Chardham Yatra – The four shrines of salvation and succor!
The Chardham Yatra is one of the most popular pilgrimages and also one of the most difficult! The temple of Lord Shiva at Kedarnath and Lord Vishnu at Badrinath, and those dedicated to Goddesses Ganga at Gangotri and Goddess Yamuna at Yamunotri, comprise the Chardham Yatra. They have been venerated pilgrimages for centuries.
Once reached only on foot after treacherous treks, they are now easily accessible by road. These shrines are open from mid-May until October except monsoons and are visited by thousands of pilgrims, seeking salvation, during the season.
On the way to Yamunotri, which is traditionally the first dham , the sacred Yamuna accompanies pilgrims up to her source through the outstandingly picturesque Rawaai Ghatti. Not only the height, but also the beauty of the surroundings leaves you breathless! One adapts to the rarefied atmosphere as you move to the next dham of Gangotri, which has a stunning setting overlooking the turbulent River Bhagirathi, and which is surrounded by rugged mountains and very old deodar forests. The next dham is a descend to Kedarnath for an uplifting walk in floating clouds as snowy peaks tower beyond desolate mountain faces. Lastly, pay homage to Vishnu at Badrinath, where the lord meditates by the banks of the Alaknanda as the eye-catching colours of his temple present a foreground to the wonderful Neelkanth peak. On these four different journeys, sometimes undertaken in combination of continuity and sometimes independently, Dev Bhoomi, the sacred Himalayas welcome mere mortals for a journey to the heavens!
The nearest airport is Jolly Grant at Dehradun (315 kms from Badrinath, 240 kms from Kedarnath, 298 kms from Gangotri and 177 kms from Yamunotri) and is connected to Delhi.
Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the main idol is carved in Shalagram stone and represents Vishnu seated in meditation, flanked by NarNarayan. The present temple was built two centuries ago by the Garhwal Kings. During the period when the temple remains closed, the idols are taken to Pandukeshwar. The other important Badris are Bhavishye Badri, Yogadhyan Badri, Vrudh Badri and Adi Badri located near the main Badrinath Shrine which is known as ‘Panch Badri’. The famous hot springs known as Tapt Kund or Surya Kund are located just below the temple. A majestic peak of the Himalayas, known as the Neelkanth Peak towering to a height of 6,600 m can be seen as a background to the temple. There are other interesting sites to see in Badrinath like Mana village, Satopanth lake which is enroute from Rishikesh, Rudraprayag, Hemkund Sahib, Valley of flowers, etc.
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Kedarnath temple is located at an altitude of 3,581 metres and is also one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. Kedarnath, is among the most revered pilgrim centres in the country. The temple according to legend was first built and venerated by the Pandava brothers, to atone for their sins after the battle of Mahabharata. Situated in the Himalayan Range in Uttarakhand, the Kedarnath Temple. During winters, when the temple is closed , the idol of Lord Shiva is brought down at ‘Ukhimath’ where the deity is worshipped. The idol is then re-instated in the Kedarnath Temple during the month of Vaisakh as per the Hindu calendars, during which the temple is open for pilgrims. There are other interesting sites to see in Kedarnath like Bhairavnath temple, Gandhi Sarovar, Samadhi of Adi Shankaracharaya, Vasuki Tal etc
Dedicated to Goddess Ganga, Gangotri in Uttarkashi District is situated at the confluence of the rivers, Kedar Ganga and Bhagirathi Ganga. According to legend, Gangotri is the place where Goddess Ganga descended on earth as a reward for King Bhagirath’s severe penance. The source of the river is at Gaumukh, 18 km south east of Gangotri along the Gangotri glacier. The 20 feet high temple is made of white granite. It was built in the early 18th century by a Gorkha commander and later renovated in the 20th century. There is a submerged shivling in Gangotri which is a natural rock Shivling. According to legend, this is where Lord Shiva sat to receive the Ganga in his matted locks. There are other interesting sites to see in Gangotri like Kedar Tal and Tapovan. Narendra nagar, Chamba, New Tehri and Uttarkashi are enroute from Rishikesh.
According to legend, a Suryavanshi king named Sagar performed an Ashwamedh yagna. His sixty thousand sons were conquering the states the horse had crossed. Threatened by this the rain god Indra stole the horse, and tied it to Kapil muni’s ashram. Sagar’s sons followed the horse into the ashram and were disrespectful to the seer, who cursed them and all sons were turned to ashes. The king beseeched the seer for forgiveness, but the curse could not be reversed, however, the seer suggested that if the holy Ganga , the river of heaven, were to come to earth, the touch of her waters would ensure the deliverance of the princes. Many descendents of King Sagar failed in their efforts to bring the holy Ganga to earth, until Bhagirath was born. He persevered in his prayers until Ganga agreed to come down from the heavens, but such was her power that her descent to earth would destroy it. Therefore, Bhagirath prayed to Lord Shiva, who agreed to contain Ganga in his locks, from where he released few drops of her celestial waters for the benefit of mankind. The river thus flowed on earth, cleansing all that was impure in her path, and delivering the sons of Sagar from thier curse.
Yamunotri, the western most shrine in the Garhwal region, is situated at an altitude of 3,322 m. The shrine is reached by a trek of 14 km from Hanuman Chatti, the nearest roadhead. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna. The origin of the river Yamuna is at the Champasar Glacier, near Yamunotri. The temple is a simple structure and the idol of Goddess Yamuna is in black marble. The temple was built between 1892 and 1893 and was destroyed twice due to earthquake after which it was re-built. A rock pillar known as Divya Shila is worshipped before entering the Yamunotri temple. Near the temple of Goddess Yamuna there are number of hot springs. The most important of these is Surya Kund.
According to legend, Surya Dev the sun god, married Sangya, daughter of Vishwakarma. They had twins, Yamuna and Yama. But Sangya could not bear the fierce heat of the sun; so she created a clone, Chaya, and begged her to take her place. Sangya then left Surya Dev’s home. Chaya agreed to keep the secret but said she would reveal the secret if ever Surya Dev punished her by pulling her hair. One day the child Yama tried to stumble her. Insulted, Chaya cursed him that his leg would decompose and fall off. Surya Dev was surprised and angered by the severity of the curse, accosting her in anger, he pulled her hair. Chaya then exposed that she was not his true wife, and only the stepmother to Yama and Yamuna. It is said that Yamuna came down to earth, did severe penance and successfully saved her brother Yama from the curse. The God of death, Yama then offered her a boon and she asked that her devotees be protected from Akaalmrityu (untimely death). Hence pilgrims believe that a bath in the water of Yamunotri protects devotees from untimely death and leads to Moksha.