Sunday, January 27, 2008

Kedarnath Temple

Jyotirlinga Shrine

Visiting Char Dham or the ‘four holy pilgrimages’ - Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri is every devout Hindu’s dream.


Perched at the head of Mandakini river, 3584 metres above sea level, the Kedarnath Temple is the most important Hindu temple in the Himalayas.
It is also one of the most important Shiva temples in India.

I have visited Kedarnath twice.
The second time, it was in the month of June.
We travelled by car from Delhi via Dehradun and Mussourie.
We reached Gaurikund (14 kms from Kedarnath) around 4 P.M.
The road passes through beautiful mountains.
At times, you can see a river snaking far below.
And you pass over frail looking bridges.
From Gaurikund, you can either walk up, be carried in a basket (for youngsters and aged), hire a palanquin, or ride a pony.
I wanted to walk up.
But since it was getting late, I was coerced into hiring ponies.
The scenery was extremely beautiful.
But the pony tracks were far too narrow, at times just sufficient for a single pony.
On one side of the track would be the mountain face.
On the other, a steep vertical fall.
And whenever I looked down, I was reminded…. that if…..……. the pony slipped, I would land thousands of feet down.
I had never seen a snow fall.
I was hoping we would see snow fall.
But the pony owners told us it was too late for that.
Just two kilometres short of Kedarnath, the sky started turning dark.
Visibility fell rapidly.
And we were covered with what we felt were fluffs of soft cotton.
But these were not fluffs of cotton, but beautiful flakes of snow.
In a few minutes, the sky became completely dark.
We could not see anything beyond a few inches.
Visibility was zero.
Our hands started freezing.
We were just one kilometre from Kedarnath.
Our pony owners told us we must stop.
Because one slip in the darkness meant certain death.

There were no hotels on the way. Mere ‘chattis’ - small shops made of roughly hewn stones stacked on top of one another - where one can have tea, coffee and simple vegetarian meals.
They also keep blankets, pillows, etc. for a night stay.
Even today, some pilgrims prefer to walk the 14 kms.
And they spend the nights in these ‘chattis’.

So we entered a ‘chatti’.
The crackling log fire was more welcome than any five star luxury.
We had some hot tea followed by some good simple meals.
The snow on our clothes melted.
We had not carried any extra clothes.
So we had to take off most of our clothing and hang them up to dry.

There were no beds.
The ground was rocky and uneven.
Icy winds blew in through the holes and crinks between the stones.
We squeezed into some blankets huddling to each other like penguins.
A little past midnight, I ventured outside in my undergarments.
I was in fairy land!
The scene was so enchanting, I did not feel the cold.
All around were beautiful ice clad blue mountains I had read about in fairy tales.
There was no moon, yet visibility was good.
It was one scene, I have never seen again.


According to mythology, after the Pandavas defeated the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war (Mahabharat), they felt guilty of having killed their own brothers and sought the blessings of Lord Shiva to repent for their sins.

But Lord Shiva did not want to bless them and evaded them repeatedly.
Finally, Lord Shiva took refuge at Kedarnath in the form of a bull.
The Pandavas followed him…… relentlessly.
At Kedarnath, Lord Shiva dived into the ground to hide, leaving only his hump on the surface.
The stone hump is the form in which Lord Shiva is worshipped in Kedarnath temple.

The remaining portions of Lord Shiva appeared in four other nearby places and are worshipped there as his manifestations.
The arms appeared at Tungnath; the face at Rudranath; the belly at Madhmaheshwar; and his head with locks of hair at Kalpeshwar.
Kedarnath and these four shrines (Tungnath, Rudranath, Madhmaheshwar and Madhmaheshwar), where different parts of Lord Shiva appeared, are known as Panch Kedar.

There are five holy peaks here. Rudra Himalaya, Vishnupuri, Brahmapuri, Udayagiri -Kanha and Swargarohini.

Swargarohini (meaning Road to Heaven) was used by the Pandavas and Droupadi to reach heaven.
Arjuna did severe penance here to please Lord Shiva and get Pasupata, the most potent weapon.
The Temple
According to mythology, the Pandavas built the original temple at Kedarnath.
Adi Shankaracharya visited Kedarnath during the 8th century A.D. and he built the present temple.
Adi Shankaracharya took his Samadhi in Kedarnath at the young age of 32.
His Samadhi lies just behind the temple.
Beyond this sketchy detail, we don’t have any indication about who built the temple and when.
The present temple is built of large grey stone slabs.
The temple has a ‘Garbha Griha’ the sanctum sanctorum, which contains the image of Lord Shiva in the form of a stone hump (a conical rock formation measuring about five feet by four feet);and a Mandap where pilgrims and visitors gather.
In this form, Lord Shiva is known as Lord Maheswar-Kedareswar

The inner walls of the assembly hall are decorated with figures of various deities and mythological scenes.
Just outside the temple door is a huge and beautiful statue of Nandi (the Bull), Lord Shiva’s vahan.
Time to Visit
Kedarnath temple is surrounded by high mountains.
During the winter months, it is impossible to reach Kedarnath.
In November, Lord Shiva, is carried down from Kedarnath to Ukhimath; and is brought back to Kedarnath in the first week of May.
It is believed that Lord Shiva is worshipped by the lesser gods for six months and the rest of the year by the humans.

May to October is the best season to visit Kedarnath.

Places of Interest

· Chorabhari Tal or Gandhi Sarovar (3 kms).
· Gaurikund (14 kms) - hot springs of medicinal values and a temple dedicated to Gauri.
· Vasuki Tal (6 kms) – this beautiful lake is 4135 m above sea level.
· Triyuginarayan (5 kms from Son Prayag) - this is the mythological place where Lord Shiva married Parvati.
· Gupt Kashi (49 kms) - famous for the temples of Ardhnarishwar and Vishwanathji.
· Ukhimath (60 kms) - winter home of Lord Kedarnath, and the seat of the Rawal (Priest) of Kedarnath during the winter months.
· Panch Kedar - the five most important temples of Lord Shiva in the Garhwal Himalayas.
· Chopta (40 kms from Gopeshwar) - one of the most picturesque spots in the entire Garhwal region. It provides a breathtaking view of Himalayan ranges.
· Deoria Tal - in the early morning, the snow-capped peaks are clearly reflected on the waters of this lake on the Chopta - Ukhimath road.
· The Kedar Massif - is an outstanding massif formed by three major mountains.

Reaching there
The nearest station is Rishikesh (221 kms).

Kedarnath is connected by road with Delhi (450 km), Haridwar (250 km), Rishikesh (226 km), Kotdwara (256 km), Badrinath (242 km).

Plenty of reasonably good accommodation is available in Kedarnath.
My recommendation

Kedarnath is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Kedar or Lord Shiva.
Even if you are not interested in religion and temples, do visit the Char Dhams.
They are really beautiful places to visit.

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