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Role Of Uttarakhand's Two Premier Pilgrimage Destinations

Role Of Uttarakhands Two Premier Pilgrimage Destinations

Revisiting Indian Spiritual Tradition

Gopeshwar: Spoken almost 2500 year back by one of the greatest spiritual sages and philosophers of the Orient, Lao Tzu, these lines are better revealing the 'disturbed cosmic harmony' of today's world! Alas, there are a few takers of the Essential, the sum and substance of the real fountain of life, and virtually every country has gone made in the cocophonous symphonies of the 'superficial'. Understandably, 'colours' are not shapening our gaze but making them blind! We have lost our harmony with the cosmic music of Nature and have sold our consciousness to the soulless music of Maya and matter, and this is making us deaf! Similar is the plight of 'taste' – our desire to 'drink life to the lees' is fast leaving us without options of food and flavours; we are crazy to cram everything, to savour every symphony, relish every rasa and raga, realise everything remarkable and thus ending with the deplorable condition of tastelessness! Our never ending quest for 'possession' of ideas, emotions and things (and the mindless ideal of utilinarinism) has brought this beautiful world at the brink of absolute barrenness of resources—with serious implications for the future generations of man and germinations of ideas and ideals. Earth, air, ether, fire and water—all five life giving elements or 'resources' are in great danger and disharmony. Consequently, there are no more El Darodos or Treasure Islands to be conceptualised, conquered and realized! Thus possession has finally left us with no option! And Finally, the unending 'Race'—with little grace and almost no sagacious preface—has driven man mad. Mad for maney and honey. Mad for making and breaking. Mad for countries and climes, mad for consuming every bit of earth and every drop of water. Man, standing on the matrix of mindless materialism, is suffering heavily by gaining everything! He has adored his parlour—inner and outer –with all embellishments but peace. But without 'peace' he himself has become 'piece' –separated by the divine oneness. It is only by gaining back that 'natural rhytham' of life that he can hope of regaining poise and pristine glow. Sri Aurobindo, the greatest philosopher-sage of modern India, comments—'a true happiness in this world is the right terrestrial aim of man, and true happiness lies in finding and maintenance of a natural harmony of spirit, mind and body'. (The Renaissance in India p.56)

Is there a way out? No! All ways have always led man to the 'waylessness' of the outer way! All ways (to) 'out' have been proven a dead failure and are cause of man's perennial fever, fret and frustrations. Now the solution is the way-'in'. The inner way leads us to the timeless treasure of the soul's Ray, whose never-fading splendour shines eternally in our hearts's caves, hridayguhyam. Yes there is still hope and, not only hope but a divine assurance that the world will be saved by the power of Soul. The road that leads to the vision of the Essentail of Tao has always been open—with open intimations and invitations.

India has always been in the vangard of the world's conscience. Ours is the eternal land of Truth. This beautiful land of sages and saviours, of avatars and emanations, has gracefully lived and suffered for Truth. Truth is the spine and splendour of India and her great culture—lR;eso t;rs ukUk`ra lR;su iUFkk forrks nso;ku (eq.Mdksifu"kn~ v/;k; 3@1@6)A Truth is our body, our soul, sublimity and the very summam bonum of our life. The world has always regarded India for its spiritual heritage and its cosmic vision of life. India lives by the power of Spirit; kindled and protected for ages by rishis, her eternal sons or Amritshya Putrah. Paramahansa Yogananda, universally acclaimed for his Autobiography of a Yogi, writes in his magnum opus—'...the great masters...are India's truest wealth. Emerging in every generation, they have bulwarked their land against the fate of ancient Egypt and Babylonia. (p.3)

And what is the nature of Truth of which India has always been the supreme protector and revealer to the world? This again is beautifully answered by Yogananda in these prophetic words:

Truth is no theory, no speculative system of philosophy, no intellectual insight. Truth is exact correspondence with reality. For man, truth is unshakable knowledge of his real nature, his Self as soul...the rishis taught that each human being has been created by God as a soul that will uniquely manifest some special attribute of the Infinite before resuming its Absolute Identity. (Autobiography of a Yogi pp.476-7) The eternal duty of India therefore, as directed and revealed by her great rishis, has always been to help turn man's stubbborn gaze towards the fountainhead of all creation: God. This Oriental country though scaled peerless heights in material sciences and physical refinemanent of life yet, its 'main work' and domain has always been spiritual. It is by the power and perfection of its time tested spirituality that India governed the mind of the world. To quote Sri Aurobindo in the regard—

We are no ordinary race. We are a people ancient as our hills and rivers and we have behind us a history of manifold greatness, not surpassed by any other race. We are the descendants of those who performed tapashya and underwent unheard of austerities for the sake of spiritual gain...We are a people in whom God has chosen to manifest Himself more thatn any other at many great moments of our history. (Speeches pp. 96-7)

True spirituality is the ultimate blossoming of life, with every potentiality fully tapped and realised. But the irony is that this journey of spirit begins with matter and Maya! Religion, dogma or sect is, in reality, a 'preparation'for the highest climb of aspiration and existence. And once the true realm of spiritually is reached, all 'scaffoldings' viz., religion or dogma or sect should be lifted, as that too becomes a burden after a certain elevation of consciousness. Sri Aurobindo, one of the best exegete of Indian thought, reveals—

The highest spiritually indeed moves in a free and wide air far above the lower stage of seeking which is governed by the religious form, dogma...But man does not arrive immediately at that highest inner elevatiion and, if it were demanded from him at once, he would never arrive there. At first he needs lower supports and stages of ascent; he asks for some scaffolding of dogma, worship, image, sign, form, symbol, some indulgance and permission of mixed half natural motive on which he can stand while he builds up in him the temple of the spirit. Only when the temple is completed, can the supports be removed, the scaffolding disappear. (The Renaiss-ance in India. p.179)

It is now relatively easy to understand why Hinduism and spiritual traditions of India accord infinite liberty to the seeker of Truth. As Truth (the level of high spirituality) and not religion or dogma, is the highest purpose of life, one is provided for endless ways to approach the Reality. And the summit of perfection does not come by just realising and relishing but becoming that. Fundamentally the purpose of Hinduism is the create God out of man and to turn him into the living embodiment of supreme Reality. This truth has been proved in every age by the birth of rich galaxy of avatars and saviours in the land of Bharat. In fact it is their power of truth and the intensity of their character which is keeping our feet firm on the terra firma of life. Swami Sivananda of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, furthar enlightens us through his words—

The foundation of Himduism has been laid on the bedroak of spiritual truths. The entire structure of Hindu life is built on eternal truths, the findings of Hindu Rishis or seers. That is the reason why this structure has lasted through scores of centuries. (Bliss Divine p.222)

In the life and spiritual traditions of India, Uttarakhand enjoys a unique place. This land is venerated as 'Devbhoomi' or the land of gods, where the Divine along with his cohorts perennially dwells. There is no other place in India which can be compared with the rich and revered religio-spiritual traditions of Uttarakhand. Home of the country's most sacred rivers like Ganges and Yumuna, of sky pointing hills and mountians, of verdant stepps and fragrant meadows, Uttarakhand has always been a high spiritual destination for seekers. Swami Vivekananda, one of the proud custodians and supremacists of Indian spirituallity and religious heritage, speaks highly of Uttarakhand in the following words—

This [i.e. Uttarakhand] is the land of dreams of our forefathers, in which was born Parvati, the mother of India...on the tops of the mountains of this blessed land, in the depths of its caves, on the banks of its rushing torrents, have been thought out the most wonderful thoughts...it is the hope of my life to end my days somewhere in this Father of Mountains where Rishis lived, where philosophy was born.... these mountains are associated with the best memories of our race; if these Himalayas are taken away from the history of religious India, there will be very little left behind. ( The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Vol. 3, pp. 352-4)

The afore-said words by one of the most loved and respected spiritual sons of Mother India, speak volumes about the significance and relevance of Uttarakhand and the Himalayas in the life of India. It is not for nothing that Adi Shankaracharya chose Jyotirmath for his tapashya and eventually achieved enlightenment there. The same Shankara later re-regulated and re-established the religious glory of India. He established four Mathas in four different corners of India in order to unite to country culturally, despite great diversity in its outer life. One among the four mathas is Jyotirmath itself—the seat of the philosopher-exegete's sadhna and siddhis. Shankatra is in fact the living emboliment of "the best memories of our race" of which Vivekananda so proudly talks of. Those "best memories" are, to my mind, the memories of revelation and realisation, meditation and materia-lisation of supreme spiritual aspirations, of knowledge and fulfilment. Vivekananda also speaks of "the most wonderful thoughts" thought (Indeed the Rishis did not 'think' but 'saw' the living body of God and revealed that through mantras) in Himalayas. The flow of knowledge, vision, inspiration, creativity and creation is spontaneous result of the harmony which the sages' spirits establish with the cosmic nature, mahaprakriti, in the Himalayas. Swami Rama, the siddha-yogi who spent a great period of his life in the Himalayas, comments—

When one learns to hear the music of nature and appreciate her beauty, then his soul moves in harmony with its entire environment...When one learns to appreciate the profundity of nature in its simplicity, then thoughts flow spontaneously in response to the appeals of his delicate senses when they come in contant with Nature. This soul-vibrating experience, in its full harmony with the perfect orchestra of melodies and echoes, reflects from the sound of the ripples of the Ganges, the gushing of the winds, the rustling of leaves, and the roar of thundering clouds. The light of the self is revealed and all the obstacles are removed...In the depth of silence is hidden the source of love. The eye of faith alone can unveil and see the illumination of that love. (Living with the Himalayan Masters. pp.5-6)

Living with full awareness thus awakens springs innumerable of boundless joy and treasures-trove of knowledge and truth. This explains why almost all of our enlightened sages and Gurus had their ashrams and gurukuls either in the heartland or on the foothills of the Himalayas. All noble, profoundly sublime and sublimely profound poetry, kavya, by our rishis has been written in the Himalayas. There are two bodies of the Himalayas-one gross and outer and the other subtle and mystic. Most of the people do not properly understand even the outer Himalaya, let alone the real and mystic Himalaya. Swami Rama opines that "...there is an unknown part of the Himalayas, and those who are not prepared and who cling to their lives should not make an attempt to go there". (ibid p.35)

A profound preparation and sincere surrender are the needful things to tread into the world of subtle Himalayas. That 'preparation' includes full detachment for everything that is mortal and mundane and absolute attachement for the Essential. But is this easy? It certainly isn't and surely must not! After all spirituality is not a pastime or leisure but 'an exclusive preoccupation of one's existence' as the Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry puts it. Sadly we have lost that rhythem with the higher life which was always there to bless us with inexhaustible fountains of love, light and delight. This loss of the Essential is perhabs the most fundamental reason of man's current sorrows and his emotional, intellectual and intuitional distractions on earth. There is but one way to get over this predicament—to orientate our energies towards the true spirituality that is Vedanta. Swami Rama Tirtha, the blessed and beloved rose of practical Vedanta, gives us more illumination on the nature of true spirituality—

True spirituality is what we call Vedanta. The word Vedanta means the ultimate science, the science of the Soul...That alone is true which is based upon your own authority...this Vedanta, true spirituality, flows from the mighty Himalayas, the mountains of the world. As the magnificent streams, the beautiful rivers, the monsoons flow from those heights, so the genuine spirituality has flown from India. (In Woods of God-Realization Vol. III, pp. 238-9)

SRI BADRINATH: THE ETERNAL ABODE OF MAHA VISHNU

Sri Badrinath Dham is one of the most sacred and revered pilgrimage sites of the Hindus. Situated at the height of 3133 mtr, Badrinath is a peerless pilgrimage destination of the devotees and devouts across many sects of the Hindus. It has many names and there is deep spiritual mystery and truth behind every name and narrative. Hindu scriptures speak very high of the religio-spiritual sigficance of Badrinath: cnjh ln`'ka rhFkZa u Hkwra u Hkfo";fr (there has been no pilgrimage site as holy as Badrinath in the past; and there shall be none in the future).

In the most popular account, Badrinath is the puissant seat of tapashya (spiritual self-culture) of lord Maha Vishnu, who is eternally immersed in deep meditations, yoga mudra, for the broader good of humanity. It is believed that the place is an eternal abode, Nithyadhama, of the lord Vishnu and which is why it is also called as heaven on earth, Bhu Vaikuntha. A brief discussion about the verios names of Badrinath and their origin is presented hereunder:

a. Badrinarayan:- This is perhaps the most popular name of the shrine. Accroding to the Skanda Purana, Sri Vishnu once performed his tapashya in this place. Seeing her lord in deep and undeterred meditations, godddess Mahalakshmi is belived to have assumed the shape of a Badari (Ber) tree to provide for shelter to the meditating lord, thereby protecting him from the blows and distractions of inclement weather and other natural disturmences. Rewarding her for her surrender and sacrifice, Maha Vishnu said that this place shall be known names as Badrivan, Badrikshetra and Badrinarayan, abode of Lakshmi (Badri) and her consort, Narayan.

b. Nar-Narayan Ashram:- Yet another name of the shrine is Nar-Narayan Ashram. It is believed that Sri Hari Vishnu performed here great tapashya and austerities in his manifestations of Nar and Narayan. Both Nar and Narayan were mantra-drista, 'seer of the mantra', the potent sound body of God. The entire region is, therefore, the spiritual garden house of these two great rishis and avatars.

c. Badri-Vishal:- According to a legend, once a devout king named 'Vishal' performed great penance and continence in this reason of Himalaya. He invoked the blessings of Narayana and the later appeared before him after a great period. The lord blessed the repentant king that he and said that here after this place shall be known as Badri Vishal. Thus the king became an integral part of the Lord and his lila.

d. Naradiya Kshetra:- The celestial sage Narad is believed an intergral part and cohort of Lord Vishnu. Always appeasing and siging glory of his lord by the eight-lettered mantra ^Ukkjk;.k] ukjk;.k* Narad meditated in this region for a long period. He is a representative of all sages, saviours and seekers in the region. Narad is also the archaka (priest) of Maha Vishnu in winter period when the temple is closed for man and open for gods and demigods. He is also one of the key deities of Badrish Panchayatan in the sanctuary. Interestingly Badrinath is the only place where the sage could live as long as he wishes; in other places he is accursed to stay more than a particular period of time. Given the great significence Narad enjoys in the region, Badrinath is justifiably called Naradiya Kshetra.

e. Urvasi Peetha:- The Puranas recount one beautiful legend about Urvasi, the beautiful nymph of Indra's court. While Nar-Narayan were performing their assuduous tapashya in Badri Kshetra, Indra feared that their austerities might challenge his place and authority in heaven. Indra sent a host of celestial nymphs to Badtrinath in order to create disturbance in the tapashya of the Rishis. Angered at this audacity of Indra, Rishi Narayan cursed all the nymphs who tried by verious means to disturb them. The Rishi then pushed at his thigh and created Urvasi, the nymph-divine, and ordered the frightened nyaphs to take her to Indra as gift from him! Later on Urvasi herself performed penance in the region and won the blessings of Narayana. Her small shrine is near Rishiganga in Bamni village area of Badrinath. Some scriptures call this place Urvasi peetha.

The grand, glorious, and mejestic temple, with a grandiose simhadwara at the front, of lord Badrinath ji is on the right bank of the heavenly river Alaknanda. Both Nara and Narayana mountain are part of Gandhmadan (incense-spilling mountain) Parvat of Kedar Himalayas. The proximity of the pristime waters of murmurous Alaknanda, a tributary of the Ganges, add new divine glows the the beauty of the place. It seems that the river is rinsing the pious feet of the lord before marching forward on an unending jounrey—a voyage of love, light and compassion.

As stated elsewhere, Badirnath is the Nitya Dham of Sri Vishnu. The lord is living here since time immemorial. By assuming one form or other, his presence has always been in Badrinath, right from Satya Yuga down to the present Kaliyuga. The present temple has been renovated by the 8th century A.D. philosopher-monk Shankaracharya. It was the southern sage who dived in Narad Kund and brought out the Chaturbhuj Vishnu idol and, established it in the sanctuary of the temple.

The stone-manifestation (Shaligram) of Badrinath ji is in deep meditative posture and flanked by his integral courtiers Narad, Udhav, Kuber and Garud. The sanctum santorem also houses rishi Nar-Narayan, Bhudevi nd Sri devi. Together they are called Badrish Panchayatan. All prayers and special abhishekham are performed by Sriman Rawal, the head priest of the temple. Only brahmachari brahmin of the Numbudari sect of Kerala enjoy the right to hold Rawal's post in Badrinath. Sriman Rawal alone enjoys the prerogative to touch the main idol of the lord.

ADJOINING TEMPLES AND PLACES OF RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE IN BADRINATH

Badrinath is the perennial and pristine land of tapashya, titiksha and deep spiritual pursuits. Apart from the main temple of Vishnu, there are more than a dozen other important temples and places of religious importance in the sacred land. A brief descrption of these places will enlighten the readers and relume in their hearts a new fire to revisit these destinations.

1. MAHALAKSHMI MANDIR: Goddess Mahalakshmi is an immortal consort of Mahavishnu. For the six months when the temple is open for human world, the prayers of Mother Lakshmi are rendered in the Mahalakshmi temple, located on the left corner of the main temple. It is only when the idol of Udhavji (called Utsav Doli or ceremonial idol) is taken out on the last day of darshan that entry of Lakshmi ji becomes possible in the sanctuary for the next six months.

2. SHANKRACHARYA TEMPLE: This tiny temple of the spiritual giant, who reestablished the lost glory of sanatana dharma (the sempiternal law) by strongly refuting all intellectual cobwebs of Buddhism, is on the left side of the stairway leading to the main temple. Also, there is grand marble statue of Shankara, along with four other statues of the first four disciples, just behind the temple of Badrinath, on the pradakshina or circumambulance path. Shankara has left an indelible impression on the cultural memory of Indian mind that is unlikely to be replaced by any other giant in the forseeable future.

3. ADI KEDARESHWAR TEMPLE: Badrinath is essentully the Shiva Bhoomi flooded in the light and delight of the destroyer deity of Hindu trinity. The Adi Kedareshwar temple is situated at Govind Shila above Tapt kund and near Garud Shila, on the right of newly constructed 'Rawal Niwas' building. After bathing in the sin-alleviating waters of Tapt Kund, devotees offer their salutation to lord Shiva in this temple, before proceeding to the main temple.

4. SRI VALLABHACHARAYA TEMPLE: Sri Vallabhacharaya, a prominent saint from south India, also meditated in the mountain crags of Badrinath. A beautiful temple is dedicated to him in Badrinath just hehind the Adi Kedareshwar Mandir. Followers of Vallabhacharya offer special poojas here and they also revere the place as a sacred Gaddi (the community has total 108 Gaddis in India and the present one in Badrinath is No.77) of their Guru.

5. TAPT KUND: Situated near the famed Markandeya Shila, Tapt kund (hot water reservior) is one the most pious destinations in Badrinath. It is customary for pilgrims to bathe here before entering to the main temple. The water of this pious kund is believed to have many religious and medicinal properties. The waters of this spring emerge from the bed of Garud Shila. Also, there is a special kund for Rawal ji to take his bath.

6. BRAHMA KAPAL: Literally 'the head of Brahma' the creator god of Hindu Trinity. This holy tirtha is on the right bank of Alaknanda and a few yards walk from Tapt kund. It is believed that after offering Pind dam (the ritual share of the dead) here, all wandering spirits as well as the long dead forefathers in one's family are emancipated from their sorrows and enshrined at the feet the Divine in Brahmaloka.

7. URVASI PEETHA: Located at village Bamni, this small but significant shrine is dedicated to the celestial nymph Urvasi, whom Rishi Narayana created out of his Urva, (thigh) hense the name Urvasi, borne of thigh. A beautiful idol of the nymph is enshrined here and special poojas are offered to invoke the blessings of the nymph goddess.

8. MATA MURTI MANDIR, MANA: The goddess Mata Murti is supposed, mythically, mother of Sri Badrinath ji ( when the lord was in the mani festations of Nar-Narayan). Once in a year—on Vaman Dwadeshi which falls in the Hindu month of Shravan—the Utsav Doli of Badrinath ji is brought to Mata Murti Mandir near Mana village and, a grand fair—full of local flavours of cuisine and culture—is observed on the day. Sriman Rawat prepares special prasad on the bank of Keshav Prayag and performs special pooja in the Mata Murti temple. This serene and secluded place is very condusive to spiritual sadhana and meditations for seekers

9. KESHAV PRAYAG: Keshav Prayag is on the left corner of Mana, the last tribal village of India. It is a spectacular confluence of river Alaknanda and Saraswati. To see these two river meet and embrace each other is a divine joy. The clear, pristine and transparent waters of these rivers hold message galore for the impure and arrogent humanity. In India, knowledge and self-realiazation are intrinsi-cally linked with the river banks and prayags. One understands the words of Hermann Hesse better by standing by the bank of Saraswati in Badrinath— "The river knows everything, and everything can be learned from it...the river is everywhere at once, at the source and the mouth, at the waterfall, the ferry, the rapids, the sea, and the mountains.. .(Siddhartha pp. 119-0).

10. THE CAVE OF VYASA: Sage Vyasa, the author of the epic Mahabharata—the greatest epic in depth and bulk in world literature—and a host of Puranas, has his cave of tapashya and creation in village Mana. A stone structure, naturally carved as huge pile of books, is reverd as Vyasa's pothi or buddle of books. A black marble statue of Vyasa is placed inside the cave, under the stone structure.

11. THE CAVE OF GANESHA: This small cave is also situated in Mana village. It is believed that the Puranas were dictated sage Vyasa and written down by his efficient scribe, Ganesha. This cave is supposed the very place where Vyasa and Ganesha sat together and penned the epic body of thought and culture of Hinduism. In the centre of the cave is small Ganesha idol.

12. THE CAVE OF MUCHKUND: This large and mysterious cave is lacated at the distance of 2 ½ Km. from Mana village. King Muchkund was a warrior par excellence. He helped Indra in the latter's battle against the demons. After the war the king, on being told that aeons have been passed upon earth since he left it and there is not trace of his dynasty left behind, the old king wished to have a peaceful place on earth where he could sleep without any disturbance. Indra granted his wish and directed him to this place. A small festival is held at the cave site on Raksha Vandhan in August every year. An irresistible spiritual aura is all-pervasive in and around Muchkund cave.

13. SATOPANTH—SWARGAROHINI: The celestial lake of Satopanth is 25 Kms. walk from the temple town of Badrinath. Many yogis and seekers perform austerities there. Near the famed lake is the insurmountable swargarohini mountain. Swargarohini (Literally 'ascent to heaven') is the mythical stairway from where the most virtuous of Pandava brothers, Yudhisthir a scaled his jounrey to heaven. The way to Satopanth is replete with advanture and audacity.

Some other religious places are also located arround the satopantha way. Prominent among them are Bhimpul (the huge boulder placed across Saraswati river and believed to have set by Bhima, the most powerful of Pandavas), Vasudhara, Chakra Tirtha, Lakshmivan, Sitavan, Bhimshila, Satyapad Himani to name a few.

All that has been discussed in the previous pages is about the visible and gross body of Badrinath. But in fact there is a vaste invisible and latent Badrinath which is open only to those who have pure heart and a surrendered mind. Purity and selfless love to the Divine alone open the gateway to this Badrinath. All outer temples are signs and symbols of this invisible Badrinath. Shivraj Singh Rawat views—

This mystical Badri Bhoomi is the great land of meditation of seekers, land of knowledge and spiritual fulfilment, land of religious awakening and land of ultimate emancipation in life...this great tirtha has been blessed by the feet of king Manu, Nabhi, Vasistha, Kashyap, Gautama, Jamdagni, Vishwa-mitra, Narad, Ghantakarna, Udhav, Vyasa, Madhav, Nimbark, Gautham Buddha, Ramatirth, Tulsidas and many others. They have performed unheard of austerities here and realised the Divine—this land is very dear to Sri Hari Narayana. (Sri Badrinath Dham Darpan p.23)

SRI KEDARNATH: AN INTRODUCATION

It was not just an imagination; it was a real divine experience. Nowhere in the vast Himalayas is the face of Shiva so magnificent. I have visited Uttarakhand and seen many insurmountable places. But there is no place equal to Kedarnath. To some extent, Kedarnath is similar to Mount Kailash; it can not be compared to any other place...when I reached at Kedarnath, my views about Himalayas radically changed. Himalaya is beyond any imagination of man. (Swami Akhandananda about his visit to Kedarnath in 1887 in Devatatma Himalaya pp.114-5)

These words of Swami Akhandananda, one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, better explain the mystic and metaphysical glories of Sri Kedarnath. The entire place is but a cosmic body of Shiva. Air, sky, water, earth and flowers—everything in Kedarnath seem in deep love of Shiva. To see Kedarnath is akin to be Kedarnath, provided there is no stain of impurity in the mental prism of the viewer or Bhakta.

Built at the altitude of 3581 mt., the magnificent temple of Kedarnath is located in the Rudra Himalaya part of the Gandhamadan Parvat. It is one among the 12 Jyotirlingams (cosmic lights of Shiva) of India, and is specially dear to the devotees of Shiavite sect of Hinduism. The present temple, which is an architectural marvel and perhaps the most grand Shiva temple in North India, is believed to have constructed by Shankaracharya in the 8th century A.D. Though Dr. Bhagwati Prasad Puruohit holds a different opinion about the makers of the temple—

Bhagwan Adi Kedar, the stone manifestation of present day Kedarnath, is a puranic temple and has been always known as Adi Kedarnath. ..Architect-urally, the temple constructed in pre-medieval Katyuri style and, is the most beautiful and magnificent temple of Uttarakhand...though the first temple of Kedarnath was built by devraj Indra, the present one is constructed by Janmejaya, a descendant of the Pandavas, with the help of local Khas, Nag, Yaksha, Rakshasas and Gandharvas. Architecture of the temple corroborates this fact...built by nicely cut stone slabs, the temple is 66 feet in height. On the interior walls of the temple pretty idols of Pandavas have been carved by the artists. (Devbhoomi ka Rashaya pp.74-5)

Mythologically Kedarnath is believed and venerated as the place where the Pandavas, after killing their entire clan in the Mahabharata battle and, filled with deep guilt and grief, sought for the blessings of Shiva, for the redemption of their sins. Shiva, unwilling to meet the Pandavas, finally relented in Kedarnath and blessed them with his darshan, though not in his usual form but in the manifestation buffalo-god. On the very spot where the Pandavas touched the lord, is manifested the stone-manifestation (Shivalingam) of Shiva today.

The mystery and magnificence of Shiva is almost unknowable to the mortal and instable mind of man. Interestingly, Shiva is the most benevolent and bliss granting god, Bholenath (the most innocent) and also the most ferocious of all-gods Rudra (Angry, Destroyer) the fearsome killer god whose wrath, once kindled, cannot be avoided. He is Shiva, the 'doer of good and auspiciousness' and Pashupati, the 'master of senses'. Aspirants and ascetics equally long for the proximity of Shiva because he alone have the power to win victory over Kama, the desire force of Prakriti. Shiva is also worshipped as Ashutosh or 'Easily-appeased one' and Pinakidhar which means 'the holder and player of Damru'. Devotees also sing his glory by calling him Shankara which stands for 'the bringer of good and wellfare. Among Hindu trinity, Shiva is worshipped as Mahesha, the destroyer deity of existence who by killing saves and, by destroying creates!

Deciphering the near indecipherable meaning of Shiva, Shivraj Singh Rawat writes,

The word 'Shiva' means Kalyan, good. That good (kalyan) which is sundaram, beautiful, is Shiva and Shankara. Shan karoti iti Shankarah. 'Shan' means good or kalyan and 'kar' means doer. Thus Shankara means the doer of good. Shiva, Shankara, Rudra, Adwait, Kalyan and Ananda are all names with one similar inherent meaning. For the good of creatures it is self-illumined Shiva who assumes the different roles of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesha and plays the game of creation and destruction. (Kedar Himalay aur Panchkedar pp. 1-2)

Shiva is also the name of an infinite inner journey of man for purification and perfection. This eventful journey begins at the outer nature—even 'a grain of sand' will suffice the purpose and infuse man with realisation of 'eternity in an hour' (William Blake)—and touches the summit of inner perfection where one becomes Shiva. Thus our journey of Shiva may begin from the light of intellect but it should always end at the height of intuition.

But the irony of fate in our testing time is that there are a few who long for the vision of inner Amarnath and dive in the holiest of holy water of man-sarovar, the lake of mind, before treading in the troubled terrains of outer Amarnath and remoter Kailash. Ours is an age of rage where body has become the ultimate beatitude of life. Comments Dr. Bhagwati Prasad Purohit,

Shiva is in reality a sadhana. And the very purpose of sadhana is to make the body a medium, just a medium for higher pursuits of life. Those who do not believe that the body is a medium for god-realisation are fools. Today this foolishness has increased manifold and, therefore, most people think that the body itself is the instrumental, sadhaya...On the contrary, our scriptures say this body is only a medium to know truth, compassion, love, self-denial, tolerance and other virtues of dharma—sarira madhyam khalu dharma sadhanam. ('Pre-face', Kedar Himalay aur Panchkedar p.XII)

POOJA PARAMPARA IN KEDARNATH TEMPLE

In Kedarnath special poojas and abhishekham are performed throghout the day. At 4:00 am in Brahmamuhurta, the hour of god, the holy portals are opened for early morning poojas and scriptural recitations by priests and vedapathis. It is a long observed tradition to appoint the head priest, dharmacharya or Mahant or Rawal, from the southern Lingayat Jangam Gosain community for this holy Shiva shrine. It was Adi Shankaracharya who started and ordered the tradition of Lingayat Rawal in Kedarnath. Shankara Yeti himself sought Kedarnath as the place for the cessation of his material journey and, left his body there in deep state of samadhi. His samadhi mandir is very close to the main temple (now the samadhi mandir is under soil and boulders after June 2013 flash-floods).

Apart from the prayers performed by the head priest in the shrine, pligrims also perform special poojas with the help of their family priest for the tirtha called Pandas or Tirtha purohits. The Pandas have long acted as sentinels of the traditions of tirtha and its religious propriety. Though in the changing conditions of life there are some accounts counting bitter experiences with the Pandas, their role and relevance remains unchallenged in these tirthas. Many authors have gratefully recorded their contribution and help in these places. Bureaucrat cum-politician-cum writer Kedar Singh Fonia writes of the Pandas' genesis as well as genteel manners—

It is generally believed that an entourage of Brahmins from South India, belonging to the shaiv sect accompanied the Adi Shankaracharya to Sri Kedarnath. The Adi Guru gave up his mortal remains at Kedarnath and the Brahmins of the entourage had no reasons for going back to the places of their origin as they had come on the mission of Hindu revivalism. They all settled down near Guptakashi and are today the Pandas of Sri Kedarnath. They are very helpful to their yajmans and and any other visitor who may come across them. (Traveller's Guide to Uttara-khand p. 135)

Kedarnath also happens to be the mystical place of "Mahapanth". Mahapanth (lit. ' the great path') was an ancient tradition in which people used to willing shed their bodies in some crags of Kedarnath, called Bhrigupattans, in anticipation of emancipation and swift entry to Rudralok. Swami Akhandananda also witnesses some such places in Kedarnath and writes about it—

Nobody can count the actual number of such willingly embraced deaths on the way to Kedarnath. There are many pious places on that path where sadhus ecstatically throw their meaningless bodily frames in the deep valleys and are liberated. These places are called Bhrugipattans. (Devatatma Himalaya p. 95)

Today it doesn't seem reasonable to comply with the Mahapanth tradition. It will suffice if the bhakta resolves before Mahadeva not to commit sinful acts and lead a truly virtuous life. There can be no better modern reinterpretation of the Mahapanth tradition than this one.

ADJOINING TEMPLES IN KEDARNATH AND KEDAR VALLEY

Apart from the majestic main shrine of Shiva, there are half a dozen other prominent temples and tirthas in the temple town of Kedarnath. Udak Kund is a pious pond where the holy charanamrit (the water, honey, ghee, keser etc. with which abhisekham is performed in the main temple) collects. Hansa kund is anopther important religious pond in Kedarnath. All rituals about forefathers, including Pind dan, are ferformed here. Some other places are Retus kund, Sankaracharya samadhi mandir and a small Bharav mandir and cave, situated on the eastern corner (on a top mound called Bhikunda) of Kedarnath. Bharav, the dear cohort of Shiva, is widely regarded as protector deity of the area, Kshetrapal.

Another important religious spot in Kedar valley is Gaurimai temple in Gaurikund, on the foot hill and basecamp of Kedarnath. Located at the left bank of Mandakini this beautiful town is full of the spiritual power of goddess Gauri (Parwati) and houses two beautiful pond—Tapt kund and Parwati kund.

Very close to Gaurikund is Triyuginarayan, an important and historical temple of Mahavishnu. The temple here houses the divine altar and dharamshila wherein was solemnised the marriage of Shiva and Parwati, witness and cherished by Narayana. The altar fire is burning since three ages and local people and mores are deeply steeped in the light of Sri Narayana. Sri. Vishwanath mandir is another important temple in the Kedar valley. In Guptkashi ('the hidden kashi') lord Shiva hid himself from the searching gaze of the Pandavas and, hense the name. The main temple is a fine architectural splendour and very close is another temple dedicated to goddess Annapurna. Two holy water streams flow in the courtyard of the temple.

Kedar valley is also home of one of the 52 Shaktipeethas in India. Almost 10 km. from Guptkashi is Kalimath, the famous temple of Mahakali, along with Mahalakshmi and Mahas-arswati temples. Very close to Kalimath is Kalishila, the stone manifestation of Mahakali where the goddess basically originated. Madhmaheshwar, the second Kedar, is another religious destination of the Kedar valley. The temple is a steep walk of 10 km. from Gaundar and nearly 25 km. north-east from Guptakashi. One becomes tabula rasa after coming here and treading on the mesmerising grasslands and stepps of Madhmaheshwar. Lord Shiva's middle part of body, navel area, is worshipped here. Another attraction in Kedar valley are the famous Usha and Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath. At Omkar-eshwar, all five Kedars are worshipped together. It is also the winter destination of lord Kedarnath and Rawal of Kedarnath, the chief of Vairagya Peetha, has his kothi here. Very close—30 km. by road—is famous Tungnath temple, the third among five Kedars. Tungnath is full of heavenly sights and scenery. It is one of the most beautiful and spiritually high places of kedar valley. One can spot carefreely roaming wild animals, chirping and soaring birds, playing stags and verdant meadows everywhere in Tungnath.

THE DANCE OF SHIVA: SOME LESSONS FROM JUNE 2013

There is a purpose in each stumble and fall;

Nature's most careless lolling is a pose

Preparing some forward step, some deep result.

Ingenious notes plugged into a motived score,

These milllion descords dot the harmonious theme

Of the evolution's huge orchestral dance. (Savitri p. 658)

The dance of Shiva on June 16-17 in the pristine and divine temple town of Kedarnath remains an indecipherable mystical chord till date. And it seems that the tragic incident (tragic in human way) willl for ever remain a mystery in the mental prism of those directly and indirectly affected by the event. Who has the temerity and the tenacity to gauge of the mind of God? Nevertheless we certainly get a ray of light through above lines of Sri Aurobindo, the seer-poet of Savitri, to understand the painful episode. In Nature's notebook, nothing is tragic or comic but only 'steps of the way of transformation and creation'. Nature creates, the satan in man corrupts and thus prepares the preface for destruction. Every incident is but "a pose preparing some forward step" of supreme creation.

Nature and God have many ways to teach unruly and incontinent man, the crest-jewel of creation! The grand, sonorous music of nature is eternally at play, teaching man lessons of love and light. But alas, man's ears are deaf to such high poetry of God and, sadly, he understands only the language of pain and privation. Sri Aurobindo makes it more clear:

Few are the splendid moments of the seers.

Heaven's call is rare, rarer the heart that heeds;

The doors of light are sealed to common mind

And earth's needs nail to earth the human mass

Only in an uplifting hour of stress

Man answer to the touch of greater things...(Savitri p. 689)

Needless to add that the painful episode in Kedarnath was one such occasion to create "an uplifting hour of stress" for dircting man's attraction towards "greater things". The testimony of time bears witness of the Truth that nobody loves man greater than Nature. But she is compelled to express her love sometimes as a malevolent force, to restore the balance of things in her body—earth. Alok Pandey aptly comments,

Nature does not react out of an impulse to punish man as some are inclined to think when events of such [ read Kedarnath] magnitude strike. The actions of Nature are not negatively driven to punish a wrong-doer but with a positive will to restore the balance. Yes, when she is moved to do so, her steps can be too strong and her mood too ruthless for man's weak heart to bear. (Mother India. Nov. 2013, p 949)

Yes, the deep need of universal pain is to be understood in positive light, else there will be nothing left for man but endless and intolerable meaninglessness. We need to understand the workings of God, his modicum and messages, his signals in the rain of pain and pain of rain. And of course, man needs 'insight' instead of his ordinary sight and intuition in place of intimation to map the height of Divine's light and purpose. Only then shall man understand that,

In the lila of the Eternal there are movements that are terrible as well as movements that are sweet and beautiful. The dance of Brindaban is not complete without the death-dance of Kurukshetra; for each is a part of that great harmonic movement of the world which progresses from discord to accord... from evil to the fulfilment of the evolution by the transformation of suffering and sin into beauty, bliss and good...( The Ideal of the Karmayogin p. 57)

It is not easy to fathom the cosmic depth of these words by Sri Aurobindo. For our vision of life is ignorantly one sided and myopic; we are habitual of viewing and reviewing things partially, without understanding the essense and inherent signs of Reality. In Uttarakhand also there are very few—in public intellectual circle as well as in the corridors of power—who have a holistic understanding of the underlying lessons of Kedarnath tragedy. Utterly disturbed by the collective chorus of relief and rehabilitation, the government seems in the state of indecisiveness. Add to this are foolish suggestions like "Permanent shifting of the shrine with prevent loss of lives". This 'ingenious idea' is presented by Mr. P.C. Navani, former director of the Geological Survey of India! (The Times of India Dehradun, Nov. 11 pp. 1-2). Who will tell our Mr. Learned that we can not 'shift' a tirtha, nay jyotirlingam, on the basis of our level of comfort? To my mind, it is by love, labour and leniency of mind and heart that we shall win back the confidence and support of pilgrims and turists. By appeasing gods and demigods of Himalayas, by becoming more human and humane, by observing the age old traditions of this hill state, we will certainly get over this dark period of light. The light in Kedarnath is only momentarily diminished but never extimguished. Shiva is still our hope, our patron and our lasting sheetanchor. Read, reflect and realise the wise counsel of Thoreau, the silent saint of Walden pond:

However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard times. It is not as bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest...Love your life, poor as it is...Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage...things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes but keep your thoughts. ..only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star. (Walden, p, 275, p. 280)

A Note on the pandas in the pilgrimage shrines

There was a time when the panda, the priests who perform prayers with on behalf of their yajmans during the yajmans' visit to the shrine, was a true guide, mentor, spiritual well-wisher and help to pilgrims. For a long period the Pandas successfully observed this sacred duty, without or little inherent monetary interests. Naturally, the pilgrims would express great respect to their Pandas for all material and spiritual help. The Yajman or pilgrims would also pay leniently to the Pandas for their troubles. But this is all past now. Today only a naive can think of such superior treatment from their Pandas. Growing materialism and cultural degeneration have deeply swayed this holy bond between pilgrims and the Pandas. Today, to say the least, this 'bond' has turned into the bond of maya and it is difficult to imagine the relation without involving the commer cial aspects.

In pilgrimage sites like Kedarnath and Badrinath the Pandas, many times, act like unruly actors determined to wipe away an opponent who meddles in their commercial interests. There are many painful but indelible impressions left behind on the face of time pertaining to the misconduct and misbehaviour of the Pandas. Their sheer disregard to the holy traditions and proprieties of the tirtha is no longer an unknown fact.

Ironically, religion is no longer leading people on the path of dharma or righteousness ; today the worst and the painful episodes of human indignity and breach of rectitude are happening in the field of religion, by so called religious people. It is the market that is ruling the mind of dharma and not the other way round. Consequently, India is paying hefty price for this rampant and blatant commercialization of religion. Virtually everything is 'on sale' in the big mart of Wal-Mart called life – with least regard for values and virtues. The pandas , instead of emerging ahead as pioneers of piety, probity and perspicacity to uphold the much regarded tradition of pilgrimage sites, act as mute puppets playing in the almighty hands of the mammoth of Maya.

In the wake of the sad and painful tragedy of June 2013 in Kedarnath, it is more than ever necessary for the Pandas to analyze their role and relevance in these tirthas. A deep and sincere introspection is the one thing needful from their sides. If they do not reflect and show signs of humility, then Time will come out with a better, but not necessarily beautiful, silence.

Dr B P Purohit

Dr Charan Singh

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