Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Radhe Krishna 27-08-08








Char Dham is referred to the four Hindu religious sites in Uttarakhand state of India. These are Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath and Kedarnath. Nestled in the lap of majestic Himalayas, these four sites are the epicenter of religious activity in north India. Traditionally, the Chardham yatra is undertaken from the west to the east. Thus, the yatra starts from Yamunotri, then proceeding to Gangotri and finally to Kedarnath and Badrinath.

Amongst the four Char Dhams, Yamunotri and Gangotri are dedicated to goddesses Yamuna and Ganga respectively. On the other hand, Kedarnath is dedicated to Lord Shiva while Badrinath is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Moreover, people also visit Hemkund Sahib in the vicinity, which is one of the highest located religious sites in the country. Thus, pilgrims visit all these places in aspiration of washing away their sins and to attain salvation, by the blessings of the Lord.

Owing to the significance of this religious circuit, devotees from all over the world, come here to experience the eternal bliss. Char Dhams are hustling and bustling with activity during the summer months, as hundreds of devotees embark upon the holy journey. The picturesque surroundings of the mountainous region are simply enthralling, giving the visitors a perfect opportunity to unwind themselves by filling their lungs with fresh air. Moreover, these otherwise silent and tranquil locales resound with the names of the Lord as the pilgrims advance towards their destination.

Char Dham
The Char Dham ('the four abodes/seats') is the most important Hindu pilgrimage circuit in the Indian Himalayas. Located in the Garhwal section of the state of Uttarakhand (formerly the northwestern section of Uttar Pradesh), the circuit consists of four sites—Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath , and Badrinath. While each site is unique in its own fashion, inclusion in the Char Dham has, over time, caused them be viewed together in popular imagination and actual pilgrimage practice.

The origins of the Char Dham are obscure. The appellation Char Dham used to be reserved for India's most famous pilgrimage circuit, four important temples—Puri, Rameshwaram, Dwarka, and Badrinath—grouped together by the great 8th century reformer and philosopher Shankaracharya (Adi Sankara), into the archetypal All-India pilgrimage circuit to the four cardinal points of the subcontinent. At some point, Badrinath, the last visited and the most important of the four sites in the original Char Dham, also became the cornerstone site of a Himalayan pilgrimage circuit dubbed the Chota (little) Char Dham. Unlike the original Char Dham, the sites of the Chota Char Dham do not share a single sectarian affiliation. Instead, the three major sectarian movements in modern devotional Hinduism all have representation, with the Vaishnava site Badrinath joined by one Shaiva site (Kedarnath) and two Devi sites (Yamunotri and Gangotri).

As late as the mid-twentieth century, the "Chota" designation was still used consistently to delineate the Himalayan version of the Char Dham. This usage probably reflects the relative importance of the circuit for most of its history. Accessible until recent times only after a two-month trek that repeatedly exceeds 4000 meters, the Chota Char Dham was long dominated by wandering ascetics and religious professionals, along with a handful of devoted retirees and wealthy patrons (who could afford an entourage). While the individual sites and the circuit as a whole were important to Hindus on the plains below, they were not a particularly visible aspect of yearly religious culture. After the 1962 war between India and China, however, accessibility to the Chota Char Dham improved drastically, as India's short-lived efforts at Himalayan expansionism required massive infrastructure investments. As pilgrim buses began to arrive, the Chota appendix seems to have dropped away, though the prefix "Himalayan" (Hindi: Himalaya ki Char Dham) is sometimes still added to avoid confusion.

With infrastructure improvements, the importance of the Char Dham as both an actual destination and an object of the national Hindu religious imagination has increased significantly. Buoyed by the development of new forms of bourgeois "religious tourism" and by the rise of a conservative Hindu population compelled by sites that speak to the existence of an all-India Hindu culture, the Char Dham has become an important destination for pilgrims from throughout South Asia and the diaspora, particularly Bengalis, Marwaris, Gujaratis, Delhites- and people from U.P, and of course citizens of Uttarakhand. Today, the Char Dham sees upwards of 250,000 unique visitors in an average pilgrimage season, which lasts from approximately April 15 until Diwali (sometime in November). The season is heaviest in the two-month period before the monsoon. Once the rains come (sometime in late July), travel is extremely dangerous: extensive road building has critically destabilized the rocks, and fatal landslides and bus/jeep accidents are a regular yearly occurrence, with mortality rates for a season often surpassing 200. Despite the danger, pilgrims do continue to visit the Char Dham in the monsoon period, as well as after the rains end. Although temperatures at the shrines in the early winter months (October and November) are inhospitable, it is said that the incredible mountain scenery that surrounds the sites is most vivid after the rains have had a chance to moisten the dust of the plains below.

Pilgrimage centers

Most pilgrims to the Char Dham embark from the famous temple town of Haridwar. Others leave from Haridwar's sister city, Rishikesh, or from Dehra Duhn, the capital of Uttarakhand. From there, the tradition is to visit the sites in the following order:
Yamunotri, the source of the Yamuna River and the seat of the goddess Yamuna, is a full day's journey from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehradun. The actual temple is only accessible by a six km walk from the town of Hanuman Chatti (horses or palanquins are available for rent). The current temple is of recent origin, as past iterations have been destroyed by the weather and elements. Lodging at the temple itself is limited to a few small ashrams and guesthouses. Ritual duties such as the making and distribution of prasad (sanctified offerings) and the supervision of pujas (ritual venerations) are performed by the Uniyal family of pujaris (priests). Unique aspects of ritual practice at the site include hot springs where raw rice is cooked and made into prasad.

Perched amidst sprawling Garhwal Hills, Yamunotri is another revered pilgrim spots in the state of Uttarakhand. It is one of the Char Dham in India and holds great religious importance. Yamunotri is the source of sacred river Yamuna and also the abode of goddess Yamuna. It is famous for its thermal springs, glaciers and scenic locales. In effect, it is one of the must visit places from travel and tourism point of view.

According to Hindu mythology, this hilly spot was once the abode of an ancient sage by the name, Asit Muni. Owing to its legendary significance, thousands of devotees visit this silent yet hustling-bustling pilgrimage place. There are a many worth visiting places here, one of the most important being the Yamunotri temple. This temple was built by Maharani Gularia of Jaipur in the 19th century. The shrine is dedicated to goddess Yamuna.

She resides here in the form of a silver idol adorned with garlands. It is believed that a holy dip in the sacred water of river Yamunotri here relieves everyone from a painful death. This is because she is the sister of Yama, the God of Death. As a result, pilgrims visit the place in order to seek the blessings of Yamuna and save themselves from the agony of death. Apart from this there is Surya Kund which is known for its thermal springs.

The temperature of the water here is approximately 190 degree Fahrenheit. Also, there are a number of hot water pools here, which are used to cook rice and potato as Prasad (holy offerings to God). Divya Shilla is a rock pillar here, which is worshipped by the devotees before entering the Yamunotri temple. Other tourist places near Yamunatri are Janaki Chatti, Hanuman Chatti and Saptrishi Kund.


Gangotri, the source of the Ganga (Ganges) River and seat of the goddess Ganga, can be reached in one day's travel from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehra Duhn, or in two days from Yamunotri. More popular and important than its sister site to the east, Gangotri is also accessible directly by car and bus, meaning that it sees many more pilgrims. A small village of guesthouses and restaurants serves the pilgrim community. Ritual duties are supervised by the Semwal family of pujaris. The aarti ceremony at the Gangotri is especially impressive, as is the temple, a stately affair that sits on the banks of the rushing Ganga (Ganges River). Adventurous pilgrims can make an overnight 17 km trek to Gaumukh, the actual current source of the Ganga.
Gangotri also has a strong historical past and bears the eternal feel of antiquity. According to mythological records, King Bhagirath did penance here, after which, as per Lord Shiva's wishes, River Ganges came down on earth. However, to save the earth from the fierce force of the river, Lord Shiva held her in his locks. Thus, river Ganges is also known as Bhagirathi here. Moreover, it is also believed that Pandavas came down to this place to perform Deva Yajna.

As a result, Gangotri is a significant place from religion point of view. Hundreds of devotees throng the place every year in order to unleash the secrets of spirituality. Some of the main attractions of Gangotri include Gangotri Temple, which was built by Gurkha monarch Amar Singh Thapa, around 3000 years back. Another pilgrim site here is Jalamagna Shivalinga, which is a natural rock Shivalinga submerged in the river.

It is deemed to be the place where Lord Shiva held Ganga in his locks. This Shivalinga is only visible in winter months. Other worth visiting places in the vicinity are Gaumukh (source of Ganges), Gaumukh Glacier and Nandanvan. Drifting towards the adventurous aspect of Gangotri, it offers a number of sports for fun lovers such as river rafting, trekking etc. Thus, to enjoy the natural beauty and religious fervor at its best, Gangotri is a must visit place for all.

Kedarnath, where a form of the Hindu god Shiva is venerated as one of the twelve jyotirling (linga of light), is a two-day's journey from either Gangotri or one of the main disembarkation points on the plains. Besides its affiliation with Siva, Kedarnath is also believed to be the site of Shankaracharya's samadhi (place of enternment). The actual temple, an impressive stone edifice of unknown date, is accessible only after a steep 13 km walk (horses or palanquins are available for rent). The most remote of the four Char Dham sites, Kedarnath is flanked by breathtaking snow-capped peaks. No specific family of pujaris supervises rituals at Kedarnath, which focus around veneration of the stone lingam that rests in the inner sanctum of the temple.

Kedarnath is a sacred town situated in the state of Uttarakhand of India. It can even be called as one of the remotest Char Dham sites as it is located amidst the snow-capped mountains of Himalayas, near the river Mandakini. Nestled in the Rudraprayag district, the main attractions here is the Kedarnath Temple, which is a popular Hindu shrine and pilgrimage, attracting devotees from all over the world. The travel and tourism scope here is strengthened by factors like natural beauty and religious zest.

The Kedarnath Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is deemed to have been built by Adi Sankaracharya. The glory of the temple can be attributed to the fact that it is one of the twelve jyotirlingas (Lord Shiva shrines), present in the country. The temple remains open only for a period of six months, due to heavy snowfall in the winter months. Testing the fervor and dedication of the pilgrims, the temple is not directly reachable by road.

The only way being, a 14 km trek path from Gaurikund. The present temple stands adjacent to the initial temple built by the Pandavas. According to historical data, Pandavas after winning the battle of Mahabharata, felt guilty of killing their own brothers. They came here in search of Lord Shiva, who kept hiding himself. Finally Bhima, the strongest Pandava brother recognized him. Lord Shiva, who was disguised as a bull, escaped leaving behind his hind part.

This led to the construction of the temple here. The present Kedarnath Temple has been built by huge slabs of gray stones, standing undeterred with all its glory and majesty. The divine peace and tranquility of the place leaves the devotees completely mesmerized. The haunting environment and secluded surroundings compel all the visitors to feel the inner connection with the Almighty. Thus, Kedarnath is considered a must visit place amongst pilgrims, before leaving this world.

Badrinath, the seat of the Hindu god Vishnu in his aspect of Badrinarayan, is generally a two-day's journey from either Kedarnath or one of the main disembarkation points on the plains. By far the most important of the four Char Dham sites, Badrinath receives many more visitors than the other three sites. As the route to Badrinath is for much of the way also the route to Hemkund Sahib, an important Sikh pilgrimage site, the road to Badrinath is especially crowded. The temple and its substantial surrounding village are accessible by road. The actual temple is a striking building whose bright colors evoke the painted Buddhist ghompas of the region; rumor has it that the temple was originally controlled by Buddhists.
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Badrinath Temple is one of the holiest Hindu shrines in India. It is situated in the hill town of Badrinath in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand state. Along the river Alaknanda, the temple is essentially a Lord Vishnu shrine. Also known by the names Badri Vishal and Badrinarayan, it is one of the Char Dham sites and the one amongst 108 Divya Desams. This has contributed to the fact that Badrinath is vital with reference to travel and tourism.

The gates of the temple are open only for a period of six months, due to extreme weather conditions in Himalayas. There are a number of hot water pools here namely Tapt Kund, Narad Kund etc. These pools are filled with hot steaming water in the wint

er months also and are considered to posses medicinal properties. Many people even perform the last rites of the departed souls at Brahm Kapal.

It is a flat platform on the banks of river Alaknanda. Sheshnetra and Chandrapaduka are other rock boulders present along the river, which are believed to have footprints of Shesh Nag and Lord Vishnu. Another important temple here is the Mata Murti Temple. These temples are also considered as evidences of the rich historical past of Badrinath. Referring the mythological facts, it is believed that Lord Vishnu was practicing penance at this place.

In order to save him from the harmful rays of the sun, his divine consort Lakshmi took the form of a Badri plant and provided shade to him. Pleased by her fervor and devotion, the Lord told her that this place would be famous by her name. Hence, it came to be known as Badrinath. Splashed by Alaknanda, the divine site serves as an ideal location to experience the eternal bliss associated with spirituality.

1 comment:

Travel Corporation India said...

The Chardham has been the destination of thousands of tourist from india as well as from foreign countries to travel char dham.

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