As the name suggests Char Dham refers to the 4 holy abodes and the most important pilgrimage journey in India. Devout Hindus believe that taking this yatra at least once in their lifetime will grant them moksha or salvation from the karmic cycle of birth and rebirth. The Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand takes the pilgrims across 4 holy shrines of Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand. These ancient temples include Badrinath (dedicated to Lord Vishnu); Kedarnath (dedicated to Lord Shiva); Gangotri (dedicated to goddess Ganga) and Yamunotri (dedicated to goddess Yamuna). The entire route is known for its elevation and arduous nature of the journey that makes this spiritual journey potentially life-changing.
History of Char Dham
The Char Dham site was reestablished by the great saint, sage and philosopher who is also known for being a pioneer in propagating the Advaita philosophy during the 8th century, Adi Shankaracharya. Along with a range of matths and other char dham sites of India, he did so since he realized that the Hindu religion was becoming obsolete and losing its significance. He did so to re-evoke a feeling of devotion and respect for one’s religion, culture and traditions. Initially this journey was taken up by rishis, sadhus and religious professionals who would take this lengthy, arduous and sometimes even life-threatening pilgrimage and currently with the presence of a number of travel options to Char Dham Yatra every devout Hindu makes it a point to visit this place at least once in their lifetime.
Char Dham Sites
- Badrinath – Dedicated to the Badri form of Lord Vishnu, this colorful and vibrant looking temple is set against a magnificent backdrop of Nar and Narayan peaks. According to historical accounts the place is named so since it was initially covered with thick forests of Badri tree. There are several mythological and historical stories related to the establishment of this temples but the most popular one is that Lord Vishnu had performed deep penance here while Goddess Saraswati stood to take care of him.
- Kedarnath – As the name suggests this temple is dedicated to Kedar form of Lord Shiva and not only is it known for its impeccable beauty but is also known for being the highest placed Jyotirlingas in India. The actual construction of this temple still remains a mystery and it is also known for being the place where Adi Shankaracharya is said to have taken his last breath.
- Yamunotri – The holy temple of Yamunotri gets its name from the holy river of Yamuna which flows by this temple. This temple serves as the commencement point for the char dham yatra and is the first portal to open up for the char dham yatra circuit. This place is set against a magnificent and mesmerizing backdrop of the cascading silver waterfalls and the lush greenery of the rolling hills.
- Gangotri – As the name suggests this gleaming white, stunning temple is dedicated to Goddess Ganga and marks the point of emergence of the holy river of Ganga. This is believed to be the exact spot where after getting pleased from king Bhagirath’s constant penance the heavenly river of Ganga descended to the earthly realm. The building of this holy shrine is believed to have been constructed by the ‘lion of Nepal’ Amar Singh Thapa.
Just like every other pilgrimages in the world Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand is known for its unmatched spirituality and importance in the Hindu religion. Normally the yatra lasts for 11 to 12 days and is filled with an incredible sense of spirituality. All the four abodes of the lords attract a large number of devotees from not just India but also from abroad. As a part of the pilgrimage journey people not only offer their prayer and perform rituals to the idols inside the temple but also take a holy dip in the thermal hot water springs. The entire journey is encapsulated in incredible mystical fascination and since all these sites are extremely ancient it also radiates unparalleled amounts of feelings of devotion and spiritualism. All these sites have found its mention in various holy Hindu texts of the Puranas, Vedas as well as the epic Hindu works of Ramayan and Mahabharat. All these reasons make the importance of the Char Dham Yatra immensely relevant and a highly significant part of Hindu religion.
All the Char Dham sites are located within the lush greenery amongst the towering peaks and hilly terrain. Just looking at the quiet and peaceful natural surroundings will definitely refresh your mood. Being situated at an incredible height the air on the hills is also extremely clean and free of all the pollutants and hazardous gases which prove to be harmful for the individual’s health.
Meditating at these dham sites have proven to show some substantial changes in the health conditions of the people visiting and long term meditation activity here can also improve your longevity which is the reason why rishis and sadhus used to go to the hills and meditate for years. The continuous and rhythmic chanting of hymns and mantras and ringing of the bells has also proven to lower the stress levels according to scientific proofs.
Being situated on a high elevation the entire journey to the Char Dham sites requires the pilgrims to cover a lengthy and arduous trekking journey which makes it perfect for indulging in various trekking activities and excursions around the Char Dham sites. The medical significance primarily helps in lowering the blood pressure levels as well as lowering the risk of heart disease.
The holy water from the river of Ganga is believed to relieve people from skin diseases and decrease the problems that may occur in the future. The river is also known for its self-cleaning properties. But why does this happen? The history of Gaumukh glacier can be traced back to millenniums ago when the glacier was created and all the good bacteria got fossilized within the water of the glacier. Several researches and scientific proofs have shown that the water from the holy river of Ganga contains good bacteria and viruses which have self-purifying qualities and antibiotics. According to research a sample from the holy river of Ganga killed all the bacteria and viruses causing Cholera. Slowly over time with the melting of the glacier all the good bacteria and viruses got melted away inside its waters and ever since then it has been curing people and have become popular for its numerous benefits. This is one of the scientific reasons as to why pilgrims and devotees are expected to take a holy dip in its waters and keep themselves healthy for a longer time. People also make it a point to take away some amount of this holy water home with them which can be stored for long periods of time without going bad.
Best Time to Visit Char Dham
Being a long term holy pilgrimage this journey should be booked and planned keeping in mind the months. The opening time of the temple gates that marks the commencement of the summer months is considered to be the most ideal time to visit. The months of May to June are the best time to visit when the temperatures are pleasant and comfortable making it extremely easy for the pilgrims to travel and cover their journey. The months after the rainy season are also considered to be the ideal time to visit the Char Dham sites which are from September to November.
Travelling on hilly tracts are not considered the ideal time to visit the char dham locations since most of the services are shut down for business and the entire regions remain prone to heavy rainfall and unexpected landslides that will put your life at risk.
Interesting Facts about Char Dham Yatra
- When the Char Dham shrines were established by Adi Shankaracharya, 2000 years back he had made the recipe for the oil which is till date utilized for burning of the Diya when the Dham sites are shut down for the season. Out of tradition, this oil is made out of essential herbs and ghee made out of cow’s milk and following the strict instructions it is prepared by girls less than 10 years of age at Mana village.
- The flower that is offered at Badrinath Dham is known as Ban Tulsi and is known for its ability to remain fresh for a long period of time. It doesn’t easily lose its beauty and hence it is used as the top choice for offering flower at this temple. Known for its cleansing affects it is also utilized as fuel and even detergents.
- The presiding deity stone structures at the char dham sites i.e. Shaligram stone, has scientifically been proven to be the fossilized remains of the fishes of the ancient ocean which are called ammonites which are said to have become extinct 65 million years back.