Char Dham: In search of gods in Himalayas

| Last Updated: August 8, 2012 at 10:54 AM

Hindu philosopher and reformer Adi Shankaracharya conceptualized the Char Dham yatra to revive Hindu religion

Some call it the ‘rejuvenation of mind, body and soul’ and for some others, it is just an escape from the city’s clutter to get close to Mother Nature and admire its beauty and serene landscapes. Whatever the reason, Char Dham Yatra is a must not just for Hindus because of its religious significance but for everybody who want to relish and get drenched in the beauty of nature.

Adi Shankaracharya, the great Hindu philosopher and reformer, conceptualized the Char Dham yatra or pilgrimage to four holy abodes of Gods, to revive the Hindu religion during the 8th century. Badrinath in the north, Puri in the west, Rameshwaram in south and Dwarika in the west were the four dhams conceptualised by Adi Shankaracharya.

First stop of the Char Dham yatra is the holy abode of Goddess Yamuna

However, today Char Dham yatra often refers to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath in the Himalayan region of Garhwal in Uttarakhand. It is believed that a visit to the Char Dham, washes away all sins and helps a person achieve ‘moksha’ (freedom from the cycle of life and death).

While Kedarnath is home to Lord Shiva and Badrinath to Lord Vishnu, Yamunotri and Gangotri represent Yamuna and Ganga respectively, both of whom are considered divine mothers since they are credited with bringing up and supporting the Indian civilization.

It is best to plan this trip between May-October since these temples remain closed during rest of the year due to extreme weather conditions.

Yamunotri

The first stop of the Char Dham yatra is the holy abode of Goddess Yamuna – the daughter of Sun God and consciousness, Sangya – since this is the westernmost shrine in the Garhwal Himalayas.

According to legend, King Bhagiratha did penance to bring Ganges from heaven to wash away the sins of his predecessors

Champasar Glacier on the Kalind Parvat (Kalind means the Sun) at a height of 4,421 m above sea level is the actual source of River Yamuna, also called Kalindi. However, since the approach to this frozen lake of ice is extremely difficult, the Yamunotri temple was built by Maharaja Pratap Shah of Tehri Garhwal on the foot of this hill along the Banderpoonch Mountain.

Hindu mythology says that Yamuna is the sister of Yama – the God of Death, and therefore a holy dip in the sacred water here relieves the devotees from a painful death.

The place is also known for its beautiful surroundings, glaciers and hot water springs including the Surya Kund, Gauri Kund and Saptarishi Kund. While the temperature of water in Surya Kund is almost 190 degree Fahrenheit and the devotees prepare food by dipping it in muslin cloth, Gauri Kund has warm water, suitable for bathing. There is a rock pillar called Divya Shilla which has to be worshipped before entering the main temple.

One has to travel 220 km from Rishikesh to reach Hanumanchatti and another 13 km on foot, thereafter, to reach Yamunotri.

Gangotri

Gangotri, the next stop in the Char Dham journey, has a rich historical past. According to mythology, King Bhagiratha prayed for thousands of years to Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, who then allowed River Ganges – also called Bhagirathi – to descend from heaven to earth to absolve Bhagiratha’s predecessors of their sins.

However, since earth would have been completely destroyed because of the ferocious force of water coming from heaven, Lord Shiva held her in his locks before she landed on earth. Jalamagna Shivalinga, which is a natural rock shivalinga submerged in the river, is said to be the place where Lord Shiva held her. It is visible only in winters when the water levels recede.

Renowned as one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, Kedarnath is one of the most secluded destinations amongst the Char Dhams

The Gangotri temple was built by Gorkha general Amar Singh Thapa in the 18th century. It is located at an altitude of 3100 meters above sea level, about 248 km from Rishikesh.

Gaumukh Glacier, considered to be the source of River Ganges, is situated at a distance of 18 km from Gangotri. Adventure enthusiasts can also trek to Nandanvan Tapovan (6 km from Gaumukh) or to Kedartal (another 18 kms) for the exhilarating view of majestic snow covered peaks including the Shivalinga, Sudarshana, Bhagirathi and Thelu peaks.

Kedarnath

Renowned as one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India, Kedarnath is located at an altitude of 3581 metres, about 240 km from Rishikesh. The Jyotirlingas are shrines where Lord Shiva is worshipped in the form of pillar of light.

Nestled in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand, Kedarnath is one of the most secluded destinations amongst the Char Dhams. Accessible only through a 14 km uphill trek from Gaurikund, the place is located near Mandakini River amidst majestic snow-clad mountains with breathtaking locales.

While the present temple was built by Adi Shankaracharya in the eighth century, the older temple nearby is believed to have been constructed by the Pandavas of Mahabharata fame. It is said that the Pandavas came here to offer their penance to Lord Shiva for
killing their cousins Kauravas in the battle of Mahabharatha. Mythology says that Lord Shiva, disguised himself as a bull, hid from them and ran away leaving his hind part behind when Bheem – the strongest of Pandava brothers – recognised him. The temple is built using huge slabs of grey stones, which helps retain its age old charm, charisma and mystique.

Badrinath

According to legend, Adi Shankaracharya discovered image of Lord Badrinarayan in the Alaknanda River

The holy abode of Lord Vishnu – Badrinath – is one of the holiest Hindu shrines in India.

Mythology says that Lord Vishnu came to meditate at this place called ‘Badri van’ or berry garden, after Narada chided him for being engrossed in worldly pleasures. His consort, Goddess Lakshmi, transformed herself into a ‘Badri’ plant in order to provide shade and to protect the Lord from the harmful rays of the Sun. Lord Vishnu became extremely happy with this loving gesture and promised that this place would always be known by her name. Hence, the place came to be known as ‘Badrinath.’

Located on the banks of River Alaknanda, around 300 km from Rishikesh, the place harbours several hot water pools including Tapt Kund and Narad Kund, which possess medicinal properties.

Other highlights include rock boulders named Chandrapaduka and Sheshnetra on the river front with foot prints of Lord Vishnu and Sheshnag (his carrier) respectively. Mata Murti temple also holds religious significance since it is devoted to the mother of Lord Badrinath.

While the temple is shielded by the Nar and Narayan mountains on either side (named after the twin sages who are believed to be the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu himself), the Neelkanth peak in the background mesmerises the traveller with its beauty and magnificence.

Travel to Char Dham is a must for everybody, atleast once in a lifetime, to just feel close to God and to experience and discover ultimate happiness and solace.

How to reach: By Air: To reach Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath, the nearest airport is Jolly Grant near Dehradun. Taxis, private cars, state road transport buses are available from the airport to Gangotri via Rishikesh. Nearest international airport is at New Delhi. By Train: The nearest railhead from Yamunotri is Dehradun. Rishikesh is the nearest railhead for Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. By Road: Uttarakhand State Transport Ccorporation operates bus services from Delhi-Rishikesh daily. Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd (GMVNL) organises package tours for Char Dham with 2X2 DLX/Coach Bus.

It is often said that the Char Dham pilgrimage is rejuvenation of mind, body and soul

First Published: August 7, 2012 at 9:00 PM

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