The Char Dham or Chota Char Dham translated as 'the small four abodes or seats', is an important Hindu pilgrimage circuit in the Indian Himalayas. Nestled in the Garhwal region of the state of Uttarakhand, the circuit consists of four sites namely the Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath.
Traditionally, the pilgrimage begins from the West and ends in the East. Thus, the Char Dham Yatra commences from taking an ablution at Haridwar, then proceeding to Yamunotri, then Gangotri and finally to Kedarnath and Badrinath. The great Hindu philosopher and reformer Adi Shankaracharya initiated the Char Dham Yatra in an attempt to revive the Hindu religion during the 8th century.
Visiting the Char Dham Temples in Uttarakhand is a unique experience because each of the sites of this Hindu pilgrimage circuit are dedicated to a different deity,and have their own major significance. Yamunotri (situated in beautiful Rawain valley) is dedicated to Goddess Yamuna. It is believed that a bath in the waters of the Yamuna protects the devotee from untimely death. Gangotri is dedicated to Goddess Ganga. Kedarnath, which is revered as one of the 12 jyotir lingas, is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and Badrinath, which is also a part of the Char Dham established by Adi Shankaracharya, is dedicated to Lord Badri, or Vishnu.
According to Hinduism, the Pilgrimage tirthayatra is one of the five duties of every Hindu, along with Dharma, Worship, Sanskaras and Observing religious festivals. A pilgrimage is an intimate experience which makes a direct connection between the seeker and the God. It is an exercise which tests one’s willpower, humility and faith, when the devotee travels to never dreamed locations, leaving their problems at the feet of the deity and forgetting everything but God.
Taking the Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand is analogous to a journey to the innermost self. These pilgrimage centres draw the maximum numbers of pilgrims each year, all of them eager to attain salvation, or moksha, the ultimate state of liberation in Hinduism. There is another Char Dham (devoted to Lord Vishnu), which consists of four holy sites scattered all over India. Established by Adi Shankaracharya, these are Badrinath in Uttarakhand, Dwarka in Gujarat, Puri in Odisha and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.
Before embarking on this journey, one has to be prepared to experience physical as well as mental hardships on the Himalayan roads. The Char Dham Yatra is one of the quite accessible yet most laborious journeys, but what makes the yatra even more exciting is the enthralling views of the Himalayas, mountain forests, meadows, waterfalls, rivers, valleys, and other lovely faces of nature that one comes across on the way. The scenic beauty of the mountains and the hospitality offered by the locals, solemnly provides strength to the pilgrims as they move towards their destination and thus, making it one of the most important hubs of religious travel in whole of the Northern India.