Uttarakhand, also known as Devbhoomi or the Land of Gods, is home to numerous temples and welcomes devotees all year round. Among the countless religious sites and circuits that devotees visit in Uttarakhand, one of the most prominent is the Char Dham Yatra. This Yatra or pilgrimage is a tour of four holy sites; Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, nestled high up in the Himalayas. In Hindi, ‘char’ means four and ‘Dham’ refers to religious destinations.
The high-altitude shrines remain shut for around six months every year, opening in summers (April or May) and closing with the onset of winter (October or November). It is believed that one should complete the Char Dham Yatra in a clockwise direction. Hence, the pilgrimage starts from Yamunotri, proceeds towards Gangotri, onto Kedarnath, and finally ends at Badrinath. The journey can be completed by road or by air (helicopter services are available). Some devotees even do a Do Dham Yatra or a pilgrimage to two shrines Kedarnath and Badrinath.
The Yamunotri temple, lodged in a narrow gorge close to the source of River Yamuna (the second-most sacred Indian river after River Ganga) in Uttarkashi district, is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna. The district of Uttarkashi is also home to Gangotri dedicated to Goddess Ganga, the most sacred of all Indian rivers. Located in the Rudraprayag district lies Kedarnath, dedicated to Lord Shiva. Badrinath, home to the sacred Badrinarayan Temple, is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The Char Dham Yatra is as divine as it is arduous but fulfills the soul.
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The original Yamunotri Temple is said to have been built by Maharani Guleria of Jaipur in the 19th century. However, there are stories of it being constructed by Maharaja Pratap Shah of Tehri Garhwal. Due to destruction by weather and the elements, the temple has been renovated a couple of times. Yamunotri Dham’s mythological significance is narrated in a popular legend that is related to sage Asit Muni who lived here and used to bathe in the Ganges and the Yamuna River daily. In his old age, he was unable to go to Gangotri, thus a stream of the Ganges appeared opposite Yamunotri for him. Also, Goddess Yamuna is said to be the daughter of Surya Dev (the Sun God) and sister of Yama (the God of Death). It is believed that worshipping the Yamuna would also please Sun God and Yama.
Yamunotri Temple Opening and Closing Timings
Yamunotri Temple Remains Opens for Pilgrims from: 6:00 am to 8:00 am
Aarti Time at Yamunotri Mandir: 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm
According to the legend, King Sagara decided to perform an Ashwamedha Yagna (Horse sacrifice ritual performed by Kings) after slaying demons on Earth. The horse which had to be slayed was to be accompanied by his 60000 sons born to Queen Sumati and one son Asamanja born to his second queen Kesani, on an uninterrupted journey around the Earth.
Indra, the God of the Devas (Celestial beings) was afraid that he might lose his throne if this Yajna became a success and stole the horse and tied it to the ashram of Sage Kapil, who was then in deep meditation. The sons upon finding the horse in the Sage’s ashram were infuriated and stormed the ashram with rage. When the sage opened his eyes, he cursed all the 60,000 sons into perishing. Bhagiratha, the grandson of King Sagara is believed to have performed deep penance for centuries to please Goddess Ganga to wash away his ancestors’ sins and grant them Moksha or salvation.
The Shrine of Gangotri opens during the last week of April or the first week of May, on the auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya. The temples opening is preceded by a special Puja of Ganga both inside the temple as well as on the river bank. The temple closes on the day of Diwali followed by a formal closing ceremony amidst a row of oil lamps. It is believed that the Goddess retreats to Mukhwa, her winter abode (12 km downstream).
In summer, Gangotri Temple is open for devotees from 6:15 am to 2 pm and 3 pm to 9:30 pm
As winter approaches the Gangotri Temple open from 6:45 am to 2 pm and 3 pm to 7 pm
Mangala Arti is done by priests at 6 am behind the closed doors and it is not open for public. Sandhya Aarti is performed at Gangotri at 7:45 pm during summer and at 7 pm as winter approaches. Special pooja is done on Janmashtami, Vijayadashami and Diwali
Kedarnath is the seat of Lord Shiva. It is one of the twelve “Jyotirlingas” of Lord Shiva. Lying at an altitude of 3584 m at the head of river Mandakini, the shrine of Kedarnath Temple is amongst the holiest pilgrimage for the Hindus.
It is no wonder that Adi Guru Shankaracharya a great scholar & saint, chose to enshrine Lord Shiva in this land, where the unholy becomes oly and the holy becomes holier. Kedar meaning powerful is another name of Lord Shiva the protector and the destroyer.
Situated in the backdrop of the majestic Sri Kedarnath range, Kedarnath Temple is a 20 km trek from Sonprayag.
At Kedarnath there are several Kund (pools, tanks) that are known for their religious significans shivkund, Retkund, hanskund, Udakkund, Rudhirkund are the most important. A little away from Kedarnath is a temple dedicated to Bhaironathji who is ceremoniously worshipped at the opening & closing of Kedarnath. The belief is that Bhairavnathji protects this land from evil during the time when temple of Kedarnath is closed. There are more than 200 shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva in Chamoli district itself, the most important one is Sri Kedarnath.
During the winters, the shrine is submerged in snow & hence is closed. Fortunate are those who have good weather, but twice blessed are those who are at Kedarnath on a moonlit night- the snow peak gleams like hundred silver pinnacles atop the glittering mountains.
The holiest of Shiva’s shrines is linked to Gold among base metals so that every pilgrim’s finds peace here, and it is said that devotees who die here become one with Shiva himself. Beyond the temple is the highway to heaven, called Mahapanth.
Opening Date & Timings of the Kedarnath Temple
The opening of date of Kedarnath Temple is fixed and depends on the Shiva Ratri and decided by priests in Ukhimath. Normally Kedarnath temple opens on Mid May. The closing date of Kedarnath is fixed on Yama Dwitiya (second day after Diwali, November).
Kedarnath Temple is open for devotees from 6 am to 2 pm and 5 pm to 8 pm.
Shingar Darshan is from 5 pm onwards and Aarti is performed at 6:45 pm. Sharavani Annakoot Mela is celebrated on the day before Raksha Bandhan during August. Special Samadhi puja is help on the closing day of Kedarnath.
The Kedarnath Temple committee office organizes booking for special pooja which is performed before the general darshan in the morning.
Kedarnath in Winters
With the arrival of winters in the month of November, the holy statue of Lord Shiva, is shifted from Garhwal (Kedarkhand) to Ukhimath, and is reinstated at Kedarnath, in the first week of May. It is at this time, that the doors of the temple are thrown open to pilgrims, who gather from all parts of India, for a holy pilgrimage. The shrine closes on the first day of Kartik (October-November) and reopens in Vaishakh (April-May) every year. During its closure the shrine is submerged in snow and worship is performed at Ukhimath.
Badrinath is situated in the lap of Nar-Narayan Parvat, with the towering Neelkanth peak (6,597mts.) in the background. Also known as the Vishal Badri, the largest among the five Badri’s, it is revered by all as the apt tribute to Lord Vishnu.
It is believed that to revive the lost prestige of Hinduism and to unite the country in one bond, Adi Guru Sri Shankaracharya built four pilgrimage centres in four corners of India. Among them were Badrikashram (Badrinath temple) in the north, Rameshwaram in the south, Dwarkapuri in the west and Jagannath Puri in the east. Badrinath situated at an elevation of 3,133 mts. is considered to be amongst the most pious.
The revered spot was once carpeted with wild berries which gave it the name ‘Badri Van’ meaning ‘forest of berries.’ Built by Adi Shankaracharya, the philosopher-saint of the 8th century, the temple has been renovated several times due to damage by avalanches and restored in the 19th century by the royal houses of Scindia & Holkar. The main entrance gate is colorful & imposing popularly known as Singhdwar.
Opening Date & Timings of the Badrinath Temple
The Gates of the Badrinath temple opens every year for the pilgrims, devotees and tourists from around the world in the month of April-May it mainly gets open in the last week of April or first week of May (the opening date of Badrinath is decided on the auspicious occasion of Basant Panchami by the temple priests) and closes for winters in the third week of November (the closing dates are fixed on Vijayadashami). Thus, the temple is shut down for 6 months during the winters due to extreme climatic conditions every year during which prayers to the Badri Vishal continue at the Narsimha temple in Joshimath.
Best Time to Visit
The best visiting season for Badrinath is summer months from May to November with May to June being the most crowded months when the pilgrim rush is at its peak and September to October being ideal for a more relaxed spiritual journey. Due to heavy rainfall in the area, visitors may face difficulty reaching the temple during monsoon season (late June to Aug). March to June are very pleasant with moderate climate, with average around 18°C.
Summers are ideal for all sightseeing and pilgrimage. July to mid-September are accompanied with scanty rains and also temperature drops down to 15°C. The region is prone to occasional landslides and travelling can be difficult. November to April are chilly days with average minimum touching near 5°C. Minimums can touch subzero levels and snow falling is seen very often during winters.