Kedarnath is a small town in the Gahrwal Himalyan Ranges in Uttarakhand. It is the site of the holy Kedarnath temple of the Hindus. This small town has received a lot of news coverage and attention lately because of the tragic flashflood that hit it and caused the death of thousands of locals and pilgrims. Here are some of the facts about this town that you might not know-
There are different theories as to how the name ‘Kedarnath’ came about. The most popular and widely believed one is that the town derives its name from its ruler -King Kedar who reigned there during the Staya Yug. According to astrologer Pandit Manish Sharma, this town was the place where Nar Nayan, an avtar of Vishnu, created temporary ‘shivling’ to pray to Lord Shiv. Shiv descended on earth and asked Nar Nayan what he wished for, and Nar Nayan replied that he wished for Shiv to reside in that Shivling. Pleased by his wish, Shiv decided that the place would be called ‘Kedar.’ The name of the town thus has its roots in mythological tales.
9- Kedarnath Temple
Kedarnath is the town of the holy Kedarnath Temple. It is one of the holiest pilgrimage spots of the Hindus, and one of the four Chota Char Dham (the others three being Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri) The temple of Lord Shiv is also one of the twelve Jyotirlings, again very important for the Hindus. It is believed to have been in existence since the Mahabharat era- built by the Pandavs. It is said that the Pandavs pleased Lord Shiv by atoning for their sin of killing their cousins there. Every year, hundreds and thousands of pilgrims flock to this town for ‘darshan’ at the sacred temple. It is only because of this temple that the otherwise nondescript town occupies such an important position on the tourist map.
What makes this Dham so important as compared to the other three could also be the fact that it is very remote and hard to reach. It is located 11,755 feet above sea level and surrounded by the high, snow capped mountain peaks of the Himalyas. There are no direct road links to Kedarnath from any other place- a fact that proved to be tragic during the floods. The two ways to reach this town are by (a) an uphill trek or (b) by mules and horses. The trek is fourteen km long and difficult, yet this does not deter devotees. One can even climb up on horses or on palanquins that are rented at Gaurikund. Recently, a third option in terms of chopper services has also come up. There have been helicopter travels from Dehradun on clear, sunny days. The Pawan Hans carries two passengers to the shrine every day.
7- Gender Divide
The sex ratio in our country has always been skewed, and this town is no exception. The taboo of a girl child is especially apparent in rural regions. The town of Kedarnath has a very skewed sex ratio. According to the 2001 census, the female population made up only 2% of the total! Out of the small population of 479 people, males composed 98%. The literacy rates of females were only 36% as compared to the 63% for males. Interestingly enough, the town of Rudraprayag in Uttarakhand, just a little distance way from Kedarnath, has 1120 females for every 1000 males.
6- Six months closure
Every year, due of extremely cold weather and snowfall, the temple is closed for pilgrims for around six months. It closes on Bhai Duj, the day after Diwali, and reopens on the occasion of Akshya Tritiya in April or May. During the time that the Kedarnath Temple is shut, the statue of Shiv is carried down to Ukhimath near Guptkashi. The families living in Kedarnath too move temporarily to other villages, and the whole town remains shut. Livelihood is restored again and the deity is reinstated in the temple during the last week of April or beginning of May.
5- The Priest of the Temple
The Head Priest of the Kedarnath temple belongs to the Veerashaiva community of Karnataka. He is addressed as the Rawal. The Rawal at Kedarnath does not perform the pooja himself, like at many other famous temples. Instead, he instructs other pundits on how to perform it. The Rawal of the temple at present is Shree Vageesha Lingacharya. There are five main priests who hold the post of the head priest in rotation on annual basis. In 1999, the Dharamcharya of the temple was suspended for absenteeism on the recommendation of the Rawal.
4- Celebrity Visits
Even the rich and the famous have wishes that only God can grant. The Kedarnath Temple is famous amongst celebrities as well. Many Bollywood stars, politicians and famous celebrities have visited this shrine to offer their prayers over the years. In 2008, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, her parents, Jaya Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan visited the temple. Also accompanying them was Samajwadi Party politician Amar Singh. They performed puja at the temple for one hour before doing parikrama around the shrine of Lord Shiv. Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi also wanted to visit the temple with her daughter Priyanka before beginning the election campaigning. During the recent floods, many politicians visited the site of Kedarnath to assess damage, rescue options and offer what help they could.
3- Landslides and Fires
The Uttarakhand flood disaster isn’t the first time Kedarnath has faced natural calamity. This town has dealt with many natural disasters. Being a mountainous region, the residents and visitors often face even more difficulty than they would have at plains. In 2000 and 2001, the route to Kedarnath became impossible to trek due to heavy rains and landslides. Landslides are common and often wash away the roads in this region, making certain areas inaccessible. In 2003, the chopper service had to be discontinued for a few days because of the raging fires in Rudraprayag. In 1991, the small town was in danger of snowstorms and avalanches due to glacial erosion. What is worse is that every time a natural disaster strikes, telephone lines and walking routes become jammed, leaving the pilgrims and locals stranded in the small town.
2- The Yatra to salvation
The reason why people face dangerous terrains to reach the Kedarnath Temple is because it is considered to be the holiest of the chaar dham. According to the Shiv Puran, pilgrims who pass away in Kedarnath will reach salvation and be absolved of all their sins in life. The water of Kedarnath is said to be of utmost religious importance. It is said by many that if you drink this water after offering your prayers at the shrine, you will be absolved of all your sins. Kedarnath is the highest of the twelve Jyotirlings of Lord Shiv. Devotees like to believe that everything they wish and pray for at this temple in front of Kedareshwar comes true. The temple has a lot of ‘maanta’ (to use the traditional hindi word) i.e., many people believe that it has the power to grant their wishes. This is the reason why it occupies such a high place in all of the Hindu pilgrimage spots.
1- The 2013 Floods
Very recently, this small town experienced a tragedy of immense proportions. Due to a cloud burst in the region, the entire area suffered from a terrible flash flood. This natural calamity caused the deaths of thousands of locals and pilgrims. Since it was the tourist season in June, the death toll was frightening. Other places in Uttarakhand were also hit by this torrential flood but Kedarnath, with its lack of road access, bore the brunt of the calamity. Rescue operations by the army managed to evacuate a lot of the stranded people but innumerable deaths and injuries were reported. The main structure of the Kedarnath temple remained intact even as everything surrounding it was destroyed.