Badrinath Temple:This whole area is sprinkled with the sacred waters of the Ganges (Bhagirathi) who makes her appearance in this world at Gaumukh – Gangotri and the surrounding glaciers. Joining these streams is the sacred Alakananda River.
One legend has it that when the goddess Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help suffering humanity, the earth was unable to withstand the force of her descent. Therefore the mighty Ganga was split into twelve holy channels, with Alaknanda being one of them.
Badrinatha temple is situated some 10,244 feet above sea level on the western bank of the Ganges (Alakananda). The icy-cold Alakananda here, which is generally also called the Ganges, is made up of five streams all coming from neighboring glaciers. They are the river Nanda, River Sarasvati, Rishi Ganga, Kancana Ganga (Swarna Dhara) and Vasudhara.
Badrinath has been mentioned as a holy place in scriptures and legends for thousands of years. According to the Bhagavata Purana, “There in Badrikashram the supreme being (Vishnu), in his incarnation as the sages Nara and Narayana, has been undergoing great penance since time immemorial for the welfare of all living entities.” (Bhagavata Purana 3.4.22). For details regarding the appearance and activities of Lord Nara Narayana, one can refer SB 11.4.6-16.
Badri refers to a berry that is said to grow abundantly in the area, and nath means “Lord of”. Badri is also the Sanskrit name for the Indian Jujube tree, which has an edible berry. Some scriptural references refer to Jujube trees being abundant in Badrinath.
Badrinath was re-established as a major pilgrimage site by Adi Shankara in the ninth century.
Towering above the temple of Badri Narayana (Badrinatha) is Nara-Narayana parvats. These parvats or mountains are said to be the Rsis, Nara and Narayana, who changed themselves into mountains as they may stay by the side of Lord Badri-Narayana undisturbed. The transcendental brothers Nara-Narayana gave their parents a boon that they could also stay nearby, so Mata Murti and Dharma stay at Kesava Prayag near Vasudhara, five miles or so from Badrinatha, where Dharma meditated to get Nara-Narayana as his sons.
According to legend Shankara discovered a black stone image of Lord Badrinarayan made of Saligram stone in the Alaknanda River. He originally enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. In the sixteenth century, the King of Garhwal moved the murti to the present temple.
The temple has undergone several major renovations because of age and damage by avalanche. In the 17th century, the temple was expanded by the kings of Garhwal. After significant damage in the great 1803 Himalayan earthquake, it was rebuilt by the King of Jaipur.
The temple is approximately 50 ft (15 m) tall with a small cupola on top, covered with a gold gilt roof. The facade is built of stone, with arched windows. A broad stairway leads up to a tall arched gateway, which is the main entrance. The architecture resembles a Buddhist vihara (temple), with the brightly painted facade also more typical of Buddhist temples. Just inside is the mandapa, a large pillared hall that leads to the garbha grha, or main shrine area. The walls and pillars of the mandapa are covered with intricate carvings.
The temple itself is facing east and has a frontage about fifteen feet high, decorated nicely. The pillars of the entrance have the ten main avatars of Visnu, besides decorative floral designs. Just inside the gate is Garuda, the carrier of Lord Narayana and the gate keepers of the door are Ganesh and Hanuman. The Saligram Sila of Badri-Narayana found on the altar was brought here by Sankaracarya from Narada Kunda and placed on the side of Garuda. The Deity of Badrinarayana is decorated with nice dresses, jewels, crows and flowers, and wears diamond tilak. To His left are the Deities of Nara-Narayana. Lord Narayana is seated in the padmasana, and Nara is standing in dhanurasana. Keeping the unwanted effects of the Kali Yuga at bay is the Lord’s Sudarsana Disc Yantra installed in silver. The eternal lamp called jyotir, which has been continuously burning from time immemorial, summer and winter, is just there in the inner sanctum.
In the sastras there are mentioned “Panca Badris” – five Badris
(1) Badri Vishal is modern day Badri or Lower Badri where Madhvacarya spent forthy eight days in austerity and where Vyasadeva came to see him.
(2) Yoga Badri is the place to where the Utsava Deities are brought in the winter time and worshipped by one brahmin and taken back up to Badri Vishal for the opening of the temple when again Badri become accessible, that is, free from snow. During the winter time in Badri Vishal the demigods look after Lord Badri Narayana, and foodstuffs and puja articles are left there for the Devas to use for the Lord’s worship.
(3) Vruddha Badri – this temple is a halting/resting place for pilgrims where there are Deities of Lord Narayan. This is near Kumar Chatti.
(4) Dhyana Badri – at Kalpeswar, five miles off the Kumar Chatti on the other side of the Alakananda river, is a temple of Lord Siva, where Lord Indra worshipped Lord Siva to obtain “kalpatam” or heavenly delights. Lord Siva, being the greatest Vaisnava, is generally approached first to take permission from him to approach the holy places of Lord Hari, as one does in most holy tirthas such as Vrindavan, Mayapura, Puri, Sri rangam, Udupi, etc.
(5) Bhavishya Badri – In the Kali Yuga it is predicted that Vishal Badri will become no longer accessible to pilgrims, and that one will only be able to go to Bhavishya Badri and worship in separation the identical forms of the Lord represented here. This Bhavishya Badri is about eight miles from Joshimath on the Niti pass to Badrinatha.
Those pure devotees of the Lord, who are especially given the Lord’s blessings, also have access to another Badri. This place exists on a transcendental plane and is not accessible to the common man, neither is it listed in the guide book, nor is it on any map. The great sages and rsis sing it’s praises and Sripad Madhvacarya walked to that place. It is called Uttara Badri, or some call Samyaprasa, the eternal abode of Srila Vyasadeva, and is a transcendental reality.
The mountains around Badrinath are mentioned in the Mahabharata, when the Pandavas are said to have ascended to heaven by the slopes of a peak in western Garhwal called Swargarohini – literally, the ‘Ascent to Heaven’. Local legend has it that the Pandavas passed through Badrinath and the town of Mana, 4 km north of Badrinath, on their way to Svarga (heaven).
Adi Badri:The main Temple is of the Lord Narayan that is distinguished by a raised platform in the pyramidal form. Here a black stone idol of Lord Vishnu is enshrined. Local tradition attributes the building of the temples to Adi Guru Shankaracharya. It is situated at a distance of 17 Kms from Karnaprayag and is easily approachable by motorable road. On way to Ranikhet are some beautiful remains of 16 small temples belonging to the Gupta period.
NaradKund: Located near Tapt Kund, this kund is believed to be the recovery source of the Badarinath idol. The hot water springs comes out from beneath the Garuda Shila and falls into a tank. Darshan of Badarinath is always preceded by a holy dip in this kund. Apart from that there are many other hot water springs. Devotees take a dip in them for their religious and medicinal value.
Caution: Avoid staying too long inside the hot spring water pool to prevent skin burn.
Tapt Kund (at Badarinath): Located just below the temple, the meeting point of Alaknanda and Rishi Ganga rivers, this thermal spring of hot sulphurous water has inviting freshwater pool. The bathing area, 16.1/2 feet by 14.1/4 feet, has separate arrangements for men and women. Although the normal temperature is 55°c, the water temperature keeps rising gradually during the day. It is considered to have high medicinal value. A dip here is considered to be a good cure for skin diseases.
Mana Village – Vyas & Ganesh Gupha: 4 km from Shri Badarinath, inhabited by Indo-Mongolian tribe, it is considered to be the last Indian village bordering Tibet. The villagers of Mana are closely linked with the activities of Shri Badarinath temple for they offer a choli to the deity on the closing day of the temple – an annual traditional feat. The Mana village is full of caves and it is said that Ved Vyas dictated his famous epic of Mahabharat to Ganesh, in one of these caves, now known as Vyas Gupha (cave). Inside is a marble statue of Ved Vyas shown writing the granth (epic book). On this route a natural bridge over the Saraswati river and 125 m high Vasudhara falls form an important part of the pilgrimage to Badarinath.
The area around the remote village en in ancient times offered ideal setting and excellent shelter to philosophers and saints. The caves are associated with ancient sages and yogis, like Ganesh Gupha.
Muchukunda Gupha:Is the place where Muchukunda is supposed to have performed his worship to Lord Nara Narayana, after having been woke up from his sleep by Lord Krishna, and he being instrumental in the killing of Kalyavan. “Seeing that the size of all the human beings, animals, trees and plants was severely reduced, and thus realizing that the age of Kali was at hand, Muchukunda left for the north. The sober King, beyond material association and free of doubt, was convinced of the value of austerity. Absorbing his mind in Lord Kåñëa, he came to Gandhamädana Mountain. There he arrived at Badarikäçrama, the abode of Lord Nara-Näräyaëa, where, remaining tolerant of all dualities, he peacefully worshiped the Supreme Lord Hari by performing severe austerities.”
Reference Srimad Bhagvatam 10.52.2-5.
Vasuki Tal: This is a high altitude lake which can be reached by an 8 km trek that ascends to 14,200 feet. Vyas Gupha, Ganesh Gupha, Bhimpul and Vasudhara Falls are 3-6 km. All these destinations are famous for their links with Mahabharata and form part of the pilgrimage to Badarinath.
Village Mana – Vyas Gupha: This village, located at a distance of 3 kms from Badarinath is the last Indian Village situated at the Indo-China Border and has gained historical importance on account of Vyas Caves. This village located on the banks of River Saraswati (only place where this river can be seen) is very beautiful. Maharishi Vyas (Sage), author of the Mahabharat is believed to have lived in the caves, hence named after him. It was in these caves, Vyas Maharishi composed the Mahabharata. Mahabharata depicts the history of Pandavas, Kauravas including the epic war of Kurukshetra and most importantly Bhagawad Gita authored by Krishna. Ganesh, the son of Shiva and Parvati, is said to have helped Vyas Maharishi in putting this epic in the written form. In addition to Mahabharat, Vyas Maharishi composed 18 puranas, Brahma Sutras and classified the Vedas into 4 parts – Rig, Yajur,Sama,Atharva.
Rock formation inside the Vyas Gupha appears to resemble the orderly stacking of palm leave manuscripts – oldest writing material and is worshipped as Vyas Pusthak. Maharishi Vyas is also considered, by some, as reincarnation of Vishnu. Ganesh Gupha (caves) is also located in Mana Village.
Brahma Kapal:In a quest to ensure a higher destination for the dead ancestors, the shradha ceremony (propitiating rites) or the offering of pinda is an important part of the vedic rituals. After offering pinda here, it is believed, no more pindas are to be offered elsewhere. The Brahma Kapal, on the bank of the Alaknanda is a flat platform a few yards north of the temple. Legend has it that when Shiva chopped off the fifth head of Brahma, it got stuck to his trident. Lastly with the blessing of Lord Vishnu at Badarivan, the head of Brahma fell down from the trident at this place & hence the name Brahma-Kapal (Brahma’s head).
Charan Paduka:3 km away from the temple is a beautiful meadow carpeted with wild flowers in the summer. Here is a boulder bearing the footprints of Lord Vishnu. It is said that when Lord Vishnu descended from Vaikuntha (the heavenly abode of Lord Vishnu) he stepped on this boulder. The area is a steep climb from the town and is full of caves & boulders.
Neelkanth Peak:At the back of the temple, a side valley opens to a conical shaped Neelkanth peak (6600 m.) It is popularly known as the Garhwal Queen. It is a shining pyramid of white crystals, which are ever ready to change their colour & hue. Reflecting the first glow of dawn into the valley & glittering like a golden temple, Neelkanth embodies all the divinity of this divine land.
Sheshnetre:On the opposite bank of the river Alaknanda, in the lap of Nar Parvat, there are two small seasonal lakes. Between these lakes is a boulder having an impression of the legendary snake, Sheshnag. The formation of eye on the boulder is natural.
Panch Dharas & Panch Shilas:The Panch Dharas (five streams) which are famous in Badaripuri are Prahlad, Kurma, Bhrigu, Urvashi & Indira dhara. The most striking of these is the Indira dhara, about 1.5 km north of the town Badaripuri. Bhrigudhara flows past a number of caves. The one on the right of river Rishi Ganga, originally from the Neelkanth range is Urvashi dhara. Kurma dhara water is extremely cold whereas Prahlad dhara has lukewarm water, which glides majestically down the rocks of Narayana Parvat.
Around the Tapt Kund there are five shilas (stones) of importance called Narad, Narsimha, Baraha, Garuda & Markandeya Shilas (stone).
Standing between Tapt and Narad Kund is conical formed Narad Shila. It is said that the sage Narad meditated on this rock for several years. Standing in the waters of Alaknanda just below the Narad Shila is a huge stone looking like a lion with its gaping jaws and hooked claws. It is said that Bhagwan Narsimha after killing the demon King Hiranyakashyipu remained here in the shape of a block of stone forever.
Near the Narad Kund the Baraha Shila has the shape of boar. Baraha is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The Garuda Shila near the Tapt Kund was, were Garuda (the carrier of Lord Vishnu) had fasted & meditated. Sage Markandeya on the advice of Narada meditated here in Badarivan and attained ultimate peace. Markandeya Shila is the stone on which the sage meditated.
Mata Murti Temple:On the right bank of Alaknanda opposite the Mana village is a small temple of Mata Murti (daughter of Daksha and wife of Dharma) dedicated to the mother of Shri Badarinathji. Once a year on the day of Vamana Dwadashi, Narayan (Badarinathji) pays a visit to Mata Murti, when she is worshipped by the Rawal of Badarinathji and the residents of Mana village organise a festival of prayer, havan & bhog. Belief is that Mata Murti has the power of granting vairagya to those who sincerely meditate here for a few days.
Saraswati:3 km north of Mana village emerges the river Saraswati from a lateral glacier. The river after touching Vyas Gupha, gets lost in the Alaknanda at Keshav Prayag. From here to Allahabad, Saraswati flows incognito. It is said that at the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati at Allahabad, the Saraswati remains invisible.
Vasudhara Falls:3 km from Mana village, the Vasudhara falls, 125 m high, against the backdrop of snow covered mountains and glaciers is a captivating sight. The torrents of water come gushing down and are diffused in fine showers and soft mist by wind blowing from different directions. The touch of these waters is supposed to destroy all one’s sins. Close to the falls are prominent peaks of Satopanth, Chaukhamba and Balkum. One is also able to see the glacial snouts from where the river Alaknanda emerges. It is the place where the Vasus performed their meditation.
Bhimapul – Bhima Bridge:The bridge over the river Saraswati on the outskirts of Mana village is made of a huge rock. It is believed that when the Pandavas and Draupadi were on their way to Swargarohan, Bhima bridged the river with the huge slab to get them across. The view from the bridge is truly spectacular.
Ekadashi Gupha:Is supposed to be the place of birth of Ekadashi, according to local legend.
Valley Of Flowers: An irresistible treat for naturalists, ecologists, environmentalists, zoologists, ornithologists, trekkers, tourist and pilgrims, the valley was introduced to the world in 1937 as the Valley of Flowers by Frank S. Smith mountaineer, explorer andbotanist.
The valley remains snow covered from November to May but when the ice envelop thaws in June it is a signal for profusion of colors hidden in petals of alpine herbs to blaze during July & August. Some 300 species of wild flowers bloom here in a natural way. The valley remains in bloom for three months while the floral composition keeps on changing every few days. Best time to visit is between August 3rd week and September 2nd week.
The 19 km trek starts from Govindghat, situated between Joshimath and Badarinath. The main land of the valley is about 4 km from Ghanghria. After trekking, 1 km from Ghanghria, a bifurcation point (one way leads to Hemkund Sahib & other to Valley of Flowers) is reached. Travel beyond Ghangaria is on foot since the entry of ponies is prohibited.