–By Prof S.C.Bagri
The Kedarnath temple (at an height of 3,583 mts ), located little down the Chorbadi lake on the bank of river Mandakani river, has been appreciated and praised in the Skanda Purana. The Mandakini valley was, in the past, filled by a huge glacier which has now melted away. It flows past many pilgrimage places including Kedarnath, Rambara, Gaurikund, Ukimath, Guptakashi, Chandrapuri, Tilwara and Rudraprayag, where it joins Alaknanda river. As per Hindu scriptures , Lord Shiva left his association from Kailash mountain and decided to settle down in the abode of Kedarnath. The temple is dedicated to Sadashiv , the invisible form of Shiva, who fleeing from the Pandava’s took refuge here in the form of a bull, and finding himself uncomfortable before the Pandavas , Lord Shiva decided to dive into the ground, leaving his lower parts on the surface. The remaining portions of the god are worshipped at four other places along the Himalayan chain; the arms (bahu) at Tungnath ; the face (mukh) at Rudrnath; the belly (nabhi) at Madhmaheswar, and the hair (jata) and head at Kalpeswar. These together form the “Panch Kedar”, the pilgrimage to these places in succession is a great ambition of the Hindu devotees.
The upper portion of his body is said to have come on the surface at Mukharbind in Nepal, where it is worshipped as Pashupatinath. The Pandvas, however having been rid from the guilt of their great sin, established as a symbol of their gratitude, five Shiva shrines, known as Panch Kedars- Kedarnath, Madmaheshwar, Rudranath, Tunganath and Kalpeshwar. There are several other important places of pilgrimage in the region associated with Pandavas, like Reta Kund, Hansa Kund, Sindhu Sagar, Tribeni Tirtha, Gandhi Sagar and Mahapantha, etc. At Mahapantha, there is a cliff called Bhairawa jump, from where pilgrims used to jump to death as an offering to Shiva. The practice was finally stopped during the 19th century. Legend has it that the Pandavas, by command of Vyasa, retired to Garhwal Himalaya and approached the Mandakani river to worship Lord Shiva. The Grammarian Vararuchi also visited these places in Garhwal Himalayas, and by propitiating Lord Shiva he obtained from him the material for his famous Paniniya Grammar. No wonder, therefore, that a visit to this holy land is considered by the Hindus as marking the fruition of all earthly desires and a means of liberation of the soul from the transmigration.
The great Adi-guru Shankaracharya from Kerala trekked all the way to Garhwal in the 8th century AD. (On the expulsion or conversion of the Buddhists), he introduced the worship of Vasudeva, a form of Vishnu. It was he who insisted upon the pilgrimage to the holy places of the Himalayas, established the Joshimath monastery, restored the temple at Badrinath, and then finally proceeded to Kedarnath, where he died at the age of thirty-two.
Kedarnath is considered the most purified and significant Jyotrilinga by Hindus. The Jyotrilnga here is a swayambhu (Self-born), a big round rock that seems to have grown up naturally from inside the earth. Tradition has it that it was the Pandavas who installed the idol of Kedarnath and built the temple. The same source informs us that, in course of time, Sri Sankara renovated the temple and appointed Saivas from the south to officiate as priest. Some learned men hold that Sri Sankara who was an Avatar of Siva, had renounced his earthly existence at this place on his way back to Kailas. According to the available temple inscription, it is revealed that King Bhoj Tribhuvan of Malwa( Modern south West Madhya Pradesh) got this temple constructed who made the journey of Kedarnath seven times. The temple is rich in its architecture and is almost 76 ft in height. Inside one can see that the temple is divided into Mandap and sanctum. In sanctum there is conical rock formation known one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. The priests officiating at Kedar, Guptkashi, Ukhimath and Madhmaheswar belong to the establishment of the math at Ukhimath, the head of which is the Rawal of Kedarnath. They are jangam gosains of the Birseb sect. At the other temples-Tungnath, Trijuginarayan and Kalimath, the priests are local men from the hills under the control of the Rawal. The community belongs to the sect of Saiva ascetics called Jangama ; and the mahant, or, as he is called, the rawal, as well as his disciples must be of Malabar. The Jangamas here worship Siva, or as he is more commonly known in these parts of India, Mahadeo under the form of the Linga. Throughout these mountains, Mahadeo, the god of everything terrible and destructive, is always represented by this emblem, a symbol of the belief that destruction implies generation in some other form the belief that has the scientific basis that “nothing is lost.”
The Kedarnath valley, along with other parts of the state of Uttarakhand, was hit with first-time flash floods on 16 and 17 June in 2013. On 16 June, at about 7:30 p.m. a landslide and mudslides occurred near Kedarnath Temple. After this disaster New Kedarpuri has been developed and the new route has been introduced to keep the pilgrims safe and secure. (This article was released by PIB Dehradun for publication.)
Former Dean, School of Management
& former Head , Center for Mountain Tourism and Hospitality Studies
Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University