Badarinath |
 
Badrinath from Rudraprayag via Joshimath
 
Rudraprayag to Badrinath (Day 13 – July 13, 2006) : 165 Km/ 7 hr
The first 120 km or so, up to Joshimath, can be covered in about 4 hours or so, the next 45 km from Joshimath to Badrinath takes about 3 hours.

Also, traffic is regulated between Joshimath and Badrinath and will be allowed from Joshimath (to Badrinath) and from Badrinath (to Joshimath) at the following times of the day only: 6:30 am, 9:30 am, 11:30 am, 2:00 pm and 4:30 pm. This is done to ensure that the narrow road between Joshimath and Badrinath will not have 2-way traffic at all places but is restricted to one wide area approximately half-way between.

The plan: Badrinath temple visit is a 2-day program. On the first day, we drive from Rudraprayag to Badrinath, arrive there by 4 pm or so, check in at hotel, take bath at ‘tapt kund (hot water pond)’, visit Badrinath temple for the evening aarti, halt for the night. Early next day morning, again worship at Badrinath temple, then move on to Mana village (about 3 km from Badrinath), visit the sites of importance there like Vyasa and Ganesh Gufas, Bheem Phul and River Saraswathi, return to Joshimath by second day evening.

These 2 days are also eagerly awaited because these are the days that we get to come to the famous Badarikashramam to have darshan of Lord SrimanNarayana in meditative pose at Badrinath temple.

Legend of Badrinath: Badrinath, one of the most important pilgrim centers of India, is the fourth site of the Char Dham. It is flanked by Nar and Narayan mountains while the Neelkanth Peak forms an excellent backdrop. Badri Vishalji, as the presiding deity here is called, is none other than Lord SrimanNarayan or Maha Vishnu. Legend has it that Narad Muni told Vishnu lying in Adi Shesha with Laxmi by his side in Vaikuntha that Vishnu’s lifestyle looks more appropriate for the mortal world. Hearing this, Vishnu decided to renounce all these and go to meditation, sent Laxmi away in the company of Nag-Kanyas and searched for a place to do Tapasya. After seeing the beautiful chain of mountains of Badri place, flow of stream of water of River Alaknanda, the celestial fragrance of flowers and the surrounding beauty of Kedarkhand, Lord Narayana felt very happy. He decided to accomplish Tapa at this beautiful place only. (Lord Krishna tells his friend Uddhava, as part of UddhavaUpadesam, in Bhagavatha Purana, to do ‘Tapasya’ at Badarikashrama!). Badarikashram is also known as Lord Siva’s ancient abode. The direct evidence of this is the existence of Shri Aadi Kedar Temple near Shri Badridham. When Lord Narayan came here to do ‘tapasya’, He found Lord Siva with Parvati dwelling here. Lord Narayana played a trick, assumed form of a child, Parvati got enamored of the child. In spite of Siva recognizing Lord’s tricks and warning Parvati against sheltering the child, Goddess Parvati showed compassion, took the child inside, left it inside when Siva and Parvati went out to take bath. On return, child had locked doors from inside, Siva and Parvati could not get back inside and they decided to go away to nearby Kedarnath! Lord Narayana in Badrinath Temple is in the Tapsya pose, meditation pose, Padmasan pose or the Buddha pose. When Laxmi returned, she saw Lord doing penance in sun and rain, so she assumed form of Badri trees to provide shelter to Him, so the place came to be known as ‘badri van (forest of badri trees)’ and Lord is known as Badri Nath. There are two forms of Badrinathji, the meditation form and the Shringar form, during mediation form Laxmiji sits on left side, worshipped not as His wife but as His Strength. In Shringar form, she sits on the right and is worshipped as His consort.

The present temple’s origins also have many legends. According to one such legend, Adi Sankaracharya came to Badrinath, took bath in Tapt Kund (hot water springs form Alaknanda River) – even today, all worshippers prior to going to Badrinath Temple, are expected to take a dip at the Tapt Kund – and went inside the Badrivishal Temple. But the four armed form of Narayana established by the Rishis in Satya Yuga was not there. Sankaracharya asked the priests why the temple was without Narayana’s form. The priests replied that fearful of Chinese robbers, the then priests threw the original idol in the nearby Narad Kund (in Alaknanda river). Even though they warned Sankarahcarya against taking a dip in Narad Kund (due to heavy flow of Alaknanda river), Sankaracharaya dived in Narad Kund and tried several times to retrieve the idol. Every time, however, he came up with the Narayana idol that was broken on its hand. After few attempts, he heard Lord instructing him that in Kaliyuga, they can worship this idol which Sankaracharya then installed at the temple. The temple was renovated few hundreds years ago.

Lord Badri Vishalji sits in Padmasan pose with Lord Narad, Kuber, nearby sits Uddavji (which is also used as Utsav idol), Nar- Narayan, Shridevi and Bhudevi who sit alongwith Urvashi and Ganga. The Padmasan pose will be able to be seen generally during the morning Abhishekam only. In the Shringar pose, where the Lord is fully clothed and decorated, Badri Vishalji’s crown with diamonds and all the attendant clothes on Him, the small face of Badri Vishalji alone will be visible!

We left Rudraprayag at about 7:30 am and were hoping to be able to reach Joshimath in time to get in for the 11:30 am opening of passage from Joshimath to Badrinath. By the time we reached Joshimath, it was nearly 12-noon, so we used the time to visit the Sankaracharya Ashram at Badrinath (which is located at Joshimath). This was a moving feeling all around for all of us. Near the Sankaracharya Ashram here at Joshimath, there is a Kalpa Vriksha under which Adi Sankara did meditation. The exact place where he did the meditation is now made into a small temple with Siva Linga. One priest who sits there explained to us: Adi Sankara came here when he was 11 years old and meditated until he achieved Realization at age 16. When we inquired how the priest could be certain of these facts, the priest told us that his grand-father had explained all these facts to his father and to him (just like his great-great-grand-father provided this information to his grand-father). He, furthermore, stated that he will explain all these to his son and grand sons who in turn will explain all these to future generations. Look at this person’s life’s mission! To spread the message that he received from his great-great-grand-father on down to future generations! We bow down before such simple-living and high-thinking souls! When we entered the place, the aura and the vibrations can be felt, evidence of a great sage/saint having once spent time here, his energy and consciousness, it appears, seemingly to be present always there, and carried live even after all these years, in the air!

We waited in line by 1:30 pm and the cars were allowed to travel at 2:00 pm. On the way at couple of locations, there were rocks falling from the sides of the hill, some workers will stand there watching and letting cars pass through such areas without stopping. In fact, we were told that few days prior to our travel, one big stone fell on the side of a bus, broke through the glass window and two passengers were killed instantly. These mountain roads are hazardous (even though, we were told, eight to ten thousands pilgrims per day during peak season of mid-May to end-June travel daily through these roads). We arrived at Badrinath by 4:30 pm, stayed at Narayan Palace (we were told that Amitabh Bachan and his entourage stay at this hotel when he comes to Badrinath!).

By 5:00 pm, we were all set to go to Badrinath Temple for darshan, first to go to Tapt Kund, take bath and then go to the temple. Our friends from Los Angeles, Padmini and Nat Sridhar, on hearing of our trip to Char Dham brought a small package, in late May, given by Nat’s mother which, Padmini told us, contained Saffron, Chandanam, Agar Bathis etc. as offering to Lord Badrinath and she wanted us to offer the same at Badrinath. We had put that package in our suitcase. Just before going to Badrinath temple, we opened the package and we noted that along with those items mentioned by Padmini, the package also contained $ 101 in bills (2 fifty-dollar bills and a one-dollar bill). Our immediate instinct was to put the bills in the Hundi, later we decided to do an offering, for the equivalent amount in Indian Rupees, in their name.

The arrangements for darshan, aarti, abhishek at Badrinath are very different from those followed at Kedarnath. From 5:30 pm onwards, various aartis are conducted at 15-minute intervals. One can purchase tickets for these aartis; such persons will be allowed to sit in the mandap and have a good darshan. Those who do not purchase tickets can also watch the aarti and have darshan of Badrinath but only from a farther distance, they may be asked to keep on moving so that others, who have not purchased tickets, can also have darshan. Each aarti has a different name karpoor aarti, swarna aarti, … etc. (ticket costs are: Rs. 101, 201, 301, 501, 751 etc. for the different aartis). We purchased the aarti tickets for 6:00 clock aarti, sat in front of Badri Vishalji and had an excellent darshan of Badrinathji. We had purchased a ‘neivedya’ plate from the store as offering to Badri Vishalji. While waiting for aarti and darshan, we added the Saffron, Chandanam and Agar Bathis given by Padmini’s m-in-law on to the ‘neivedyam’ plate and offered it to the priest. The Chief Priest took it, observed it, and told us that he will use the Saffron for Abhishekam the following day!

After aarti, we went to the office to see what tickets are available for purchase for next day morning’s offering to Badrinath. Luckily, the tickets for Maha Abhishekam were available. Cost Rs. 3,500. We purchased one in our names and another in the name of Nat and Padmini Sridhar. In each ticket, three persons will be admitted for the Abhishek. Since we had two tickets, we asked whether our friends, Chetan and Amita Dave, wanted to go with us. They were slightly indisposed that day so decided not to join us for next day’s Abhishekam. We came out of the temple and while doing some shopping outside, we noticed packaged dresses. When we inquired what they were, we were told that those are the dresses that pilgrims buy to donate to BadriVishalji so that after Abhishekam, the Chief Priest will use them to decorate the deity. We were also told that that shop-keeper would help take the dresses for the Lord to the Head Priest’s House. We purchased 2 such dresses (each costing Rs. 1,500 – one golden colored and the other light pink in color), one on our behalf and the other on Padmini & Nat’s behalf. The shopkeeper accompanied me to take the dresses to the Chief Priest’s house (close to the temple) where I handed both dresses to priest’s assistant. The assistant priest is Narayanan Nambudiri from Cannanore-Payyanur area of Kerala, the Chief Priest’s name is Badri Nambudiripad (also from Cannanore-Payyanur area). Narayanan Nambudiri suggested to me to visit the residence after Abhishekam the following day to meet with the Chief Priest, Mr. Badri Nambudiripad.

Badrinathji Darshan (Day 14 – July 14, 2006)
Sarasa & I got up by 2:45 am, finished our baths, nitya puja etc., and left hotel at 4 am (all ‘abhishekam’ sponsors were instructed to report at 4:30 am in front of entrance to temple for the Abhishekam) and reached the temple by 4:15 am. Around 4:40 am, the names of sponsors of ‘MahaAbhishekam’ were called out in order of ticket purchase. About 12 to 15 MahaAbhishekam sponsors and another 10 or so ‘Abhishekam’ sponsors – Abhishekam tickets cost Rs. 2,500 - (both MahaAbhishekam and Abhishekam sponsors watch the same Abhishekam, the difference being the MahaAbhishekam sponsors get to be seated first and hence closer to the entrance to Garbha Griha). As the names were called, we were asked to form a line. We had purchased two sets of plates with dried fruits to be offered for ‘neivedyam’, while standing in line, we purchased two sets of big Tulasi garlands to take inside as offerings (which most other sponsors also purchased). Our turn to stand in line occurred as the 8 th and 9 th in the sequence, so we got an excellent seat about 4 rows behind the entrance to Garbha Griha. At 5 am, some vedic chants in the ‘Northern Indian’ style of vedic chanting commenced. The chief priest (Badri Nambudiripad) and another assistant priest started preparing all deities for Abhishekam. At 5:10 am, a Guruji or Swamiji connected with the Temple came, took his seat and started reading out the names of all sponsors for the day’s Abhishekam and then instructed all present the ‘Sankalpa’ sequence, he first saying the chant and the sponsors repeating after him. When the individual sponsor name had to be stated, he requested each sponsor to state the names of all their family members. Sarasa and I used the occasion to first chant the names, nakshatra, gothra of our family, then our extended family, then we stated the names (and their gothra, Srivatsa) of Padmini & Nat, N. V. and Malathy, Nat’s & NV’s mother, Srinivasan (Mridangam) & Radha (Nat’s sister), then all Upanishad Class attendees and their families (as a group together), then the Siva temple and Malibu Temple chanting group colleagues and their families (as a group together), special prayer for speedy recovery of one of the Upanishad Class attendee, and for the welfare of all our friends and their families. By 5:25 am, the Abhishekam commenced, water at the beginning, milk afterwards, then water, then saffron water, then other similar liquids (maybe water two or three times), maybe Chandanam, then water etc. The sequence of the Abhishekam to the deities being first abhishekam to main deity Badri Vishalji, then Narad, Nar and Narayan, Shri devi, Bhudevi, Laxmiji, Ganga, Urvashi, Uddhava, Kubera – I don’t know whether I got all names and the sequence correctly; I am writing from memory of what I heard the Guruji explaining in Hindi. The Abhishekam may have lasted about 25 to 30 minutes (may have ended by 5:50 am to 5:55 am), then the deities were wiped with cloth – all done openly, the door was not closed, all sponsors could see the process of decorating the diety -, then Badri Vishalji’s body was applied by chandan paste up to the Lord’s shoulder level – we can clearly see the contours of the body while the sandal paste was applied. Then a light, silk, white cloth was applied over the sandal paste. Then the Chief Priest brought 3 sets of dresses, 2 of them that we purchased the previous day and a third dress very similar to the other two but this one in light blue color. All three sets contained dresses for all the deities and the Chief Priest slowly and one-by-one put all 3 sets of dresses on all the deities. It was about 6:10 am or so by the time the dressing and decorations (adding of the crown, jewelry etc.). Then the ashtothara archana was performed. ‘Neivedyam’ was then offered (with the screen placed during neivedyam). At 6:25 am the aarti was conducted, then a second, ‘Maha Aarti’ was performed. Prasadams were given to all the sponsors. All sponsors proceeded to the front to have ‘darshan’ one last time before leaving (it is 6:30 am by now). For 90 minutes, thus, from about 5 am to 6:30 am, sitting there, chanting all the sookthas, Vishnu sahasranama and all the japas, watching Badri Vishalji, the Abhishekam, the decorating and the Maha Aarti was a thrill not describable by words. We felt the strong vibrations of presence of Lord Badri Vishalji., the feeling is hard to convey.

We did parikrama or pradakshina to the main temple. Immediately on the outside of the main shrine is the Badri Vishalji Swarupa Murthi, then the Adi Sankaracharya’s statue with his four disciples, then small temple like settings for idols of Hanumanji, Ganeshji, Ghantakarnaji, Laxmiji. At the main entrance, there is an idol of Garudji. There is Bhogmangi, where the Bogh of Lord is cooked with full devotion and after serving to Lord is distributed as Prasad, first to sponsors and then to all devotees. The Badri Vishalji Swarupa Murthi is the replica of the idol inside the temple that is transported to Narasimha Temple in Joshimath around mid-November when the Badrinath Temple will be closed until mid-April. We were told that this whole Badrinath town including the temple will be covered in 12 to 15 feet of snow during the winter months of November to mid-April, Adi Sankaracharya’s and his four disciples’ statues are kept in the temple complex because he is considered to have retrieved the idol, constructed the temple in its present form.

Sarasa and I went to meet the Chief Priest, after completion of our darshan, offered our pranams to him. He told us that he has gone to Tripunithura Sri Purnathrayeesa Temple (where I remember to have been taken daily for worship by my parents since age 4 or 5, generally between 4:30 am to 5 am everyday!). Priest chatted generally about Badrinath temple, suggested that we go there again, end September and early to mid-October are good times to visit Badrinath. Having gone there once, Badri Vishalji will pull us more and more towards Him, second and succeeding times trips will be made easier for us etc. We responded that we are thrilled that we had this fortune to pray and participate in the day’s Abhishekam and offered our pranams to Chief Priest once again – who is serving as priest at this Badrinath temple since 1994!

We then went back to hotel, had our breakfast (of toast and cereals), packed our bags and were on our way out of Badrinath by 10 am. Next stop is Mana, a village 3 kms from Badrinath and we arrived there by 10:30 am.

Mana Village
Mana is the northernmost village of India that one can reach by motorable road, beyond Mana one can trek another 19 to 20 kms when we get to India’s border with Tibet. Generally, few people trek these areas and Indian military has posts over there. In Mana, though, there are very many puranic and mythological sites of importance.

Vyasa Gufa: the Gufa (or cave) where Vyasa sat and composed the Mahabharatha and the 18 Puranas. This Gufa, it is stated, is 5,111 years old! Inside, a panditji is explaining to groups of visitors who go there about Vyasa, his contributions etc., how he dictated the Mahabharath & 18 puranas to Ganeshji who sitting in a cave about 50 meters below, the Ganesh Gufa, started transcribing them etc. We went inside both, the Vyasa Gufa and the Ganesh Gufa. Going thru the small gufas, walking inside the gufa in a stooping pose (because the height is only about 3 ft. or so in some places inside the gufa) and listening to the anecdotes and stories of Vyasa and Ganesh reminded us, all over once again, what we have heard elsewhere of these mythological stories! In particular was the nice and sentimental manner of narrating these stories by the panditji! Panditji was saying that Narada told Vyasa that after Vyasa’s compilation of Mahabharatha, there is Mahabharatha war going on in every house all over India, so why not Vyasa write something more elevating of human spirit, something of lasting value that Vyasa can contribute, so Vyasa decided to compose the 18 Puranas and in particular the Bhagavatha Purana etc. etc. All the devotees who sat to hear the Panditji prostrated before the Vyasa statue kept inside the gufa!

River Saraswathi: It is said that River Saraswathi is visible for few hundred yards at this place, which is said to be its origin also. We thus were able to finally see this ‘mystic river’ Saraswathi! Here, and only here, can one see River Saraswathi! Legend says that River Saraswathi, as it is flowing with strength was making noises which were making it difficult for Ganeshji to hear properly Vyasa’s dictations, he complained about it to Vyasa, who asked Saraswathi to keep quiet or go under etc. River Saraswathi obliged, split into two, one-half went into Pathaala (the nether world), the other-half went underground and re-appeared at Allahabad, near Triveni Sangam (where Ganga & Jamuna Rivers meet, and along with Saraswathi form the tri-veni).

Bheem Phul (Bheem’s Bridge) or Bheem Pathar (Bheem’s stone): legend has it that after the Mahabharatha war and after most everyone else is dead, the Pancha Pandavas and Draupadi were walking aimlessly towards Heaven. When they reached this spot, while the Pancha Pandavas crossed River Saraswathi, Draupadi could not. So, Bheem lifted a big stone and threw the stone over the river. This stone is so big that only Bheem could have lifted such a stone and thrown it over River Saraswathi, which stone was a perfect fit between two rocks over the banks of the river and where it landed and thus served as a bridge that allowed Draupadi to walk on the stone to cross River saraswathi and reach the other bank. Hence this stone and site is known as Bheem Phul (Bheems’ bridge) or Bheem Pathar (Bheem’s Stone). We can clearly see the stone standing as a bridge even today!

By 12:30 pm, we returned to Badrinath, had a quick lunch, waited in line by 1:30 pm for the 2:00 pm opening of traffic back to Joshimath. We reached Joshimath by 4:30 pm. We stayed in Hotel Mount View – with a fantastic view of the Garhwal Mountains with River Alaknanda flowing some 500 ft or so down! The sights of mountains and various rivers that we have seen the past many days are always a treat to watch even on our 14th day!

The return to Delhi From Joshimath to Rishikesh (Day 15 – July 15, 2006) : 250 km – 8 hr
We left Joshimath by 8 am, arrived at Rishikesh by 4:00 pm. We stayed at the ‘Glass House on the Ganges’ resort. We are happy to have had another day, with nothing to do but to sit, to watch Ganges flowing, to enjoy the sights, sound and the flow of River Ganges!
 
From Rishikesh to Delhi Joshimath to Rishikesh (Day 16 – July 16, 2006) : 230 km – 7 hr
The Haridwar and Rishikesh temple areas are closed for traffic since the beginning of the Sravan month (July 12). Many villagers from Haryana, Roorkee, Meerut area walk all the way from their villages to Gangotri (and past Gangotri, all the way to Gaumukh, which is 19 km from Gangotri), bring water from Gaumukh, the source of Ganga, carry it all the way to Haridwar, Rishikesh to do Abhishek for Lord Siva from the first day of Sravan to perhaps the first few days or even all days in Sravan month. Hence all roads in and around Haridwar, Roorkee are blocked for car/van/truck traffic – Uttaranchal, UP, Haryana and Delhi State Governments agree for such blocking of road traffic to facilitate worship by villagers. We had to take a circuitous route from Rishikesh via Meerut to Delhi, even then we encountered few diversions, we arrived in Delhi by 5:00 pm.