It’s a tough task. To choose merely 10 religious places in Uttarakhand among the thousands strewn across the green mantle of Uttarakhand. In fact, a popular ‘Kahawat’ (saying) of the region cites that (‘Uttarakhand mein jitney kankar hain, Utney hi Shankar hain’). It roughly translates to, “every stone in the region is an embodiment of Lord Shiva himself’. Truly, a pilgrimage across the region’s vast expanse of religious sites leaves one enraptured with the divine essence its soil, its waters, its sky-high peaks, its everything emanates. Having said that, let us try to shortlist the most revered of the spiritual destinations in Uttarakhand.
Journey to Char Dham of Uttarakhand begins with Yamunotri. Char Dham, as you might already know, refers to the pilgrimage trail that encompasses the four highly spiritually potent centres in Himalayas. As you might have guessed, any list of top religious places needs to include these four centres for it to be truly credible.
The temple at Yamunotri is built to revere Mother Yamuna near her actual physical origins at Champasar glacier, a challenging uphill trek of 1 kilometre for the daredevil spirit. The devout pay their homage to the Shakti at Yamunotri temple, its Surya Kund and the Divya Shila.
Gangotri honors Maa Ganga at the site of her true conception. River Bhagirathi springs of Gaumukh glacier at a distance of 19 km from the temple site. This pearl-white temple imbues a reverent heart with the same spiritual serenity the River Goddess inspires. Bhagirath Shila, Pandav Gufa and the Jalmagna Shivling temple (whose submerged Shivlinga the locals cite to be the place where Lord Shiva received Ganga in his locks) are the other religious sites in and around Gangotri a pilgrim ought to visit.
The Lord of Kedar Khand (region) opens his doors to receive his devotees between Akshaya Tritiya (April) and Kartika Purnima (November). Housing one of the twelve jyotirlingams in India, this temple is where Adi Shankaracharya chose to attain ‘Samadhi’, leaving his mortal body to attain God-realization. The temple, built on the banks of Mandakini River, is accessible by foot only a very perilous trek from Gauri Kund.
It is by enjoying the blissful darshan of Lord Badrinarayan at Badrinath that the journey of Chardham culminates. References of the sacred shrine date back to Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana, as the site where Naran and Narayanan, dual incarnations of Lord Narayan’s essence Himself, performed rigorous austerities for the upliftment of all living beings in the world.
Haridwar constitute one of the highly venerated ‘Sapta puri conglomerate in Hindu tradition. It is simultaneously revered as the ‘Gateway to Lord Vishnu’ as well as ‘Gateway to Lord Shiva’. One gets to complete five tirthas (pilgrimages) within its holy soil. These include Mansa Devi Temple (Bilwar Tirth) and Chandi Devi Temple (Neel Parvat), both of which are stationed upon hill-tops that offer enchanting bird’s eye view of the entire valley, Har ki Pauri (the Ganga Aarti at this ‘Gangadwar’ will leave you spiritually enchanted), Daksheswara Mahadev Temple (Kankhal Ghat) and Maya Devi Temple (the ancient Sidhpeeth where Maa Sati’s heart and navel fell).
Rishikesh is rightfully nicknamed as the ‘Yoga Capital of the world’. One comes across hundreds of ashrams in this religious town nestled along the banks of the holy river Ganga. The Neelkanth Mahadev Temple in Rishikesh is said to be built on the same spot which marked Lord Shiva’s drinking of the venom ‘kalakuda’ that churned out of ‘Palazhi Manthan’, to protect all living beings from undergoing untimely annihilation.
Hemkund Sahib in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand is dedicated to the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. This site is revered as the place where God spoke to the Guru while he was engaged in deep meditation on the Divine. This holy site presents such a picture of unadulterated scenic beauty with its glacial lake engulfed by a massif of seven peaks. Trekking till the site is such a test of one’s physical endurance and spiritual fervor.
Did you know that River Ganga actually embodies the whole of her physical form at this site, wherein the heavenly streams of Alakananda and Bhagirathi merge as Ganga? Devprayag is the last of the revered confluences of river streams across Garhwal Himalayas, collectively named as Panch Prayag. The other confluences occur at Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag, Vishnuprayag and Nandaprayag. The temple devoted to Lord Raghunath ji perched above the mountain offers one such panoramic views of the merger of both rivers that it is beyond description. The Raghunath ji temple, The Shiv Temple, the Chandrabadni Temple, Mata Bhuvaneshwari temple, Danda Maharaj temple etc. forms some of the places for one’s spiritual rejuvenation in and around Devprayag.
Dhari Devi Temple Kalimath:
On the banks of Alakananda River, lays the shrine of Dhari Devi, who is venerated as the guardian deity of the entire Uttarakhand and of the Char Dhams. While the temple worships the upper half of Shakti, her lower half is worshipped at the renowned Shakti peeth at Kalimath. Here, the trio of Maa Kali, Maa Lakshmi and Maa Saraswati is worshipped together. One cannot help but feel the magnetism of the Shakti that is contained and adulated as Mother in these shrines.
Madhyamaheshwar forms a part of the five Shaivite shrines venerated as ‘Panch kedar’ in the Garhwal Himalayas. Kedarnath, Tungnath, Rudranath and Kalpeshwar form the other temples in this circuit. An interesting legend concerning Pandavas being revealed Lord Shiva’s darshan in the form of different body parts of the form of bull he undertook to elude Himself from them initially as they sought him for reparation over their sins of the Kurukshetra war connects all these temples. As per it, the belly of the bull form appeared at this site to commemorate of which Pandavas built this temple.
The temples we left out – the remaining ones in Panch Kedar, another pilgrim circuit dedicated to Vishnu as Panch Badri circuit, Panch Prayag and a gazillion other shrines housing the Divine in all Her, His myriad forms are no less significant, as the thousands that flock to breathe in their divine essence gladly attest to. May you be lead where the Divine calls from among Her hundreds of homes in Devbhoomi!