History of Char Dham

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History of Char Dham

Char Dham. Not to confuse with its earlier counterpart of the all India pilgrimage circuit of Char Dham, Uttarakhand’s Char Dham, termed as Chota Char Dham to distinguish it from the former, conjoins the pilgrimage destinations of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. One finds it difficult to trace the exact point in time when they began to be considered together, as a whole, to form the single pilgrimage circuit of Char Dham. Also, the exact reason behind their forming Char Dham is not known either. Does that mean not much is known about the history of char Dham? On the contrary, the individual histories of these temples can be traced back to such eons ago that it becomes difficult to distinguish factual history from the rich framework of mythical legends the spiritual sanctity of the temples are deeply rooted in. Let us explore the history and myths behind the four temples of Chota Char Dham – Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath.

Chardham History

History of Yamunotri

The shrine commemorating the origin of River Yamuna, whose sacredness is considered only next to Ganga, Yamunotri is located in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. The first halt in the Char Dham Yatra, a pilgrimage to Yamunotri is believed to cast off dangers of untimely or agonizing death. After all, Goddess Yamuna is considered the beloved sister of Yama Dev. It was in 1839 that Naresh Sudarshan Shah, King of Tehri, built Yamunotri Temple. The Temple has idols of River Goddesses Yamuna as well as Ganga. Of the many hot springs near the temple, Surya Kund is most revered.

Legend

River Yamuna is considered to be the daughter of Surya Dev and Sandhya Devi. The river’s playful and frivolous nature is attributed to her mother Sandhya Devi’s not being able to meet the Sun God’s bright gaze during love-making. Also, River Yamuna is revered as the sister of Yam Dev and Shani Dev in Indian mythology. It is to be noted that a much revered Shani Temple is located in Kharsali, near Yamunotri Temple.

What forms the premises of Yamunotri Temple today used to be Sage Asit’s home in the olden days. He used to bathe in the waters of both Ganga and Yamuna as part of his daily routine. Story goes that as it became difficult for the saint to go till the waters of Ganga during his old age, the benevolent River began to flow right next to the stream Yamuna in Yamunotri.

History of Gangotri

The original temple of Gangotri was constructed in early nineteenth century by Gurkha General Amar Singh Thapa. The physical origins of Ganga take place from Gaumukh glacier inside Gangotri National Park, at a distance of 18 km from the Gangotri Temple.

Legend

River Ganga is said to have descended upon earth from her heavenly realms so as to wash away the sins of the ancestors of King Bhagirath, thereby opening the doors of salvation to their troubled souls. It so happened that the 60,000 sons of King Sagara were burnt to ashes as they incurred the wrath of Sage Kapila. They had attacked the sage’s ashram suspecting he had hidden the horse of Ashwamedha Yajna. The only surviving son Anshuman prayed for the salvation of his siblings. Although he failed in his attempt, his son Bhagirath succeeded in his rigorous spiritual tapasya with the aim of invoking Ganga to descend upon earth, for she alone had to power to erase away even the most stubborn of karmic remnants. Since earth would not have received the intensity of the holy river’s descent, Lord Shiva agreed to receive her first into his matted locks wherefrom the river flowed into earth. Gangotri is cited as the site at which Ganga’s holy waters first touched earth.

History of Kedarnath

The remotest of pilgrimage destinations in Char Dham Yatra, Kedarnath Dham situated in Rudraprayag district is said to have been originally constructed by Pandavas of Treta yuga. Although the construction of the present temple is attributed to Adi Shankaracharya of eighth century CE. The imposing grey stone structure is truly reflective of the spiritual potency of Kedarnath Jyotirlinga.

Legend

Pandavas were eluded by Lord Shiva in spite of their continual searches to seek absolution from their perceived and committed sins of Kurukshetra war. Suspecting an anomaly, Bhima chased a bull. At Kedarnath, he caught hold of its tail at which it dived deep into ground leaving only its back above the ground. This is why the Shivlinga at Kedarnath resembles the hump of a bull. It is said that different body parts of the bull emerged at different sacred sites in Himalayas and that Pandavas constructed temples at each of these sites to seek Lord Shiva’s mercy. They were forgiven and blessed by the ever-forgiving and all loving God soon after.

History of Badrinath

The holiest of Vishnu shrines on earth, it is with a visit to Badrinath that Char Dham yatra ends. The enshrinement of Badrinath is also attributed to Adi Shankaracharya. It was in sixteenth century that a Garhwal King erected a temple on the present site. The idol discovered by Adi Shankaracharya from a recess in Alaknanda River was placed and worshiped in a cave near Tapt Kund before. The Temple has undergone many renovations following the many damages its structure has suffered due to frequent natural calamities.

Legend

There are many legends surrounding the conception of the temple. One of them suggests that Lord Vishnu meditated on this holy land, and that Maa Lakshmi took the form of a berry tree to protect him from the ill-effects of harsh weather. Another tale says that the region used to be a favourite abode of Lord Shiva and Maa Parvati, and Lord Vishnu took the guise of a child and playfully usurped Shiva’s resting place and asked the duo to move elsewhere. Yet another tale associates Badrinath with the twin brothers of Nar and Narayan, who practiced spiritual austerities for thousands of years in its sacred grounds for the spiritual upliftment of all living beings.

History of Char Dham is intimately interlinked with the histories of the individual shrines that form the most coveted of pilgrimages in modern day India. A pilgrimage to their holy premises lets one partake in the rich splendor that characterizes the past and present of these glorious sacred shrines. A lot has obviously changed from the days when those who went on the perilous pilgrimage were hardly expected to return. But the spiritual sanctity associated with the pilgrimage still remains, and continues to inspire people from all walks of life to tread its rewarding trails. May the Divine illumine and accompany every step toward Her, His holy corporeal abodes of Char Dham and may the holy journey bring you closer into the true abode of God within your hearts!

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