There are thousands of temples in Uttarakhand and citing the most important ones is no easy task. Even if one were to make a list of the most important Hindu temples in the state, the list would be a lengthy one. But commanding utmost respect among them are the Panch Badri temples – the five major homes of God Vishnu, that are located in various hilly villages in Uttarakhand and receive heavy pilgrim-traffic. These are Vishal Badri, Yogdhyan Badri, Bhavishya Badri, Vridha Badri and Adi Badri.
It is one thing for the older generation to know all places of religious importance in the India, and in Uttarakhand especially. But it is a whole different ballgame for the GenX and GenY to get a hang of it. Let us explore, in simple language, what exactly these places signify and why one should pay a visit at least once in their lifetime.
Badri is another name for the Hindu god Vishnu, who preserves or sustains life on earth. There may be countless Vishnu temples in India, but the Panch Badri temples are five prominent temples dedicated to him in the State. They are situated at various places and are important for various reasons.
VISHAL BADRI: That is the Badrinath temple for you. Located in the midst of snow-capped Himalayan mountains in Chamoli, Vishal Badri is the most important of the Panch Badri temples. It is the current seat of Vishnu and is visited by lakhs of pilgrims every year. Just in case you don’t know what the “seat of god” means, it is the place from where worshippers believe that the god is operating.
The seat is different in different eras or ‘yug’. Badrinath shrine is the seat for the current yug – Kaliyug. This shrine, which is unlike many temples in terms of architecture, is almost two decades old and was built by Aadi Shankaracharya. It is also one of the places of the famed Char-Dham Yatra.
YOGDHAN BADRI: Though Vishal Badri, or Badrinath, is the most popular of the Panch Badri, it still cannot accommodate pilgrims throughout the year. When winter brings heavy snowfall in the upper Himalayan region, this temple becomes inaccessible. So during these winter months, the black stone idols of Vishnu kept in the Badrinath temple are moved to Yogdhyan Badri in Pandukeshwar, about 24km away from Vishal Badri.
Yogdhyan literally means ‘meditating’ and the temple depicts Vishnu in a meditative state. Pandukeshwar village thus becomes the winter seat of Badrinath. If the name Pandukeshwar doesn’t ring a bell, then it is probably time to brush up on your Mahabharat knowledge. King Pandu, father of the Pandavas, lived in this village and rigorously meditated to lift a sage’s curse. Since Vishnu was the god who answered his prayers, the name Pandukeshwar and Yogdhyan Badri stuck.
If not for religious reasons, then for pure adventurous ones, it is a good idea to visit Yogdhyan Badri to experience the peace and serenity. It is located at a height of 1920m, it gives a breathtaking view of the mountains, and the picturesque Surya Kund is also nearby. Pandukeshwar is 275km from Rishikesh and can be reached by private jeeps, hired cars or buses.
BHAVISHYA BADRI: Remember how we mentioned earlier that lord Vishnu had a different seat in different ‘yugs’. Well, Bhavishya Badri is a place which is said to be the next seat after Vishal Badri. Bhavishya’s literal meaning is future, and according to mythology Bhavishya Badri is the place where Vishnu would be worshipped after the end of the current yug, Kaliyug. It is said that in future, two mountains Nar and Narayan (Jay and Vijay) will collapse and block the way to Badrinath. At that time, Vishnu will reappear in Bhavishya Badri, which is located at a height of 2744m and is 12 km away from Joshimath. Getting here involves a 6km trek, so adventure junkies too can explore the jungles of this peaceful place.
VRADHA BADRI: The “Old” Badri shrine, as Vradha literally means, is the place where the ancient idol of Vishnu was worshipped centuries before Adi Shankaracharya found it. He re-located it to Badrinath, but Vradha Badri still commands a lot of respect among devotees. It is located at a height of 1380m in Animath, which is a 7km-trek from Joshimath and around 280km from Rishikesh. The humble temple here still has an idol of Vishnu depicting him as an old man – the way he appeared on earth to face Narad who was performing penance. Local stories indicate that the idol was washed away but was but was found centuries later by Adi Shankaracharya.
ADI BADRI: Adi means ancient or bygone. So Vishnu’s seat in the bygone era was Adi Badri, which is situated at a height 1875m, about 18km from Karnaprayag on the way to Ranikhet. There are 16 temples of all sizes and their height varies from 2m to 6m, with the tallest one belonging to Vishnu. Though many attribute the construction of these temples to Gupta period, there are others who believe that Adi Shankaracharya, who worked tirelessly to spread Hinduism in the country, was the one who built these. A short drive from here will take you to Chandpur fort which was used to fight the British by the Gurkha rulers. There are many places around Adi Badri which are an adventurer’s delight. Trekking trails are in abundance and the forests are full of rich Himalayan flora and fauna.