Cradled in the twin mountain ranges of Nar and Narayan is the holiest of
the four main shrines, Badrinath along the left
bank of river Alaknanda. With the splendid Neelkanth mountains as the backdrop,
it is an important destination on the sacred itinerary of every devout Hindu.
Once the spot was carpeted with 'badris' or wild berries and hence was famous
as 'Badri Van'.
The temple of Shri
Badrinathji on the banks of the Alaknanda river, dates back to the
vedic times. Situated at an altitude of 3133 mts., the present temple
is believed to have been built by Adi Guru Shankracharya - an 8th century's
philosopher-saint, who also established a 'math' here. Also known as 'Vishal
Badri', Badrinath is one of the Panch Badris'
Amidst the dramatic mountainscapes of the majestic Kedarnath
range stands one of the twelve 'Jyotirlingas' of Kedar or Lord Shiva.
Lying at an altitude of 3584 mts. on the head of river Mandakini, the
shrine of Kedarnath is amongst the holiest pilgrimages for the Hindus.
The origin of the revered temple can be found in the great epic - Mahabharata.
According to legend, the Pandavas sought the blessings of Lord Shiva to
atone their sins after the battle of Mahabharata. Lord shiva eluded them
repeatedly and while fleeing took refuge at Kedarnath in the form of a
bull. On being followed, HE dived into the ground, leaving behind HIS
hump on the surface. This conical protrusion is worshipped as the idol
in the shrine.
The remaining portions of Lord Shiva are worshipped at four other places
- the arms (bahu) at Tungnath, mouth (mukh) at Rudranath, navel (nabhi)
at Madmaheshwar and hair(jata) at Kalpeshwar. Together with Kedarnath,
these places are known as the Panch Kedar.
According to mythology, Goddess Ganga - the daughter of heaven, manifested
herself in the form of a river to absolve the sins of King Bhagirath's
predecessors, following his severe penance of several centuries. Lord
Shiva received into his matted locks to minimize the immense impact of
her fall. She came to be called Bhagirathi at her legendary source.
Along the right back of Bhagirathi stands the shrine of Gangotri
dedicated to the Goddess. Perched at a height of 3042 mts., it was constructed
in the early 18th century by a Gorkha Commander, Amar Singh Thapa. Every
year, lakhs of pilgrims throng the sacred temple between May and October.
By November, Gangotri is covered by snow. It is believed that the Goddess
retreats to Mukhba, her winter abode (12 kms downstream).
The physical source of the holy river is at Gaumukh, 18 kms. furthur
uphill, along the Gangotri Glacier. Several pilgrims trek upto the source
to offer prayers either on foot or on ponies.
The Garhwal Himalayas have been blessed with some of the holiest Hindu
pilgrimage sites and Yamunotri is one such. One
of the Char Dhams according to Hindu mythology, Yamunotri is the origin
of the sacred river Yamuna. Famous for its thermal springs and glaciers,
it is one of the most important stopovers on the itinerary of the Hindu
pilgrim. According to an old legend, Asit Muni, the revered sage, used
to reside here.
The main temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna. The present temple was
built by Maharani Guleria of Jaipur in the late nineteenth century. Once
destroyed by an earthquake, it has been rebuilt. A holy dip in the nearby
tank filled by hot springs and cooking rice in its water are common rituals
performed by the devotees.