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Home » The Chardham Camps » Kedarnath

Kedarnath

Set in the beautiful Mandakini valley, at a height of 3,581 metres, cupped by lofty peaks, the majestic Kedarnath Temple stands on a glacial terrace, remnant of an ancient glacier – long since melted. This is Lord Shiva’s territory – and the region is a living testimony to his adventures and exploits. The temple is believed to have been built by the Pandavas, protagonists of the Mahabharat, as a tribute to Lord Shiva having forgiven them for fratricide after an exciting chase through the Himalayas. To journey to Kedarnath – the most significant of the 12 jyotirlings located in different parts of India -- is to relive these ancient tales and legends, and to become one with God.

According to Hindu mythology, when the Pandavas reached the Himalayas, they searched for Shiva to bless them. The Lord tried to escape by disguising himself as a bull in the crowd of a grazing herd. Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, straddled the valley and let the herd pass through his legs. When he saw one bull refusing to pass through, he recognized it as Shiva. On being spotted, Shiva dived into the ground at Kedarnath, with Bhima holding onto his back. While Shiva's hindquarters remained at Kedarnath, the other parts of his body emerged in four locations, thus giving rise to the Panch Kedar or five Kedars. The lingam remained at Kedarnath, while the arms appeared at Tunganath (3,680 metres-the highest temple in India), the face at Rudranath, and the navel at Madhmaheshwar in northwest Garhwal and hair at Kalpeshwar, over the Alaknanda valley. A trek to Kedarnath begins at the small village of Gauri Kund with the Gauri temple and the hot sulphur springs or Tapt Kund. From Gauri Kund, a pony trail leads up through pine forests to Rambara, beyond which the road gets steeper and more difficult. After a very tough climb, the track eases out a kilometre short of Kedarnath at Garur Chatti. Beyond, as you round a corner on the trail, you suddenly come upon the southern face of the grand Kedarnath peak (6,940 metres) at the end of the Mandakini valley.

The Kedarnath temple, dating back to the 8th centuries, nestles in the shadow of this great mountain. Built of grey stone, the temple stands at the head of a small settlement. Outside the main sanctum stands a massive stone image of Shiva's Nandi bull. Behind the temple is the memorial of the saint-philosopher Shankara who had breathed his last at this spot. Kedarnath temple is perhaps the largest and the most magnificent in the Himalaya. Majestic in style and architecture, constructed with evenly cut massive stone slabs on a large, rectangular platform of moraines; it has a huge and extensive stone slab roof that covers the entire outer chamber of the temple. In the sabha mandap (outer chamber), life-sized images of the Pandavs, including their wife Draupadi, have been carved on the stone walls. The shrine has a mandap (canopy) and a garbh griha (sanctum sanctorum), in the centre of which is a large pyramidal granite rock, believed to be the hind portion of the bull that Bhim had held back, encircled by a narrow pradakshina path, which is worshipped as Lord Shiv. The decorative statue of Kedarnath within the sanctum sanctorum is his five-faced image (representing Panch Kedar).

Adi Shankaracharya is believed to, at the mere age of 32 years, have left his physical body at Kedarnath. The shankaracharya samadhi is located at the back of the temple, where an image of Shankaracharya, commemorates his presence here. There are other smaller temples within the compound of the temple which are dedicated to Annapurna, Navdurga and Sankateshwar. Outside the last, there are ancient Nandi and Ganesh idols.

Management of the Temple
The Badrinath-Kedarnath Temple Committee, a government body, which was set up through an enactment in 1939, manages the temple. While the temple is headed by a Rawal (a Lingayat Brahmin from Karnataka), the rituals are actually conducted by the Brahmin purohits from Ravi village close by. For the darshan, the temple opens its doors at 7 am for the general pilgrims and continues in the evening after a recess in the afternoon. Special puja ceremonies, though, begin much earlier, around 4 am.

Opening and Closing Ceremonies
The Kedarnath temple opens during the last week of April or the first week of May, depending on the day of Mahashivratri fixed by the priests of Ukhimath. It closes on the day after Diwali on Bhaiya Duj for six months when the Puja of Sri Kedarnath is performed by the Ukhimath priests at the Omkareshwar temple.

Puja
Lord Shiv is worshipped at Kedarnath as Sada Shiv, who, fleeing the Pandavs, took refuge here in the form of a buffalo. The morning puja, called the Nirwan Darshan, worships the Shiv pinda in the natural form when ghee and water are offered. In the Shringar Darshan, or the evening puja, the pinda is adorned with ornaments and flowers while a golden umbrella hangs from above. The Nirwan and Shringar darshans are earthly ways of arousing bhakti in the devotees.

Morning pujas consist of Shubh Prabhat, Balbhog, Mahabhisek, Rudrabhisek, Ashtotar Shiva Puja, etc. The evening pujas are: Shiv Ashtotar, Shiv Sahasranam, Shiv Namavali, Shiv Mahima Stotra, Ekanta Seva, etc.

The prasad that is offered at the temple is saffron (which used to sent here by the Raja of Kashmir in the old days), rice and dal, and khichri. After being offered to the god, the prasad is distributed among the devotees. Other offering to the god include lotus flowers, rudraksh or small silver bilpatri or trishuls. Kedarnath does not have different pujas that the devotee can offer; instead a thali containing all the puju samagrihi is offered and a panda usually guides the pilgrim through the prayers.

Getting to Kedarnath
The Routes is Haridwar-Rishikesh-Devprayag-Srinagar-Rudraprayag-Guptakashi-Gaurikund (It is 14 Kms from Kedarnath)

On Foot- The last 14 kilometres to Kedarnath is travelled on foot from Gaurikund, the last road head, coolies, ponies, dandies and kandis are available, if you feel unable to trek up. The 14 km stretch from Gaurikund to Kedarnath lies entirely along the right bank of the Mandakini, never too far from the river or its sound. About 3 kilometres from Guarikund is Chirbasa, The last major halt on this route is Rambara, a further 3 kilometres ahead.. From Rambarha, the climb turns a steep 3 kilometres to Garurchatti. Kedarnath thereafter is only about 4 kilometres.

By helicopter: Helicopter services are available from Phata, 16 kilometres from Guptkashi. The services are provided by Prabhatam Aviation & Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd. The trip to Kedarnath and back takes 15 minutes either way. The first flight timings are 6 am, while the last flight timings are subject to weather and passenger availability. The fare has a choice of one-way and round trip.