Kedarnath Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Located on the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river, Kedarnath is located in the state of Uttarakhand, India. Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open to the general public only between the months of April (Akshaya Tritriya) and November (Kartik Purnima, the autumn full moon). During the winters, the deities from Kedarnath temple is carried down to Ukhimath and where the deity is worshiped for the next six months. Kedarnath is seen as a homogenous form of Lord Shiva, the ‘Lord of Kedar Khand’. The name “Kedarnath” means “the lord of the field”: it derives from the Sanskrit words kedara (“field”) and natha (“lord”).
History and legends of origin
According to Hindu legends, the temple was initially built by Pandavas, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva.After the Kurukshetra War, the Pandava brothers, came here to meet Shiva on the advice of the sage Vyasa, because they wanted to seek forgiveness for killing their kin during the war. However, Shiva did not want to forgive them: so, he turned into a bull and hid among the cattle on the hill. When the Pandavas managed to track him, he tried to disappear by sinking himself head-first into the ground. One of the brothers grabbed his tail, forcing him to appear before them and forgive them. The Pandava brothers then built the first temple at Kedarnath. The portions of Shiva’s body later appeared at four other locations; and collectively, these five places came to be known as the five Kedaras (“Panch Kedar“); The temple is one of the four major sites in India’s Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas.
The head priest (Raval) of the Kedarnath temple belongs to the Veerashaiva community from Karnataka. However, unlike in Badrinath temple, the Raval of Kedarnath temple does not perform the pujas. The pujas are carried out by Raval’s assistants on his instructions. The Raval moves with the deity to Ukhimath during the winter season. There are five main priests for the temple, and they become head priests for one year by rotation.To gain Mashisharupa, Shankara and Bheema fought with maces. Bheema was struck with remorse. He started to massage Lord Shankara’s body with ghee. In memory of this event, even today, this triangular Shiva JyotirLinga is massaged with ghee. Water and Bel leaves are used for worship.
Kedarnath temple has to be reached by a 19 kilometres uphill trek from Gaurikund. Pony and duli service is also available from Gaurikund.For more comfort people can opt for helicopter service from Phata. The helipad in Kedarnath is situated 500mtrs from the temple and devotees are generally given 1hr30min for darshaan before boarding the return helicopter or they can choose to stay overnight at Kedarnath.The trek route to Kedarnath is a steep and mostly uphill trek but is well maintained throughout with proper resting places in between.
The main stoppages on the route for refreshment and free wifi is at Jungle Chatti (4km), Bheembali (6km), Linchauli (10km). Around the 7km mark previously there used to be a place called Rambara, which got totally wiped out during the 2013 flash flood. After the flood the roads have been reconstructed and the new trek route has constructed. This new route takes you across river Mandakini at what used to be Rambara and after that a very steep climb starts.
Pony service starts after 1km from Gaurikund and is upto the Kedarnath Base camp which is approx 1.5km from the Kedarnath temple.Pony service is also available at Jungle Chatti, Bheembali and one can also take ponies returning from a uphill climb at a cheaper rate.Stays are available in Kedarnath but its better to book them online in advance.
Situated at an altitude of 4000m ASL, is the Chorabari Tal, originally known as Kanti Sarovar, which started the June 2013 flash flood in Kedarnath. The lake can be reached by a moderate 4km trek from Kedarnath. Legend has it that it was at Chorabari Lake that Lord Shiva imparted the knowledge of yoga to the Saptrishis.The lake had originally formed from meltwater at the snout of the Chorabari Bamak Glacier, but due to climate change, the glacier had retreated more than 200 metres, leaving a chain of broken debris through which little water could flow from the glacier to the lake. Since the start of the century, if not before, the lake’s water has come from snow melt and rain. As a result, the 250 metres long and 150 metres wide lake – with a depth of 15-20 metres – had very different volumes of water at different times of the year.
On 16th and 17th June, 2013, Chorabari lake breached its banks, bringing a massive flash flood – complete with debris and boulders – down the slope to the temple town of Kedarnath. It almost wiped away the town and then roared down the Mandakini – one of the main tributaries of the Ganga – and killed thousands in Uttarakhand. A thin thread of water trickles down the middle of the lake bed and drains out through the broken embankments. The lake where in 1948, some of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi were immersed – leading to its official name Gandhi Sarovar – is now a collection of mud and sand.
The trek route from Kedarnath to Chorabari Tal is moderately tough as the roads have been mostly washed away but at the same time very scenic. The mesmeric Madhu Ganga Waterfalls falling on the way makes for a serene stopover. Varieties of Himalayan flowers line the trek route and the route also provides a bird eye view of the whole temple town of Kedarnath.
Chorabari Tal which once used to offer magnificent views of the surrounding Himalayan peaks is now just a memory.
On 16 June, at about 7:30 p.m. a landslide and mudslides occurred near Kedarnath Temple. An enormously loud peal was heard and huge amounts of water started gushing from Chorabari Tal or Gandhi Tal down Mandakini river at about 8:30 p.m. washing everything away in its path. On 17 June 2013 at about 6:40 a.m. in the morning waters again started cascading at a huge speed from river Swaraswati and Chorabari Tal or Gandhi Tal bringing along with its flow huge amount of silt, rocks, and boulders. A huge rock got stuck behind Kedarnath Temple and protected it from the ravages of the flood. The waters gushed on both the sides of the temple destroying everything in their path.This huge rock is now named Bhim Shila and is worshipped along with the other deities.