Badrinath Temple is located in the Chamoli district of the northern state of Uttarakhand in India. It is built on the Garhwal hill along the right banks of the Vishnu Ganga River, a tributary of the river Alaknanda. Alaknanda rising from the Himalayas is one of the two main head streams for the mighty Ganga. The other tributary is the river Bhagirathi.
Traditionally, the entire region of Garhwal is believed to be the abode of God. And, the town is named after the presiding deity of the main temple – Badrinarayan.
The word “Badri” refers to a type of tree grew all through the valley in ancient time. It is known as Indian dates or jujube currently extinct in the region.
Chamoli, the Land of Garhs or Fortesses
The Chamoli district of Uttarakhand lies at 30.42°N 79.33°E with an average elevation of 10,294ft above the sea level.
The district spread across an area of 7,626sq.km is the second largest district in the state.
Garhwal is the land of many ‘garhs’ or fortresses. In ancient time, there were about 52 fortress towns in Garhwal, ruled by independent small chieftains.
In 823 CE, King Kanak Pal, a descendant of the Panwar dynasty of Malwa, established the Garhwal Kingdom. He brought all these fortress towns under his rule. Further, subsequent kings consolidated the kingdom in due course.
Tyrannical rule of Gorkha Kingdom
Some of the powerful rulers of the dynasty included King Mahipat Shah and his widow Rani Karnavati. She successfully defended Garhwal from many attacks of invaders including the Mughals.
The Garhwal Kingdom lasted until it was conquered and subdued by the Gorkha Kingdom in1804CE. The Gorkhas unleashed a highly repressive and tyrannical rule for over a decade. Draconian taxation laws with provisions of auctioning of properties and defaulters were some of the features of their rule.
British annexing Garhwal Ending Gorkha Regime
In 1814, the British East India Company defeated the Gorkha regime . Sudarshan Shah who was the heir to the Kingdom of Garhwal and staying in exile in British India also joined the British in the war.
As a result, the British divided the Garhwal region into two and added the eastern Garhwal region to British India and gave the western region to Sudarshan Shah. He was also recognised as Raja of the new princely state of Garhwal. After independence, the princely state joined the Union of India in 1949.
The Garhwal rulers were devout followers of Lord Badrinath and great patrons of the temple. They were also known by the title of “Bolanda Badrinath”. The king governed the temple and endowed villages to meet its expenses.
Following the division of the Garhwal region, the Badrinath Temple became a part of eastern Garhwal state under British rule. However, the British let the king of Garhwal to continue to administer the affairs of the temple as chairman of the committee.
In the 17th century the Garhwal kings expended the temple in big way. Following the earthquake of 1803, it had to be rebuilt and the King of Jaipur had a major role in the reconstruction of the temple.
The Mythological connections of Badrinath temple
There are various versions about the origin of the Badrinath Temple. The deity as well as the temple found references in several ancient books like Bhagavata Purana, Vishnu Purana, Skanda Purana and Mahabharata. All recognizes Badrinath as a place abounding in spiritual treasures.
It is said in Mahabharata that a mere visit to this holy place ensure salvation for the pilgrim.
This unlike other places where the pilgrim is required to perform religious rites and rituals for the same.
Lord Vishnu to whom the Badrinath temple is dedicated is worshipped here as Badrinarayan also called Badrinath. Hindu scriptures hailed Badrinath as the most sacred of all places in this universe.
Because, the land is blessed with the footprints of Lord Vishnu in the Sathya or Sat-Yuga. In his incarnation as the sages Nar and Narayana, the Lord chose this place to perform a great penance.
While Lord Vishnu was in deep tapasya or meditation for the ages unmindful of the extreme cold conditions, his consort Lakshmi Devi in the form of a Badri tree protected him from the ferocity of weather.
Impressed with her deep devotion to protect him assuming the form of a Badri tree, Lord Vishnu named this place as Badrikashram. Lord Vishnu in the form of Badrinath is depicted in the temple sitting in the padmasana posture.
Panch Badri, Sapta Badri
However, according to Vishnu purana, the tapasya was performed by the incarnation of Lord Vishnu viz Nar and Narayan who were borne to Dharam as his twin sons . They chose the place near the hot and cold springs besides the Alaknanda River for the tapasya.
They named the place as Badri Vishal and also made an ashram to spread religion. This was after visiting four other spots for the purpose, together known as Pancha Badri. These are Bridha Badri, Yog Badri, Dhyan Badri, Bhavish Badri and Vishal Badri, all having temples devoted to Lord Vishnu.
This apart, there is a circuit of seven Vishnu temples known as Sapta Badri that includes the Panch Badri temples plus Adi Badri, Ardha Badri (rarely, Narasingh Badri alternatively).
Except Badrinath Temple, the rest of the temples are located in villagesa few can be accessed only by trekking.
Today, there are two mountains in the Himalayas bearing names- Nar and Narayan.
According to some accounts, the temple was a Buddhist shrine till the 8th century CE. And, Adi Shankaracharya the spiritual reformer, philosopher and saint converted it to a Hindu temple. The architecture of the temple resembling that of a Buddhist vihara also gives credence to this version.
Still, many people believe that it was originally established as a pilgrimage site by Shankaracharya.
He also made monasteries at Badrinath for monks to stay and do religious practices. He is believed to have stayed in Badrinath and Kedarnath alternatively for six months from 814CE to 820CE .
Holy Abode of God
Sri Shankaracharya defined Badrinath Temple as one of the Char Dhams in India or four holy abodes of God. It is the first among the Char Dhams, going by the time of its origin or related events (Satya Yuga).
This is followed by the Ramanathaswamy temple of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu (Tretha Yuga), the Dwarkadhish Temple of Dwarka in Gujarat (Dwapara Yuga), and Shree Jagannath Temple of Puri in Odisha (Kali Yuga).
This apart, Badrinath is also considered as one among the Chota Char Dhams pilgrimage centers in the country. Others are the Gangotri, Yamunotri and Kedarnath, all at the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand.
Badrinath temple is also one of the 108 Divya Desams, usually termed for the holiest of all divine abodes of Lord Vishnu.
Of these,105 Divya Desams are spread across the Indian states of Uttarakhand, UP, Gujrat, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
While one Divya Desam is at Muktinath in Nepal, the remaining are the Kshir Sagar and Vaikuntha, both celestial abodes of Lord Vishnu, outside the realm of earth.
The idol of the temple made of about 3.3ft black stone of Lord Vishnu is believed to be self- manifested. It is also believed that Shankaracharya discovered the deity from the Alaknanda River and enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. Later the temple was constructed.
Nambudiri Priest from Kerala
The chief of the temple priests, Rawal is appointed from the Nambudiri Brahmin community of Kerala. This is an age-old tradition, believed to have been initiated by Shankaracharya. The temple follows the ancient Tantra-Vidhi of Shrauta tradition rarely followed in the north Indian temples.
The Rawal is treated in high esteem by the Garhwal Rifles and the state governments of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. He leads a brahmchari life while serving in the temple.
The temple is open only for six months in a year; between April and November due to snowfall and extreme cold conditions in winter. Normally, the temple is closed for winter on the auspicious day of Bhatridwitiya around October- November and reopens around April-May on Akshaya tritiya.
When the temple is closed an Akhanda Jyothi, a lighted lamp, will be kept in the temple to remain lighted until the shrine is reopened.
The image of Badrinath is symbolically shifted to the Narasimha temple, an associate mandir at Jyotirmath, 64 km away from Badrinath.
Mata Murti Ka Mela is the main festival in the temple, commemorating the descent of the heavenly river Ganges on mother earth. Another important festival is the Badri Kedar festival in June, celebrated in both the temples.
Extreme Climatic Conditions
The proximity to Himalayas and high altitude cause heavy snowfall and extreme cold weather conditions in the region throughout the winter season from mid- November to March.
During the monsoon season from June to September, the journey to the site is often disrupted by heavy rains and landslides. Extreme conditions of cloudbursts are common during the season.
The region experiences a temperature between 00c and 340 c during the year. January is the coldest month , while temperature is the highest towards the end of the summer months of May and June.
How to reach Badrinath
The main shrine of Badrinath is well connected by road and air. The Jolly Grant Airport of Dehradun is the nearest airport to Badrinath. The airport has services to cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Amritsar.
By road it will take about five hours. to each the temple from Dehradun. The temple can be reached from Rishikesh (298 km) via Dev Prayag, Rudra Prayag, Karna Prayag, Nanda Prayag, Joshimutt, Vishnuprayag and Devadarshini.
From Kedarnath, visitors can follow the 243 km long Rudra Prayag route or the 230 km Ukthimath and Gopeswar route.