The phrase Char Dham refers to four pilgrimage sites across India—four abodes and are considered to be a must-visit by every Hindu during his/her lifetime. The four shrines are associated with Lord Vishnu and attract many Vaishnavites every year who come here to get the darshan of their beloved deity.
The Char Dham are located in Rameswaram, Puri, Badrinath, and Dwaraka. It is believed that the lord has his bath at Rameswaram, eats his meal at Puri, meditates in Badrinath, and finally winds up his day at Dwaraka.
Read on to gain some more insight about each of these four temples.
This temple is located in Tamil Nadu in south India. The place is closely associated with the great epic, Ramayana. Lord Rama, the 7th incarnation of Vishnu, is said to have prayed to Shiva in this place.
Rama thanked Shiva for his blessings because of which he could win the battle against the demon king, Ravana, who abducted Rama’s wife. Vaishnavites also believe that he prayed to Shiva to pardon him for any sins that he may have committed during the war. This is why Rameswaram is quite popular among this community.
The temple in Puri is situated in Odisha in east India. Krishna, the 8th incarnation of Vishnu is worshipped as Lord Jagannatha here. Interestingly, this is the only temple where Krishna is worshipped along with his brother, Balram, and sister, Subhadra. The Rath Yatra is a famous festival associated with this temple that takes place in June every year. This is a procession where three chariots bearing the three deities take them to another temple nearby for a feast.
The highlight of this temple is that the principal deity does not have any hands. According to a legend, Lord Vishnu directed King Indradyumna in his dream to get idols of Krishna and his siblings carved on a log of neem wood. When the Lord found sculptors failing, he sent Vishwakarma, the architect of the Devas, in disguise to do the carving. The disguised scuptor said that he agreed to carve on the condition that no one would see him or open the door of his room unless permitted by him. The king agreed to this condition.
After several months, the king and queen could suddenly hear no sounds from the room for a few days. Out of curiosity, the king opened the room, only to find that the sculptor had disappeared. The idol was incomplete. A divine voice instructed the king to install the idols as they were and he did so.
This temple is housed in the Garhwal hills of Uttarkhand in the northern part of India. Lord Vishnu is manifested as Badrinarayan here. The shrine was set up by Adi Shankaracharya more than a hundred decades ago.
There are several stories associated with this temple. As per one, Lord Vishnu was engaged in deep meditation at the same place where the temple is currently located. He was oblivious to the scorching rays from the sun. His consort Lakshmi assumed the form of a berry (badri in Sanskrit) tree and spread its branches to protect him. This action impressed Vishnu and he named the place Badrikashram.
According to another story, Lord Shiva and his consort Parvathi were meditating in Badrinath when Lord Vishnu appeared before them as a small boy. He started crying loudly to seek their attention. As expected, Parvathi asked him why he was crying. The boy replied that he wanted to meditate right there. The couple understood who the boy was and moved on to Kedarnath.
The temple is located in Gujarat in western India. This place is believed to be the dwelling place of Lord Krishna. The name Dwaraka originates from the Sanskrit word dwar that means door. Vishnu resides as Krishna in this temple. Devotees believe that the has city submerged in the sea six times. The present-day Dwaraka is said to have been rebuilt for the seventh time.
There is an interesting legend associated with the Dwarakadhish temple. The temple was frequented daily by a poor devotee, Badana. Impressed by her devotion, one day, the deity returned with her in the form of an idol when she left after her prayers. When the priests found the idol missing, they were sure that Badana had stolen it. They followed her and demanded that she give the idol back.
Badana pleaded with them to give her the idol and that she would give them gold corresponding to the weight of the idol. The priests agreed to this and they weighed the idol only to find that it weighed just as much as her nose ring. Krishna knew that his devotee could not afford anything else and made the idol really lightweight.
The Char Dham yatra is a pilgrimage undertaken by devotees to visit all the four temples. The yatra usually commences in May and goes on to until two days after Diwali. Most followers prefer to undertake this yatra between early July or September to avoid the rush and rainfall during other times.