The four main dhams or holy shrines in the Himalayas are Badrinath, the abode of Lord Narayana, Kedarnath, the abode of Lord Shiva, Gangotri, the source of the river Ganga and Yamunotri, the source of the river, Yamuna. Of these Badrinath is considered to be the most sacred. In the Bhagavad Purana, Lord Krishna tells his friend and devotee, Uddhava that in future he would be available only in the holy spot of Badrikashrama (Badrinath). He gave Uddhava his sandals and told him to carry them to Badrinath and keep it there for people to worship. These are to be seen even now. The Hindu scriptures say that the life of a Hindu would be incomplete without making a visit to Badrinath. It is the supreme place of pilgrimage especially for the Vaishnavites (worshippers of Vishnu and his avataras). According to the Padma Purana, the rishis found Uttrakhand (modern Uttranchal) to be indeed a glorious temple built by Nature for the worship of the Supreme.
From time immemorial the whole of India has been linked with these holy spots by a bond of consecrated faith.
Badrinath has a very ancient history. It dates from the Vedic period. It is a common belief that many of the Vedic hymns and the major portions of the Upanishads were sung first in this spot known as Badarikashrama. It is a place where countless sages and seers have done penance. No other spiritual place in India is called “ashrama” – a sanctuary for spiritual seekers. The whole land between Nandaprayag and Satopant is known as the Badri Vishal Kshetra. The great sages, Nara and Narayana are said to be practicing tapasya here even to this day. The Mahabharata mentions that these sages took a human birth as Krishna and Arjuna for the benefit of mankind. The Mahabharata also mentions that Krishna visited Arjuna in Badarikashrama and lived with him for a considerable period of time during their exile. The sage Vyasa also visited this spot. In fact the cave dedicated to him is close to the temple and this is where he is supposed to have written the Mahabharata with Ganesha as his scribe. It is in this cave that he collected the Vedas and divided them into four parts which he taught to four of his chief disciples. Many sages like Vasishta and Kanwa went there to meditate.
Five out of the six schools of Indian philosophy wrote their treatises in this holy land. It is no wonder therefore that every Hindu considers a visit to Badrinath as a means of liberation from this life of transmigration. (Wilkepedia)
As I write this now from my Indian Journal, some thirty years have passed and the Journal refreshes my memory of many little forgotten details. I have not read these notes often, maybe consulted a page or two over the years but going into some details now, stirs quite a memory of younger days.
I found some extra notes taken after this part of the journey. I may have written them after my return to Rishikesh because there I was fairly stationary and in one place for quite a few weeks. Here are some of these notes.:
I noted that on looking back I wished I could have spent a few more days in some place like Srinigar but there were many tourists and most of the reasonable hotels and lodges were filled.
About Joshi Math, I mentioned that there too,finding a place to stay was difficult but I considered my self lucky because I was able to visit the place where Shankara meditated, received enlightenment and where he probably founded his first monastery. It was fascinating to have been able to get a chance to meditate in the same cave, and at the monastery,to listen to some teachings, to see the present Shankaracharya sitting on his throne.
It was also wonderful to be able to be in the same area where Maharishi received teachings from his Guru, Brahamananda Saraswati.
Disappointing to hear from 4 am to 6 am fully blast on loudspeakers, the Vedic chants rolling at a terrific speed which made it unpleasant to the ears. I was also disappointed that in the restaurant just below the monastery, there was, blasting very loudly, rock music.! Occasionally I even heard tapes of Bob Marley.
The noise in the restaurant was so loud that it was difficult to hear one’s own voice. Yet paradoxically, one man told me that he preferred not to live in the cities because, he said “we rather live here because we are much closer to nature”.
About the Christian community in Joshi Math: the Catholic priest at the time, Fr.Matthew explained to me that the house where the sisters were staying originally belonged to the Hindu high-priest. The village wanted a school that taught English and this is how the sisters were called in. Now the sisters had bought a piece of land and were going to build a new school and residence and once it was completed, the Catholic priest will move over to the house that they previously occupied. Fr.Matthew was well accepted in the region and was then an active member of the village committee. He explained to me that Shankara was originally from Kerala and since then it has been a tradition that the presiding Shankara must be from Kerala. Also the Hindu high-priest must be Keralite and in as much as Fr. Matthew was himself a Keralite, he had this in his favor. Shankara was meditating and had a vision of a statue of Badrinath which lay in the River. They searched and found the statue in the place indicated and since then it has been placed in the temple for veneration.
The road from Joshi Math led along a very winding and frightening route. In as much as I suffer from heights, I asked to change seats so as not to be on the window side. There were very steep drops leading into cliffs with snow and ice. The bus was not heated and constantly people were opening windows so they could vomit. There were many village folks not accustomed to heights.
Strangely enough I thought it reminded me of some parts of Switzerland because of the snow-capped peaks, the geysers , the water falls, the green patches, and even some wild flowers.We passed many a small family with women carrying huge loads on the backs of laden donkeys. some of the bronze pots were the same color of their skins some women were fully dressed somewhat like Tibetans and on their heads huge baskets of maybe trinkets to sell. after a few hours of total sight seeing, we took a bend in the road and there was Badrinath sprawled out in its beauty before us.
We were happy to leave the bus and stretch a leg and so we walked straight up the path, following the pilgrims to the temple. Just close by were the hot springs and some were heading there to bathe. I watched and discovered that some had bought rice in little bags and with a cord attached to the bag, they allowed it to stay a few minutes in the hot water so as to be cooked and this was considered as blessed food.Blessed by the Ganges. Going in to the temple was a slow process as it was fairly small and we had to wait out turn.
The priest did an offering of lights and pilgrims placed money offerings on the plate. There was a priest at the door who marked our foreheads with the traditional paste and we left. I went down to the banks of the river. It was lucky that I had a fairly warm woollen sweater which I bought for the trip. I found a flat rock and there I was able to sit and meditate. It was peaceful.
Here we can see.
Nara and Narayana
The Garhwal Himalayas has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Snow capped peaks, misty mountains, green valleys, gushing rivers, the stately devataru (deodar) forests, grassy slopes, abundant flowers and an amazing array of birds and butterflies all of which combine to make this place one of the most charming spots on this planet. It is also one of the holiest places on earth. The spiritual vibrations here cannot fail to be felt by anyone however insensitive. It is no wonder that this place is known as devabhumi – the valley of the gods.
And below is the temple of Badrinath.