Kedarnath is one of the most important places of Shiva worship in the world. Located in Rudraprayag district by the holy Mandakini River, the temple’s history is awe-inspiring. Having survived ice ages and flash floods, the temple still stands tall as one of the Char Dham temples of Uttarakhand. Over the years the popularity of Kedarnath has grown. Due to its lush and scenic surroundings, the temple is not just visited by devotees and pilgrims but also by nature enthusiasts.
When it comes to the culture of Kedarnath, it is certain that the people here are deeply religious and very grounded in their heritage. The culture makes a place more soulful. If you are headed to Kedarnath, then learning about its culture would make your experience more wholesome.
History of Rudraprayag
The name of district Rudraprayag is derived from Lord Shiva’s other name which is Rudra. During ancient times, Rudraprayag was a part of Kedar Khand, after which the temple is named. It was in 1997, that Rudraprayag was declared a district. It was carved out from the 3 adjoining areas of Chamoli, Tehri, and Pauri Garhwal.
From Chamoli, the whole of Augustmuni and Ukhimath block and a part of Pokhari and Karnaprayag block merged into Rudraprayag district. The Khirsu block from the Pauri Garhwal district was also added to the newly formed district.
Fairs and Festivals in Kedarnath
The fairs and festivals of Kedarnath are very well preserved. The folklore, Traditional Garhwali songs, and dance culture here are very unique. Here are some interesting fairs and festivals of Kedarnath:
- Hariyali Devi Mela – This festival is held each year during the Navratri season in the months of September to October. Hariyali Devi is also worshipped as Bala Devi and Vaishno Devi. The fair takes place at the temple of Hariyali Devi located en route Rudraprayag and Karnaprayag.
- Madmaheshwar Mela – The mela here is organized in the Ukhimath block headquarters. After the shutting down of Madhyamaheshwar Temple for the winter season, the idol of the goddess is transferred to her winter home in Omkareshwar temple. Several cultural shows take place marking the transfer of the idols.
- Pandava Dance – Also known as Pandav Lila the name of the festival literally means play of the Pandavas. This ritual is all about re-enacting stories from the Hindu epic Mahabharat through singing, dancing, and recitation.
- Ram Navami – This holy day is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm marking the auspicious birthday of Lord Ram. It takes place on the 9th day of Chaitra month. The holy event is marked with bhajan singing and traditional folk song performances.
- Nag Panchami – Kedarnath is a region where the primary deity of worship is Lord Shiva. This day is dedicated to celebrating and thanking the nagas or the serpent gods. This day is celebrated on the 5th day of Sravana. The nagas are offered milk and snake figures are made.
Religion and language in Kedarnath
It is understood that having been through an extremely dynamic history, Kedarnath is home to a variety of religions and languages. Its location on the remote part of the Garhwal Himalayas has played a major role in cultural preservation. In the same manner, its location close to the Indo-Tibetan and indo-china border has played a vital role in the mingling of different cultures and traditions. This makes the religion and language in Kedarnath, Rudraprayag truly one of a kind.
When it comes to religion, Hindus occupy the majority part in the region. Around 99% of the entire population in Rudraprayag district constitutes a Hindu population. Out of the Hindu population, 94% make up the Garhwali Hindu population. The remaining population is made up of Muslims and other religions. There are protected tribes living deep in the forests of Rudraprayag and are known by their tribe names. They live within the national park regions and are protected by the government of India.
Since a majority of the district is occupied by Hindus, Garhwali is spoken widely. Kedarnath is also a very famous pilgrimage spot, so the locals now understand Hindi easily. The predominant first language in Kedarnath is Garhwali. It is spoken by over 94% of the entire population. Other than that, the population here also speaks Nepali among other languages.
History and legends of Kedarnath Temple
The history of Kedarnath goes back to the 8th century. The temple was established by Adi Shankaracharya. The intent behind it was to re-ignite a feeling of Hinduism and oneness among the Hindus. He is said to have found the lingam right on the banks of the holy Mandakini River. This can be seen in the main sanctum of the temple since it is unlike any other regular Shivling and is triangular in shape. Ever since its establishment, Kedarnath became one of the top pilgrimage centers in the world.
According to legends, even before Adi Shankara, it was the Pandavas brothers who have been credited with the establishment of Kedarnath. After the war, and having killed their cousins, they headed to the Himalayas looking for forgiveness from Lord Shiva. Kedarnath is also a part of the Panch Kedar Yatra that was established by the Pandava brothers themselves. The Pandavas had spent some time here and even set the foundation for the temple. They performed all sorts of pujas and meditation activities to please the Lord.
Cultural activities in Kedarnath
- Attend The Opening/Closing Ceremony of Kedarnath – Going to Kedarnath anytime is a blessing. Attending the opening or the closing ceremony is a different story. The entire valley resounds with traditional dance and musical performances. The Doli carrying the lord is transferred from one place to another amidst great zeal and enthusiasm.
- Meditate At The Kedarnath Gufa – Located 1 km just above the temple of Kedarnath is the meditation Gufa. The cave is a one-bedroom set up with one bed and an intercom. The cave offers sweeping views of the Kedarnath Temple and the entire Kedar Valley. It was made popular when the honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stayed in the cave for a night.
- Offer Prayer At The Bhairav Holy Spot – Just a 1 km uphill trek behind the temple will take you to the Bhairav Devta shrine. The lord is said to protect the temple from extreme conditions during the harsh cold winter season. It is also said to protect the temple from evil when it remains shut down for 6 months.
- Visit The Winter Abode Of Lord Kedar – When the temple shuts down for 6 months, the idol of the presiding deity is shifted to his winter home in Ukhimath. For the remaining months, people can continue to offer their prayers to Lord Kedar at his winter home in Ukhimath.
The culture of Kedarnath is truly unique. It binds together the age-old traditions and beliefs into one string of spirituality.