Char Dham refers to the four most sacred pilgrimage sites of Hindus that are Badrinath in the north, Rameshwaram in the south, Dwarka in the west and Puri in the east. It is a belief amongst the Hindu people, that they must visit these four pilgrimage sites atleast once in their lifetime to be blessed by the deities. These four places are not only considered to be the most sacred places, but are one of the most visited places by tourists from India and Abroad.
There is another set of four places which is considered as Char Dham from the20th century, but before that, they were referred as Chota Char Dham and the places are Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, which all are situated in the state of Uttarakhand in the Northern part of India.
History of Char Dham
It is believed that Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu reside in these four Dhams which are the main deities of Hindus. If you dig into Hindu Mythology, you will find that it is believed that Nar- Narayan who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu used to meditate (Tapasya) in Badrinath and that is the time from when it became famous as one of the most sacred places. Since berry trees used to completely cover that place at that point in time, the place was named as Badrika-Van which means, Berry Trees Forest. A huge Berry tree grew in this place, where Lord Vishnu used to chant to protect him from sun and rain. According to common belief, it was Goddess Lakshmi who was protecting Lord Vishnu in the form of the berry tree. All this happened in the Sat-Yug and from that time on, Badrinath became one of the most visited and sacred pilgrimage centre in the entire country.
On the south, Rameshwaram is a place where it is believed that Lord Rama built an idol of Lord Shiv (Shiv Ling) to earn his blessings and it is in the Trete-Yug, as believed. From then, this place hasbecome popular and now it is one of the Dhams or parts of the Char Dham.
Dwarka on the west, is a place where it is believed that Lord Krishna used to reside and also made this place as his residence. It is in the Dwapar Yug, when Dwarka started getting its importance due to this event.
On the East, Puri was built during 1174 CE in the form that we see today, and it is one of the most sacred places in eastern India. Three deities are worshipped here namely Jagannath, Goddesses Subhadra and Baladhadra.
- Badrinath: It is situated in between the Nar and Narayana hills and on the other side it is shadowed by Peak Nilkantha. The location of the temple in Uttarakhand state on the river bank of Alaknanda river makes it one of the most sought after pilgrimage centre not only in northern India but also in the entire country. People visit this place from various corners of the globe, either for the purpose of pilgrimage,or because of the scenic beauty and the adventure involved in getting there. Read more about Badrinath
- Dwarka: It is situated in the state of Gujrat, India. The place where River Gomati meets the Arabian Sea. The city earned its popularity because Lord Krishna chose Dwarka over Mathura as his place of residence. But the main fact that makes this city famousis, Dwarka city is the 7th one which is built after all the 6 such cities submerged in sea water. Read more about Dwarka
- Rameshwaram: Being situated on the tip of Indian Peninsula, Gulf of Mannar, Rameshwaram has its own beauty and allure. It is located in the Tamil Nadu state of India which is in the southern part of the country.The importance lies in the fact that this place is where Lord Rama built the footbridge to reach Lanka and the other one being the temple of Lord Shiva which is built by Lord Rama and it is the major part of the Rameshwaram. It is believed that any pilgrimage to Banaras will be incomplete if the pilgrims donâ€™t visit Rameshwaram. The deity which is worshipped is Lord Shiva and it is named as Sri Ramanatha Swamy. Read more about Rameshwaram
- Puri: Puri is not only a place of pilgrimage, rather it is one of the most sought after tourist location for the people of Bengal, and one of the best holiday locations. Talking about the pilgrimage details of Puri, it is situated in the state of Odisha which is on the eastern side of the country. The main attraction, besides the temple of Lord Jaganatha, is the Bay of Bengal which runs just beside the city and is really attractive for people who love the sea and the beach view. The Jaganatha Temple was built almost 1000 years ago, and it is the onlyshrine in the whole country where the sister of Lord Krishna, Goddess Subhadra is worshipped along with the two of her brothers Lord Jaganatha and Lord Balabhadra. The Ratha Yatra is famous in Puri, and not only the locals, but tourists across states and cities visit this place during this occasion. Read more about Puri
Chota Char Dham
Though in present times, it is known as Char Dham but it is actually referred as the Chota Char Dham which consists of the pilgrimage places Gangotri, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Badrinath. Since these Char Dhams or the four abodes are situated in the state of Uttarakhand, it is referred as Chota char Dham which actually derived itsname from the longer Char Dham and Badrinath is a part of both these two.
History of Chota Char Dham
Chota Char Dham became popular in the year 1962 after the war between China and India. Transportation facilities to these places were improved, as all these four places lie in between mountains at extremealtitudes,and these are locations are not easy to trek. It represents three sectarian traditions of Hindus which are Shakta, Shaiva and Vaishnava. Yamunotri and Gangotri represent the Shakta sites, Kedarnath represents Shaiva and Badrinath represents the Vaishnava site.
The Chota Char Dham is now one of the most popular pilgrimages for Hindu people in the country and is visited by people from nearby South Asian countries. In the year 2012, huge rains flooded the whole of the Himalayas, and Uttarakhand was badly affected. Almost the whole of Chota Char Dham was submerged and Kedarnath got completely washed off. But miraculously,the Kedarnathji Temple wasnâ€™t destroyed with few other buildings. Now the city has recovered and rebuilt, and is open for the pilgrims and visitors.
Pilgrimage Details for Chota Char Dham
- Gangotri: It is situated in the Uttarkashi district which is a part of Uttarakhand. The town of Gangotri is a Nagar Panchayat of the area. It is situated on the banks of Bhagirathi river, and the Gangariver has originated from here. The place is situated at a height of 3100 metres from sea-level, deities like Lord Shiva and Ganga are worshipped here. Read more about Gangotri
- Yamunotri: It is a place where GoddessYamuna is worshipped, as the river Yamuna originates from this place. The height of this place above sea-level is 3293 metres, and is situated in the Garwhal Himalayas. It has the westernmost shrine in the country, the shrine of Yamunotri. One of the main attractions of this place besides the shrine and pilgrimageare the thermal springs located at Janki Chatti. Read more about Yamunotri
- Kedarnath: Being situated at a height of 3583 metres above sea-level, it has one of the most adventurous routes. The main place for pilgrimage and attraction is the Kedarnath Temple and it is the Nagar Panchayat of the Rudraprayag District. Read more about Kedarnath
- Badrinath: It is situated in the Chamoli District of Uttarakhand and it is the Nagar Panchayat of the district. The temple of Badrinath is the major pilgrimage centre here. Read more about Badrinath
Due to these famous Shrines at Kedarnath and Badrinath which are believed to be the most sacred places amongst the Hindus, there are many people who only cover these two places as their pilgrimage. It is because of this reason; these two places together are referred as Do Dham.
Whether it is Chota Char Dham or the Char Dham, Hindu People are closely attached to these places. It is mandatory for many to visit themand offer their prayers. There are thousands of foreigners who visit these locations every year, and there is no doubt that they are one of the most beautiful places in the country.