Legs and Wheels – Land of Mythic Stories “Badrinath “

Team Udayavani, Dec 3, 2018, 12:32 PM IST

It is now the beginning of the month of December.  At this point of time, the doors of main temples covered in ‘Char Dham’ which are situated at high altitude are closed due to heavy snowing in these areas.  Sanjay Tiwariji has sent me a video of ‘Kedarji’s Doli’ being lifted from Kedarnath, and that has already reached Gupta Kashi and is being worshipped at Ukhi or Usha Math.

Picking up the tread of the travel detail of our proposed ‘Char Dham’ tour we were running behind our schedule and reached Badrinath late in the evening. We were left with no choice but to cancel our pre-booked accommodation and had to search for a new place. Travelers should note that getting a room is not a problem but getting one that fulfils your requirements at the last moment might be difficult. Having traveled a few days in the area, we had come to realize the importance of a good nights’ sleep and self-motivation to make it through the testing journey. Traveling on terrain roads is not easy and the body demands rest but at the same time, we need to motivate ourselves to feel fresh and be ready for new experiences.  We stuck to these golden principles and quickly got ready to visit the temple.

History of Temple Badrinath  

Badrinath, situated in the Chamoli District of Uttarakhand, nestles in Gharwal region of the Himalayas. It was established as a major pilgrimage by Adi Shankara who resided in this place between 814 to 820 AD. There are many mythic stories that revolve around Badrinath, and one of the stories details that when Lord Vishnu sat in penance here, his wife, Goddess Lakshmi stood beside him in the form of a berry tree and shaded him from the harsh sun rays. As a proof to these mythological beliefs, the place has an abundant growth of wild berry trees. ‘Badri’ also means berry and ‘nath’ means the Lord; Badrinath is thus, land of the lord where edible berry is grown.  

Adi Shankaracharya found the black idol, which is believed to be made of ‘saligram shila’, in the river Alakananda and installed the idol on the banks of the river, near ‘Tapta Kund’.  A new temple was later constructed, and the idol was then shifted to its present place by the King of Garhwal region, who ruled the region around the 16th century.   Like Kedarnathji’s temple, Badrinath temple has been a victim of many natural disasters, including earthquakes and avalanches.  

There is yet another interesting mythological story attached to the temple. Badrinath was initially Lord Shiva’s abode. Lord Vishnu who was in search of a powerful place to meditate, came down to earth and found Badrinath as the right place for his penance. He transformed himself to an adorable child and managed to take shelter in the laps of ‘Ma Parvati’.  When Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati, went out to bathe in the river Alakananda, Lord Vishnu closes the door from inside.  When the couple returns home, they are surprised to find their house locked from inside. Lord Vishnu then makes a request to Lord Shiva to choose an alternative place as he must meditate to acquire strength to demolish demons in his next ‘avatar’ as Lord Krishna. Obliging to Lord Vishnu’s request, Lord Shiva shifts his abode to Kailash.   People believe that even though this place is recognized as the abode of Narayana in the form of ‘Nara’ i.e., human, Lord Shiva and Ma Parvati come here every day to take a tour of the place and play in the river Alakananda and ‘Badrinath’ continues to appear as a child to them.    

Referring to Vishnu Purana, we find another version of the story. Nar and Narayan are two sons of  ‘Dharma’ – principle.  The two brothers who were in search of an ideal place to set up a hermitage, cross other four Badris ( Bridha Badri, Yog Badri, Dhyan Badri, and Bhavish Badri) before reaching a place on the banks of river Alaknanda. They found hot and cold springs in this area and named it as Badri Vishal and stayed here.

Among the other stories that resonate about Badrinath is its link to the Pandavas, who were believed to have reached here during their last leg of the journey, along with their wife Draupadi. Before their ascent to heaven, they visited Badrinath to seek darshan of the Lord and other great sages, namely, Kapila, Kashyapa and Gautam.

About the temple complex

The temple situated at around 3,133 ft from the ground level has Peak Neelakantha behind it. The temple which is 50 feet tall has a gold gilt roof. Situated at about a comfortable walking distance of 1.5 km distance from the main road. One can see a series of lodges have been constructed along this stretch.  As we crossed the bridge, that takes the pilgrims to the temple area we could take a glimpse of spirited Alaknanda. The existence of ‘tapta kund’, hot water spring, excited my husband but our guide Uday advised us that, “The water in the spring will be very hot at this part of the day, please take a dip in the morning”. Kanta, my husband, refused to pay any heed to his advice. As our first move to reach ‘hot spring, we climbed down a couple of steep stairs.  On reaching the ‘Kund’, seeing many of his own kind, Kanta’s spirits only enhanced. We could hear people around chanting slogans, such as, “Bharath Matha Ki Jai” and “Prabhu Ram Chandra Ki Jai”, before taking every single dip. As I waited for my husband, sitting on a rock along the banks of energetic Alakananda, I felt Mandakini at Kedarnath was relatively quiet.  Does the river increase her energy level to match the number of people? I do not know. Since my ‘google’ was busy taking dips, I silenced my queries. I found many Sikhs also taking the holy dip. Badrinath, like many other religious canters particularly in the Himalayan region, attracts not only Hindus but also Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. That there is also mention about Sri Madvacharya and Sri Ramanujacharya visiting this place and having spent time, it can be obviously seen that among the four ‘Dhams’ Badrinath is definitely overcrowded and that it has motorable road and is least difficult to reach could be yet another reason.

After the dip in hot spring, we entered the beautiful temple complex. With constant swelling in the number of devotees, crowd management is definitely a challenge here. The stone structured temple is colorful in its appearance.  Arched windows enhance the beauty of the temple.  There is a large hall and that leads to the inside of the sanctum. Lord Badrinath, stands here in ‘yoga mudra’.  Statutes of ‘Kubera’, ‘Narada’ and ‘Udbhava’ attract the pilgrims.

There are innumerable shops selling ‘pooja’ and many other items that may interest travelers.  You will also find locally made handicraft items that include shawls, purses, and bags in some of these shops. The food stalls offer more than roti, dal, chawal, and noodles. We get different ‘parantas’, sweets like ‘jilebi’ and others. There are boards which claim to offer, authentic South Indian food.

After completing the ‘darshan’, we stopped for food on our way back to the lodge. We promised ourselves that we would revisit the temple early the next morning.

Bhagavati Nanda Devi and Urvashi Mandir    

There are many other interesting temples in and around Badrinath Temple. From the entrance of the main temple complex, if we take a left turn and walk about 2 km through the marketplace of Badrinath, it leads us to Bhagavati Nanda Devi temple. Locals who identify themselves as Phularis on an auspicious day take the mother in a procession till Nelakantha which is considered as her husband’s place. Offering and decorating the god with ‘Brahmakamal’ is considered auspicious.  After taking the ‘darshan’ of ‘ma’ and walk further to pass through some ‘kachha’ road, we reach Urvashi Mandir. It is believed that when Indra, the king of ‘devaloka’- the land of gods and king of gods, makes an effort to distract Nar-Narayan from his deep meditation using his best beauties. Lord summons ‘Indra’ and assures him not to feel troubled about his position. He presents Urvashi to Lord Indra as a parting gift. To commemorate the creation of the most beautiful woman, in the form of  Urvashi, a temple has been built. Interestingly we find a mention about  Udupi’s Pejawar’s mutt’s contribution to the construction of this temple.

A School…Vidya Mandir

Enroute to Urvashi temple, I had found a small school complex.  On my way back I could not hold back my temptation to visit the school. I  was delighted to see small children happily spending time with their teacher. During winter, when parents of these children shift to Chamoli, the school also shifts its venue to  Chamoli.  Feeling guilty of meeting these kids empty handed I offered to send them chocolates once I reach back to my hometown.  “Madamji chocolate khane se daant kharab hota hai….hume dood pasand hai”, (Madam by eating chocolate our teeth gets spoilt, we like milk) said the children in the chorus. This innocent gesture brought tears to my eyes and I acknowledged their request.  I promised to send them goodies, which I am happy I did later. 

Honestly, being in the education field and serving in well-established institutions, I realized the luxuries of life. We cannot compare ourselves to the conditions in which the teachers of these schools function. The way the students and teachers together combat so many uncertainties is commendable.  I feel it is important for us to salute the determination of the teachers and the organization for establishing ‘Saraswati Mandirs’ – schools in such remote areas.

By the time we finished all these extra adventures, it was almost 11 am, and it was time for us to move ahead. We were eagerly waiting to see the last village of the Indian border – Manna, which again has many interesting places, in its fold.

‘O’ Traveller please remember

But ‘O’ traveler please remember, your travel plans on these ‘Dhams not only seeks elaborate arrangements with reference to your work and other schedules but demands your physical fitness.  For a trekker, who dares to fight the freezing cold and is ready to explore the ice-capped Himalayas, temple closure/open dates do not matter. With a well-researched travel plan by your side, you can ensure that you do not miss any of the interesting places.   Follow the rules of traveling and travel as much as you can, when you are fit.

Dr. Nandini Lakshmikantha

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