History of Yamunotri

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The Yamunotri temple, dedicated to Goddess Yami; the divine representation of the sacred river Yamuna, can easily be placed among one of the most revered shrines in the Hindu system of belief. Counted as one of the pilgrimage sites in the holy Chota Char Dham Yatra, as well as the commencing point for the same, the temple is immersed in the spirit of divinity and spirituality. Owing to its immense religious significance as well as its abundant natural beauty, the Yamunotri temple is thronged by devotees looking to pray at the holy site during the summer, as the temple opens its gates on the day of Akshaya Tritiya in May and closes on Yama Dwitiya in October/November. During winters, the idol of the Goddess is carried to the nearby village of Kharsali for pilgrims to pay their homage.

Location

Situated in a narrow gorge on the banks of the river Yamuna very close to its source, amidst the breathtaking natural splendor of the western Garhwal Himalayas, the temple falls in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, some 130 kilometers from the main district headquarters at an altitude of around 3300 meters. The temple is perched atop a flank of Bandarpoonch Parbat, near the foot of Kalind Parvat where the actual source of the river, the Champasar Glacier is located at an altitude of 4421 meters. However, the glacier is largely inaccessible due to extreme weather and highly technical trekking route therefore no temple or shrine exists there, and devotees pay their respects at the Yamunotri temple itself.

Getting There

The nearest place to Yamunotri which is accessible by a vehicle is Janki Chatti, around 6-8 hours from the nearest Railway Station (Dehradun) as well as the Airport (Jolly Grant). In absence of any motorable roads, pilgrims have to trek uphill for about 6 kilometers from Janki Chatti to Yamunotri to reach the temple. The climb takes around 3-4 hours and is undertaken as a sign of devotion to the Goddess Yamuna; however, palanquin services as well as pony rides are also available for those unfit to undertake the strenuous climb but still looking to complete the pilgrimage. For those looking for something more challenging, there are also two breathtakingly beautiful trekking routes that commence from Hanuman Chatti, one along the right bank of the river via the Markandeya Tirth and the other through the village of Kharsali on the left bank of the river. These are longer and take around 6-7 hours each, but those who undertake them are rewarded by unrivaled views of the surrounding mountainside. Another unique and exciting way of experiencing Yamunotri, while indulging in luxury and adventure, is availing of Helicopter services. These services are available from Dehradun and take devotees directly to Kharsali, where connecting services like Palanquins or Ponies to reach Yamunotri are provided.

Religious Significance

The river Yamuna is one of the holiest rivers in Hinduism, and her confluence with Ganga and the mythical Saraswati at Triveni Sangam, Prayagraj is an extremely revered pilgrimage. It is considered that drinking the waters of Yamuna absolves one of their sins and bathing in its waters protects against untimely and unpleasant death. The Yamunotri Devi temple is surrounded by many hot water springs and the two most significant of these are the Surya Kund and Gauri Kund. While Gauri Kund has tepid water appropriate for bathing, Surya Kund has boiling hot water where Rice and potatoes are boiled to be served as Prasad for the pilgrimage. The Divya Shila or the Divine Stone near the Surya Kund also holds immense significance as it is considered that a mere touch of the sacred rock can lead a soul to liberation and it is customary to worship the Divya Shila before offering prayers to Goddess Yamuna.

Legends

Goddess Yamuna is the twin sister of Lord Yama, The God of Death, and the Daughter of Surya (Sun) and is considered as one of the eight consorts of Lord Krishna, or Astabharya. There are various legends associated with the Goddess Yamuna, also referred to sometimes as Yami or Kalindi (Daughter of Kalind, which is another name for Surya or Sun) in the Puranic literature. The Padma Purana mentions a story of two brothers who lead a sinful life but the younger brother is granted Swarga (Heaven) by virtue of bathing in the Yamuna for two months while the elder brother is sentenced to Narka (Hell), which highlights the importance attached to River Yamuna in ancient Indian texts. In a different legend, Yamunotri is described as the hermitage of Asit Muni, a venerated sage who was known to bath daily in both Ganga and Yamuna, but as old age approached could not continue his daily travels to reach Ganga. It is said that due to the piety of the great sage, Ganga herself started to flow in Yamunotri in the form of a stream so that the Muni could continue his practice without any difficulties. The significance of Yamuna is also emphasized in the Ramayana as it is said that after burning Lanka, Lord Hanuman doused his blazing tail in the cold water of Yamuna near its source, hence the name of the peak Bandarpoonch (Tail of the monkey).

Current Temple

The Yamunotri Temple, as it stands today made using granite stones on the left bank of the river, was constructed by Maharani Guleria Devi of Jaipur in the 19th century, but it is unanimously believed that The king of Tehri, Naresh Sudarshan Shah had created the temple in 1839 but it was largely destroyed due to an earthquake.  Topped with a golden tower with red borders, the temple consists of a Garbhagriha (Sanctum Sanatorium) and a Mandap (Gathering Hall), and a small patio that joins the main entrance. The Garbhagriha contains an idol of Goddess Yamuna made with black marble along with one of Goddess Ganga in white stone, as per the legend of Asit Muni.