Himalayan Sacred Walks - Part II3, Nov, 2017, by Seema Bhatnagar
In continuation to Part I.
Kedarnath is located at a distance of 223 km from Rishikesh, at a height of 3,583 m (11,755 ft) above sea level in Rudraprayag district of Uttrakhand state.
It is of much significance because of the Kedarnath temple, which has one of the twelve jyotirlingas, (the most significant places of worship of Lord Shiva).
Located just near the head of Mandakini river, it is one of the four major sites in Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas. It is the highest among the other twelve Jyotirlingas, as others are situated in plains and are easily accessible.
Due to extreme weather conditions in the hilly region of Rudrapryag, the temple is open for general public only between the end of April (Akshaya Tritriya) to Kartik Purnima (the autumn full moon, usually late October or early November).
In Hindi language the proper word for temple’s door is, “Kapaat”. During winters, the kapaat remain closed and vigrahas (idols of deities, not the linga itself) from Kedarnath temple are shifted to Ukhimath for next six months and daily worship is performed there.
Popularly-narrated legend holds that subsequent to the Kurukshetra war of the epic Mahabharata, the Pandavas on the advice of the Lord Krishna and other sages wished to atone for their sins of fratricide and Brahmanahatya, committed by them during the war by seeking pardon from the Lord Shiva and also pray for his blessings before attaining salvation. But Shiva was not willing to meet them since he was annoyed with them for the unjust events of the war. He, therefore, avoided meeting them at Kashi and went incognito as the bull Nandi to Guptakashi.
But Pandavas pursued him to Guptakashi and recognized him in the disguised form of Nandi. When Bhima, the second Pandava brother tried to hold the bull by its tail and hind legs, Nandi vanished from Guptakashi, into the ground (into a cave for hiding), but reappeared later as Shiva in five different forms namely, hump at Kedarnath, face at Rudranath, arms at Tungnath, navel and stomach at Madhyamaheshwar and the locks at Kalpeshwar. (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kedarnath_Temple)
The temple was built by Pandavas (five brothers as mentioned in epic Mahabharat) and later on it is believed to have been constructed in the 8th century CE, by Adi Shankaracharya, a great Indian theologist and philosopher. It is also believed that at the same place he attained Mahasamadhi or left his body.
Fury of floods.
In the year 2013, Kedarnath was the worst affected area due to flash floods in Northern India which is popularly known as “Himalayan Tsunami.”. The temple complex, surrounding areas and Kedarnath town suffered heavy damage, but the temple structure did not suffer any "major" damage, except few cracks on one side of the four walls which was caused by the flowing debris from the higher mountains. There used to be a samadhi mandir of Adi Shankaracharya behind the temple which also got swept away in the flood.
According to local people, the temple was saved from this fury of flood and destruction because a large rock among the debris acted as a barrier. The surrounding premises and other buildings in market area were heavily damaged and were washed away but the temple remained unmoved. This big rock is still lying on the rear side of the temple and has been named as “Bhim Shila” and has become another significant part of the temple to be worshipped by devotees.
The journey begins.
To reach Kedarnath temple there are two options – first is to trek down and other is to go via Helicopter. The trek and as well as the helicopter service are located at a place called Sitapur (of Uttrakhand not of Uttar Pradesh), which is considered as a base to Kedarnath. So our destination was actually Sitapur to start our journey for Kedarnath.
While on the way to Sitapur from Haridwar, as the hilly region started and so is the discomfort in my stomach. The frequent sharp turns give a bad mood to my stomach, within an hour of journey I felt uneasy, instead of enjoying the landscapes I was constantly checking myself that I am not ready to puke.
Appointed Doctors in all the buses were carrying vomit bags and first aid kits, I quickly asked for a bag and within few minutes I used it. Actually, it was my mistake that I didn’t take the medicine at the time of boarding the bus, like always I wanted to avoid taking a pill but then eventually I had to. I myself was also carrying the kit of required medicines as per the trip guidelines but I kept it in the farthest corner of my bag in anticipation that I wouldn’t need it at all. Anyhow, eventually I came to terms with that unease which is going to stay with me for the next 7 days. After popping a pill I felt better and relieved and could reasonably enjoy the beautiful landscapes.
On the way to Sitapur, our bus stopped at the confluence, Dev Prayag. Its' literal meaning is, ”Godly Confluence”. This is a point where the Alaknanda river is joined by the Bhagirathi river and together forms the holy Ganges.
Our driver slowed down the bus for us to enjoy the view and to click few shots. Due to that unease I was feeling uncomfortable but somehow I pushed myself to have a glimpse of it.
It was an amazing view, the difference in colors of two rivers coming together at confluence was so starkly visible. I was just thinking, how the water in the same region takes on different colors, reflecting the quality of rocks finding on its' way.
By the evening we reached Sitapur. Our rooms’ allocation was announced and we quickly settled down in respective rooms. After having dinner we all came back to rooms and started preparing for the departure next day. We were instructed to pack only essential items and leave the main baggage at Sitapur itself. Essential items included the medicines, a torch and woolens for sure, that can be easily packed in one backpack. As a luggage, we had only one backpack.
We were asked in the beginning of the trip itself about our choice for mode of journey to reach Kedarntath. For me, I was very clear right from the beginning for availing helicopter service, because I really do not have that stamina to walk through treacherous trek, and moreover I would rather prefer to conserve my energy for spending more time meditating there than nursing my sore feet. The total cost of helicopter ride, to and fro was 7000/- INR, which is not too expensive. People who opted for trekking were given pony to ride if needed on the way.
People who opted for trekking started their journey around 6:00 am in the morning. Those who opted for helicopter were required to reach the exact location of helipad at Sitapur by 11:00 am.
Our buses picked us up from our hotels and dropped at the helipad. I was excited because it is going to be my first experience of sitting in a helicopter. Since my childhood I wanted to see and experience about how flying machines work. In airbuses the cockpit is closed and one cannot have a view of ongoing operations.
After waiting for almost half an hour my turn came for checking body weight and the weight of a backpack to decide the sitting arrangement and to ensure that weight limit for chopper is not violated. Finally, our names for boarding were called out and the next moment we were sitting in a chopper.
It was a six seater chopper. For me, it was a dream come true, wow.. I was sitting just next to the pilot and could see all the controls on the front panel. The moment it took off I was in a different world altogether. My whole attention was on the pilot, how he was controlling this giant flying machine. It was very noisy outside but inside it was not that noisy. We were instructed to sit silently in the chopper without making much of the movement. The girl sitting next to me was extremely scared and was strongly holding my hand and chanting prayers inside, perhaps it was her first experience of openly hanging in the air.
For me, I was enjoying the beautiful landscape just flying amidst the mountains and at the same time it was a pleasure watching how flying is done. Our ride came to an end after 5 minutes and landed at Kedarnath safely. For me, those 5 minutes were nothing less than a fortune, the first time experience always becomes a memory.
After landing we reported to Isha group contacts and got our rooms assigned for a night stay. I and my other friends kept our backpack in our room and went straight for Kedarntath temple which was 10 minutes walk from our room. It was a sunny afternoon and tolerably cold, overall it was a pleasurable tingling of warm and cold. There was no need of heavy woolens during afternoon, just a sweater will do.
The very sight of Kedarnath was overwhelming. Surrounded by snow clad peaks, with river Mandakini flowing on the side and a loudspeaker airing chants of Lord Shiva, was setting just the right tone and mood before one enters the sanctum sanctorum.
Way to temple.
Mandakini river on the way to temple.
Snow clad peaks surrounding temple.
As soon as we landed there all the pundits started hovering around us to get the pooja done inside the sanctum sanctorum, i.e. just near the jyotirlinga. After much of haggling we decided to do a laghu-rudra-abhishek, which costed 2100/- per person. This is about offering water, ghee (clarified butter), honey, flowers, fruits and sweets to jyotirlinga, which is a representation of Lord Shiva.
We bought all the pooja stuff from the local market while moving towards temple. That punditjee took us inside the temple for worship and asked us to be seated around jyotirlinga, i.e. Kedarnath.
Market on the way to temple.
Plateful of offerings for linga.
As per the Shiva temple tradition, a rock carved Nandi was sitting at the entry of the temple, adorned with red clothes and garlands offered by devotees.
Nandi waiting at entry.
The temple inside was crowded with people who wanted to perform abhishek for linga and there were others also who just wanted to have a glimpse and touch of the linga. It was reverberating with chants of mantras and everyone was looking for an opportunity to touch the linga.
The linga made out of stone, was a small mound in a pyramidal shape, brownish in color with rough surface. Its' various sides represent different members of Lord Shiva’s family, namely Parvati (his wife), Ganesh (his son) and Nandi (his vehicle).
Within few minutes of sitting near the jyotirlinga, something overwhelming happened to me and I could not stop my tears flowing. I didn’t know the reason it just kept on rolling down my cheeks.
Along with chants from Vedas punditjee asked us to offer the required offering from the plate to the linga. For almost 45 mins the chanting and offering continued and those whole 45 minutes I could not stop my tears. During the chanting, he asked us to remember all family members, friends, ancestors or anybody you can think of at that particular moment. It was like you are including all of them in making offerings to linga. He asked us to make a wish in front of linga, I really didn’t feel like asking anything at that moment, the very experience of sitting there and experiencing the energy of that place was in itself a blessing and fortune for me.
Few items from the offerings were kept back inside the plate, as a “Prasad”, which is considered as the blessing of the Lord. A part of which should be consumed by the one who performed the worship and the rest should be distributed to others.
After completing pooja we came out and handed over the dakshina (fee) to punditjee. By now I was fine but still something deeper was happening inside which is difficult to express in words. Once done with everything, I sat for meditation quietly in a corner just near the entry of a temple, on the side-platform (as it is visible in pic). The deep state of meditation was so powerful that I never experienced something like that before. It was just mind blowing, can’t express it in words, once again my tears started rolling down my cheeks.
Sitting on a platform near temple entry.
It was a day of Mahalaya Amavasya on Tuesday, 19 Sept, 2017, a very special day for making offerings to forefathers. It was nothing less than a fortune to get an opportunity for making offerings to forefathers on that special day.
Temple doors get closed by 3 pm and get reopened by 6 pm in the evening. Arti time was at 7 pm , which is again a very special event for any temple. One can pay 1500/- INR with Kedartnath trust office and can stand near the linga. Since I was already overwhelmed by the morning experience so did not opt for the evening arti.
One could see Isha meditators in all the corners. It felt as if that whole place belonged to us. By evening, there was a sathsang session planned by Isha team. We all gathered near the main entry of temple and sat on the ground. The video was played in Sadhguru’s voice for conducting meditation session. Once again it was a mind blowing session of meditation, at least for me, tears again..:-)..
After arti, we went inside the temple, those chants, lights, fragrance all in together created such a powerful energy that it was difficult to remain untouched, and so once again tears started flowing unstoppably for almost 15 minutes in that overwhelming state. Watch the video below for the glimpses of arti.
Man with ash smeared on face.
As you can see and might feel also how the whole space would have become powerful with fire, bells and chants. All pujaris were specially dressed up for aarti. The man in red robes with ash smeared on face , was playing damru. He continued playing it for almost one hour. I was just wondering at him, how he is able to play it without getting tired.
Journey came to an end.
Finally, I with my group of friends came for a dinner by 8 pm. People who came trekking were dead tired and just wanted to crash in bed but I was full of energy and didn’t feel like going to bed. It felt as if sleeping means losing an opportunity to be fully engaged in such a powerful energy space. When I saw everybody sleping, I too slept for 2-3 hours, but hardly.
I got up and freshened up (with cold freezing water) by 3:30 am and went walking all alone towards main temple in that pitch dark. It was only me and my torch and a lilt of a flowing water of river, Mandakini. I wanted to do my morning meditation in the Brahma mahurat, 3:30 am – 4:15 am or well before sunrise, that is the most appropriate time for doing meditation.
There was nobody around, I was walking all alone without any fear, covered and loaded with my woolens, which means cap, gloves and heavy jacket. The moment I reached near the temple premise, a group of dogs started barking at me, thinking that somebody weird of their community is coming to meet them at this odd time :-). Since I am not so scared of dogs, so kept walking towards my favorite point, that platform near the main entry. Dogs settled down once I responded them calmly and then I settled for doing my meditation. Once again that powerful energy touched me....., needless to repeat what happened next. After an hour or so, I could hear the commotion as devotees and pundits started preparing for morning pooja and aarti.
The locals who met me in the morning.
With Isha group, we performed Guru Pooja at 5:45 am, in front of the main entry. Post Guru pooja, once again we visited inside the temple and then finally came down to our rooms and started preparing to board the helicopters. People who were trekking down started at 6:30 am after having breakfast.
By now, I made good friendship with few other fellow meditators. We became well-bonded by now, sharing rooms, bus and visiting places together. It felt as if we know each there since ages.
We took 9:00 am flight from Kedarnath to land at Sitapur. Reached within 5 minutes, post that boarded bus to reach hotel room at Sitapur.
In the video below, I am wearing black jacket and standing first in the queue for boarding from Kedarnath helipad. This video was captured by my friend.
It was a time to relax as we had to wait for people who were coming back trekking. Meanwhile, I took shower and sat quietly in the corner to once again soak myself in the memories of that overwhelming experience I had at Kedar.
I was amazed at myself for the fact that I wasn’t feeling sleepy or tired at all even after sleeping for only 3 hours in last 24 hours. This is again perhaps due to the powerful energy that touched me deep inside.
Had our lunch and we were all set to leave by 2:00 pm for next destination, Guptkashi.