Char Dham, generally referred as Chhota Char Dham meaning four smaller pilgrimages, is a collective name to four major pilgrimages in Uttarakhand state of India- Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
For the Hindu devotees, Char Dham darshan (holy visit) is a lifetime desire. The great dhams (pilgrimages) are believed to be the places where gods and goddesses lived and roamed in the Vedic times.
Following their footsteps, many sages and pilgrims pay devotional visits to the Dhams. Char Dham in Dev Bhoomi Uttarakhand is popularly known as chhota Char Dham because the larger Char Dham pilgrimages – Rameshwaram, Dwaraka, Puri and Badrinath are in four corners of the country. Uttarakhand Char Dham include the representatives from all three major Hindu sectarian traditions- Shakta (goddess) sites- Yamunotri and Gangotri, one Shaiva site- Kedarnath and one Vaishnava site- Badrinath.
Char Dham are open for darshan (holy visit) from May till October every year. Char Dham Yatra (tour) is a common practice among the hindu devotees from India, Nepal and all around the world. The yatra begins from Haridwar through Rishikesh first going to Yamunotri in Uttarkashi district. Gangotri is the second abode where Char Dham yatri (pilgrims) pay visit.
After completing Shraddha (last rites of the passed away ancestors) in Gaumukh, the snout of Gangotri glacier and worshipping goddess Ganga in Gangotri temple the religious tourists head towards Kedarnath temple. Hindu devotees believe that Kedarnath should be visited prior to Badrinath. Sages say that Badrinath should be visited after Kedarnath so he (lord Vishnu) could be established as a witness that the yatri (pilgrim) paid homage to Kedarnath (lord Shiva).
Char Dham is not only for holy visits but can be a great fun for adventurers who love to trek through the mountains. The picturesque beauty of the surrounding on the way to all four dhams fill tourists with immense pleasure and rejuvenate the soul. Enthralling Himalayas, mesmerizing glaciers, enchanting rivers and streams seem to whisper the love song in heart of trekkers.
There are many other places of excursion nearby all four Dhams which are also the must visit places when one is going to Char Dham either for religious visit or for adventure.
Char Dham- the four pilgrimages, have their own important stories connected to gods and goddesses:
- Yamunotri: Yamunotri is the first destination to Char Dham visitors. Situated at the altitude of 3,165mts, Yamunotri is a part of river Yamuna who originates from glaciers, 1Km away from this place. Yamunotri is in the opposite side of Gangotri. People cook rice wrapped in cloth dipping it in the hot water there which is offered as Prasad to the god.
- Gangotri: Name itself suggests Gangotri is related to river Ganga. Gangotri is the place where the penance of King Bhagirath was answered by goddess Ganga with support from lord Shiva. Myths suggest, King Bhagirath prayed to goddess Ganga to flow away the ash of his ancestors and Ganga sought support of lord Shiva as the earth could not hold the strength of her water flow. The Shivalingam that originated there to hold the flow of Ganga could be seen in winter when there is low level of water. Temple was built in Gangotri by Gorkha commander Amar Singh Thapa in 18th Century.
- Kedarnath: The third destination of Char Dham, Kedarnath is the temple of lord Shiva. The story of Kedarnath comes from hindu mythology Mahabharata. We can read that lord Shiva took the form of bull and dived in this place while fleeing away from Pandavas who prayed to him to abide them form sin after the war with Kauravas. While diving, a part of his body remained outside the earth which is in pyramid like form in Kedarnath. The temple of Kedarnath was built by Shankaracharya in the 8th Century.
- Badrinath: Badri is one of the names of lord Vishnu. Badrinath is the last of four Char Dham destinations. The twin hills of Nar (Arjun- the third among Pandavs of Mahabharat) and Narayan (lord Vishnu) are there in Badrinath with Alakhanand Ganga flowing nearby the temple of lord Vishnu. Alakhanand is one among the 12 streams of Ganga while she originated to flow the ashes of King Bhagirath’s ancestors.
These four Dhams are the major pilgrimages of Char Dham on the Kedarkhand but there are many other religious as well as adventurous destinations that one must travel to, to get must out of the visit.