Ode to Faith – Panch Kedar Temple Circuit

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Panch Kedar refers to five Hindu temples or holy places of the Shaivite sect dedicated to god Shiva. They are located in the Garhwali Himalayan region in Uttarakhand. There are many legends which directly link their creation to Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.

The Panch Kedar lies in the valleys between the rivers Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. The term Kedar itself means a natural rock formation or a glacial moraine. The five temples designated in the strict pecking order to be followed for pilgrimage are Kedarnath, Tungnath, Rudranath, Madhyamaheshwar and Kalpeshwar.

The Garhwal region is also called the Kedar-Khanda after Kedar — the local name for Lord Shiva. The region abounds in emblems and aniconic forms of Shiva sect of Lord Shiva, much more than the Vaishnava sect. The western part of this region in particular, which constitutes half of Chamoli district being known as Kedar-Kshetra or Kedar mandala, encompasses in its ambit all the five temples constituting the Panch Kedar.

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It is popularly believed that the Pandavas, after their victory in the Mahabharata wished to pay homage to lord Shiva to atone for gotra hatya – killing their kin, the Kauravas. At Kedarnath, seeing the Pandavas coming, lord Shiva disguised himself as bull. However the Pandavas saw through this disguise.

Realizing that the disguise has not worked the bull tried to thrust itself into the ground. Bhima tried to hold the bull to prevent it from vanishing. In the struggle that ensued, Shiva got torn into separate parts that manifested themselves at various locations in Kedar-Khanda.

The forehead appeared at Pashupatinath in Kathmandu; the hump at Kedarnath; the torso including the navel at Madhyamaheshwar; the arms at Tungnath; the face manifested itself at Rudranath and the legendary matted locks of Shiva at Kalpeshwar.

The five sites that fall in India are referred to as Panch Kedar. It is held that the Pandavas and their descendants built the temples at Kedarnath, Madhyamaheshwar and Tungnath. Rudranath and Kalpeshwar however remained cave temples.


Sri Kedarnath Temple

Kedarnath located in the Himalayas at a height of 3584m above sea level near the head of Mandakini River is a very popular destination for all Hindu pilgrims. The Kedarnath temple lies amidst the majestic snow-capped Himalayan ranges and is thronged by thousands of tourists each year.

The temple was built by Pandavas and revived by Adi Sankaracharya. It is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas Lord Shiva. The structure is believed to have been constructed in the 8th century CE, when Adi Shankara visited. The present structure is on a site adjacent to the one where Pandavas are believed to have built the temple.

It has one Garbhagriha and a Mandapa and stands on a plateau surrounded by snow clad mountain and glaciers. In front of the temple, directly opposite to the inner shrine, is a Nandi statue carved out of rock.

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The extreme weather condition of Kedarnath means that the temple remains open from the end of April to the beginning of November. The temple can be accessed by a 19 kilometre trek from Gaurikund. However, there are helicopters available for those who may not be able to walk all the way to temple.

Vasuki Tal (Vasuki Lake) is situated at an altitude of 14, 200 feet, is approximately 5 kilometres from Kedarnath and the thrilling trail allows you to get acquainted with the wildlife along with sprawling natural hues. Camping at the shore of this glacial lake is a unique part on your holy trip to Kedarnath.


Sri Tungnath Temple

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The highest Hindu shrine in the Himalayas, 3 kilometres from Chopta, Tungnath can be accessed through a path that wends through alpine meadows and rhododendron thickets. An hour's climb from here leads to Chandrashila with its panoramic views. The entire journey and the shrine are located in some of the finest, most picturesque pocket of the Himalayas.

The sanctity of the region of Tungnath is considered unsurpassed. The peak of Tungnath is the source of three springs that from the river Akashkamini. At this temple at 3,680 metres, Shiva's arm is worshipped.

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Apart from being a popular pilgrimage destination, Tungnath is becoming a popular trekking and adventure destination. The 4 kilometres trek starts from Chopta and additional 1.5 kilometres trek leads to Chandrashilla which is at the height of 4000 metres. Of all the Panch Kedar trek routes, the route to Tungnath is the shortest and can be covered in approximately 3–4 hours.


Sri Rudranath Temple

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Rudranath is located at an altitude of 2286 metres in Rudraprayag District of Uttarakhand. There are numerous sacred water tanks near the temple. These include Surya-kund, Chandra-kund, Tara-kund and Mana-Kund. Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Ghunti are the famous mountain peaks, which provide the backdrop to the temple. The Vaitharini stream flows near the temple, which has a grey stone idol of Rudranath.

Devotees come to Rudranath to offer ritual obeisance it their ancestors, for it is here, at Vaitharini river that the soul of dead cross when entering another world. The temple of Rudranath at 2,286 metres, entails trekking through ridges at almost twice that height before reaching the meadow where it is located.

The deity is a Swyam Bhuva (Self Appeared), shaped like a human face formed by the projection of a huge rock. This face has a serene smile and a gaze of pure benevolence in the all-seeing eyes. Measuring about 3 feet from the chin to the top of the jatas, a white cloth remains bound tightly on the crown of Lord Shiva.


Sri Madhyamaheswar Temple

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The temple is located in the Mansoona village of Garhwal Himalayas, at an altitude of 3625 meters above sea level in Uttarakhand. Located at base of Chaukhamba peak, Shiva is worshipped at Madhyamaheshwar in the form of navel - shaped lingam. So sanctified is the water here that even a few drops are considered sufficient for absolution.

The older, so-called ‘Vriddh-Madhyamaheshwar’, temple is a tiny blackened shrine on the ridge, which looks straight up at the commanding Chaukhamba peaks. In the current temple, a navel-shaped Shiva lingam, made of black stone, is enshrined in the sanctum.

Two other small shrines are also installed in the temple, one of which is dedicated to Parvathi and the other one to Ardhanarishvara. The second Pandava brother, Bhima is believed to have built the temple. A small temple dedicated to Goddess Sarasvati is also installed here.

The natural scenery is dramatically wild, with deep gorges and Himalayas valleys, mountainsides flung upwards towards the skies, and forests where the snow lies thick in winter, only to be replaced by a carpet of greenery in the summer.

Kedarnath and Neelkanth peaks are also visible from here. The confluences of two streams at Gaundar just short of the temple, is one of the prettiest spots in the region.

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A 16 kilometre trek from the Ransi village gets one to the temple. Pilgrims also visit the “Budha Madhyamaheshwar” temple located 2 kilometres away as well as Kanchani Tal located 6 kilometres from the temple.

The pristine lake is perched at an elevation of 4,200 metres above sea level. This trek is an arduous one, so one needs to prepare himself before heading on it. Himalayan flowers and surreal landscape border this small lake. One can have a glorious view of the snow-clad Himalayan peaks from the lakeside. The greenery around Kanchani Tal makes it one of the best camper’s bays.


Sri Kalpeshwar Temple

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Kalpeshwar Temple is the fifth among the Panch Kedar Temples of Shiva located in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand. The temple is at an altitude of 2200 metres. This temple has been a favourite haunt of great sages of the past, like Arghya Muni who performed austerities and created the celebrated nymph, Urvashi, and the irascible Durvasha Muni who meditated under the wish fulfilling tree, Kalpavriksha.

The sanctum is preceded by a natural cave passage. Surrounded by thick forests and terraced fields in the Urgam valley, the temple is reached following a 10 kilometres long trek.

This is a dense forest area where the two rivers Alakananda and Kalpaganga are merged. Urgam valley is famous for its apple orchards and hillside potato fields which add lustre to the natural beauty of the temple.