pandavas. After winning the battle of Mahabharata, the Pandavas felt guilty of killing their own brothers and therefore came here in search of Lord Shiva, who kept hiding from the Pandavas. Finally Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers was able to recognize the Lord who was hiding in the guise of a bull. Thereafter, Lord Shiva runaway from that place leaving behind his back part. Even today, the hind part of Shiva is worshipped in Kedarnath.
Situated at a height of 6500 feet, Gauri Kund serves as the base camp for the pilgrims on their way to Kedarnath. It comprises a temple and a hot water spring dedicated to Goddess Gauri. According to legends, Gauri Kund is a place where Goddess Gauri, wife of Lord Shiva carried out her yogic practices.
An Ancient Buddhist Temple
It is believed that the existing site of the Badrinath temple was once an ancient Buddhist shrine, probably before the 8th century, because of its noticeable Buddhist architecture.
The Emergence of Bhavishya Badrinath
According to the hindu mythology, the present Badrinath and Kedarnath temples will become inaccessible in future. This is because it is believed that when the arm of the Narasingha idol at Joshimath falls off and the two mountains Jay and Vijay near Vishnuprayag become one, the way to the pious Badrinath and Kedarnath temples will become unapproachable. After that the worship of Lord Vishnu proceeds at Bhavishya Badri near Joshimath. At present, the arm of the idol of Narasingha is as thin as a single hair, which means that there is still time for Bhavishya Badri to appear as new Badrinath.
Three Parts of Badrinath
The Shrine of Badrinath is divided into three parts, i.e. the ‘Garbha Griha’ in which the idol of Lord Badrinath is seated and covered with gold sheet, the ‘Darshan Mandap’ in which rituals are performed and the ‘Sabha Mandap’ where devotees gather and wait for darshan of Lord Badrinath.
Located just below the Badrinath temple, Tapt Kund is the holy hot water spring where devotees take bath before visiting the Badrinath temple. The water of the kund is believed to be infused with medicinal properties. The springs of Tapt Kund are known to be the home of Lord Agni, the Hindu God of fire.
Located close to Tapta Kund, Narad kund is believed to be the recovery source of the Badrinath idol. The hot water springs comes out from under the Garur Shila and falls into a tank. Devotees visiting the Badrinath temple take a dip in this kund before heading into the temple.
Blowing of the Conch is prohibited in Badrinath
There are many scientific reasons and legends behind the ban of the conch in Badrinath temple. One of the famous legends states that when the great sage Agastya was killing the demons in Kedarnath, two demons Vatapi and Atapi managed to run away. While demon Atapi took shelter in the Mandakani River, demon Vatapi took refuge in the conch to save his life. It is supposed that if anyone blows the Conch, the Vatapi demon would come out of the conch. So, the conch is not blown in Badrinath.
Knowing these facts about the Chardham Yatra is worthwhile for all those who are planning to proceed on this route in search of salvation from the sins of their previous birth. Make sure to update yourself with all these facts which are worth knowing before you actually land in this divine place.