Tucked neatly in the mountains of the Devbhoomi of Uttarakhand, there’s a temple that holds the faith of countless Hindus. A holy shrine that every devout of Lord Shiva wants to see more than anything else in the world – The Kedarnath Temple.
Considered one of the toughest pilgrimages in India – made even more so because of its inaccessibility for half of the year – the Kedarnath Temple is located at the banks of River Mandakini. Of all the 12 jyotirlingas – the most sacred shrines devoted to Lord Shiva – this temple is located at the highest altitude.
Kedarnath is also a part of the Chhota Char Dham, which refers to the four pilgrimage centers in the Garhwal Himalayas, with the other three being Yamunotri, Gangotri, and Badrinath.
Those of you who are keen devouts of Lord Shiva or avid explorers of Hindu mythologies might know all this already. But what we’re going to talk about further is more likely to surprise you.
Below, we’ve culminated a list of 9 lesser-known facts about the Kedarnath Temple to further enhance your religious knowledge. Read them to make the most of your first/next trip to Kedarnath Darshan.
Kedarnath Temple: NOT the highest of the Panch-Kedar
Panch-Kedar refers to the set of five sacred shrines within Uttarakhand, all dedicated to Lord Shiva. Because the Kedarnath Temple is the most widely known of all the Panch-Kedar temples, with its journey the toughest, most devouts assume it to be the highest of them all as well.
This isn’t true; in terms of height, the Tungnath Temple ranks first; it is about 3 kilometers away from the Chopta Valley. Despite its height, the trek to the temple is moderately easy; significantly easier than that of Kedarnath Temple.
Here’s a list of all Panch-Kedar temples and the height at which they’re located, respectively:
- Tungnath Temple – 12,070 feet (3,680 meters)
- Kedarnath Temple – 11,755 feet (3,583 meters)
- Rudranath Temple – 11,677 feet (3,559 meters)
- Madhyamaheshwar Temple – 11,450 feet (3,490 meters)
- Kalpeshwar Temple – 7,200 feet (2,200 meters)
Kedarnath: One name, different meanings
Lord Shiva is known and worshipped by an abundance of names, as many as 1008.
Some devouts worship him as Mahadeva (the greatest God), and others bow to him as Shankara (the bringer of joy). The artists worship his Nataraja (the king of dance) form, while the meditators rever him in as Adi Yogi (the originator of Yoga).
But of all his 1008 names, why is he worshipped as Kedarnath in this particular adobe? Well, two different scriptures in Hindu mythology have two different depictions of it.
In the Kashi Kedara Mahatmaya, the term Kedara signifies a field, and Lord Kedarnath is known to be the lord of the fields. It is also believed that the “crops of liberation grow in Kedarnath (the field whose lord is Shiva)”.
The Skanda Purana – the Hindu scripture dedicated to Lord Kartikeya, the son of Lord Shiva – has a different depiction of Kedarnath.
In this scripture, it is mentioned that Kedara was the name given to the region where Lord Shiva first released on Earth the holy water of Ganga from his matted hair.
And while Skanda Purana is the older of the two scriptures, the depiction mentioned in the Kashi Kedara Mahatmaya is more widely recognized and followed today.
Kedarnath Temple: 1200 years old or 4000 years old?
In Hindu mythology, the age of a temple or shrine is often seen as a major contributor to its prominence. What, then, is the age of the Kedarnath Temple? A shrine that’s often linked directly to heaven?
There are two widely-acknowledged theories about the construction of the Kedarnath Temple.
The first and more prominent one is of the Pandavas – alongside Draupadi – building the temple as a shrine of Lord Shiva to pray and seek forgiveness for the sins committed in the Kurukshetra War.
According to this theory and the estimated timeline of the Mahabharata, the temple has to be about 4,000 years old.
The second theory – one which has more substantial proof to back it – dictates that the temple was built in 800 AD. Both the archeological evidence as well as the sculptures carved on the temple walls support this theory.
Despite the evidence, a large faction of the Shaivite community believes that Kedarnath Temple was only revived by Adi Shankara in the 8th century but has continued to exist for much longer.
Your Kedarnath Yatra is incomplete without visiting the Bhairavnath Temple
Bhairavnath – also referred to as Bhairava or Kala Bhairava – is a fearsome form of Lord Shiva; the one who is associated with annihilation and punishment of sinners.
Worshipped widely in Hinduism and Buddhism, Lord Bhairavnath also has a devoted shrine near the Kedarnath Temple that many devouts are unfamiliar with.
There are various legends associated with the presence of the Bhairavnath shrine near Kedarnath temple. Some depict how Adi Shankara engaged in a philosophical debate with Bhairavnath to be able to build the Kedarnath Temple.
In other folklore, Bhairavnath is known to have protected the laborers and builders of Kedarnath Temple against natural calamities, playing a key role in its successful construction. Some locals of their region also claim that he is the Kshetrapala (protector or guardian) of the temple.
No matter which tale you consider to be true, your Kedarnath Yatra is considered incomplete without Bhairavnath darshan.
The shrine of Bhairavnath is only 800 meters away from the Kedarnath Temple. An uphill trek will lead you there; the view of the Kedar Valley and the Himalayas from up here is breathtaking!
The Raval of Kedarnath: Priests of the south in the temple of the North
Any architect would agree that the Kedarnath Temple was built using the North Indian architectural style. The usage of stone slabs and a pyramidal roof made of wooden beams is a classic trait of ancient North Indian temples.
But did you know that the head priest of this north Indian Temple comes from south India? Because that’s the truth.
The head priest at the Kedarnath Temple is called the Raval, and belongs to the Veerashaiva community of Karnataka. A group of five head priests resides at Kedarnath, and each one assumes the role of the Raval in a yearly rotation.
Furthermore, instead of performing the puja rituals himself – as seen in most other shrines, including Badrinath – the Raval instructs his assistants to perform them. Such is the diversity in the great adobe of Lord Shiva.
Bhima Shila: The protector of the temple against all odds
Anyone who knows of Kedarnath – and even those who might not – know of the 2013 flood of Uttarakhand. This unforeseeable deluge that changed the face of Uttarakhand overnight, destroying everything and everyone in its wake, was indeed an unforgettable disaster.
Countless hotels, rest houses, and homes of natives were demolished in the flood. How, then, did the Kedarnath Temple survive this terrible deluge?
Despite falling in the primary path of the flood, the temple, which held the faith of all Hindus, was protected by divinity in the form of a rock. Carried by the violently flowing water, a large rock somehow found its way to the rear of the Kedarnath Temple, where it was lodged, protecting the main temple and the deity inside.
This rock, which diverted the flow of both water and debris to either side of the temple, later came to be worshipped as the Bhima Shila.
The samadhi of Adi Shankaracharya in Kedarnath
We’ve already mentioned above how Adi Shankaracharya – the renowned Indian Vedic scholar from the 8th century – was known to have built (or revived) the Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand.
A prominent philosopher and theologian of his time, Adi Shankara had a deep knowledge of all branches of Hinduism, including Vaishnavism and Shaktism. However, he himself was a profound Shaivite – a devotee of Lord Shiva.
While Adi Shankara was also an avid traveler, towards the end of his short-lived life, he was known to have settled in the village of Kedarnath. His disciples recorded seeing him behind the Kedarnath Temple for the last time when he was walking toward the Himalayas.
The early death of Adi Shankara remains a mystery even today; some devouts also believe that he had found moksha in the holy adobe of Lord Kedarnath.
As a part of the Kedarnath Temple Redevelopment project in 2013, a 12-foot statue of Adi Shankara was constructed behind the Kedarnath Temple.
This Samadhi of the respected philosopher was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2019, and since then has been open for devouts to visit and pay homage.
Ukhimath: The winter home to Lord Kedarnath
Another unique quality of the Kedarnath Temple is that, unlike most Shiva temples across the country, it doesn’t remain open for darshan all year long. You can only visit the temple between the months of May and October.
This is because the temple is situated at a significantly high altitude. The area experiences the lowest temperatures and heavy snowfall in the winter months, making it difficult and threatening for pilgrims to travel in the winter.
But does that mean that Lord Kedarnath is not worshipped for those six months? No, it doesn’t. Before the doors of the temple are shut for the winters, the vigraha or main deity is moved – along with the Raval – to the less cold region of Ukhimath.
It is here that Lord Kedarnath is worshipped for the harsher half of the year. If you’re in Uttarakhand during winter but wouldn’t want to miss the Kedar darshan, you can certainly pay Ukhimath a visit.
Why isn’t a Shivalinga worshipped in the Kedarnath Temple?
It is common knowledge that Lord Shiva is worshipped most commonly in temples – both Indian and foreign – as a shivalinga. This shivalinga is seen as the symbolic representation of the energy and power of Lord Shiva.
However, those who have visited Kedarnath would know that the deity worshipped in the temple is not the conventional shivalinga but a roughly-shaped conical stone. Wondering why?
This unusual object of worship finds its roots back in the legend of the Pandavas.
The Pandavas sought Lord Shiva desperately to be able to pay the penance of their sins and find salvation at last. However, the deity was repulsed by their deceitful and dishonest conduct in the war and, therefore, tried to avoid confrontation at all costs.
He left Varanasi, which the Pandavas knew to be his favored adobe, and hid in the mountains of Garhwal in the form of a bull (Nandi). Following him there, the Pandavas kept searching for Lord Shiva relentlessly until Bheem found a bull grazing in Guptakashi and recognized him as the deity.
As Bheem caught ahold of the bull, it disappeared immediately, having reappeared in five different parts at different locations. The face of the bull appeared in Rudranath; his hairs appeared in Kalpeshwar; the stomach and navel surfaced in Madhyamaheshwar; the arms appeared in Tungnath.
Finally, the hump of the bull appeared in Kedarnath, around which the shrine of the Kedarnath Temple was created. The oddly shaped symbol of the deity that the Pandavas worshipped to attain salvation is the same one being worshipped there today.
Om Namah Shivaay
With that, we come to the end of our blog. While we’ve done our best to uncover every single lesser-known truth about the Kedarnath Temple for all of you, there is still much we don’t know; at least not for certain.
Luckily for us, faith and spiritualism don’t quite work like science; knowing more doesn’t make you any wiser here. In fact, the very basis of true faith is in losing oneself in it. Because it is only by being lost that we’ll truly find the essence of this life that we’re bestowed with.
If spiritualism is what you seek as a reader, we’d suggest you check out another one of our blogs, which talks about the top spiritual places in India as well!