Char Dham
Overview
 
The Chota Char Dham also called Nagari , is an abugida alphabet of India and Nepal...

: चार धाम) (literally translated as 'the small four abodes/seats', meaning 'the small circuit of four abodes/seats'), is an important Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 pilgrimage circuit in the India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n Himalayas. Located in the Garhwal
Garhwal Division
Garhwal is the north-western region and administrative division of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand which is home to the Garhwali people. Lying in the Himalayas, It is bounded on the north by Tibet, on the east by Kumaon region, on the south by Uttar Pradesh state, and on the north-west by...

 region of the state of Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand , formerly Uttaranchal, is a state in the northern part of India. It is often referred to as the Land of Gods due to the many holy Hindu temples and cities found throughout the state, some of which are among Hinduism's most spiritual and auspicious places of pilgrimage and worship...

 (formerly the northwestern section of Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh abbreviation U.P. , is a state located in the northern part of India. With a population of over 200 million people, it is India's most populous state, as well as the world's most populous sub-national entity...

), the circuit consists of four sites—Yamunotri
Yamunotri
Yamunotri is the source of the Yamuna River and the seat of the Goddess Yamuna in Hinduism. It is situated at an altitude of in the Garhwal Himalayas and located approximately North of Uttarkashi, the headquarters of the Uttarkashi district in the Garhwal Division of Uttarakhand, India...

 , Gangotri , Kedarnath , and Badrinath .
Encyclopedia
The Chota Char Dham also called Nagari , is an abugida alphabet of India and Nepal...

: चार धाम) (literally translated as 'the small four abodes/seats', meaning 'the small circuit of four abodes/seats'), is an important Hindu
Hindu
Hindu refers to an identity associated with the philosophical, religious and cultural systems that are indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. As used in the Constitution of India, the word "Hindu" is also attributed to all persons professing any Indian religion...

 pilgrimage circuit in the India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

n Himalayas. Located in the Garhwal
Garhwal Division
Garhwal is the north-western region and administrative division of the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand which is home to the Garhwali people. Lying in the Himalayas, It is bounded on the north by Tibet, on the east by Kumaon region, on the south by Uttar Pradesh state, and on the north-west by...

 region of the state of Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand
Uttarakhand , formerly Uttaranchal, is a state in the northern part of India. It is often referred to as the Land of Gods due to the many holy Hindu temples and cities found throughout the state, some of which are among Hinduism's most spiritual and auspicious places of pilgrimage and worship...

 (formerly the northwestern section of Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh abbreviation U.P. , is a state located in the northern part of India. With a population of over 200 million people, it is India's most populous state, as well as the world's most populous sub-national entity...

), the circuit consists of four sites—Yamunotri
Yamunotri
Yamunotri is the source of the Yamuna River and the seat of the Goddess Yamuna in Hinduism. It is situated at an altitude of in the Garhwal Himalayas and located approximately North of Uttarkashi, the headquarters of the Uttarkashi district in the Garhwal Division of Uttarakhand, India...

 , Gangotri , Kedarnath , and Badrinath . Badrinath is also one of the four destinations (with each destination being in different corners of the country) of the longer Char Dham
Char Dham
The Chota Char Dham , is an important Hindu pilgrimage circuit in the Indian Himalayas...

 from which the Chota Char Dham likely draws its name.

While each of these sites is unique in its own fashion, inclusion in the Char Dham has, over time, caused them be viewed together in popular imagination and in pilgrimage practice.

Origins and the original Char Dham

The origins of the Chota Char Dham are obscure. Originally, the appellation Char Dham referred to a pilgrimage circuit encompassing four important temples—Puri, Rameshwaram, Dwarka
Dwarka
Dwarka also spelled Dvarka, Dwaraka, and Dvaraka, is a city and a municipality of Jamnagar district in the Gujarat state in India. Dwarka , also known as Dwarawati in Sanskrit literature is rated as one of the seven most ancient cities in the country...

, and Badrinath—located roughly at the four cardinal points of the subcontinent. An archetypal All-India pilgrimage circuit, the formation of the original Char Dham is credited to the great 8th century reformer and philosopher Shankaracharya (Adi Sankara). At some point, Badrinath, the last visited and the most important of the four sites in the original Char Dham, also became the cornerstone of a Himalayan pilgrimage circuit, which was dubbed the Chota ("Little") Char Dham to avoid confusion. In the original Char Dham, three of the four sites are Vaishnava (Puri, Dwarka and Badrinath) while one is Shaiva (Rameshwaram). The Chota Char Dham included representatives from all three major Hindu sectarian traditions, with two Shakta (goddess) sites, (Yamunotri and Gangotri), one Shaiva site (Kedarnath), and one Vaishnava site (Badrinath).

Accessible until recent times only by arduous and lengthy walking trails that repeatedly exceeded 4000 meters, the Chota Char Dham was long dominated by wandering ascetics and other religious professionals, along with a handful of devoted retirees and wealthy patrons who could afford a traveling entourage. While the individual sites and the circuit as a whole were well known to Hindus on the plains below, they were not a particularly visible aspect of yearly religious culture. After the 1962 war between India and China
Sino-Indian War
The Sino-Indian War , also known as the Sino-Indian Border Conflict , was a war between China and India that occurred in 1962. A disputed Himalayan border was the main pretext for war, but other issues played a role. There had been a series of violent border incidents after the 1959 Tibetan...

, however, accessibility to the Chota Char Dham improved, as India's short-lived efforts at Himalayan expansionism required massive road building and other infrastructure investments. As pilgrim buses began to arrive, the Chota appendix was slowly deprecated. Today, the prefix "Himalayan" (Hindi: Himalaya ki Char Dham) may be added instead to differentiate the circuit from Shankara's all-India Char Dham.

Recent development

Since the 1960s, the importance of the Chota Char Dham as both an actual destination and an object of the national Hindu religious imagination has grown considerably. Buoyed by "religious tourism" and by the rise of a conservative Hindu population compelled by sites that speak to the existence of an all-India Hindu culture, the Chota Char Dham has become an important destination for pilgrims from throughout South Asia
South Asia
South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities , also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east...

 and the diaspora, particularly Bengalis
Bengali people
The Bengali people are an ethnic community native to the historic region of Bengal in South Asia. They speak Bengali , which is an Indo-Aryan language of the eastern Indian subcontinent, evolved from the Magadhi Prakrit and Sanskrit languages. In their native language, they are referred to as বাঙালী...

, Marwaris
Marwaris
Marwari or Marwadi or Rajasthani people are Indian ethnic group, that inhabit the Rajasthan region of India. Their language Rajasthani is a part of the western group of Indo-Aryan languages....

, Marathi
Marathi people
The Marathi people or Maharashtrians are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group, that inhabit the Maharashtra region and state of western India. Their language Marathi is part of the southern group of Indo-Aryan languages...

s, Gujarati
Gujarati people
Gujarati people , or Gujaratis are an ethnic group that is traditionally Gujarati-speaking and can trace their ancestry to the state of Gujarat in western India...

s, Delhi
Delhi
Delhi , officially National Capital Territory of Delhi , is the largest metropolis by area and the second-largest by population in India, next to Mumbai. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with 16,753,265 inhabitants in the Territory at the 2011 Census...

tes and people from Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh abbreviation U.P. , is a state located in the northern part of India. With a population of over 200 million people, it is India's most populous state, as well as the world's most populous sub-national entity...

, and Uttarakhand. Today, the circuit receives hundreds of thousands of visitors in an average pilgrimage season, which lasts from approximately April 15 until Diwali
Diwali
Diwali or DeepavaliThe name of the festival in various regional languages include:, , , , , , , , , , , , , popularly known as the "festival of lights," is a festival celebrated between mid-October and mid-December for different reasons...

 (sometime in November). The season is heaviest in the two-month period before the monsoon, which normally comes in late July. After the rains begin, travel to the sites becomes extremely dangerous. Even before the rains begin, safety is a major concern, as extensive road building and heavy traffic have critically destabilized the rocks, making fatal landslides and bus/jeep accidents a regular occurrence. Mortality rates for a season often surpass 200. Some pilgrims also visit the sites after the rains ends and before the sites become impassable due to snow. Although temperatures at the shrines in the early winter months of October and November are inhospitable, it is said that the mountain scenery surrounding the sites is most vivid after the rains have had a chance to moisten the dust of the plains below.

Pilgrimage centers

Most pilgrims to the Chota Char Dham embark from the famous temple town of Haridwar
Haridwar
Haridwar is an important pilgrimage city and municipality in the Haridwar district of Uttarakhand, India...

. Others leave from Haridwar's sister city, Rishikesh, or from Dehradun
Dehradun
- Geography :The Dehradun district has various types of physical geography from Himalayan mountains to Plains. Raiwala is the lowest point at 315 meters above sea level, and the highest points are within the Tiuni hills, rising to 3700 m above sea level...

, the capital of Uttarakhand. From there, the tradition is to visit the sites in the following order:
  1. Yamunotri, the source of the Yamuna
    Yamuna
    The Yamuna is the largest tributary river of the Ganges in northern India...

     River and the seat of the goddess Yamuna
    Yami
    In Vedic beliefs, Yamī is the first woman, along with her twin brother, Yama. The Rig Veda, in the tenth Mandala, contains a hymn in which they sing to each other. They were children of Surya, the Sun god, in his form as Vivasvat, and his wife Saranya. She is also known as Yamuna. Another name for...

    , is a full day's journey from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehradun
    Dehradun
    - Geography :The Dehradun district has various types of physical geography from Himalayan mountains to Plains. Raiwala is the lowest point at 315 meters above sea level, and the highest points are within the Tiuni hills, rising to 3700 m above sea level...

    . The actual temple is only accessible by a six km walk from the town of Hanuman Chatti (horses or palanquins are available for rent). The current temple is of recent origin, as past iterations have been destroyed by the weather and elements. Lodging at the temple itself is limited to a few small ashrams and guesthouses. Ritual duties such as the making and distribution of prasad
    Prasad
    Prasād is a mental condition of generosity, as well as a material substance that is first offered to a deity and then consumed...

    (sanctified offerings) and the supervision of pujas (ritual venerations) are performed by the Uniyal family of pujaris (priests). Unique aspects of ritual practice at the site include hot springs where raw rice is cooked and made into prasad.
  2. Gangotri, the source of the Ganga River (Ganges) and seat of the goddess Ganga, can be reached in one day's travel from Rishikesh, Haridwar or Dehra Duhn, or in two days from Yamunotri. More popular and important than its sister site to the east, Gangotri is also accessible directly by car and bus, meaning that it sees many more pilgrims. A small village of guesthouses and restaurants serves the pilgrim community. Ritual duties are supervised by the Semwal family of pujaris. The aarti ceremony at the Gangotri is especially impressive, as is the temple, a stately affair that sits on the banks of the rushing Ganges (Ganges River). Adventurous pilgrims can make an overnight 17 km trek to Gaumukh, the actual current source of the Ganges.
  3. Kedarnath, where a form of the Hindu god Shiva
    Shiva
    Shiva is a major Hindu deity, and is the destroyer god or transformer among the Trimurti, the Hindu Trinity of the primary aspects of the divine. God Shiva is a yogi who has notice of everything that happens in the world and is the main aspect of life. Yet one with great power lives a life of a...

     is venerated as one of the twelve jyotirling (linga of light), is a two-day's journey from either Gangotri or one of the main disembarkation points on the plains. Besides its affiliation with Siva, Kedarnath is also believed to be the site of Shankaracharya
    Shankaracharya
    Shankaracharya, is a commonly used title of heads of mathas in the Advaita Vedanta tradition. The title derives from Adi Shankara, a 9th century CE reformer of Hinduism. He is honored as Jagadguru, a title that was used earlier only to Lord Krishna...

    's samadhi (place of enternment). 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). The most remote of the four Chota 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.

Panch Kedarhttp://www.shubhyatratravels.com/index.php/char-dham/kedarnath
1. Kedarnath
2. Madhmaheshwar (3289 m)
3. Tungnath (3810 m)
4. Rudranath (2286 m)
5. Kalpashwar (2134 m)
  1. Badrinath, the seat of the Hindu god Vishnu
    Vishnu
    Vishnu is the Supreme god in the Vaishnavite tradition of Hinduism. Smarta followers of Adi Shankara, among others, venerate Vishnu as one of the five primary forms of God....

     in his aspect of Badrinarayan, is generally a two-day's journey from either Kedarnath or one of the main disembarkation points on the plains. By far the most important of the four sites, as part of the larger Char Dham
    Char Dham
    The Chota Char Dham , is an important Hindu pilgrimage circuit in the Indian Himalayas...

    , Badrinath receives many more visitors than the other three sites. As the route to Badrinath is for much of the way also the route to Hemkund Sahib, an important Sikh
    Sikh
    A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism. It primarily originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia. The term "Sikh" has its origin in Sanskrit term शिष्य , meaning "disciple, student" or शिक्ष , meaning "instruction"...

     pilgrimage site, the road to Badrinath is especially crowded. The temple and its substantial surrounding village are accessible by road. The actual temple is a striking building whose bright colors evoke the painted Buddhist ghompas of the region; rumor has it that the temple was originally controlled by Buddhists.


Panch Badri

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