Cradled in the twin mountain ranges of Nar and Narayan is the holiest of the four main shrines, Badrinath along the left bank river Alaknanda. With the splendid Neelkanth mountains as the backdrop, it is an important destination on the scared itinerary of every devour Hindu. Once the spot was carpeted with ‘badris’ or wild berries and hence was famous as ‘Badri Van’.
Badrinath is considered the holiest of the four important shrines in Garhwal. The town is at an altitude of 3,133 m. above sea level, situated on the left bank of river Alaknanda and exactly between the two mountains Nara and Narayan. The shrine is dedicated to Vishnu, the preserver and falls in the religious itinerary of every devout Hindu.
The present temple was built about two centuries ago by Garhwal Kings. It is a conical structure, 15 m. tall and has small cupola of a gilt bull and spire. There are 15 idols in the temple complex, each sculpted in black stone. The principal idol represents Vishnu in a meditative posture and is flanked by Nara-Narayan. Legend dates it prior to the Vedic age though it is believed to have been re-established by Adi Shankaracharya, an important Hindu saint in 8th century A.D. Some of the other images include Laxmi (Vishnu’s consort), Garud (Vishnu’s mount), Shiva & Parvati and Ganesha.
The temple has been renovated several times due to damages by avalanches. It looks fairly modern now due to the colourful “Singh Dwara” or the main entrance gate. It has three parts- Garbha Griha (the sanctum sanctorum), Darshan Mandap (for pujas) and Shobha Mandap (for devotees to assemble). The revered shrine is still alive with myriad legends from mythology. Its sanctity is emphasised in the ancient scriptures as “There are many sacred spots of pilgrimage in the heavens, earth and the nether world, but there has been none equal to Badri, nor shall there be”.
Legend has it, when the Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help suffering humanity, the earth was unable to withstand the force of its descent. Therefore the mighty Ganaga was split into twelve holy channels. Alaknanda was one of them that later became the abode of Lord Vishnu or Badrinath.
The temple of Shri Badrinathji on the banks of the Alaknanda river, dates back to the vedic times. Situated at an altitude of 3,133 mts., the present temple is believed to have been built by Adi Guru Shankaracharya- an 8th century’s philosopher-saint, who also established a ‘math’ here. Also known as ‘Vishal Badri’, Badrinath is one of the Panch Badris.
Panch Badris or Five Badris
Besides the main temple of Badrinath there are four other smaller badri temples. These are collectively called the panch badris or five badris. Very few pilgrims however, visit the other four Badri temples.
- Yogadhyan Badri (1920 m.)
Closest to the main temple of Badrinath lies this tiny, sleepy hamlet which remains unnoticed by most pilgrims and is the winter home for the idol at Badrinath. Pandukeshwar is also an important archaeological site. Some years ago, four ancient metal foils engraved with a description of several kings in the region were discovered here. Believed to be over 1500 years old, these foils are kept at Joshimath, 30 km downstream.
- Bhavishya Badri (2,744 m.)
The bhavishya or future badri is situated at Subain near Tapovan, about 17 km east of Joshimath. According to Hindu belief, when evil is on the rise in this world, the two mountains Nara and Narayan at Badrinath will close up on each other and destroy the route to the present Badrinath. This would also mark the end of the present world and the beginning of a new one. Lord Badrinath will then appear at the Bhavishya Badri temple and be worshipped here instead of at the present one.
- Bridha Badri or the ‘Old Badri’
Bridha Badri or the ‘old Badri’ is the third temple about 7 kms short of Joshimath, on the main Adi Badri Rishikesh-Badrinath motor road at Animath. It is believed that Badrinath was worshipped here before its enshrinement by Shankaracharya at the main Badrinath seat. The temple of Bridha Badri is open throughout the year.
- Adi Badri
Adi Badri is the farthest from the other four badris. It is approachable from Karnaprayag by a motorable road enroute Ranikhet. The temple complex has 16 small temples with intricate carvings.
Seven of these temples belong to the late Gupta period. Local tradition assigns these buildings to Shankaracharya. The main temple is distinguished by a pyramid shaped raised platform, with a black stone idol of Vishnu.
Pilgrimage attractions of Badrinath
- Badrinath Temple
On the right bank of Alaknanda lies the sacred spot perched at an altitude of 3,133 metres above the sea level. Encircled by a beautiful valley, the 15mtrs. High temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, it is built in the form of a cone with a small cupola of gilt bull and spire. Built by Adi Guru Shankaracharya – the philosopher-saint of the 8th century, the temple has been renovated several times due to damage by avalanches. Its colourful ‘Singh Dwara’ or the main entrance gate gives it a new, modern look.
The temple divided into three parts – the ‘garbha griba’ or sanctum sanctorum, the ‘darshan mandap’ where the rituals are conducted and the ‘sabha mandap’where devotees assemble.The complex has 15 idols. Especially attractive is the one metre high image of Badrinath, finely sculpted in black stone. It represents Lord Vishnu seated in meditative pose.
- Tapt Kund
Devotees take a holy dip in the natural thermal springs on the banks of the river Alaknanda, before entering the Badrinath Temple. The water of the kund is believed to have medicinal properties.
- Hemkund Sahib (43 kms.)
Way to Hemkund Sahib Near the Valley of Flowers is the holy lake Hemkund- an important pilgrimage of the Sikhs and Hindus. Along its shores is the sacred Sikh Shrine where Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Guru unified with God after prolonged mediation in his previous birth.
Nearby is the Lakshman Temple where Lakshman – the brother of Lord Rama performed his penance. The reflection of surrounding snow-clad peaks in its placid waters offers a scenic sight.
- Brahma Kapal
A flat platform on the bank of river Alaknanda where Hindus perform propitiating rites for their deceased ancestors.
A Pyramidical-shaped snowy peak towering above Badrinath, popularly known as the ‘Garhwal Queen’.
- Mana Village (4 kms.)
Inhabited by Indo-Mangolian tribe, it is considered to be the last Indian village before Tibet on this route. Nearby are Vyas Gufa- the rock cave of saint Ved Vyas, the writer of Mahabharata; Bhim Pul- a natural bridge over the Saraswati river and Vasundhara Falls- a 122 mts. high waterfall- all forming and important part of the pilgrimage to Badrinath.
- Mata Murti Temple (3 kms.)
On the right bank of Alaknanda stands the temple dedicated to the mother of Sri Badrinathji.
- Alka Puri (15 kms.)
The source of Alaknanda river from the glacier snouts of Bhagirath- Kharak and Satopanth glaciers.
- Satopanth (25 kms.)
A three cornered lake with a circumference of about 1 km., situated at an elevation of 4,402 mts. above sea level. It is named ater the Hindu triad- Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, who are believed to occupy one corner each of the lake. The trek is hazardous with dramatic landscapes. An experienced guide is advisable. Govindghat (25 kms.)
The confluence of Alaknanda and Lakshman Ganga rivers. It has an imposing Gurudwara named after Guru Gobind Singh.
- Joshimath (44 kms.)
The winter home of Shri Badrinathji is situated on the slopes above the confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga. It is one of the four ‘maths’ established by Adi Guru Shankaracharya.
- Panch Prayag
The five important confluences- Deoprayag, Nandprayag, Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag and Vishuprayag, form the Panch Prayag.
The confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi rivers. Ancient stone scriptures are found here. Important pilgrim spots are Shiv Temple and Raghunath Temple.
The confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers. The temples of Rudranath and Chamunda Devi are noteworthy.
The confluence of Alaknanda and Mandakini rivers. The Gopalji Temple is worth a visit.
The confluence of Alaknanda and Pindar rivers with temples of Uma and Karna.
The confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers. An ancient temple of Lord Vishnu stands here by a pool called Vishnu Kund.
The old capital of Garhwal, it is an important cultural and educational centre. Places to visit include Kamleshwar and Kilkeshwar temples and the Shankar Math.
Jolly Grant (317 kms.)
Rishikesh (300 kms.), Kotdwar (327 kms.)
Well connected to Rishikesh, Haridwar, Dehradun, Kotdwar and other hill stations of Garhwal and Kumaon region.