Monday, September 25, 2023

Kedarnath Temple History: All You Need to Know 

As someone who has visited Kedarnath Temple and researched the Kedarnath Temple history and story, the author offers his insights from his years of independent research. 

Kedarnath Temple is a secluded sanctuary in the majestic Garhwal Himalayas, nestled in the namesake town at an elevation of 3584 meters above sea level. With an idyllic location amidst lofty peaks and overlooking a gorgeous valley, the temple stands tall as a symbol of faith, traditions, and history passed through the ages. It is one of the holiest and most visited shrines individually and as a part of Chota Char Dham, Panch Kedar, and 12 Jyortilingams. Read More

Even though the Kedarnath Temple history is largely undocumented and shrouded in mythology and ancient traditions, it is worth exploring nonetheless. As a student of history, culture, and theology, I take you through the captivating history, legends, and more that make Kedarnath, Kedarnath. 

Kedarnath Temple History

No one knows for sure who built Kedarnath and when. However, the consensus is that it is an ancient temple and pilgrimage destination for ages. While the folklore credits Pandavas for building the temple and Adi Shankaracharya for restoring it, we lack credible historical evidence about the temple’s origins. Even the great epic, Mahabharata, written between the 3rd century BCE and the 4th century CE, does not carry any mention of it. You can, however, vaguely trace the Kedarnath temple’s “history” from other scriptures.

Kedarnath Temple History: Skand Purana: The Earliest Mention

You need to dig deep into the Skand Purana to find the first mention of “Kedar.” According to the scripture, it is a place where Lord Shiva unleashed Ganga from his hair on the Earth. It is perhaps due to the Mandakini River that originates from the nearby Chorabari Glacier and flows through Kedarnath. Note that, River Mandakini merges into the Alaknanda River, which along with the Bhagirathi River forms the holy Ganga in Devprayag.

Skand Purana is the most prolific of all the 18 Mukhyapuranas, written somewhere around the 7th and 8th century CE. So, we can safely say that the Kedarnath Temple existed while Skand Purana was being authored.

Kedarnath Temple History: The Shankaracharya Connection

The Shankaracharya ConnectionDespite disagreements, it is a common belief that Adi Guru Shankaracharya ventured into the area in the 8th century. The revered philosopher, theologian, and spiritual leader built the Kedarnath Temple to its present form on the ruins of an existing smaller structure. He is also said to have built, rebuilt, and renovated several ancient temples in the region, while also establishing Char Dhams and several monastic centers (Mathas) across the country. However, we know him best as the founder of the Advaita Vedanta school of thought.

Char Dham:

Dwarka (East)  Puri (West) Badrinath (North) Rameshwaram (South)


Sri Sringeri Sharada Peetam in Chikmagalur (Karnataka)  Jyotir Matha (Joshimath) in Garhwal (Uttarakhand)
Kalika Matha in Dwarka (Gujarat) Govardhana Matha in Puri (Odisha)

Kedarnath Temple History: Sankshepa Shankara Vijaya

What little we know about Adi Shankaracharya comes from Sankshepa Shankara Vijaya. The popular hagiography details the life, times, travels, discourses, and accomplishments of Adi Shankaracharya. Even though hagiographies are written to glorify the protagonist, Sankshepa Shankara Vijaya links Adi Guru Shankaracharya to Kedarnath.

Written by Madhava, the hagiography tells us that the revered saint breathed his last in Kedarnath. He took a Bhoomi Samadhi here by merging under the earth. To corroborate the claim, there’s Shankaracharya Samadhi just a stone’s throw away from Kedarnath Temple. However, another hagiography, Anandagiri’s Prachina Shankara Vijaya, claims Kanchipuram to be Adi Shankaracharya’s final resting place.

Kedarnath Temple History: Kritya-Kalpataru

Kedarnath finds mention in another popular historical record, Kritya Kalpataru, written by Bhatta Lakshmīdhara, a minister of the Sena king, Govindachandra. The book refers to Kedarnath as a coveted pilgrimage center visited by sages, saints, and common folks in the 11th century when it was being authored. However, the author doesn’t provide details on the temple’s structure and other aspects.

Kedarnath Temple History: Kashi Kedara Mahatmya

Kashi Kedara Mahatmya is a popular Hindu text written anywhere between the 5th and 15th centuries CE. It doesn’t deal with history but instead talks about the spiritual and religious importance of two revered destinations, Kashi and Kedarnath. The text takes you through the experiences of devotees who undertake pilgrimages to these two destinations while also elaborating on the associated legends, rituals, and practices.

Kedarnath Temple History: Etymology

How Kedarnath temple got its name is again a mystery. According to a local historian, Dr. Om Prakash Sharma, “Kedarnath translates to ‘Lord of the Field.’ Herein, ‘Kedara’ denotes a ‘field’, and ‘Nath’ refers to ‘Lord.’ However, not everyone agrees that ‘Lord of the Field’ refers to Lord Shiva. Some folklore prevalent in the region links it to King Kedar who ruled the area back in antiquity. The premises housing the temple is called Vrindavan, named after King Kedar’s daughter, Vrinda.”

He further stated, “The Kashi Kedara Mahatmya gives a different perspective. According to it, Kedarnath gets its name from ‘the herb of liberation’ that grew here. However, many believe the reference is metaphorical. It refers to the spiritual rewards, inner peace, and the sense of liberation that one achieves in Kedarnath. Different people refer to the temple with different names. For some, it is Kedarnath or Kedar Mandir while for others, it could be Kedarnath Dham or Kedar Khand.”

Determining Kedarnath Temple History through its Architecture

Determining Kedarnath Temple History through its Architecture The Kedarnath temple has weathered time and calamities to stand tall as a timeless symbol of faith and devotion. As Dr. Sharma puts it, “Over the centuries, the temple has evolved in parallel with Hindu architecture. Perhaps, what was initially a small temple with basic architecture evolved into something more complicated in structure and design. The Shikhara of the temple appears like a cone as the structure narrows down from the base towards the Kalasha.”

He further opined. “The temple has a mix of traditional Nagara temple architecture and some elements of Gharwali architecture. Like many ancient temples in the region, the Kedarnath temple’s entire structure is built using massive stones that are interlocked through precise carving and fitting. That gives the temple exceptional stability and strength even without the use of cement. You can trace the origin of this construction technique to the 4th and 5th centuries AD. However, it took centuries for these techniques and design elements to evolve.”

Mythical Origins

We lack any concrete information on the temple’s origin. So, legends and folklore kick in to fill the gap. Think of “Kedarnath Temple history” as a mix of mythology, legends, age-old traditions, and the evolution of pilgrimage over the centuries. Let’s discuss the Kedarnath temple stories, one at a time.

  • Nar & Narayan

A famous legend associates the Kedarnath temple with two siblings, Nar and Narayan who made Kedar Khand their Tapsthali. Please by their penance, Lord Shiva blessed them and, on their insistence, decided to stay in the temple as a Jyortilinga.

  • Pandavas’ Penance

They say, Pandavas, the protagonists of the great Hindu epic Mahabharat, came here searching for Lord Shiva. Bhima recognized the deity who was disguised as a bull and went ahead to grab him. However, the divine bull merged into the ground and his body parts manifested at Panch Kedars, the five sacred sites dedicated to Lord Shiva. The bull’s hump surfaced in Kedarnath, which is worshiped here as a lingam (divine phallus).

  • Bhukund Bhairav

As the legend goes, Bhukund Bhairav ran into Lord Shiva only to realize his mistake and ask for redemption. Lord Shiva not only granted him forgiveness but also appointed him as the divine protector, Kshetrapal of Kedarnath Dham. 

  • Swayambhu Lingam

According to a school of thought, the Lingam at the Kedarnath temple is a “Swayambhu Lingam.” It surfaced from the earth without any human intervention. As the name says, “Swayambhu” stands for “self-existent” or “self-born,” while “lingam” is a divine phallic symbol that symbolizes fertility and divine energy.

Kedarnath Temple History: Natural Calamities

Several centuries on, the Kedarnath Temple has endured everything that nature had to throw at it, from earthquakes and glaciers to flash floods and more.

  • Submerged in Snow for 4 Centuries

If geologists from the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun are to be believed, Kedarnath Temple stayed under a thick sheet of ice during the Little Ice Age (1300-1900 AD.) Call it great engineering or some divine intervention, even glacial movement failed to inflict much harm on the temple. The yellow lines on the stone structure are telltale signs of the temple being submerged in snow for about four centuries. Read More.

  • The 2013 Catastrophe

Come 2013, a catastrophe hit the region in the form of flash floods and landslides. You might come across clips and images of the Kedarnath temple weathering the floods that swept everything coming it’s way. While the entire Kedarnath town and neighboring areas suffered significant damage, the temple escaped virtually unscathed. When the situation normalized, the government sprang into action with extensive rebuilding and restoration efforts. (Please have this clip here:).

Wrapping it Up   

The Kedarnath temple history is as vast, delightful, and intriguing as it gets. It’s more than just a collection of dates and events. Instead, it is a window into the past that takes you through centuries of evolution that the temple has undergone in parallel with the Hindu traditions and spirituality. Just look through this window and you will see how humans have always believed in something bigger than themselves. The history of Kedarnath Temple shows us that faith never goes away, no matter how much time goes by.

People are also reading:

Frequently Asked Questions

1. When was the Kedarnath Temple built?

We cannot say with certainty about the origins of the Kedarnath Temple but undeniably it is an ancient temple. Historians believe it was there around the 7th and 8th century CE at the time when the Skand Purana was being written.

2. Who built the Kedarnath Temple?

Again, in the lack of any concrete evidence, the question remains unanswered. However, according to popular perception, Adi Shankaracharya, one of the most influential Hindu theologians and philosophers built this temple during his visit in the 8th century. Another legend attributes the temple to Pandavas, the heroes of Mahabharata. According to it, Adi Shankaracharya just renovated the temple built by Pandavas, which was in bad shape. Some even believe that the Lingam in Kedarnath appeared by itself and the locals built a temple around it.

3. How Hindu mythology relates to Kedarnath Temple?

A prominent legend associates Kedarnath with the Pandavas from the Mahabharata, who followed Lord Shiva into the Garhwal hills to seek his blessings and free themselves from the sins committed in the Kurukshetra battle.

4. Why is “Kedarnath Temple History” Important? 

The “Kedarnath Temple history” has way more to it than just dates and events. When we dip deep into the temple’s history, we are uncovering the religious, spiritual, and cultural heritage of the region passed through generations. That helps us unearth the connection between people, nature, and the divine, and understand how the temple and the traditions associated with it withstood the test of time.

5. What makes Kedarnath a significant pilgrimage destination?

Its location, high in the Himalayas, and its association with Lord Shiva make Kedarnath a spiritually significant pilgrimage site. The temple is even a part of Chota Char Dham, Panch Kedar, and 12 Jyortilingams. Several Hindu scriptures, traditions, and hagiographies also speak highly of Kedarnath as a revered pilgrimage destination.

5. What is the Panch Kedar circuit?

Among 220 odd Shiva temples in Uttarakhand, five of them come under the Panch Kedar circuit. Each of these temples houses a specific body part of Lord Shiva in the form of a bull. Kedarnath, which houses the hump, is one of them, alongside Tungnath (Arms), Rudranath (Face), Madhyamaheshwar (Navel and abdomen), and Kalpeshwar (Hair).

6. How has Kedarnath been influenced by various rulers and dynasties?

If Kedarnath Temple has managed to retain its significance, it’s due to the various rulers and dynasties that have contributed to the maintenance and restoration of the temple.

7. How did the 2013 floods affect Kedarnath?

In 2013, the region experienced heavy rains, causing flash floods and landslides. While the entire town and nearby areas suffered severe destruction, the temple got away with minor damages. The government has put in extensive efforts to repair the damage and make the area flood-proof.

8. What is the architectural style of the Kedarnath Temple?

The temple has traditional North Indian architecture with certain elements of the local construction styles.

9. How did Adi Shankaracharya contribute to the Kedarnath temple’s history?

The legend has it, Adi Shankaracharya re-established and revitalized the temple during his visit to this region in the 8th century. You can even find a monument (Shankaracharya Samadhi) near the temple where he supposedly breathed his last.

10. How has Kedarnath withstood the challenges of time and nature?

Thanks to the stable design and clever engineering, the temple has survived all types of natural calamities, including floods, glaciers, earthquakes, and more.

11. Does Mahabharata mentions Kedarnath? 

No. Even though the temple’s origin is associated with the Pandavas, the hero of the Mahabharata, we don’t find a mention of Kedarnath in it.

12. In which ancient scripture do we find the first reference to Kedarnath? 

The Skanda Purana, the most significant of all the 18 Mahapurans written between the 7th and 8th century CE, is the oldest scripture to bear a mention of Kedar. Herein, it is referred to as the place where lord shiva made the holy Ganga descend on the earth from his hair.

13. Do any other ancient inscriptions or references feature Kedarnath?

You will come across the reference to Kedarnath in several ancient texts and hagiographies, such as Sankshepa Shankara Vijaya, Kritya Kalpataru, and Kashi Kedara Mahatmya to name a few.

12. Can you elaborate on the traditional rituals and practices at Kedarnath?

Right from opening and closing ceremonies to prayers and aartis, you will come across specific rituals and practices in Kedarnath temple. Passed down through generations, these rituals will make you fall in love with our age-old traditions.

14. How has Kedarnath contributed to Indian spirituality and culture?

If you find Hinduism alive and kicking, partial credit should go to ancient temples like Kedarnath, Badrinath, and more. Take my word for it, they have preserved and propagated Hindu spirituality and cultural traditions like nothing else.

15. How is Kedarnath connected to other nearby pilgrimage sites?

Kedarnath is part of the Char Dham Yatra, along with Badrinath, Yamunotri, and Gangotri.

16. How has the town of Kedarnath evolved over the centuries?

What was once a remote pilgrimage site is now one of the most sacred destinations that draws millions of devotees annually. That’s how remarkably the temple has evolved over centuries, in parallel with Hindu traditions and spirituality.

17. What are some of the legends associated with Kedarnath?

Like any sacred destination, Kedarnath also has a fair share of legends. These may include, but, are not limited to, Pandavas’ connection, Lord Shiva’s blessings, and Adi Shankaracharya’s spiritual journey.

18. How do local traditions and customs influence the history of Kedarnath Temple?

Trust me, most devotees visiting Kedarnath are influenced by the local traditions, rituals, customs, and legends associated with the place. No wonder, these customs have played a role in maintaining the temple’s sanctity and spiritual vibrancy.

19. What is the historical and spiritual significance of the Mandakini River?

The Mandakini River, flowing near Kedarnath, is a tributary of Alaknanda, which in turn merges with the Bhagirathi River to form Ganga at Rudraprayag. While devotees consider it to be holy, for nature lovers, it is a sight to behold.

20. How has Kedarnath transformed from a historical site to a modern pilgrimage destination?

In short, Kedarnath managed to keep its history intact for several centuries while also adapting to modern pilgrimage practices and infrastructural improvements.

Rohit Kumar
Rohit Kumar
Passionate about content quality and attention to detail, Rohit has penned over 15,000 copies for some of the leading online and offline publications in his eight-year career. Currently heading the content team at Dunia Ka Gyan, he believes in team spirit, ingenuity, and reader satisfaction.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles