Standing proudly at the height of 3500 meters amid the pristine whiteness of Garhwal Himalayas, the Kedarnath temple is a standing miracle in itself.
History Behind the Kedarnath Temple
Kedarnath is one of the oldest temples in India and among the most visited pilgrimage sites.
the Kedarnath Temple is so ancient that there is very little documented evidence of its origin. According to Hindu philosophers and historians, the temple is more than 3000 years old. Some people claim that the temple was built by Adi Shankaracharya, a great Hindu saint and philosopher, in the 8th century.
However, it is believed that the present temple stands adjacent to the site of an ancient Shiva temple built by Pandavas (of Mahabharata) some 6000 years ago. According to some hagiographies, Adi Shankaracharya sought salvation (Maha Samadhi) near the temple at the age of 32.
The earliest mention of Kedarnath is in the Skanda Purana (7th-8th centuries) in a story describing the origin of river Ganga. The Purana indicates that Kedarnath was the place where Lord Shiva released the holy stream of Ganga from his matted hair.
Since Kedarnath is located in a place that is not easily accessible, it didn’t suffer much human-induced damage throughout the course of time. Stories of miracles and tales from the times of Mahabharata are some of the elements that add volumes to the charm of Kedarnath.
The Birth of the Temple
After the Mahabharata war was over, the five Pandava brothers felt remorse for killing their close relatives. They decided to undertake a pilgrimage to Kailash (Himalayas) to seek Darshan of Lord Shiva in order to absolve themselves of their sins. But Lord Shiva hid in the form of a Bull and ran away from the Pandavas.
The Pandavas continued their search and reached Gaurikund in the Himalayas, where they noticed the odd-looking bull. Bheema, one of the Pandava brothers, fought the bull with his mace. The bull dived into the place, and only his hump appeared in this place. Having recognized Lord Shiva, Pandavas sought his blessing, and in return, he forgave their sins. The Pandavas then built the first temple at Kedarnath, and Lord Shiva resided in it as a column of light (Jyotirlinga).
Once Nar-Narayan (twin Avatars of Lord Vishnu) started worshipping Shiva in the Badrika village. Impressed by their penance, Lord Shiva appeared before them and, for the welfare of humanity, decided to remain in the snow-clad Himalayas as Kedarnath Jyotirlinga.
Kedarnath Temple is one of the 275 Padal Petra Sthalams (the most powerful Shiva temples in the world) and holds immense religious importance for Hindu devotees. They believe that if you pray to Lord Kedareswar with selfless devotion, you will absolve yourself of all earthly sins. Later, you will go to Swarga (heaven) after death and attain Moksha.
The temple has been held in high regard by great Hindu saints like Adi Sankaracharya and praised by Tamil Nayanar saints in the 6th century. There is a holy quadrangle inside the temple complex called the Brahma Kunda. It is believed that a sip of its water will prevent the devotees from accidental death.
More than two lakhs pilgrims visit the temple by foot every year to behold the glorious Mahadev (Lord Shiva) residing in the temple. Hindu philosophers believe that everyone should visit Kedarnath at least once before death to sanctify one’s soul and attain Shuddi (purity).
The unique confluence of science and spirituality in the making of the Kedarnath temple still awe-inspires many archaeologists and researchers. Despite being situated in a disaster-prone area, the temple has been able to stand the wrath of nature time and again with the help of its robust foundation and architectural finesse.
Kedarnath temple is built of humongous, heavy and evenly cut slabs of grey stones. In front of the temple complex, there is a pillared hall where you can admire the beautifully carved images of Parvathi and five Pandava princes. You will also find images of Lord Krishna and other Hindu deities inside the hall. As you enter the temple, you will notice a statue of Nandi Maharaj, a divine bull who is considered Shiva’s vehicle, as a guard outside the temple door. The temple has a Garbh Griha (sanctum sanctorum) where all the rituals happen.
You will also find a large Mandap (assembly hall) decorated with idols of various deities and images depicting scenes from Hindu mythology. This mandap is used for the assembly of pilgrims and visitors. Inside the temple, the Jyotirlinga is worshipped as Lord Shiva, who is believed to be in his Sadashiv (ever auspicious) form here. The Shivlingam in the temple is 12 ft. in circumference and 12 ft. in height. What makes the temple architecture, so disaster-proof is still unknown to researchers and heightens the curiosity around this place.
Poojas & Ceremonies
Kedarnath temple is open for worship only for six months every year. The temple closes in October-November when the Sun enters Scorpio zodiac and opens again in April-May when the Sun enters Aries. On the opening, a grand 4-hour Pooja is organized, which is attended by lakhs of devotees. During the Puja, the temple is decorated with flowers, and shiv linga is massaged with ghee and Bel leaves.
Every day, several Pujas happen in the temple under the administration of the temple priest (known as Rawal). The Pujas start from the break of dawn and continue till 3 pm, which includes Parikrama (venerating) around the Shiv linga. The temple committee supervises the booking and performance of all the puja practices. Post 5 pm, no one is allowed to touch the Shivlinga, and only darshan is allowed from a distance.
Besides everyday rituals, there are many festivals celebrated in Kedarnath, which include a Samadhi Pooja on the closing day and Shravan Annakoot Mela (fair) in August. The most popular of all is the Badri-Kedar festival held in June, which goes on for eight days. The festival brings talented artists from all around the country at one place and highlights the rich Indian culture.
• Swami Gajanand Saraswati, a renowned Hindu scholar, states that the temple was first built 7,99,25,105 years. He based this information backed by the mention in the Prabhas Khand of Skand Puran.
• Another fascinating fact is that from the place where the Somnath temple is presently based, there is no land between its shore and Antarctica. The Somnath temple is constructed on the Indian region that is the first point on land in the north till the south-pole, on that particular longitude.
• As per the Skanda Purana, there have been 6 Brahmas so far and the present era one is the 7th Brahma who is known as the Shatanand. Lord Shiva states that in the 7th Yuga, the name of the temple is Somnath while in the last one it was called Mrityunjaya.
Mysterious Stories Related to Kedarnath
Kedarnath temple has enjoyed a fair share of unanswered mysteries and miracles over the years. Many people believe that Kedarnath always has an omniscient presence of Shiva, and he protects the temple from all evils. This got proved during the devastating flash floods of 2013, which wrecked the whole town surrounding the temple. But as surprising as it sounds, the Kedarnath temple did not undergo any damage in this calamity.
As witnesses describe, when waters cascaded down the mountains, a huge boulder mysteriously wedged itself between the debris and the temple. The boulder diverted the flow of all debris and water to the temple’s sides and saved it from the catastrophe. The huge mountain boulder is still present behind the temple, and people worship it with the temple shrine. The appearance of the boulder and perseverance of Kedarnath temple against such a disaster leaves even the most logical minds confused.
Interesting Facts about Kedarnath
There are several astonishing facts about Kedarnath that many people don’t know.
* Kedarnath Shivlinga is the highest among the 12 Maha Jyotirlinga temples standing at 12 ft.
* Kedarnath Jyotirlinga is the only Shivlinga which has a conical rock formation.
* According to the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, the temple was buried under snow for 400 years during the ice age around the 10th century and still survived.
An unusual head structure of a man is carved in the triangular stone fascia of Kedarnath temple, and its identity is still unknown.