Pilgrimages are a crucial part of any religious belief. It instills a feeling of deep respect and adds a sense of peace to the soul. When it comes to pilgrimages in India, the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand is the one that comes to mind. It is one of the most popular, pious and important of all Hindu pilgrimages in the nation. Lakhs of pilgrims and devotees from all over the world make it a point to go on a potentially life-changing journey on the hills. Ever since its establishment, the Char Dham journey on the treacherous hills of the Garhwal Himalayas have given different meanings to people’s lives. This physically and mentally testing journey can surely be a one-of-a-kind experience if done right.
Thinking about heading out for a soul purifying journey to attain moksha? There are some things that you should know about the Char Dham Yatra to make it more worthwhile and memorable.
Who Was Adi Shankaracharya and His Vision
Adi Shankara was an 8th-century Indian Vedic scholar and teacher whose works, commentaries and school of thoughts remain well preserved and practised even today. He is also known for being the 1st Shankara and is credited with synthesizing the Advaita Vedanta teachings of his time. Shankara’s status in the classical Hinduism school of thought remains unparalleled. He is often described as the victor who travelled all over India to help restore the study of the Vedas. The central theme of every writing of Shankaracharya is the identity of the self and Brahman. Some may even say that Shankara’s Advaita shows some heavy influence from the world of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. As per his writings and commentaries, one entity is unchanging throughout the course of time which is Brahman while other changing entities do not have do not have an absolute existence.
According to the oldest hagiographies, Adi Shankara was born in Kerala to Nambudiri Brahmin’s parents. His parents were Devouts who had given up their entire life in servicing the poor and named their child, Shankara meaning the giver of prosperity to all. Writings about his life depict that he was always attracted to the Sanyas life from a very young age.
History of Char Dham Yatra
The 4 divine and holy portals of Char Dham include Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri that were established by the great Hindu philosopher, sage and thinker, Adi Shankaracharya. Adi Shankara while debating his way through India noticed that due to the decentralized nature of government in India during that time, along with various feuds among the kings, the religion was also greatly divided from one region to another. He decided on combining all the dispersed Hindus in one single strand of pilgrimage. He went on to establish numerous Maths and pilgrimages dedicated to various gods and goddesses in order to re-establish and re-instill an inspiring feeling of oneness among the Hindus. He established Kedarnath Dham near Mandakini River in Rudraprayag, Badrinath near Alaknanda River in Chamoli, Yamunotri Dham near the source of Yamuna River in Uttarkashi and Gangotri Dham near the mythical source of Bhagirathi River in Uttarkashi. Ever since its establishment the pilgrimage to these Char Dham temples have become a way of attaining moksha or liberation from the karmic cycle of birth and rebirth. Currently, the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand occupies a very important and high-profile place in the hearts and souls of all the devout Hindus across the globe. The government of India and the state government of Uttarakhand has kept the dreams of devout Hindus alive and well preserved by providing connectivity services.
Mythological Accounts of Char Dham Yatra Shrines
The mythical accounts of the temples of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri vary from one another. The importance of each of these holy portals is unique in their own way. Here is everything you need to learn about the mythological account of these temples:
- Kedarnath – After committing the crime of killing off their cousins, the Kauravas, the Pandava brothers along with Draupadi had set out on a journey to seek Lord Shiva in an attempt to ask for his forgiveness. They reached Kedarnath looking for him and set up a small shrine and performed puja for him in order to please him into forgiving them.
- Badrinath – The story of Badrinath tells us a story about the twin sages, Nar and Narayan after whom the mountain range behind the temple is named. The twins had come to Badrinath Kshetra in an attempt to perform deep meditation and please Lord Vishnu. They performed intense meditation there and Lord Vishnu, impressed by their hard work, had also appeared in front of them.
- Gangotri – The establishment story of Gangotri dates back to the ancient ages when Ganga River didn’t used to flow on the earthly realm and was staying the heavenly realm. King Bhagirathi had gone to the Gangotri area to perform intense meditation in an attempt to please goddess Ganga and bring her down to the earthly realm and washes over the mortal remains of his ancestors and grant them moksh. Seeing his deep state of meditation, goddess Ganga decided to ascend on the earthly realm by making her way through Lord Shiva’s matted hair.
- Yamunotri – If you decide to go by the traditional route, then Yamunotri Dham will be the first stop. The temple marks the starting point of the Yamuna River near the Bandarpoonch Parbat. According to the ancient legends, Sage Asit Muni was used to taking bath in both the holy rivers of Yamuna and Ganga. But as he grew old he was unable to go and cover his bathing procedures in both the rivers every single day. As a mark of respect towards his devotion, a small stream of Yamuna River appeared next to the already existing Ganga River, near the Kalindi Parvat. It is believed that anyone taking a holy dip in Yamuna River will not be taken to Yam Lok.
Lesser Known Facts about the Char Dham Yatra
- The original Badrinath Dham shrine is not where the current temple structure is located in fact it is located near the holy town of Badrinath inside the Garud Caves.
- The very unique Jalmagna Shivling near Gangotri Dham is located inside waters and is only visible during the winter months when the water levels go below a certain point exposing the underwater Shivling.
- The founder of Char Dham temple, Adi Shankara had achieved Mahasamadhi at Kedarnath temple.
- Although a conch is one of the most important elements of Lord Vishnu, it is not allowed to be blown in Badrinath. It is believed that in order to hide from Agasthya, the demon of Badrinath named Vatapi decided to hide inside the conch, and ever since then, no conch has been blown in that area out of the fear that blowing it would allow the demon Vatapi to come out of the conch.