Updated: Jul 6
Jyotirlingas are the holiest shrines of Lord Shiva, and among them, Kedarnath Jyotirlinga has special significance. Nestled in the hills of Himalayas, this hard-to-reach temple is a part of many mythological legends and modern-day tales. Read on to know more about this remarkable Jyotirlinga and the temple.
The Kedarnath Jyotirlinga is the eleventh of the twelve holy Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. The temple to this Jyotirlinga, Shri Kedarnath Temple, is situated in Uttarakhand, and is one of the most remote pilgrimage sites in India. Surrounded by Himalayan mountains, the Kedarnath Temple is located close to the origin of River Mandakini.
There are many stories related to the origin of the Kedarnath Jyotirlinga. Here are the two most famous ones.
First origin story
The twin sages, Nara and Narayana, sons of Dharma and Ahimsa, are said to be a partial avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu. Once, Nara and Narayana started meditating at Badrikashrama (Badrinath), praying to Lord Shiva. Even now, the two mountains that flank Badrikashrama are known as Nara and Narayana.
They continuously prayed to Lord Shiva with absolute devotion for years. Pleased by their dedication, Lord Shiva appeared before them, and said, "I am pleased with your devotion and penance. You both can ask me for any boon you desire." Nar and Narayan responded with folded hands, "O Lord of Lords, if you are indeed pleased with our worship, then please stay here eternally in your form to accept our devotion and worship." Hearing their request, Lord Shiva established himself in the form of a Jyotirlinga at Kedara Teertha (pilgrimage site) amid the Himalayas. Shiva in this form came to be known as Kedareshwara and the Kedarnath Jyotirlinga became one of the most famous Jyotirlingas.
Second origin story
Another story linked to the origin of the Kedarnath Jyotirlinga is related to the Pandavas. After the battle of Mahabharata was over, the Pandavas were overcome with guilt at having killed their own relatives, the Kauravas, and many others, like the great Guru Dronacharya. Although their actions were done for a good purpose, the killings had been sinful. To atone for their sins, the Pandavas went to the Himalayas for penance. Sage Vyasa advised them to pray to Lord Shiva as only he could pardon them for the grave sins they had committed.
The Pandavas reached Kashi, searching for Lord Shiva. However, Shiva, unwilling to forgive them, assumed the form of a bull and hid in the Himalayas, in the area that is now known as the Garhwal region. Pandavas reached this region, still searching for Shiva. When Bhima saw the bull, he immediately recognised that this was Lord Shiva. The bull started running away and Bhima chased it, but managed to catch only the hump, which is the Kedareshwara Jyotirlinga.
Parts of the bull appeared in different places after it disappeared into the ground. The arms appeared at the Tunganath Shivalinga, while the navel and stomach are said to have formed the Madhyameshwar Shivalinga. The face of the bull took the form of the Rudranath Shivalinga, and the hair is seen at the Kalpeshwar Shivalinga. These five Shiva temples are called the Pancha Kedara Temples. The Pandavas prayed to Lord Shiva at these five temples, which eventually appeased him.
Both the stories continue to be important to Hindus. Located at an elevation of 3,583 m above sea level, Kedarnath Temple is one of the most difficult-to-reach pilgrimages. The temple is open to the public only between the warmer months of April and November because of the harsh Himalayan winters when the mountains are covered with snow. For the duration of the winter months, the deity of the Kedarnath Temple is moved to the town of Ukhimath in Uttarakhand.
We can appreciate the strength of the amazing architecture of the Kedarnath Temple from the fact that it has withstood being buried under snow for thousands of winter months from the time it was built, which is estimated to be at least 1200 years ago.
In more recent times, the temple was seriously affected during the flash floods of 2013. There was severe damage to the surrounding areas, but surprisingly, the temple structure was protected by a large rock that appeared in the debris. Later, inspection and analysis by investigating teams showed the temple structure was unharmed, although clean-up, repair and reconstruction of the surrounding areas were required. The sturdiness of the ancient temple of Kedarnath is considered by devotees to be Lord Shiva's grace