17 May 2012
Gupta Kashi to Badrinath
Chopta – Indian Switzerland?
We crossed a place called Chopta. It was quite a beautiful location and we stopped wayside a Dhaba to have our breakfast. The Dhaba people told us that higher up we even have skiing places and these are the areas which are used for lots of film shooting and the place was known as Switzerland of India.
It seems that slightly higher up in the mountain area from there good resorts were situated and it is even more exquisite in view from those locations. They also told me that a recent Hindi Movie – Krrish had some of its parts shot here.
When we had heard of the beauty of Himalayas, we thought it may look like what we were seeing now. However the mighty Himalayas proved to the ultimate in the flora and fauna, the different types of terrain it held and even in the climatic conditions.
Almost a day’s full travel is required to reach Badrinath. On the way we had to stop at Joshi Math. This is a check post and from here every two hours vehicles are sent in a stretch. When we reached Joshi Math, thankfully we were caught in the time frame and had a little over 45 minutes before the ‘convoy’ was allowed. I said thankfully because, this allowed us to go into the Math were Badrinath is brought to and installed during the extreme winter seasons every year. This is the place where Adi Sankaracharya along with his disciples also stayed for many days doing Tapas and Learning. His place – a verandah sort of an area is still cordoned and we could go and sit there doing our own little contemplations.
The Math has various small but ancient temples in the total precincts. This place had Siva Lingam, Navadurga, Garuda, Hanuman and other deities. The side of the door of Navadurga was written as ‘Poornaagiri Peetham’. The place where Lord Badrinath would be kept during the winter was seen. There was also an enclosure for Lord Narasimha who was ‘pratyaksha’ (visible) and protective of Sri Padmapadacharya, one of the disciples of Sankara Bhagavatpada. Some unique flowers were kept in front of Garuda.
The Sankaracharya Math which is one of the principal Maths established by Sankara Bhagavatpadacharya was slightly above in the hill adjoining the temple. While waiting for the release of the vehicles for our onward journey, some local urchins had brought an eatable mixture which was very similar to the ‘Ashta Dravya’ mixture used for Ganapathi Homam at our end. The difference was that probably due to the jaggery used and the lightness it had. The quality of the ashta dravya is extremely under rated among the medical, nutritional and general public in Kerala, many of whom unfortunately have a distinct disdain and regularly ridicules our ancient and traditional methods, without even trying to understand them.
After this by evening we reached the famed Badri Dham.
Badri Nath Dham
|Badri Nath Dham|
It took some time for the arrangers to find the place of stay. Once done, we were told about the queue system in the temple and about taking tokens before going for the darshan. As early as possible, we all set out, each in their own times, to have the most eagerly awaited darshanam of Sri Badri Nath Ji.
We stood in the queue after crossing the raging Alakananda. I use the word raging just to show the force of the water and the incredible atmosphere it creates. In the river in front of the Badri Nath’s temple, there is a rock, which has itself assumed a shape of Garuda when we look from one side, quite possible due to the action of the forceful water. It was here at the Narad Kund where Sankaracharya is said to have retrieved the present Badri Nath Salagrama Vigraham.
|Badri Nath Temple|
The temple is itself built one floor above the floor level. Once inside, we saw that there was a good crowd in the temple. As we enter, we go through the right side into the main sanctum and come out of its left side as we see it. Once done, there is another place outside, a raised platform for anybody to have a darshan again. Since the crowd was huge there was enough jostling of people and the temple priests were trying to get people to move quicker.
We finally reached his Sannidhi !!! What a sight to behold. The Salagrama of Badri Nathji was decorated with various items. We could also see other faces and small vigrahams at the sanctum sanctorum. “Eeswara Kripa – Darshana Soubhagyam”.
All of us were made to move quickly from the front as there were streams of devotees coming in. I noticed that the line we formed were only covering half of the path in front, and saw that in the front of the deity a semi circular area in the back side of this path. No one was standing nor was any activity seen. I slipped out of the line and stood at this place. “Aho Bhagyam”!!! I stood there without any one asking me to move. Even the priests did not seem to take any interest in me standing there, as if I may not have been there at all. Another group of around 4-5 people, seeing me standing completely without a hindrance, came to the place where I stood for having a good view of the deity. Though they were asked to go by the priests after some time, I was still spared!!!
I stood there for almost 15-20 minutes and had the full vision of the deity in his full glory and alankaram. I could see the face of Kubera so round and radiant in whole view on the left side of Badri Nathji and other vigrahas. It had Lord Badri Narayan, Kubera, Narada Rishi, Sri Uddhava, Ganapathi, Lakshmi, Nara, Chaturbhuja Narayana and Garuda. The only thing I couldn’t make out was which idol represented which deity. But coming out and then looking at the pictures available at the shops, I started recalling the darshanam and related to what I saw. I do not have any words to describe the ‘Karuna Kataksham’ of Badri Nathji who, without my knowledge, arranged such circumstances for me to stand there, without any single person asking me to move and see the full sanctum sanctorum to the fullest of my heart.
Once I came out, we sat near the door for quite a long time after praying at the various small sanctums in the prakaram of the temple. Maha Lakshmi, Adi Sankaracharya, Lakshmi Narasimha, Navadurga, Desikacharya and Ramanujacharya shrines were seen in the prakaram. There were pictures and statues of Sankaracharya and his four principal disciples. A picture of Jothir Math Sankaracharya (1941 – 1953) – H.H. Sri Swami Brahmananda Saraswati is particularly lively. My father reminded me of the connection which the Math had with H.H Sri Sivasankara Guru due to the interaction of Sri Maharshi Bal Brahmachari Mahesh Yogi who had met him. We sat for some time there reminiscing this particularly important and historical meeting. We also spent quite a lot of time in the prakaram doing our japams and prayers until we came out.
We were told that if we give a small pouch of coins, the priests would keep the same in front of the Kubera vigraham and would be given back as prasadam. This could be subsequently kept at home and is considered auspicious. Unfortunately we didn’t quite understand that this was to be done at the sanctum. So later when we asked it to be done, the priests said that since the crowd was huge it would take time due to which it couldn’t be done.
The main priests here are from Kerala and the Rawals (as they are known) are chosen after strict tests. The tradition has been in vogue from the time of Adi Sankaracharya who revived the temple and fixed the method of poojas here. Venuji asked us whether we wanted to meet the chief Rawal who was present at the compound then. Eventhough we didn’t think about it then, in hindsight we should have met him. Some of our fellow travelers who went to his room said that there was a very unique picture of Babaji at his room.
Contented with the heart filling darshan, we decided to retire to our rooms after having food. Some purchases of mementos occupied some more of our time and by the time we hit the bed, we were exhausted physically and had a sound sleep.
18 May 2012
Tapta Kund, Narad Kund, Brahma Kapal.
In front of the temple towards the right is placed the Tapta Kund. The temperature is much more than normal and hence as the name sounds it is very hot. But once this is mixed with the normal water which is available from Alakananda which is almost close to freezing point, it becomes a new experience to all the people. It is said that, we need to first take a bath at the Kund and then have the darshan of Lord. This is easily said than done for people like us because of the extreme climates at these locations. Sri Rajappan explained a particular experience he had here. He came out of the bath from this place and a kid came to him giving a ‘bhiksha’. This, he said was his first in life and with all respect he placed it to the Lord himself. He was a unique personality in our trip. Quite silent and sure of what he wanted, he went about his things efficiently. More experiences were shared by him, once we got to know closer.
Narad Kund is the place as mentioned before where Sankaracharya retrieved the Padmasana posture of Lord Vishnu as Badri Vishal. The idol is made of Salagrama and is considered to be of unspeakable and immense importance.
Sraadha Karmams can be done at Badrinath and is considered as specially important. This is done at the place called Brahma Kapal where the Rishi Ganga and Alakananda confluence happens. It is supposed to be the place where Lord Siva had done his Tapas, in order to nullify the Brahma Hatya Dosham due to the plucking out of one of Lord Brahma’s heads, thus making him Chaturmukha.
Mana – The last Indian village!!!
About 10.00 am we set off to a very historical village – Mana. The older and proper name is ‘Manibhadra’. In a nutshell – This is the last of the villages in India when one travels through this direction.
|The last tea shop in India|
This is the place where Sage Vyasa stayed and did all his Veda divisions. (Which is better understood as consolidation of Vedas from various sources). This is the place where he wrote all the Puranas, Upapuranas, Ithihasas etc… This is the place where the great River Saraswati is still visible to the naked eye. This is the place from where the Pandavas went on for the Swargarohana!!. This is the place from where we can travel to places like Vasudhara (place where the Ashta Vasus did their Tapas), Lakshmi Vanam (place where Lakshmi Devi did her Tapas), Swargarohana Mountain (Pandava Swargarohana Mountain), Alakapuri Glacier (Alakananda’s origin), Satopanth Lake (a uniquely triangular lake which is reputed to have witnessed the Tapas of The Divine trinity of Lord Siva, Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu having done Tapas), etc. All these places are extremely difficult to travel and it requires special preparations to do the same.
Vyasa Guha, Ganapati Guha
The village had Ganapathi Guha – The cave where Sri Ganapathi was said to have sat and written down the Mahabharatha Katha as told by Sage Vyasa.
Slightly up the mountain is the Vyasa Guha, where he sat and dictated all the great Sanatana Literature. Venkitesh Sir (Kalady) had told me that I need to spend some time at the Guha. I was doubtful of the time availability as we were going in a group. But as things turned out, we got ample time and solitude among the otherwise rush of people and sat there contemplating on the Divine Play. Sage Vyasa was depicted in this cave with an idol. I sat there thinking of him, Sree Suka Brahmarshi, his son, who would have been with him continuously and their lives which have made this place so very great and pure. Their presence still reverberates at these locations and the vibrancy is for any one to go there and feel it directly with their blessings.
The Mighty Saraswati River
Immediately to the village is the place called Bheempul (Bridge by Bheem) which is across the river Saraswati. This is the place of origin of Saraswati as is visible to the naked eye now. The flow out of the rock caves is incredibly forceful and the ground near the fall shakes in the impact.
The water greenish hue and clear, slowly sinks in by the time it reached the Alakananda which is less than a kilometer away. The story of the once mighty river which had flown along the western side of the Indian subcontinent is quite known to all. Presently she resurfaces at the Prayag (modern Allahabad) for the Triveni Sangam. There is a small temple which is dedicated to the Mighty River here.
We came back from Mana, had our lunch and started our return journey from Badri, thus completing all the Char Dhams.
The journey took us to Pipalkoti where we stayed for the evening. Most of us where with blank minds after the trips and were eager to get to Haridwar. The next day’s journey was long enough for this and people had slowly started to unwind themselves.