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Home » The Chardham Camps » Badrinath

Badrinath

The Badrinath shrine is believed to be as old as time itself. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple was re-established by Adi Shankracharya in the 8th century as part of his mission to revitalise Hinduism. Located on the banks of the Rishi Ganga (Alaknanda), the temple, and the numerous ancient sites around it, is indeed a worthy goal to aim for. The 21-kilometre distance from Govindghat is as exhilarating as it is visually exciting – and this closeness to the majesty of nature serves to re-inspire faith and awe in the almighty. It is no wonder then that Badrinath, despite the difficult journey to it, is one of the most visited shrines in the country.

This holy town nestles at a height of 3,133 metres, at the site where a forest of Badri (berry) trees, known as the mythical Badrivan, once covered the area. The great Nilkantha peak (6,558 metres) towers over the temple set deep down in the Alaknanda valley. The rulers of Garhwal built the present temple of Badrinarayan some two hundred years ago. Below the temple are the Tapt Kund and Surya Kund , hot sulphur springs where pilgrims take a ritual dip before entering the temple. The ancient village of Badrinath is to the south of the temple.

The original Badrinath shrine, built by the 9 th century saint Shankara, has been re-built several times over due to damage from avalanches and snowfall. Made of wood, the temple stands 15 metres high, topped with a gilded cupola. The exteriors are painted in bright colors every year before the temple gates open. Standing in sharp contrast to the grey concrete buildings around it and the stark mountain slopes behind, the temple resembles a Tibetan gompa from a distance. The head priest of Badrinath is also that of Kedarnath, hailing from the Namboodiri Brahmin caste of Kerala in southern India.

The colourful and distinctive façade of the temple, known as Singhdwar, is crafted painstakingly. The present structure of the temple is a contribution of the Kings of Garhwal, it is said. It has three sections – garbh griha (sanctum sanctorum), the Darshan Mandap, and Sabha Mandap. In the sanctum is placed the image of Lord Vishnu as Badri Narayan (also called Badri Vishal) under a canopy covered with a sheet of gold presented by the Queen Ahilyabai. To the left of Maha Vishnu are Narayan and Nara. The Uddhav (Utsav or decorative idol of Lord Krishna’s closest friend) idol stands in front of the Lord flanked by silver images of Garud (Lord Vishnu’s vehicle) and Narad. Above is placed Krishna's Sudarshan Chakra, also crafted in silver.

The image of Lord Vishnu in the temple is claimed to have miraculously emerged full-formed from a Shaligram, a particular type of black stone containing fossilised ammonite, which is itself considered a "self-manifested" form of Vishnu. It represents Lord Vishnu in meditation. The Temple compound also has idols of Garud (the vehicle of Lord Narayan) and Goddess Mahalaxmi as well as of Adi Shankracharya, Swami Desikan and Shri Ramanujan.

Management of the Temple
The temple is managed by the Shri Badrinath Mandir Samiti, constituted in 1939 by the Badrinath Temple Act 16, 1939. The Head Pujari of the temple, a Namboodri Brahmin, is known as the Rawal, and is appointed jointly by the former Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal and the Temple Committee. He is the only person who is allowed to touch the idol of the deity. He is assisted by a naib Rawal, who is also a Namboodri Brahmin and the Rawal’s successor. Well versed in Sanskrit and puja rituals, the Rawal must also be celibate and loses his position if he gains a wife.

Opening and Closing Ceremonies
The temple is open for six months of the year – from April-May to October-November, but its day of opening is determined on the day of the Basant Panchami (in February-March), in accordance with astrological configurations.

Pujas are held during the opening and the closing of the temple. In winter, the Utsavars (the bronze images of Lord) are taken with all reverence to Pandukeshwar – the Abode of Lord Badrinarayan during winter. The Rawal must accompany these idols and traditionally stays the night at the Yog Badri Temple in Pandukeshwar. On the day of re-opening of the main shrine at Badrinath, these images are taken back for puja and darshan. After consultations with pandits and astrologers, between them and the former Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal, and a brief ceremony at Narendra Nagar on the day of Basant Panchami, a suitable day is fixed between the last week of April and the first week of May for opening the temple. On this day, the sesame oil prepared in Narendra Nagar, is traditionally handed over to a representative of the Temple Committee, for balming the idol of Lord Vishnu right through the year.

The first ceremony on opening is the darshan of the Akhand Jyoti (eternal flame) in an ancient lamp which has remained lit all through the year, even when the temple closed for the winter. The Puja is performed in the darshan mandap which can only accommodate a few people while the devotees stand in the outer or sabha mandap for the holy glimpse while the puja is being performed after a dip in the holy Taptakund. The Chief Executive Officer, the Rawal and the Dharamadhikari set the closing day on the festival of Vijaya Dashmi, usually during the months of October/November. On the closing day, a woollen choli (ghrit choli) woven by unwed girls of the Molpa families of Mana, is offered to the deity. This is a part of the Karmakand in which the faithful participate, fostering and fulfilling their feelings. Amidst the chanting of mantras, the choli is placed on the idol which is laid in a posture of repose for the winter months. The people are then offered bhog. On the opening day, the choli is taken off and the threads and fibres are distributed as mahaparsadam amongst the yatris. When the Temple doors close for the winter, the Rawal and his staff move down to Joshimath.

Aarti
The daily rituals at the Badrinath temple start very early, around 4.30 am with maha abhishek and abhishek puja, and end at around 8.30 -9 pm with the shayan aarti. The temple opens for darshan for the general public around 7-8 am and there is an afternoon recess between 1-4 pm. The Rawal of the temple performs the rituals. The procedures of daily pujas and rituals are supposed to have been prescribed by Adi Shankracharya. Unlike most Hindu temples, all the pujas (including the decoration of idols) are performed in the presence of the devotees. Near the mandap is located a headless statue of Ghantakarn, who is considered the dwarpal (guard) of the area.

Getting to Badrinath
Route is Haridwar- Rishikesh-Devprayag-Srinagar- Rudraprayag-Joshimath-Badrinath. Departure from Joshimath to Badrinath is controlled by what is known as the ‘gate’ system. There are two stretches on this road that are so narrow that two-way traffic is impossible. Queued up vehicles from both Joshimath and Badrinath are released at fixed intervals and timings as a result. The timings for release are 6-7 am, 9-10 am, 11-12 am, 2-3 pm, and 4.30-5.30 pm. Once released from Joshimath or Badrinath the traffic then stops again at Pandukeshwar (the approximate mid-point), which allows a short two-way. These cross each other here, and thereafter it is again one-way traffic. The last 11 kilometres to Badrinath is a steep ascent. At Devdarshni, the vista of the entire Badrinath valley appears – the township, the magnificent façade of the temple and the twin peaks Nar and Narayan as if standing guard on its either side, and the Neelkanth shining like a crown on its head! Appropriately, an idol of Lord Ganesh, vidhn-vinashak, the Remover of Hurdles, stands at Devdarshni.