It is said that visiting the Char Dham liberates one of all the worldly sins and miseries and one attains salvation or Moksha. Char Dham literally converts to “four pilgrimage sites.” These four sites are revered by the Vaishnavites and generally the Hindus from all parts of the world as they consider it a great fortune to be able to visit them once in a lifetime.
The four most venerated pilgrimage sites are Badrinath in the north, Dwarka in the west, Jagannath Puri in the east, and Rameshwaram in the south. Apart from these, the religious texts also mention “Chota Char Dham” which constitutes of four most difficult places to visit namely Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, and Badrinath. All of these are situated in Uttarakhand which is also termed in the Puranas as “Dev Bhoomi” which translates to “abode of gods.”
Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya established the organizational structure of Hinduism, after reviving it in the Eighth Century CE, through the “Mathas” in Sringeri Dwaraka, Puri, and Joshimatha, and from then on Char Dham became famous among the pilgrims and there is not a single Hindu who has not come across or heard of these four Pilgrimage sites.
Badrinath temple is the most difficult shrine and pilgrimage site and is one of the 108 Divya Desams (Divine Towns) of Lord Vishnu. This place is open only six months a year because of harsh climatic conditions. Badrinath is situated in a valley near the Nilakanthak peak in between the two mountains: Nar and Narayan. These are located in the Garhwal hills near the Alaknanda River which is considered the purest and holiest water body.
This temple is one among the eight swayam vyakta or Swayambhu Kshetras of Lord Vishnu. The presiding deity in the temple is Vishnu, the keeper, which takes the name of Badrinarayan or Badrinath. The fascinating point of this temple is that the statue of Vishnu here is around 1 m tall and weighs almost a ton but nobody knows how this statue was brought here, in a place where people themselves find it difficult to reach.
The Badrinath temple consists of three main structures: the Garbha Griha or the sanctum sanctorum, the Sabha Mandap or the convention hall, and the Darshan Mandap or the hall of worship.
The legend behind this temple is that once a saint mocked Lord Vishnu for his easy-going lifestyle. His words struck right through Vishnu’s heart and he went to perform penance among the mountains. His consort, Goddess Lakshmi, worried that her husband would not care about the weather conditions and thus went along with him. Goddess Lakshmi took the form of a wild berry tree which is locally known as Badri and protected her husband from the harsh climate and even the rays of the sun. From then on, Vishnu became known as Badrinath or the “Lord of the berry tree.”
Another story linked to this temple is that Lord Shiva once started to live here but Lord Vishnu tricked them and locked him and his wife Parvati outside their abode. Hence, Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati had to find a new home and since then Vishnu started living there.
This temple finds special mention in the Visnu Purana, Skanda Purana, Bhagvat Purana, Mahabharata, Divya Prabandhas, and many other literary works.
Badrinath temple can be reached from the Dehradun Junction and Jolly Grand airport located just 300 km away from the city in Dehradun. Many buses also ply in the state that will take you to this Punyasthal.
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The Dwarkadhish temple is the most revered place for the Vaishnavites as this temple is said to be built in the city of Dwarka which Lord Krishna himself created and ruled. This temple is built exactly 56 steps from the Gomati River which is considered to be Ganga herself. This temple in Gujarat has the most unique architecture and has two gates namely the “Swarga Dwar” or the gateway to heaven and the “Moksha Dwar” or the gateway to salvation. The name of the city also comes from “Dwar” which means gate or door and is often regarded as the gateway to moksha. Apart from the main deity Vishnu, here known as Trivikrama, the temple also houses other idols of Baldevji, Anirudh, and Pradyumna (grandsons of Krishna) inside the sanctum.
The other deities in the temple complex are Devaki (Mother of Krishna), Kuseswara Mahadev (Shiva), Veni-Madhava (Vishnu), Satyabhama, Radhika, Jambavanti, Saraswati, Lakshmi-Narayan, and Mahadeva.
The story behind the construction of this city is that Shri Krishna had killed evil Kansa who tortured the people of Mathura along with the nearby regions. Kansa had also imprisoned Krishna’s parents Vasudeva and Devaki and killed all of their newborns. Krishna ruled over Mathura from then on. When the wives of Kans returned to their father Jarasanta’s home, he got very angry and sworn to kill Krishna. Jarasanta attacked Mathura 17 times with his demon soldiers and Krishna and Balrama defeated and killed his entire army every time.
Jarasanta, however, decided to bring an army of sages the 18th time. When Krishna got to know, he requested the architect of Gods, Lord Vishwakarma, to build a new city out of gold and transported all his subjects, livestock, and other things overnight to Dwarka.
There is another story linked to the idol that is established in the Dwarka which goes like there was once a very old devotee named Badana who used to travel from Dakor to Dwarka to worship Lord Krishna. Impressed by her devotion, Krishna once decided to go along with her to Dakor in the form of an idol. The priests of the temple thought that Badana was stealing the idol and therefore followed her to Dakor.
On reaching there, when the priests demanded Badana to give back the idol she denied it and said that she could give the same amount of gold as the idol weighted. The priests agreed to it but Krishna knew that Badana only had her nose ring in the name of gold. So, Krishna made his idol as light as her nose ring. However, he did not want to upset the priests too and made a prophecy that if they dig a hole at the place the next day they would find an idol same as the original one. Desperate to take the idol back to the temple, the priests started digging that very day but to their trauma found an incomplete statue. It is said that the priests installed this very idol in the sanctum of Dwarkadhish.
It is believed that after Krishna returned to Vaikuntha, the entire city got engulfed by the ocean, and the remains of the city can still be found in the water.
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The Jagannath temple in Puri, Odisha is the site of Govardhan Matha. This temple is of utmost importance to the devotees and is believed to be built millennia ago. This place is especially famous for its Rath Yatra in which the deities are carried in colossal chariots through the roads of Puri to another temple.
This temple boggles the mind of tourists and devotees from around the world because of all the characteristics defying the laws of nature. The dhwaja or the flag on the top of the temple flutters in the opposite direction of the wind, the sound of the waves of the ocean does not reach your ears after entering the temple, no aerial creatures or objects are ever seen hovering over the temple, the temple does not have a shadow at any time of the day and there are many more beliefs and facts about this temple that baffles the human mind.
The legend goes that once Krishna started chanting Radha’s name continuously in his sleep and all of the eight queens of Krishna got upset and wondered who Radha was. They went to Vrindavan to ask Mata Rohini, Balram’s mother, to tell the story behind this name. Rohini placed a condition that nobody should hear about the story while she would be narrating, to which the wives of Krishna agreed and gave the task of guarding the gate to Krishna’s sister Subhadra. When Rohini started with the fascinating story of Krishna’s childhood, not only the queens but also Subhadra was awe-struck, they lost their senses and immersed themselves in the story.
When Balrama came, he joined Subhadra in listening to the story out of curiosity and the same happened with him. When Krishna came looking for her wives and saw Subhadra and Balrama peeping inside the room, he too joined them. All of the three siblings were listening to the story with their eyes wide open and completely numb. When Rishi Narad appeared he rejoiced at the sight and he demanded Krishna that a temple should be built with the idol having the same appearance to which Krishna agreed. And so, a king named Indradyumna built this temple of Jagannath Swamy in the Kali Yuga.
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This temple is situated in Pamban Island, often referred to as Rameshwaram Island because of the temple, at the very tip of the Indian Peninsula, and is connected with the mainland by a bridge on the Gulf of Mannar. This island can be reached easily from Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
It is said that a trip to Kashi in Varanasi is incomplete if one does not visit this place also known as Varanasi of the South. Hindus believe that Lord Rama, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, himself inducted the Shiva Linga when he returned from his quest for his wife from Lanka. Because of the same reason, this is yet another temple that is most loved by the Vaishnavites and the Shaivites both and people believe that bathing in the teertha or holy water bodies of this temple relieves oneself of all kinds of diseases of the mind, body, and the soul.
Legends say that when Rama returned from Lanka along with his wife Sita, after killing Ravana and releasing Devi Sita from his clutches, he stopped at Rameshwaram where he had also prayed while beginning his quest. Rama and Sita decided that they would install a shiva linga at this very place and pray to Lord Shiva to free him of the sins of killing Ravana who was a Brahmin.
Rama sent Hanuman to Kailasha to bring a Shiva Linga. However, when Hanuman could not return from Kailasha before the set auspicious time, Devi Sita made a small Shivalinga out of the sand and worshipped it. When Hanuman returned, he became upset that Rama did not wait for him and so Rama and Sita installed this Shiva Linga along with the previous one in Rameshwaram. Thus, Rameshwaram has two jyotirlingas: the one made by Sita is known as Ramalingam and the one brought by Hanuman is known as Vishwalingam.
This temple holds a world record of having the largest court hall with 1212 pillars in total which meet at a single point depicting the accurate and astounding skills of Dravidian architecture. It has 64 teerthas or holy water bodies but 24 of them are considered most important with the main teertha being the Bay of Bengal itself.
Hindu mythology is an infinite ocean, and thus, you will often find strings of stories connected to a single place, all of them intertwined. So, you may have heard many indigenous stories but that does not defy some and establish the authenticity of the others. In this vast world, people find peace and the almighty himself at these places and just this belief keeps them going. You just have to dip yourself in faith and go searching for the one that is limitless and liberates you from the continuous and tiring cycle of life.