BY: SUN STAFF
Aug 14, 2012 CANADA (SUN) Pilgrimage to four holy dhamas in the Himalayas.
Vedic literature describes a transcendental group of holy sites nestled in the Garhwal (Middle) Himalayas, which have drawn pilgrims since time immemorial. Collectively known as the Char-dham, or four sacred spots, they include Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri. In this series, we will explore the holy Char-dhama and the sacred waters around which they manifested.
Going on pilgrimage to the Char-dham sites will cleanse the surrendered seeker of the accumulated contamination of material life and release the jivatma from the repeated cycle of birth and death. According to the Puranas, every Hindu must undertake this journey once in his lifetime. To be born or to die here is considered beyond auspicious.
The journey to these holy dhamas is arduous, particularly for children and the elderly. Although buried under snow for a significant part of the year, still persons of all ages come, undeterred in their search for union with the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
As their names imply, Gangotri and Yamunotri are dedicated to the holiest rivers in Mother Bharat, the Ganga and the Yamuna. Each of the four dhamas receives holy water: the Yamuna in Yamunotri, the Bhagirathi in Gangotri, the Mandakini in Kedarnath, and the Alaknanda in Badrinath. Badrinath is the seat of Lord Vishnu, while Kedarnath is the seat of Lord Shiva.
The pilgrims journey around Char-dham begins from the western side, with the shrine of Yamunotri, then proceeds on to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath. This pathway follows the proper Vedic route for parikrama, in a clockwise direction.
Beautiful views of snow capped mountains, bright meadows, green landscapes and refreshing springs can be seen all along the dhama route. Pilgrims find numerous places along the way to take bath in both hot and cold springs.
A host of other spiritual destinations are found all around the char-dhama route and a short distance away. Pilgrims visit as many as possible along the way, including Haridwar, Barkot, Uttarkashi, Guptakashi, and Joshimath. Among the numerous configurations of holy sites and shrines, three are particularly important: the Panch Kedar, the Panch Badris, and the Panch Prayag.
As described in sastra, the Pandavas sought the blessings of Lord Shiva to mitigate their sins after the battle of Mahabharata. Lord Shiva repeatedly eluded them, and while fleeing he took refuge at Kedarnath in the form of a Bull. On being pursued by the Pandavas, Lord Shiva dived into the ground, leaving behind his bull's hump on the surface. This conical protrusion is worshipped as the presiding Deity at Kedernath. At Garhwal in Uttaranchal, there are five Kedar shrines, each representing a portion of Lord Shiva's form:
Kedarnath -the hump
Tunganath - the arms (bahu)
Madamaheshwar - the navel (nabhi)
Rudranath - the face (mukh)
Kalpanath - the hair (jata)
The Panch Badris include the main Badrinath shrine, along with four smaller badri temples nearby. This area was once carpeted with a forest of wild berries, or 'bhadris', hence the name. The Yogadhyan Badri, closest to the main temple, is the home of the Badrinath Deity. Bhavishya Badri is known as the 'future badri'. When demoniac forces overtake the world, the two mountains Nara and Narayan at Badrinath will close up on each other at this point and destroy the route to the present Badrinath. Lord Badrinath will then appear at the Bhavishya Badri temple to be worshipped.
At Bridha Badri, or the 'old Badri', Badrinath was worshipped here by Shankaracharya. The temple complex at Adi Badri is comprised of 16 small temples with intricate carvings. Seven of these temples belong to the late Gupta period, and they are ascribed to Shankaracharya. The main temple is home to a black stone Deity of Vishnu.
Panch Prayag, the confluence of the most sacred rives, is considered to be the epitome of immortal piety. The five main prayags are Vishnu-prayag, Nand-prayag, Karna-prayag, Rudra-prayag, and Deo-prayag. At Deo-prayag, the Bhagirathi from Gaumukh and the Alaknanda from Satopanth unite. Lord Rama and his father, King Dashratha did penance here. The temple of Raghunathji houses a tall image of Lord Rama made of black granite.
Rudra-prayag, named for Lord Shiva is situated at the confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini Rivers. In order to master the mysteries of music, the sage Narada worshipped Lord Shiva, who appeared in his Rudra incarnation here to bless the sage. Also at this place, Sati was reborn after her self-immolation. In her new life as the daughter of Himalaya, she did penance here to ask the boon of Shiva as a husband again.
The icy waters of the Pindari Glacier becomes the Pindari River, and where it meets the Alaknanda River, the confluence is known as Karna-prayag. The name is derived from Karna, the son of the Queen Kunti and Lord Surya. Ganga and Shiva also appeared here to Karna in person.
Nand-prayag marks the confluence of the Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers. The confluence is named for the pious Raja Nanda, who performed Maha Yagna here. The slab on which the Yagna was performed is the foundation stone for the Nand temple.
The Visnu-prayag is formed by the confluence of the Vishnu Ganaga (known after this point as the Alaknanda) and the Dhauliganga River. The Vishnu kund temple is here, where Narada worshipped Lord Vishnu after incurring the wrath of Brahma, which led to his birth in human form.
Tomorrow we'll begin exploring the first of the Char-dhams, Sri Yamunotri.
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