Char Dham refers to a group of four Hindu pilgrim sites in India, located pretty much at the four cardinal points of the subcontinent. Hindus believe these sites are four abodes of God on earth. Over the years, these sites have become famous centres attracting a large number of visitors every year.
Every devout Hindu would like to undertake a holy trip to these revered centres at least once in his lifetime. Because, he believes that by performing such a yatra, he will get Moksha or salvation. This trip is known as Char Dham Yatra, which is taken simultaneously to all the four shrines:
- Badri Narayan Temple or Badrinath Temple of Badrinath in Uttarakhand
- Sri Ramanathaswamy Temple of Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu
- The Dwarkadhish Temple of Dwarka in Gujarat, and
- Shree Jagannath Temple of Puri in Odisha.
Char Dham and Sri Adi Shankaracharya
Sri Adi Shankaracharya, the eighth-century Hindu reformer and the founder of Advaita philosophy defined the original Char Dham.
Further, he also created four Shankaracharya Peetha or Peetham, meaning Seats attached to these shrines or the Char Dham school of Hinduism. These seats were alongside the four monastic institutions built at these centres to help monks stay and perform religious rites and practices.
The Peethas include:
- Govardhan Peetham at Puri, Odisha
- Dwarka Sharda Peetham at Dwarka, Gujarat
- Jyotirmath Peetham at Badrikashram, Uttarakhand; and
- Sringeri Sharada Peetham at Sringeri, Karnataka
Char Dham’s Order of prominence
The temples in the Char Dham group are placed in the order of prominence based on their date of origin and spiritual significance.
Accordingly, Badri Narayan temple (origin of events in the Satya Yaga) is considered as the first site. It is followed by Rameswaram (the Tretha-Yuga.) Dwarka (the Dwapara Yuga ) and Puri (the Kaliyuga)
Rameswaram Temple the only Shaivite Temple in Char Dham
Lord Vishnu is the main deity in three of the Char Dham. These are Badrinath, Dwarkadhish and Shree Jagannath Temples. Whereas, Shree Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram is a Shaivite temple- i.e., Lord Shiva is the principal deity.
Another interesting thing is about the strong friendship between two of the divine trinity, Lord Maheshwara (Shiva) and Lord Mahavishnu The Hindu Puranas refer them as eternal friends. And by tradition, wherever one resides, the other would stay nearby. There is no exception in the case Char Dham too.
For instance, Badrinath temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu has an associate nearby in Kedarnath (Lord Shiva) in Uttarakhand.
Similarly, Ranganathaswamy temple (Lord Vishnu) at Srirangam in Tamil Nadu is the associate temple of Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram.
Somnath Temple at Prabhas Pata in Gujrat and Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, both dedicated to Lord Shiva are the associate temples of Dwarkadhish and Shree Jagannath temples respectively.
- Badrinath Temple at Badrinath in Uttarakhand
Badrinath is considered as the holiest of all places for Hinduism.
The word “Badri” refers to a type of tree grew all through the Himalayan valley in ancient time. It is known as Indian dates or jujube currently extinct in the region.
Badrinath is the place where Nar-Narayan, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu is believed to have performed long penance. It was during the first yuga i.e., Sathya Yuga. Nar and Narayan were born to Dharma and his wife Murti as twin brothers.
They performed Tapasya at Badrinath to gain heavenly powers and killed a demon named Sahasra Kavacha. Thus, the presence of Lord Vishnu or his incarnation made Badrinath a sacred place.
Badrinath temple is one of the 108 Divya Desams. It is situated in the Chamoli district of the northern state of Uttarakhand. The temple is on the Garhwal hill along the right banks of the Vishnu Ganga River, a tributary of the river Alaknanda. Rising from the Himalayas, Alaknanda is one of the two main headstreams of the mighty Ganga river. The other tributary is the river Bhagirathi.
It was Adi Shankaracharya who installed the idol of Lord Badrinarayan in the temple. He found the idol Badri in Alaknanda River and put it up in a cave near the Tapt Kund. Later on, a Garhwal King constructed the temple at the present place between Nar and Narayan peaks.
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.
2. Shree Ranganathaswamy Temple Rameswaram
Ramanathaswamy temple in Rameswaram is the second important shrine in the Char Dham destination. It is also one of the 12 Jyotirlingams in India and therefore considered as a sacred and powerful place to worship Lord Shiva. Its origin is believed to be in the Tretha-Yuga.
The Ramanathaswamy Temple of Rameswaram is situated in the Ramanathapuram district of Tamil Nadu. It is about 560km south of the state capital Chennai. Rameswaram is an island of a sandy pit of about 50km long and 12km wide in the Gulf of Mannar. The Gulf separates Sri Lanka from India in the Indian Ocean.
Rameswaram got its fame due to the Ramanathaswamy temple and its mythological connection with the epic Ramayana. It was here Lord Shree Ram built Rama Sethu across the sea to Lanka to rescue Devi Sita from Ravana. After slaying the demon king, he returned to Rameswaram accompanied by his wife and brother Lakshmana.
This time he came here to offer prayers to Lord Shiva to absolve him of the sins of Brahmahatya (killing a Brahmin). Because, Ravana whom he killed in the war to rescue Sita Devi was born to a Brahmin father, sage Vishrava.
Lord Shree Ram installed a shiva lingam on the sand and performed repentance pooja to Lord Shiva. Later on, a temple was built at this place which was developed as the present-day Ramanathaswamy temple over centuries.
Began as a small shrine, the Ramanathaswamy temple is a massive temple complex today. Several rulers and rich royal families donated for its renovation at different points of time. There are 64 holy Theerthams inside and outside the temple in Rameswaram. Taking a dip/ bath in these Theerthams, (particularly the main 24 Theerthams) is an important ritual of the temple. The ritual is believed to wash away your sins and purify your soul.
3. The Dwarkadhish Temple Dwaraka
The Dwarkadhish temple is located in Dwaraka in Gujarath. The centre is third in the list of Char Dham, as the mythological events related to the place took place in the Dwapara Yuga. Dwaraka is also one of the ‘Sapta Puris’ or seven holy pilgrimage destinations of Hinduism. The city lies some 450km west of the state capital Gandhinagar.
According to Hindu Puranas, the ancient city of Dwaraka was built by Lord Krishna on a piece of land reclaimed from the sea. He made Dwaraka the capital of his kingdom and built his residential palace or Hari-gragha on the banks of the river Gomati.
The Dwarkadhish temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna. Hindus believe that the original temple was built by Lord Krishna’s great-grandson Vajranabh more than 2500 years ago. the legend says it was built over Lord Krishna’s palace. The temple is also known as Jagat Mandir or Nija Mandir.
The original temple was raided and battered by visiting invaders in the 15th century. Subsequently, it underwent major repairs and reconstruction in the Chalukya style of architecture in the 16 century.
The temple is a five-storied, 100ft tall structure, which is supported by 72 pillars. There are a sanctum, vestibule and a rectangular hall with porches on three sides. The temple has two gateways; one for the entry for the pilgrims called Swarga Dwar and another for the exit, called Moksha Dwar.
Soft limestone is used for the entire construction of the temple. A flight of 56 steps that will take you down towards the side of the river Gomti flowing nearby below the temple is another attraction of the temple.
Paying a visit and offering prayers to Lord Krishna at Dwarkadheesh temple is believed to give pilgrims Moksha or Salvation.
4. Shree Jagannath Temple Puri
Shree Jagannath Temple is located in the eastern coast of India, at Puri in Odisha. It is about 60km south-west of the state capital Bhubaneswar.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, who is worshipped here as Jagannath – the Lord of Kaliyugha. Apart from Jagannath, there are two more deities in the temple, viz., Balabhadra (brother of Lord Krishna) and Subhadra (his sister).
According to Hindu Puranas, King Indradyumna, the son of Bharata and Sunanda built the temple as part of his efforts to attain Moksha.
The origin of the present temple traces back to the period of the Eastern Ganga dynasty, who ruled Kalinga from 11 to 15 century. The construction of the temple, on the site of an earlier temple, had started during the time of King Ananthavarman Chodaganga Deva.
The subsequent kings undertook major reconstruction and expansion works from time to time. The temple was attacked and plundered by numerous times in the past and had to be renovated.
The temple is built on a raised platform within a vast temple complex in the heart of the city. The sanctum of the temple contains statues of three Gods sculptured from venerable neem logs. There are many minor temples and shrines and mandapas in the temple complex.
The shrine is visited by a large number of pilgrims every year, particularly during the Rath Yatra festival. Rath Yatra is the main event of the temple celebrated every year in the month of June or July. And, it is one of the most impressive and oldest festivals celebrated in the country.
During this festival, the idols of the three deities are brought out in a procession to the Gundicha Temple, 3 km away. Three big decorated chariots fitted with huge wooden wheels and structure are used to carry these idols. A large number of pilgrims take part in pulling the chariot all the way. Pilgrims consider this as a pious act and doing so will pave the way for attaining Moksha.
Char Dham Yatra
Char Dham yatra is a Hindu pilgrimage to the four divine centres, mentioned, comprising Puri, Rameswaram, Dwaraka and Badrinath. It is considered by Hindus that every Hindu must visit these sites during one’s lifetime
Traditionally, pilgrims who venture to take up Char Dham Yatra begin their journey from the eastern end, i.e., Jagannath Temple of Puri. Then, they proceed in a clockwise direction as if in circumambulation and end up with Badrinath Temple.
However, the term Char Dham Yatra is more commonly used today for the pilgrimage to another group of sites which are situated in the state of Uttarakhand
Chota Char Dham
These four ancient Hindu pilgrimage sites situated are Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. This set of sites are known as Chota Char Dham or four small abodes of divinity.
They are open to devotees only in summers, due to snowfall in winters making access to the sites impossible.