Kedarnath is the most important Hindu shrine in Himalayas, and among the major Shiva temples, of the country. Located at the source of the river Mandakini, Kedarnath is one of the twelve Jyothirlingas, of Lord Shiva, and one of the Panch Kedars.
Kedarnath, where a form of the god Shiva is venerated as one of the 12 jyotirling (linga of light), is one of the four sites in India's Char Dham pilgrimage. It is a two-day's journey from either Gangotri or one of the main disembarkation points on the plains.
Besides its affiliation with Shiva, Kedarnath is also believed to be the site of Sankaracaraya's samadhi (achievement of beatified afterlife).
The actual temple, an impressive stone edifice of unknown date, is accessible only after a steep 13 km walk (horses or palanquins are available for rent). Kedarnath temple is said to be more than a 1000 years old. Built of extremely large, heavy and evenly cut gray slabs of stones, it evokes wonder as to how these heavy slabs were handled in the earlier days. The temple has a " Garbha Griha" for worship and a Mandap apt for assemblies of pilgrims and visitors. A conical rock formation inside the temple is worshipped as Lord Shiva in his Sadashiva form.
Amidst the dramatic mountainscapes of the majestic Kedarnath range stands one of the twelve 'Jyotirlingas' of Kedar or Lord Shiva. Lying at an altitude of 3584 mts. on the head of river Mandakini, the shrine of Kedarnath is amongst the holiest pilgrimages for the Hindus.
According to legend, Lord Shiva wished to elude the Pandavas, who had come to seek penitence for having killed their kin in the battle of Kurukshetra. He took refuge in Kedarnath in the form of a bull. Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, found Shiva amongst a herd of cattle.
Having identified the meanest and most arrogant of the herd as Shiva, Bhima is said to have grabbed him by the hindquarters. What remains at the shrine in Kedarnath is the rear end of the bull, with the rest of its body scattered throughout the Garhwal. Shiva dived into the ground leaving behind him a hump on the surface. This conical protrusion is worshipped as the idol. It is the main site of the Panch Kedar temples.
There are four other Kedars Madhyamaheshwar
Three of these (barring Kalpeshwar) are in mountain meadows at higher altitudes than Kedarnath. The climb to Rudranath is the most strenuous though worth the trouble, as this meadow is one of the finest in Garhwal.
The most remote of the four Char Dham sites, Kedarnath is flanked by breathtaking snow-capped peaks.
No specific family of pujaris supervises rituals at Kedarnath, which focus around veneration of the stone lingam that rests in the inner sanctum of the temple.
Mythology identifies the deity at Kedarnath temple, with the rump of a bull, a form assumed by Lord Shiva, when eluding the Pandavas, who had come for repentance for killing their kith and kin, in the great battle of Kurukshetra. When the Pandavas followed him to the site, he dived into the ground leaving behind a hump on the surface. This conical projection is worshipped as the idol in the shrine.
The remaining parts of the body are worshipped at four other sites-the arms (Bahu) at Tungnath, mouth (mukh) at Rudranath, navel (nabhi) at Madmaheshwar and hair (jata) at Kalpeshwar. These five shrines collectively are known as the Panch Kedar.
It is believed that the temple of Kedarnath, was constructed by the Pandavas. At the entrance of the temple, is the statue of Nandi, the divine bull of Shiva. The wall inside the temple, is exquisitely carved with images, and the temple houses a shiva lingam, which is worshipped by hordes of pilgrims. The lingam, here, unlike its usual form, is pyramidal.
At the approach of winters in the month of November, the holy statue of Lord Shiva, is carried down from Garhwal (Kedarkhand) to Ukhimath, and is reinstated at Kedarnath, in the first week of May. It is at this time, that the doors of the temple are thrown open to pilgrims, who flock from all parts of India, for a holy pilgrimage.
Legends notwithstanding, the shrine of Kedarnath is very scenically placed, and is surrounded by lofty, snow - covered mountains, and grassy meadows covering the valleys. Immediately behind the temple, is the high Keadardome peak, which can be sighted from great distances. The sight of the temple and the peak with its perpetual snows is, simply, an enthralling sight.
Situated at an altitude of 14, 200 ft, and 6 kms away from Kedarnath, Vasuki Tal is situated on the right side of the valley. The crystal clear lake with stupendous scenic surroundings, offers a splendid view for the nature buff.
Located at the confluence of the Mandakini and the Sone-Ganga, this quaint village is known for its picturesque beauty.
An ancient temple dedicated to the Goddess Gauri or Parvati, the Gaurikund houses the metallic idols of Gauri and Shiva. According to legend, Parvati meditated here for a long time, to win Shiva as her consort. Ultimately, she succeeded, and the cosmic couple were wed at Trijuginarayan.