Kedarnath Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is on the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river in Kedarnath, Uttarakhand in India. Due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open only between the end of Aprilto November (Kartik Purnima - the autumn full moon). During the winters, the vigrahas (deities) from Kedarnath temple are brought to Ukhimath and worshipped there for six months. Lord Shiva is worshipped as Kedarnath, the 'Lord of Kedar Khand', the historical name of the region.
The temple is not directly accessible by road and has to be reached by a 18 kilometres (11 mi) uphill trek from Gaurikund. Pony and manchan service is available to reach the structure. According to Hindu legends, the temple was initially built by Pandavas, and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva. It is one of the 275 Paadal Petra Sthalams, expounded in Tevaram. Pandavas were supposed to have pleased Shiva by doing penance in Kedarnath. The temple is one of the four major sites in India's Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas. This temple is the highest among the 12 Jyotirlingas. Kedarnath was the worst affected area during the 2013 flash floods in North India. The temple complex, surrounding areas and Kedarnath town suffered extensive damage, but the temple structure did not suffer any "major" damage, apart from a few cracks on one side of the four walls which was caused by the flowing debris from the higher mountains. A large rock among the debris acted as a barrier, protecting the temple from the flood. The surrounding premises and other buildings in market area were heavily damaged.
History and legends of origin
The temple, at a height of 3,583 m (11,755 ft), 223 km from Rishikesh, on the shores of Mandakini river, a tributary of Ganga, is a stone edifice of unknown date. It is not certain who built the original Kedarnath temple and when. The name "Kedarnath" means "the lord of the field": it derives from the Sanskrit words kedara ("field") and natha ("lord"). The text Kashi Kedara Mahatmya states that it is so called because "the crop of liberation" grows here.
According to a mythological account, the god Shiva agreed to dwell here at the request of NaraNarayana. 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 head of the bull appeared at the location of the Pashupatinath Temple in present-day Nepal.
The Mahabharata, which gives the account
of the Pandavas and the Kurukshetra War, does not mention any place called Kedarnath. One of the earliest references to Kedarnath occurs in the Skanda Purana, which contains a myth describing the origin of the Ganges river. The text names Kedara (Kedarnath) as the place where Shiva released the holy water from his matted hair.
According to the hagiographies based on Madhava's Sankshepa-shankara-vijaya, the 8th century philosopher Adi Shankara died at Kedaranatha; although other hagiographies, based on Anandagiri's Prachina-Shankara-Vijaya, state that he died at Kanchi. The ruins of a monument marking the purported death place of Shankara are located at Kedarnath. Kedarnath was definitely a prominent pilgrimage centre by the 12th century, when it is mentioned in Kritya-kalpataru written by the Gahadavala minister Bhatta Lakshmidhara.
According to a tradition recorded by the English mountaineer Eric Shipton (1926), "many hundreds of years ago", the Kedarnath temple did not have a local priest: the priest of the Badrinath temple used to hold services at both the temples, traveling between the two places daily.
Inside the temple
The presiding image of Kedaranth in the form of lingam is of irregular shape with a pedestal 3.6 m (12 ft) in circumference and 3.6 m (12 ft) in height. There is a small pillared hall in front of the temple, that has images of Parvathi and of the five Pandava princes. There are five temples around namely Badari-kear, Madhya Maheswara, Tunganatha, Rudranatha and Kallesvara. The first hall inside Kedarnath Temple contains statues of the five Pandava brothers, Lord Krishna, Nandi, the vehicle of Shiva and Virabhadra, one of the guards of Shiva. Statue of Draupadi and other deities are also installed in the main hall. An unusual feature of the temple is the head of a man carved in the triangular stone fascia. Such a head is seen carved in another temple nearby constructed on the site where the marriage of Shiva and Parvati was held. Adi Shankara was believed to have revived this temple, along with Badrinath and other temples of Uttarakhand; he is believed to have attained Mahasamadhi at Kedaranath. Behind the temple is the samādhi mandir of Adi Sankara.
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. The present (2013) Raval of Kedarnath temple is Shri Vageesha Lingacharya. Shri Vageesh Ligaacharya who belongs to the Village Banuvalli of Taluka Harihar of Davanagere district in Karnataka.
A triangular shaped rock is worshiped in Garbhagriha of the temple. Surrounding Kedarnath, there are many symbols of the Pandavas. Raja Pandu died at Pandukeshwar. The tribals here perform a dance called "Pandav Nritya". The mountain top where the Pandavas went to Swarga, is known as "Swargarohini", which is located off Badrinath. When Dharmarāja was leaving for Swarga, one of his fingers fell on the earth. At that place, Dharmarāja installed a Shiva Linga, which is the size of the thumb. 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.