Ancient Himalayan temples have always contributed significantly to Hindu pilgrimage. Both Hindus and people from other religions visit thousands of Hindu temples located at various ethereal peaks in the Indian subcontinent. One such ancient and most visited pilgrimage center is Kedarnath Temple with its main deity as Kedareshwar or Kedarnath (Lord Shiva).
Kedarnath is situated at Rudraprayag, Uttarakhand, India. The temple is famous as one of the 12 Jyotirlingas located at the highest crest of the Rudra Himalayan range around 12000 feet. The mountain is also named after the deity ‘Kedar’ and alongside the serene Mandakini River adds to the beauty and spiritual aura of the place. Mandakini springs from Kedarnath to meet the Alakananda River at Rudraprayag.
About the Temple
Owing to the extreme weather conditions, the temple remains open to the visitors and devotees for six months in a year. It is open from April till November when the sun travels from Aris to Scorpio. In the month of November, the temple authorities bring down the idol of Lord Shiva from Kedarnath to Ukhimath. In the cyclic manner, the idol is reinstated to its place in the month of May.
Devotees flock from all parts of the world to seek blessings of Lord Kedarnath and the temple remains crowded till it again closes down on the first day of month of Kartik (October-November) only to again reopen during Vaishakh (April-May). All these days, when the temple is submerged in snow, worship of Lord Kedarnath is performed at Ukhimath.
Thus, Mahashivratri is the festival which is celebrated here with great zeal and zest. This festival is marked as the day when the temple of Kedarnath opens up for the devotees after six months of shutdown every year starting from the day of either Bhai Dooj or Diwali.
Kedarnath Temple is built in a conventional pre-medieval Katyuri spire format which is, in fact, an outgrowth of the Nagar architectural style. The temple is 85 feet in height and its width is 80 feet. The temple is stretched around 187 feet in area and its walls are around 12 feet thick. The temple is standing on a platform which is 6 feet higher than its adjoining area. The overall look of the town is reminiscent of the authentic Pahari style of construction with its houses having stone walls, tin roofs and even wooden fencing.
History of Kedarnath Worship
Nothing specific is mentioned about how old is the Jyotirlinga of Kedarnath, though it has been a significant site of pilgrimage for over thousands of years since ancient times.
Lord Kedarnath is known for his generosity and it is well believed that those who worship the Lord get all their wishes fulfilled. History of Kedarnath runs down from the times of Satyayuga and it is believed that the famous Rigvedic rishi, Upamanyu, had first paid his obeisance to Lord Shiva at this place. Again, in the Dwaparyuga, the five Pandavas persistently worshiped Lord Shiva here to seek his blessings. In the recent times, Adi Shankaracharya has closely been associated with Kedarnath as at this place he left his physical body when he was 32 years of age. The Samadhi point of Shankaracharya is also present at the back side of the main temple.
Lord Shiva at the temple is worshiped as a Swayambhu Linga. This conically shaped Linga has unusual features and thus it stands apart from other Lingas. At the entrance of the temple, there is statue of Nandi, the celestial bull. The inside of the temple is filled with beautiful carved images of all mythological characters including Pandavas, Lord Krishna. Also present amongst these is the image of Virabhadra, one of the biggest guards of Lord Shiva.
As mentioned in the text The Epigraphia Indica, Volume 1, the temple of Kedareshwar was built by King Bhoj of Malwa who ruled from 1076 to 1099; stone inscription unearthed in the state of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh supports the fact. Another line of thought opines that the Pandavas in the Dwaparyuga first built the temple of Kedarshwar and later it was Adi Shankarachrya who built a temple, adjacent to the earlier one, in the 8th Century AD. Though, notable historians of recent times, including Dr Shiv Prasad Dabral, strongly believe that Shaivas (of Shaivism or Saivism sect) started visiting the place much earlier than Adi Shankaracharya and his disciples.
Again, a group of scholars also assert that it’s difficult to predetermine the oldness of the temple as even the topnotch linguists have failed to decipher the script inscribed in Pali or Brahmi language on the gigantic steps of the temple.
As mentioned in the The Himalayan Gazetteer, Volume III part II by E.T. by Atkinson in the year 1882, “A tower behind built of grey stone and surmounted by a gilded pinnacle forms the adytum (inner sanctum) of the shrine. In front of the temple are rows of masonry houses owned by pandas, for the accommodation of pilgrims, while the pujaris or priests live to the right of the building. The present structure according to Mr Traillis is of recent construction, the original building having fallen to ruin.”
Regarding the earnings of the temple in the early 20th century, H.G. Walton says in British Garhwal: A Gazetteer (Vol. XXXVI, 1920), “The income of the temple of Kedarnath is derived from endowments consisting of 60 villages in this district with a gaunt revenue of Rs. 1,090 a year, 45 villages in the Almora and Naini Tal districts with a gaunt revenue of Rs. 808 a year, and a few in the native state of Tehri-Garhwal with an annual revenue of Rs. 250. Besides this the offerings made at the temple amount to Rs. 9,000 a year, the temple is very much poorer than that at Badrinath.”
The earliest existence of Kedarnath temple is attributed to Lord Shiva who meditated here before the mankind came into being.
As mentioned in ancient Indian scriptures, Pandavas were the first to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva at Kedarnath. As per the legend, the five brothers were feeling extremely guilty after the war of Mahabharata and wanted to meditate on Lord Shiva for penance. The Pandavas then went on the Himalayan voyage to meet Lord Shiva. However, Lord Shiva was extremely unrelenting on meeting anyone and kept hiding in one place or the other in order to call off any confrontation with the Pandavas.
On the other side, the Pandavas kept on chasing their Lord and finally when Lord Shiva was hiding at Kedar, they were able to catch him. But, here also they succeeded after much effort as the Lord had turned himself into a bull and it was Bhima who with his tricks got hold of Shiva before the latter could sink himself completely beneath the soil. After a prolong chase, Lord Shiva got extremely impressed with persistence of the Pandavas and appeared before them and absolved them from the sins of fratricide (gotrahatya). Lord Shiva also enjoined them to worship the hind portion of the bull which remained there on the ground. Thus, the Pandavas have been defined in many a scripture as the original worshipers of Lord Shiva at Kedarnath.
Later, the sunken portion of the bull also reappeared in five different places across the Indian subcontinent. These are the Pashupatinath in Nepal and four different locations at Gharwal including
o the hair at Kalpeshwar (or Kalpnath),
o the face at Rudranath,
o the chest and arms at Tungnath and,
o the midriff or navel area at Madh Maheshwar.