Having personally visited Kedarnath Temple and researched the Kedarnath story and history, the author presents insights gleaned from years of independent study.
With its grandeur, sanctity, history, and sublime natural setting, Kedarnath Temple is a crowd-puller. You will find it in the remotes of Rudraprayag, enveloped by towering peaks, a serene environment, and air of mysticism. Each year, lakhs of devotees take time from their busy schedules and beat the odds to be here for prayers and solace. After all, it is not just an ordinary shrine but the holiest of all Shiva temples in the region and a part of Chota Char Dham, Panch Kedar, and 12 Jyortilingams. Read More.
Kedarnath Temple Story
We have no clues about who built the Kedarnath temple and when. When history is absent, legends and folklore step in to make up for the void. The “Kedarnath Temple story” is also a concoction of captivating tales that further the temple’s charm. Let’s run you through a few delightful Kedarnath stories that might not disclose the temple’s origins but will arrest your imagination.
Nar & Narayan
Once upon a time, two siblings, Nar and Narayan had a dispute with Lord Shiva who was keen on killing them. They did severe Tapsya somewhere around Kedarnath to appease Lord Shiva. Their penance worked, as the deity granted them Abhaydan and a place in the Badrinath temple. On their insistence, Lord Shiva even decided to stay in the Kedarnath Temple in the form of a Jyortilanga for the greater good of humanity.
On lord Krishna’s instance, Pandavas traveled to Kashi, the abode of Lord Shiva, once the Kurukshetra battle was over. They were seeking atonement for their sins committed in the epic battle against their brothers, Kauravas. However, Lord Shiva decided to play hard to get and fled to Gharwal Hills in the form of a bull. Keen to be free from their sins, the Pandavas followed him.
Upon reaching Gupt Kashi, Bhima spotted Lord Shiva grazing as a bull in the meadows. Bhima was quick to identify the bull as Lord Shiva and grab him by its tail. However, the bull dove into the earth and disappeared, leaving Bhima with the tail. The bull’s body parts appeared at five different locations, which later became Panch Kedars, the five sacred sites dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Kedarnath received the ‘hump,’ which “speaks” for the hump-shaped lingam worshiped here.
|Kedarnath: Hump||Tungnath: Arms|
|Rudranath: Face||Kalpeshwar: Hair|
|Madhyamaheshwar: Navel and abdomen|
There’s another version of the folklore that involves Lord Brahma. As the legend goes, Bhima caught hold of the bull’s hump, not his tail or hind legs. At that very moment, Lord Brahma intervened to prevent the bull from disappearing. He tried hard but failed, as the bull merged into the ground, never to be seen again in a single piece.
At the end of it all, Lord Shiva atoned Pandavas for their Papas (sins). In return, the five brothers built a temple to acknowledge and celebrate their beloved deity. After spending some time in (Dhyana) meditation and Yagna (ritual sacrifice), the siblings headed towards heaven.
Certain Shiava schools of thought believe the Kedarnath Temple Shivaling to be a “Swayambhu lingam.” For them, the lingam is a result of the interaction of the elements of nature, including earth, air, water, and fire. It wasn’t created through human intervention but emerged naturally from the ground.
As a side note, “Swayambhu” stands for “self-existent” or “self-born,” while “lingam” is a phallic symbol denoting fertility and divine energy.
Even the gods need someone to guard their holy places and temples. That’s where Kshetrapal steps in. In the form of Bhukhand Bhairav, Kedarnath has its own Kshetrapal responsible for warding off evil forces and protecting the devotees.
Legend has it that Bhairav, an Asur (demon) somehow enraged Lord Shiva. Seeing Lord Shiva in his element, he was quick to realize his folly and ask for mercy. The merciful deity not only forgave him but also made him the Kshetrapal and the first Raawal of his holy shrine.
The Shankaracharya Connection
Not many influential personalities have shaped the Hindu discourse the way Jagad Guru Adi Shankaracharya did. The revered philosopher, theologian, and spiritual leader gave us the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, which focuses on the principle of Non-Duality.
While also setting up monastic centers or Mathas across all four corners of India, he even built and repaired several temples, including Kedarnath. For some, Adi Shankaracharya built the Kedarnath temple from scratch while others are of the view that he only renovated an existing temple built by Pandavas.
Surviving the Calamities
Kedarnath continues to be a shining example of resilience, which contributes to its legend. A study by the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun tells us that the temple came out unscathed after 400 years of being submerged under thick sheets of snow during the Little Ice Age (1300-1900 AD.) The yellow hues on the temple stones corroborate their findings. While historians attribute it to some clever engineering, devotees think of it as divine intervention. Read More.
The temple even survived the flash floods that devastated the region in 2013. The images of the temple standing amidst the fury of water are still fresh in the memory of devotees.
Why Does Kedarnath Story Matter?
The legends might not make sense to many but they are a part of our local traditions and contribute to the overall charm of Kedarnath Temple.
Inspire a Visit
If Kedarnath is a symbol of faith and devotion, some credit should go to these captivating tales. Think of these tales as a magnet that attracts devotees to the temple, despite the hardships they face to be here. Trust me, most devotees visiting Kedarnath are guided by the narratives they’ve heard.
Not convincingly though, these stories try to explain certain phenomena and devotional practices and rituals performed at the temple. For example, the Kedarnath temple story of the Pandavas attempts at explaining the unique, hump-like shape of the Lingam worshiped in the temple. These explanations may not work in the age of science and technology but in the bygone era, they found takers.
Unites in Faith
Guess what? These folklores are a uniting force as well. People from different backgrounds and occupations believe in these legends, which helps develop a sense of community among them. The bond of shared faith goes a long way in uniting pilgrims who come together to honor the temple’s legacy.
Lessons for Life
Like any good story, they teach us a thing or two about moral values and ethical behavior. Take, for instance, the Pandavas, who had to face hardships to be relieved from their sins committed during the Kurukshetra battle. However, their persistence, humility, and faith saw them through. Likewise, Bhukund Bhairav emphasizes the power of forgiveness that can transform a demon into a faithful servant of god and a worship-worthy entity.
I strongly believe in how legends can get your creative juices flowing. Each time you hear a Kedarnath temple story, you try to envision the events and characters in your own way. You try to give shape to the shapeless (god), which helps you bridge the gap between reality and spirituality, much like the temples.
Shape Local Identity
The legends also have a role to play in shaping local identity and culture and preserving traditions. They ensure that the present generation not only follows the rituals, narratives, and customs but also passes them to the next generation.
Kedarnath Story: How Historians See It
As expected, historians have a different perspective on the Kedarnath story. For them, it is more about evidence than hearsay and folklore. Let’s trace what they make of the Kedarnath temple history.
According to a prominent historian, Dr. OP Sharma, “Mahabharata, written between the 3rd century BCE and the 4th century CE, entirely skips the mention of Kedarnath. We have to wait till the 7th and 8th century CE for the Skanda Puran to come across the term ‘Kedar.’ The Puran use it to describe a place where Lord Shiva made the holy Ganga descend on earth from his Jata (hair.) So, we can safely predate the temple’s existence to the 7th century CE.”
Some hagiographies like Sankshepa Shankara Vijaya by Madhava establish the link between Kedarnath and Adi Shankaracharya. The text claims that the revered saint took a Bhoomi samadhi next to the temple, where Shankaracharya stands at present. However, another hagiography, Anandagiri’s Prachina Shankara Vijaya claims otherwise. As per it, Adi Shankaracharya breathed his last in Kanchipuram. Since they have more to do with celebrating the protagonist, hagiographies have little historical importance.
Dr. Sharma further stated, “We can assume that the Kedarnath temple was built somewhere between the 4th century CE and 7th century CE. But when it became a thriving pilgrimage center is again debatable. To this end, we can refer to Kritya Kalpataru, written by Bhatta Lakshmīdhara, a minister of the Sena king, Govindachandra, in the 11th century CE. It categorically mentions Kedarnath as an important pilgrimage center frequented by sages, saints, and common folks.”
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Frequently Asked Questions
1. How built Kedarnath temple?
However hard we may try but the question remains unanswered. In the lack of credible historical sources, we have to give in to the main Kedarnath story that attributes the temple’s construction to the Pandavas and renovation to Adi Shankaracharya.
2. When was the Kedarnath Temple Built?
Again, in the lack of credible historical sources, we cannot put a date to the temple. As per common perception, it was built by Adi Shankaracharya in the 8th century CE, after Mahabharata and before Skand Purana was written.
3. Who is the main deity of Kedarnath Temple?
It is Lord Shiva, in the form of a unique hump-shaped lingam.
4. What is the main Kedarnath story?
The prime Kedarnath story links the temple to the Pandavas, the hero of Mahabharata. As the legend goes, the Pandava brothers built the temple out of sheer respect for their Isht, Lord Shiva who freed them from their sins committed in the Kurukshetra war.
5. How does the Mahabharata connect with Kedarnath?
The Pandavas, seeking redemption after the war, visited Kedarnath to seek Lord Shiva’s blessings.
6. What is the significance of the Pandavas’ visit to Kedarnath?
The story brings home the importance of staying humble and devoted and seeking divine guidance and forgiveness even after fighting a “just war.”
7. How did Adi Shankaracharya contribute to the temple’s story?
According to the Kedarnath story, the saint built/rebuilt/revived the temple and its spiritual importance during one of his journeys. He even established the nearby Badrinath as one of the Char Dhams and Jyortimath (Joshimath) as one of the four Mathas.
8. What is the legend of Kedarnath’s preservation during winter?
As per the local belief, Bhukhand Bhairav is in charge of Kedarnath’s security during winter when Lord Shiva shifts to Ukimath.
9. How did the temple survive the 2013 floods?
Despite extensive damage, the temple’s sanctum sanctorum and the naturally formed lingam remained intact, considered a divine intervention.
10. What role did the local community play in preserving the temple’s story?
If you find the Kedarnath stories to be intriguing, thank the local community that passed them down through generations. These stories shape the cultural identity of the local folks, which is why they take pride in preserving and propagating them.
11. How do the temple’s stories inspire pilgrims today?
Based on my personal experience, nothing inspires devotees more than these legends to undertake a spiritual journey that tests their endurance levels to the hilt.
12. What is the story behind the name “Kedarnath”?
There’s another legend that relates the place to King Kedar, who once ruled the region. Even the premises, Vrindavan, in which the temple is situated is named after her daughter, Vrinda.
13. How do the Kedarnath stories contribute to the overall spiritual atmosphere?
Fictitious though, these tales create an atmosphere of reverence for the merciful Lord Shiva. Just like the protagonists of these tales, common devotees too come here seeking atonement for their sins and blessings from their beloved deity. These stories help develop a deep connection between the temple and the pilgrims.
14. How do the stories reflect the unity of different aspects of Hinduism?
Every story details a different aspect of Hinduism. While Nar and Narayana did penance for the greater good of the world, the Pandavas’ story is more about humility and redemption.
15. How does the Kedarnath story remind us of the eternal nature of spirituality?
The temple’s story spans centuries, reminding us that spirituality is a timeless journey connecting past, present, and future.