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Kedarnath | The Himalayan Abode of Lord Shiva

The Himalayas have a special place in Sanatan Dharma. The name ‘Himalaya’ is made up of two Sanskrit words – Him and Alaya. ‘Him’ means –  snow and ‘Alaya’ means –  abode. This translates to ‘Abode of Snow’. The Himalayan range of mountains contains the world’s highest peaks including Everest, K2 (Karakoram) Kanchenjunga, Nanga Parbat, and Dhaulagiri.

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Lord Shiva’s many Abodes

Though Lord Shiva is present in every atom of the universe, He has a special preference for the Himalayas and has numerous abodes in His beloved mountains.  The first and foremost is in Mount Kailash. From Amarnath in Kashmir to Pashupatinath in Nepal, Lord Shiva has a sting of Abodes. Kedarnath Dham in the Garhwal region is also one of them. Kedarnath is one of the Jyotirlingas, increasing its significance manyfold.

Kedarnath –  How did Lord Shiva come here?

Kedarnath is one of Lord Shiva’s most ancient Abodes. During the days of creation, Lord Vishnu prayed to Lord Shiva in the mountains of Badrinath. As a result, Lord Shiva agreed to stay in these mountains in various forms and bless devotees. Much later in the Dwapar Yuga, the Pandavas felt they had committed many sins by killing brothers and Gurus during the Mahabharata War. They were advised by Rishi Ved Vyas to seek forgiveness from Lord Shiva. The Pandavas went in search of Mahadev who was displeased with them and was hiding in the form of a bull in Guptkashi. Somehow the Pandavas located Him but Lord Shiva dived into the ground to escape. Before Lord Shiva could get away Bhima caught Him by the tail and tried to pull Him out of the ground. Then the bull disintegrated into five parts which landed in different parts of Garhwal. The Pandavas decided to build temples in these places to pacify Lord Shiva. These temples are known as ‘Panch – Kedar’. Lord Shiva then absolved the Pandavas of any sin committed and blessed them. The hump of the bull had landed in Kedarnath which manifested into a Shivling. The Shivling seen in the Kedarnath Temple is in the shape of a hump. A Shivling represents a Pillar of Light with no beginning and no end.

Kedarnath –  Lord of the Field

The word Kedarnath is made up of two Sanskrit words – Kedar – which means field and Nath – which means Lord. This translates to the ‘Lord of the Field’ or the one who ploughs the field. But this is no ordinary field, here the ploughing of the field results in a crop which is Moksha – liberation from the cycle of birth and death. 

The immeasurable benefits of Kedarnath Yatra and Darshan

Kedarnath is one of the holiest Jyotirlingas in India. The significance attached to a Kedarnath Yatra and Darshan is written about in several Puranas and other ancient religious texts. There are specific benefits mentioned in detail in these texts. The essence of them all is that a devotee with true faith and love for the Lord will reap a harvest that cannot be calculated in terms of wealth.   

The Kedarnath Temple

The first temple here was built by the Pandavas as mentioned earlier. This takes us back to the Mahabharata Era. In later years it was no doubt renovated and rebuilt numerous times. In the 8th century CE, the temple was renovated by Adi Shankaracharya. It is believed He achieved Samadhi at this place. The present temple is a stone structure, 66 feet high with a wooden canopy and golden Kalash on top. The hump-shaped Shivling is enshrined in the Sanctum of the temple. In a hall outside are sculptures of the five Pandavas, Mata Parvati, Lakshmi Narayan, and Lord Krishna. Nandi, Lord Shiva’s beloved bull is seen just outside. Besides these, there are sculptures of Draupadi and Virbhadra.

The temple stands at an altitude of 11700 feet above sea level near the sacred Mandakini River. The puja and rituals of the temple are traditionally performed by assistants of the Head Priest who is known as Rawal. The head Priest and his assistants are from Sringeri Mutt of the Veerashaiva community of Karnataka. Kedarnath is snowbound for nearly six months in winter. During that time the Deity and Puja is shifted to a lower altitude in Ukhimath and the Kedarnath temple remains closed.   

Baba Bhairavnath, whose temple is a short distance away, is considered the guardian of the temple during these months. The closing and opening ceremonies of the temple are conducted with high fervour, great pomp, and festivities.

Places to visit in Kedarnath

Bhairav Temple –  A short distance from the Kedarnath temple. This temple is dedicated to Lord Bhairavnath, who is the guardian deity of Kedarnath town during the winter months when the town is covered with snow.

Vasuki Tal –  A sacred lake where Lord Vishnu is believed to have bathed, in the days of yore. The lake is 8 km from Kedarnath and can be reached by a challenging trek.

Rudra Meditation Cave – This is a facility run by the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam and offers caves to stay and meditate. The cave room has all the modern comforts of a good hotel.

Shankaracharya Samadhi – This is the structure built on the spot where Adi Shankaracharya is believed to have achieved the ultimate eternal position. 

How to reach Kedarnath

The nearest railhead is in Haridwar, about 255 km from Kedarnath.

The nearest airport is Dehradun Airport, about 238 km from Kedarnath.

The motorable road ends in Gaurikund and Kedarnath is an 18 km trek from there.

Ponies and Palanquins are available in Gaurikund.

Helicopter Services are available from a number of places between Guptkashi and Phata.

Distances from Kedarnath

  • Gaurikund – 18 km
  • Guptkashi – 43 km
  • Srinagar – 126 km
  • Rishikesh – 230 km
  • Uttarkashi – 242 km
  • Haridwar – 255 km

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