The Himalayan Mountains have had a predominant role in Indian culture, mythology, and religion. If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine a god associated with the Himalayas, who will definitely emerge on your mind? I am sure that he will be Lord Shiva, one of the principal deities of Hinduism.
Last year I had travelled to the Garhwal Himalayas. This picturesque state has an amazing combination of nature and spirituality. I had visited an ancient Lord Shiva temple just before it closed for the winters, and revelled in the divinity of nature. Yes, I am talking about Kedarnath; one of the greatest Shiva shrines in India.
Undoubtedly, Kedarnath has immense spiritual importance among all Indians, but the beauty of this temple is simply unimaginable. The temple is located in the lap of the Himalayas (altitude 3,553 m). It is surrounded by snow clad mountains, viz. Meru and Sumeru, and a charming river Mandakini. Due to the high altitude, this place becomes non accessible during the winter months and remains open only for six months (mostly from May to November). There is a very interesting mythological story behind the establishment of this ancient temple.
Story behind Kedarnath
It is believed that the Kedarnath temple was built by the Pandavas, the five great warrior brothers. In the furious battle of Kurukshetra, the Pandavas killed their relatives and brothers. It was a sinful act, and they were advised by Krishna to visit Lord Shiva for clearance of their sins. The Pandavas were looking for Lord Shiva, but he was reluctant to grace them with his darshan. Finally in Guptakashi (another holy temple town of Uttarakhand), they found Lord Shiva in the form of a bull. After a short tug of war, the bull disappeared into the ground but his body parts reappeared at various locations of the mountain.
These five locations are known as Panch Kedar, where the Pandavas built temples. The Kedarnath temple is the most famous amongst all Panch Kedar. Here, the back side of the bull is being worshiped as a Jyotirlingas.
Journey to Kedarnath
Kedarnath temple can be reached in many ways, by airline (helicopter services), equine (horseback), supine (by taking a machan), or by a simple trek. Needless to say that the latter is my favourite. The trek route starts from Gourikund, which is 16 km (though local people say it is 18 km) ahead of Kedarnath temple. This will be my second visit to the holy land as I had visited earlier in 2008.
In 2013, there was a massive disaster, in which the entire mountain state was heavily affected by a flash flood. Kedarnath was affected the most. I was expecting many changes afterword, and I was right. The first seven kilometer are as they were before, but after that the entire trek route is newly developed (from Ram Bara). The old route was completely washed away in the disaster.
The new route was created from the other side of the mountain. As a result, the length of the route and the difficulty level have increased. The trek route was enjoyable, but as I had started somewhat late, I reached Kedarnath by late evening amidst extremely poor visibility.
A blessed morning..
The next morning, I started the day with my ‘Aha’ moment. The sky was crystal blue and the snow clad mountains were about to be kissed by the golden rays of the sun. I rushed towards the temple and enjoyed an unexplainable joy once I got the first sight of the temple. It was looking simply marvellous with the aura of morning sun. Thanks to the helicopter services, even at 5:30 in the morning, there was a small line of devotees.
When it was my turn, I entered the temple. The temple has two parts; the Mandapa and the Garvagriha (the area of deity). Inside the Mandapa; the signs of the existence of the Pandava brothers are prominent. There are sculptures of queen Draupadi, Arjuna, Yudishthir, Nakul, Sahadev and Sri Krishna. In the middle, there is a statue of Nandi, the bull, which is the vehicle of Lord Shiva. Between the Garvagriha and the Mandapa, there is a small passage; here there are two sculptures – one of them is dedicated to Devi Parvati (consort of the lord), while the other is of Mata Kunti (mother of Pandava brothers). Subsequently, I walked to the front of the Jyotirlinga; the hump of the bull (Lord Shiva). As per the tradition, here the lord is worshiped with ghee (Indian Butter).
I came out of the temple. As I was sitting outside, I started contemplating. How was this temple built, when even today in the twenty-first century, it is not easy to come here? How was it possible to build a temple like this 5,000 years ago? Probably, this mystery is one for the ages, or maybe, it will never be resolved.
A priest like gentleman was standing there, and I requested him to sit with me. He shared a few more glorious stories. As per the mythology of the temple, the temple was established by the Pandavas, but the original reviver of Kedarnath is great Indian sage Adi Shankaracharya. In the 8th century, he revived the Kedarnath temple and listed this temple among the most powerful twelve temples of India (dadas jyotirlinga). He also established a tradition that the temple deity will be always served by ‘Rawals’, who are priests from the Veerashaiva community in Karnataka. Even today the same tradition continues. Furthermore, he continued that there was Samadhi of Adi Shankaracharya at a distance of a few meters from the temple, but today there is nothing but debris and stones. Flash-floods have changed everything.
Miracle is a reality here
I was looking at the surroundings while listening to him; he was right, the lasting impression of the disaster is there for all to see. Debris, rocks, and damaged buildings are still lying there as silent witnesses of a painful episode. There is a magical story behind the survival of the temple from the calamity. The disaster started with a cloud burst up in the mountains. There is a lake at a higher altitude, viz. Charbori Tal (popularly known as Ghandi Tal), which had blasted due to the sudden pressure of water, and then started flowing towards the Kedar Valley.
When a huge amount of water, along with debris and rock, were flowing towards the temple to destroy it, an unusually big rock stood rooted behind the temple, and took the entire load of the effluents, and saved the temple. As a result, there was only some minor damage on one side of the temple. The stone is known as ‘Bhim Shila’ or ‘the God’s rock’.
I was becoming emotional – so many people had died, endless number of houses and properties washed away. Truly, we are nothing in front of nature and the divine powers. I must thank the Government, the Indian Army, and those who have supported the people of Uttarakhand to recover from the trauma.
Coming back into society from a heavenly place is not an easy task. I had to fight a battle with my own mind. Sigh! I am but a simple mortal, who has to come down from heaven to noisy land of mortals. After spending two days there, I trekked back to Gourikund for my next trip to Tungnath.