CHARDHAM

The Char Dham (“four abodes”) is the most important pilgrimage circuit in the Indian Himalayas. Located in the Garhwal section of the state of Uttaranchal, the circuit consists of four holy sites: Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. The origins of the Char Dham are obscure. Originally, Char Dham was a name 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, 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 Vaisnava site Badrinath joined by one Saiva site (Kedarnath) and two Devi sites (Yamunotri and Gangotri). 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 “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 every corners of India. Today, the Char Dham sees upwards of 240,000 unique visitors in an average pilgrimage season, which lasts from approximately April 10th until Diwali (sometime in November). The season is heaviest in the two-month period before and after the monsoon.

Badrinath

Badrinath Temple, sometimes called Badrinarayan Temple, is situated along the Alaknanda river, in the hill town of Badrinath. It is widely considered to be one of the holiest Hindu temples, and is dedicated to lord Vishnu. The temple and town are one of the four Char Dham and Chota Char Dham pilgrimage sites. It is also one of the 108 Divya Desams, holy shrines for Vaishnavites. The temple is open only six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), due to extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.

Several murtis are worshipped in the temple. The most important is a one meter tall statue of Vishnu as Lord Badrinarayan, made of black Saligram stone. The statue is considered by many Hindus to be one of eight swayam vyakta keshtras, or self-manifested statues of Vishnu.[1] The murti depicts Vishnu sitting in meditative posture, rather than His far more typical reclining pose. In November each year, when the town of Badrinath is closed, the image is moved to nearby Joshimath.

Kedarnath

Kedarnath Mandir is one of the holiest Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located atop the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river in Kedarnath, Uttarakhand. The temple is open only between the ends of April to start of November. During the winters, the idols from Kedarnath is brought to Ukhimath and worshipped there for six months. Here Shiva is worshipped as Kedarnath, the ‘Lord of Kedar Khand’, the historical name of the region.

The temple is not directly accessible by road and has to be reached by a 14 km uphill trek from Gaurikund. The temple is believed to have been built by Adi Sankaracharya [1] and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva. The older temple existed from the times of Mahabharata, when the Pandavas are supposed to have pleased Shiva by doing penance in Kedarnath. The temple is also one of the four major sites in India’s Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas.

Gangotri

Gangotri, the origin of the sacred river Ganges, attracts tourists in large numbers every year. The confrontation with the daunting rivers and attempts to unravel the mysteries of the supernatural world are ubiquitous sights here. Along with the thrill of conquering nature, what one experiences here is the mystical aura that India is so famous for.
The picturesque pilgrimage in the hinterlands of the Himalayas is the most sacred spot where Ganga, the stream of life, touched earth for the first time. 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 5500 years. Lord Shiva received her into his matted locks to minimize the impact of her fall. The river itself begins at Gangotri which literally means Ganga Uttari or Ganga descending She came to be called Bhagirathi at her legendary source. The Shrine of Gangotri is situated at an elevation of 3200 m above sea level. Set amidst captivating surroundings along the right bank of Bhagirathi Gangotri is 110 km from Uttarkashi.

Yamunotri

The sacred shrine of Yamunotri, source of the river Yamuna, is the westernmost shrine in the Garhwal Himalayas, perched atop a flank of Bandar Poonch Parvat. The chief attraction at Yamunotri is the temple devoted to goddess Yamuna and the holy thermal springs at Jankichatti (7 kms. Away). The actual source a frozen lake of ice & glacier (Champasar glacier also known as Yamunotri located on the Kalind mountain at the height of 4421 m above sea level, about 1 km further up, is not frequented generally as it is not accessible and

hence the shrine has been located on the foot of the hill. The approach is extremely difficult and pilgrims therefore offer pooja at the temple itself.

The temple of Yamuna is on the left bank of Yamuna constructed by Maharaja Pratap Shah of Tehri Garhwal. The deity is made of black marble. Close to the temple is hot water springs gushing out from the mountain cavities? Suryakund is the most important Kund. Near the Suryakund there is a shila called Divya Shila, which is worshipped before puja is offered to the deity. Devotees prepare rice and potatoes to offer at the shrine by dipping them in these hot water springs, tied in muslin cloth. Rice so cooked is taken back home as prasadam.The pujaris of Yamunotri come from the village of Kharsali near Jankichatti. They are the administrators of the sacred place and perform religious rites well versed in Shastras.

 
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