Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Badrinath Temple

Day 4 : Badrinath - Alaknanda River and the Brahma Kapal Ghat - Tapt Kund and Panch Shilas - THE BADRINATH TEMPLE - Mana Village (Here and There) - Mana Village (Places to visit)  - Diwali celebrations in the Badrinath Temple

Badrinath Temple

I stood there outside…starring at the temple for several long minutes...

...It’s a dream to be at this holy place and God calls only the lucky ones to His abode

The sound of my elders echoed deep in my ears… I felt highly blessed… for I felt like I was among the chosen few… who had gotten a chance to enliven a dream… The dream of visiting and experiencing the spiritual and the mystic aura surrounding “the holiest” of all shrines… The Badrinarayan shrine in Badrinath once again after several long years…

The temple also kept its promise… of leaving me awestruck and captivated at first sight itself! Surrounded by pristine spotless beauty, nestled in the verdant protective folds of the Himalayan mountains - The Badrinath Temple was draped in a jamboree of bright colors and it looked every inch beautiful and magnificent as when I had seen it in as a small child of seven, as I had envisioned it since then and as it had looked  from a distance while standing on the narrow footbridge over the Alaknanda river a few moments earlier…

Badri Vishal Temple In the Garhwal Himalayas

Although Badrinath temple is a place that originally dates back to the 9th century but the present temple is a modern one which has been renovated and restructured many a times from its original construct. Adi Shankaracharya, the founder of the Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy, had initially discovered the Badrinarayan idol in the Alakananda River from the Narad Kund and installed it in the Garud Gupha near the hot water spring of Tapt Kund. Seven centuries later, it was moved to the spot where the current temple stands today by the Garhwal kings and a swarna kalash (golden pot) was placed at its shikhara by the Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore in the 18th century. The building was again damaged by a massive earthquake in 1803 and was then refurbished by the king of Jaipur.

Badrinath Temple, Char Dham Yatra

But inspite of all the modernizations, the land still reverberates with a heart of a divine era that it has witnessed, the love of the devotees is inescapably palpable in the ambiance, the original idol has remained untouched and this is what makes this tirtha so mesmerizing.

The latticed windows and the exquisitely ornate stone façade are impressive and superb and was one of the first features to strike me visually. The temple is a tad different in its appearance and resembles a Buddhist Vihara (temple) in its looks, the primary reasons for this being the design of the temple top which is a row of kiosks covered with curvy roofs and the brightly colored exteriors.

Latticed artwork on the door of the Badrinath temple of 
the Char Dham in the Himalayas

The temple stands 50 mtrs high, raised on a plinth overlooking the Alaknanda river sandwiched between the two mountains of Nar and Narayan named after the two sages by the same name. There was a hustle and bustle of pilgrims around owing to the festival day of Diwali but at the same time there was a sense of calmness in its salubrious air and gorgeous natural settings that even this din of pilgrim traffic could not rob away from us.

Badrinath temple, one of the divya desams in the Garhwal Himalyas

Walking up a few flights of steps we entered the Temple through an artistic arched gateway. At the Gate, directly opposite the main Idol of the Lord himself, is seated the idol of Bird Garud, the vehicle of Lord Badrinarayan, sitting in prayer with his hands folded. Above Him hangs a large bell gifted by the Garhwal rifles. The gate leads us to a large courtyard with the main hall in the middle known as the Sabha Mandap. The Sabha Mandap has intricately carved pillars and walls and a wide space for pilgrims to spend some time in peace and connect with their dear Lord Vishnu. In the centre of this is the Garbha griha or the sanctum sanctorum wherein rests the divine picture of Shri Badrinarayan or Lord Badrinath – the self manifest black shaligram shila image of Lord Vishnu seated in pensive Padmasana pose (lotus pose - the posture in which he had meditated in the holy town…described in the introductory post) with His palms resting on His lap.

Badrinarayan Vishnu Temple in the Garhwal Himalayas

There were a very few pilgrims in the temple and hence there was no jostling and pushing, everyone, including us, was taking the darshan (blessings) peacefully and to their heart’s content. Though photography is prohibited inside the temple, you can picture the scarcity of the crowds from the fact that the priest personally identified the numerous idols alongside the main idol for us. At the entry of the sanctum is the gaddi of Adi Shankaracharya, the seat where He meditated. The images of Kuber - the God of wealth, Ganesh, Lord Vishu’s vehicle Garud, His two wives – Sridevi and Bhoodevi as well as the sages Nar, Narayan, bhakta Narada are all seated around the main deity. The priest also informed us that this is one of a kind idol as this is the only idol of Lord Vishnu in this yogic pose.

After spending some time in the mandap, we moved towards the circumambulation of the temple which is also one of the distinctive features of the temple. The entire circular route has smaller shrines of Gods and Goddess, each dedicated to a devotee of the Lord and facing the Lord directly in such a way as if ensuring that Their Master doesn’t vanish away from their eyes even for one moment! Lord Vishu’s consort Goddess Laxmi has a shrine just next to the main temple. Besides this, there are other shrines of dakshinmukhi Hanuman, Narsimha, Nar-Narayan, Ghanta Karna (known as the lokpal or the guardian deity of the region) and an Ashta bhuja (eight armed) Ganesha surrounding the main temple.

After the circumambulation, we took the evening Arti (prayer) coupon to attend the prayers of the Diwali night…and I waited eagerly for the dusk to fall…

Tired and exhausted we returned to our hotel rooms for a brief rest before we ventured out again to explore the other places in and around Badrinath…

Puja Schedule, Temple Timings, Festivals and other Related information:

The prayer ceremonies commence in the morning from 6.30 am and go on till dusk. Among these, the Nirmalya darshan, the first puja ceremony is considered to be the most auspicious of all.

Temple Timings: 4 am - 12 noon, 3 pm - 9 pm

Visiting Season:
The Temple doors are closed down around October (dates are fixed on Basant Panchami (Feb)) at the advent of winters and are opened again for worship at around Mid April (dates are decided on Vijayadashmi (mid-Oct)). Thus the temple is shut down for 6 months every year during which prayers to the BadriVishal continue at the Narsimha temple in Joshimath. Before closing the temple doors, the priests light a lamp before the idol in the sanctum. It is said that during this period of 6 months, bhakta Narad who had attained salvation here, continues with the prayer services. This belief is further strengthened based on the fact that when the temple is again reopened after six months in spring, the lamp is still seen to be flickering!

Badrinath is one among the 108 divya desams (holy shrines for Vaishnavites) of Lord Vishnu. The temple is the holiest of the four dhams (sites) of Hindus, in Garhwal ranges, and draws pilgrims from all over India. It is the most visited of the char dhams, when doing the entire circuit, it comes last in the course but many do it standalone too.

Badrinath temple is also known as Vishal Badri. It is the largest and the most popular of the pilgrimages among the five badris or the Panch Badris namely Badri Vishal or the Badrinath Temple (described above), Yogadhyan Badri, Bhavishya Badri, Vridha Badri and Adi Badri.

Coupons for any special pujas are available in the temple premises itself. Photography is strictly prohibited inside the temple.

Festivals: The Mata Murti ka Mela is celebrated on Bavan Dwadashi (Sep-Oct), when the statue of Uddhavji is taken to the Mata Murti temple, 3 km away, and brought back on the same day. Krishna Janmashtami (Jul-Aug) and Badri-Kedar Utsav (Jun-Jul) are other notable occasions.

Previous posts from this trip -

Monday, June 20, 2011

Other Places in Badrinath (Part II) - Tapt Kund, Panch Shilas and other Temples

Day 4 : Badrinath - Alaknanda River and Brahma Kapal Ghat - TAPT KUND AND THE PANCH SHILAS - Badrinath Temple - Exploring the Mana Village (Here and There) - Mana Village (Places to visit)  - Diwali celebrations in the Badrinath Temple

Tapt Kund (tank) or Agni Teerth

It is said that pleased with Agni dev’s (Fire God’s) penance, Lord Vishnu had granted him a boon to permanently reside in the form of this kund here and burn away the sins of all His devotees.

Tapt Kund - the hot water natural spring in Badrinath
Tapt Kund

Tapt Kund was crowded, if I can say that, considering the crowds we had encountered before this in Gangnani. There were separate kunds for both men and women.

We warmed ourselves up in the warm waters which is also said to possess certain favorable medicinal properties. I can’t say about its healing properties but it sure was a big respite from the arresting wintriness and also seized away all the weariness of our travel.

Fumes emanating from theTapt Kund with snow peaks in the 
background, Badrinath
Don't you think it's a blessing as well as a miracle of sorts
to have these fumy hot natural sulphur springs sitting
pretty amid all the frostiness and chilliness around?
It not only provides the much needed warmth to the thousands of devotees but also balances the tone of the environs naturally! Amazing!

The sun which was shining bright further helped matters. We learnt that during this time of the year, the sun only makes a brief appearance (precisely 2 hrs in the morning 9 to 11) before disappearing again behind the mountains. The duration further decreases with the approaching winters till there comes a point when it becomes completely oblivious and everybody (except some sages and hermits who apparently stay put for penance) including the temple priests relocate to the lower reaches of the mountains like Devprayag and the holy town shuts down completely for 6 months of the year (Nov-May/June).

People performing prayer ceremony near the Tapt Kund in 
Person performing puja in Badrinath
People performing various prayer ceremonies near the kund area after the bath

Various daans as described in our ancient texts that can 
be done at Tapt kund
A pillar stating the various daans (donations) like clothes, food, gold, etc
that can be done at the place

There is another kund below the Tapt Kund called the Narad Kund where the present image of Badrinarayan is said to have been found by Adi Shankaracharya. Pilgrims usually don’t bathe here and make do by some sprinkle of drops only.

The Panch Shilas

Around the Kund area, there are 5 big stone rocks known as Panch Shilas’ considered sacred by the devotees.

A pillar specifying the names of the five sacred rocks in 
Badrinath - The Panch Shilas
"The central area of the Panch Shilas
is known as the pure and holy Badrikashram."
A pillar specifying the names of the five sacred rocks, the 'Panch shilas'

Out of these, we could not locate the Narsingh Shila (The dwelling place of Lord Narsingh), Varahi Shila (dedicated to Lord Varah) and Markandeye Shila (said to be mostly hidden in the Alaknanda waters, the Shila gets its name from the great sage, Rishi Markandeye) but did come across two of them while making our way upwards towards the Badrinath temple.

Narad Shila is situated besides the Tapt Kund, and it is said in this rock dwells the great devotee of Lord Vishnu, Bhakta Narad, at the feet of the Lord.

Idol of Naradji besides the Shila
Idol of Naradji besides the Narad Shila

Garud Shila – While climbing the steps from the Kund towards the temple, comes this Shila named after Garud, the charioteer of Lord Vishnu.

The Garud Shila in Badrinath
Garud Shila

Just besides the Garud Shila is the Adi Kedareshwar temple, a visit to which is said to be a must before visiting the Badrinath temple for people like us who have missed Kedarnath temple in their Char Dham trip.

Adi Kedareshwar Temple in Badrinath besides the Garud 
The Adi Kedareshwar Temple

Just opposite is the Temple of Adi Shankaracharya.

Idol of Adi Shankaracharya just a few steps down the main 
Badrinath temple
Idol of Adi Shankaracharya just a few steps down the main Badrinath temple

After a refreshing bath in the Tapt kund and a good darshan of the Panch Shilas, finally we made our way towards the Badrinath temple…

Previous posts from this trip -

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Other Places in Badrinath (Part I) - The Alaknanda River, Brahma Kapal Ghat

Day 4 : Badrinath - ALAKNANDA RIVER AND BRAHMA KAPAL GHAT - Tapt Kund and Panch Shilas - Badrinath Temple - Mana Village (Here and There) - Mana Village (Places to visit)  - Diwali celebrations in the Badrinath Temple

10000 FEET… I never did understand this dimension until I reached the Mountain of the Gods - BADRINATH! Standing at 3133 mtrs that’s 10270 ft above sea level, this was the highest point in our Char Dham trip after Gangotri (which stands at a slightly lower level)… My cell phone’s network signal had dwarfed to a blank hours ago, hours back and everything seemed a million miles away...it felt like being on top of the world, literally!

It was 10 am and the sun was already out but with winters having set up here, icy winds blowing across were hitting us like a big cold wave. We were on our way to the Tapt kund – the natural hot thermal spring at Badrinath – to take our bath for the day. The way to the kund, a 5 min walk from the GMVN guest House Hotel Devlok, is a very scenic one and passes through a narrow lane. On one side of the way stand shops brimming with colorful trinkets and temple ware, pictures of Gods and Goddesses, charming amulets all of which are tantalizing enough for the believer to sense the presence of the Gods.

Shops selling trikets and temple ware on the way to the 
Badrinath temple
Shops selling trinkets and temple ware on the way to the temple

On the other side, at a slightly lower level, flows the Alaknanda River across which stands the majestic Badrinath Temple. The Alaknanda Bridge, the connect between the holy town and the temple, only adds a different dimension to the overall beauty!

Alaknanda bridge connecting the Badrinath town and the 
Badrinath Temple
The Alaknanda Bridge on the far left,
The Badrinath Temple can be spotted somewhere towards the upper-centre,
And the Alaknanda River flows below

A pool of magnificent aqua blue cradled by a string of rugged, cold mountains surrounded by exquisite natural beauty… The view that I had while standing on the bridge was…… it felt like someone having torn a page out of my junior art book and pasted it at 10000 ft! And I was feeling so fortunate, so very blessed to be actually feeling and breathing it all!

Alaknanda river and the mountains- view from the bridge in

The smell of purity wafting through the cool crisp mountain airs... the Alaknanda waters crashing in against the rocks having its own exceptional force,

The Alaknanda waters at the Badrinath Tirtha
"Uddhava, Take my order and go to my ashram called Badrika, purify yourself by touching and also bathing in the holy waters there, which have emanated from My Lotus Feet, rid yourself of all sinful thoughts with the sight of this sacred Alaknanda river" - 
Lord Krishna

the rugged mountain peaks standing guard to the temple…

And the home of the Lord, The Badrinath Temple, cuddled up carefully in the grooves, placed at a slightly higher level but still very much within the common man’s reach…

...Every feature here was so delicately crafted, in such detail… this was an amazing view of nature’s own canvas and this heavenly sight for one long moment just took my breath away! However, my reflections of the spectacular marvels of the moment were quickly interrupted by the continuous chatter of pilgrims all around. The bridge was lined with beggars who, on the occasion of Diwali, were enjoying their day in the sun.

Charity to the poor and needy in Badrinath
Charity - Anna Daan in Badrinath
Charity being done on the big day of Diwali festival in Badrinath

Charity (daan) done especially on the auspicious Diwali occasion as well as otherwise at this holy place is said to give a lot of returns in the form of prosperity and goodwill. Hence, there were many pilgrims who could be seen donating money, eateries, woolies and other items to the poor.

From the bridge, one can see the Brahma Kapal Ghat, a flat platform on the river bank where pilgrims worship their ancestors by performing certain rites and rituals like pinddaan, shraddha, etc.

Brahma Kapal Ghat with the Brahma Kapal temple in red
Brahma Kapal Temple in red meaning Brahma’s forehead which had supposedly fallen here after an argument with Lord Shiva

From this elevated vantage point, I could also see the Tapt Kund and how the pilgrim crowd was swelling up there with every passing minute. Just reminded me to close my camera and speed up!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Badrinath – An Introduction (Where to Stay, Eat)

At a notable height of 3155 mtrs above the sea level, above the five prayags, stands the most revered of the Char Dhams in the Himalayas - Bhuvaikuntha (the earthly abode of lord Vishnu) – the holy town of Badrinath.

The tirtha (pilgrim place) stands by the banks of the holy river Alaknanda flanked by two hills named after the sages Nar and Narayan with the sacred Neelkanth peak standing guard in the background.

It is not only the dwelling place of the Lord Himself but also home to countless pilgrims, saints and sages, who meditate here in search of enlightenment.  It is said that, when the entire town shuts down in November during the winters, some true sages can still be seen in deep meditation! For others, believers like me, well... just setting foot on the soil of this holy land…a 'Pilgrimage to Badrinath' marks a significant landmark in life.

And why not? After all, Badrinath is one land richly infused with sacred accounts from numerous ancient Hindu scriptures. Be it the puranic story of the Pandav brothers, along with Draupadi, going past on their last pilgrimage by ascending the slopes of a peak near Badrinath called Swargarohini (literally, the 'Ascent to Heaven') or the visit by Lord Krishna and other great sages, these are just some of the many tales which we associate with this holy tirtha.

There are many names by which Badrinath is referenced – Badrikaashram, Keshavprayag, Badrivishal, Narad Kshetra, Tapobhumi to list a few – all of these signify but one aspect – The enormity of the spiritual magnitude of this land. Great rishis (sages) of yore like Kapila, Gautam, Kashyap have performed penance here, Bhakta Narada attained salvation and Lord Krishna loved this region, medieval religious scholars like Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Sri Madhavacharya, Sri Nityananda have come here for learning and quiet contemplation and so many still continue to do even today. Badrinath also appears in many Buddhist writings confirming that the place was a Buddhist pilgrimage too for some time at least.

The story as to how the place came to be called as Badrinath is also very interesting. The name of the tirtha originates from the local word badri which is a type of a wild berry. It is said that when Lord Vishnu sat in penance in these mountains, His consort Goddess Laxmi took the form of a berry tree and shaded Him from the harsh sun.

That love, that respect has been kept alive even today by the devotion of millions of pilgrims all round the world and can be easily sensed the moment you land foot in the divine dham.

Where to Stay in Badrinath

Our place of stay at Badrinath was the peaceful Hotel Devlok of GMVN group. Situated very near to the temple, around 5 minutes walk; this was one of the few hotels still open for pilgrims like us visiting the shrine just few days prior to the closure of the temple.

Hotel Devlok of GMVN at Badrinath
Hotel Devlok in Badrinath

Hotel Devlok, TRH of GMVN room pic at Badrinath
Deluxe Four Bedded Rom at Hotel Devlok

The view of the magnificient Neelkanth peak from the window
View from the Balcony
Spot the ice covered Neelkanth mountain far in the picture

The rooms and the bathrooms were good as they had been in all earlier GMVN’s and the food was good too. The only drawback was there was no luxury of a heater in the room which I was so wishing for since the absolute zero degree temperatures were completely freezing me out!

Where to Eat in Badrinath

Badrinath has a number of dhabas and restaurants around the town catering to the taste of all kinds of pilgrims. They all look good and seem to serve fresh and flavorsome food for the devotees visiting the holy town.

A Cofee and tea shack in Badrinath
I started my mornings with a hot cu of coffee here…
A shack just opposite Hotel Devlok

A roadside dhaba in Badrinath
The dhaba nearby our hotel where we had our lunch of
garma garam parathas (hot hot Indian bread)
and delicious alu ki sabzi (potato curry)

Our Diwali night Dinner was in GMVN Hotel Devlok itself where food is prepared on order just like in the case of Birahi GMVN.

How to Reach Badrinath and Other Related Information

Badrinath is easily accessible by road. It is located at a distance of 525 Km from Delhi & 296 Km from Rishikesh which is also the nearest railway station.

The town is the holiest of the four dhams (sites) of Hindus, in Garhwal ranges, and draws pilgrims from all over India. It is the most visited of the char dhams, when doing the entire circuit, it comes last in the course but many do it standalone too.

The visiting season is 6 months from May – Nov with May/June being the most crowded months when the pilgrim rush is at its peak and September/October being ideal for a more relaxed spiritual journey.

Previous posts from this trip -