Badrinath Temple in Uttarakhand: The Complete Guide

Badrinath temple.
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Badrinath temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, is one of the sacred Char Dham in Uttarakhand, in far northern India. These four ancient Hindu temples are regarded as the spiritual sources of four holy rivers: the Alaknanda River at Badrinath temple, the Ganges River at Gangotri temple, the Yamuna River at Yamunotri temple and the Mandakini River at Kedarnath temple. Hindus believe that visiting these temples will wash away their sins and help them attain moksha (release from the cycle of death and rebirth).

Badrinath is also one of four sacred Char Dham abodes of incarnations of Lord Vishnu that are spread across India, in all four directions. The other three are Dwarka in Gujarat, Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu, and Puri in Odisha.

This complete guide to Badrinath temple explains more about the temple's history and how to visit it.

Location

Uttarakhand's Char Dham are grouped together in the Himalayan Garhwal region of the state, close to Tibet. Badrinath temple sits at approximately 10,200 feet (3,100 meters) above sea level in front of imposing Neelkanth Peak, between the twin Nara and Narayana mountain ranges. It's located in Badrinath town, around 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of the base town of Joshimath. Although the distance isn't far, travel time from Joshimath to Badrinath is usually three hours due to the steep terrain and challenging road conditions.

History and Significance

No one knows for sure exactly how old Badrinath temple is, although Badrinath as a holy place can be traced as far back as the Vedic Age in India, which began in about 1,500 BC. The area, known as Badrikashram in Hindu scriptures, attracted many saints and sages during this period because of its powerful spiritual energy. Although there were no mentions of temples in the Vedas (the earliest Hindu scriptures), it's said that some Vedic hymns were first sung by sages who inhabited the area.

There are numerous references to Badrinath in the post-Vedic texts, the Puranas, which narrate stories about the creation of the universe. The "Bhagavata Purana" states that Lord Vishnu, in his incarnation as the twin sages Nara and Narayana, had been undergoing penance there for the welfare of living entities "since time immemorial." In the epic "Mahabharata," these two sages incarnated as humans Krishna and Arjuna to help mankind.

Apparently, Lord Shiva initially chose Badrinath for himself. However, Lord Vishnu tricked him into leaving (he went to Kedarnath temple).

There are many other holy legends and myths associated with Badrinath. According to one of them, Goddess Lakshmi provided Lord Vishnu with berries (or took the form of a berry tree to provide him with shelter from the cold) during his long penance. Hence, Badrinath gets its name from badri (a Sanskrit word for the Indian Jujube tree) and nath (meaning lord).

It's widely believed that Badrinath temple was established in the 9th century by Adi Shankara, a revered Indian philosopher and saint who revived Hinduism by consolidating its beliefs into a doctrine known as Advaita Vedanta. Some people say that the temple already existed as a Buddhist temple though, due to its distinctly Buddhist architecture and brightly-colored exterior.

Nevertheless, it's accepted that Adi Shankara found the temple's fossilized black stone idol of Lord Vishnu (in the form of Lord Badrinarayan) in the Alaknanda River. The idol is considered to be one of eight important Svayam Vyakta Kshetras—idols of Lord Vishnu that manifested on their own accord and weren't created by anyone—in India.

Adi Shankara lived in Badrinath temple from 814 to 820. He also installed a Nambudiri Brahmin chief priest there, from Kerala in south India where he was born. The tradition of having such a priest from Kerala continues today, even though the temple is in north India. The priest, known as a rawal, is chosen by the erstwhile rulers of Garhwal and Travancore.

Badrinath temple has undergone numerous renovations and restorations since the 9th century, with its inner sanctum possibly being the only original remaining part. Garhwal kings expanded the temple in the 17th century, giving it its current structure. Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore plated its spire in gold in the 18th century. In the early 19th century, the temple was damaged by a major earthquake and subsequently rebuilt by Jaipur's royal family.

How to Visit

Badrinath temple is usually visited on pilgrimage together with the other temples that make up the Char Dham in Uttarakhand. It's the most accessible temple out of the four, and one of the most popular temples in India. The number of pilgrims has grown to more than 1 million per year. Yet, the temple wasn't always so easy to reach. Before 1962, there was no road access and people had to walk over the mountains to get there.

Due to extreme weather conditions, Badrinath temple is only open for six months of the year from the end of April to the start of November. The priests decide the temple's opening date on the auspicious occasion of Basant Panchami, in January or February, which marks the arrival of spring. The closing date is decided on Dussehra. Generally, the temple stays open for about 10 days after Diwali. In 2018, Badrinath temple opened on April 30.

Reaching Badrinath Temple

The easiest and most common way of visiting the temple is on a day trip from Joshimath, although some accommodations are available at Badrinath (the GMVN's Hotel Devlok is a decent budget option, otherwise choose the Sarovar Portico). Those who are undertaking the Char Dham Yatra (pilgrimage) will usually complete it at Badrinath temple, after seeing Kedarnath temple and coming from either Gauri Kund or Sonprayag.

Unfortunately, the nearest railway station to Badrinath is at Haridwar, about 10 hours away from Joshimath by road. It's most convenient to take a car and driver from Haridwar, and these cars are available at the station. Most car rental companies will charge on a per day basis, which needs to include a return trip. Expect to pay around 3,000 rupees per day upwards depending on the type of car. You'll need to leave as early as possible (by 7 a.m.), as it's necessary to reach Joshimath before sunset.

Driving on mountain roads at night isn't allowed in Uttarakhand due to safety issues.

If cost is a concern, shared jeeps and buses are a cheaper alternative. These depart early in the morning from Natraj Chowk in Rishikesh, about 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) from Haridwar. Here's how to get from Haridwar to Rishikesh.

Jeep drivers will wait until the jeeps are full, squeezing in 12 to 14 people, before leaving. Taking the bus will add a few hours of travel time, as they are local (non-air conditioned) passenger buses. Buses are actually more comfortable than crowded jeeps though! The buses start running at 4 a.m. and go all the way to Badrinath. However, there's a possibility of getting stranded between Joshimath and Badrinath if the notoriously unpredictable weather takes a turn for the worse in the late afternoon.

The road is notorious for landslides during the monsoon and the journey can be arduous.

Another option is to take a bus from Rishikesh to Srinagar (not in Kashmir!) or Rudraprayag, and a shared taxi from there to Badrinath. They run frequently and the drivers aren't so concerned about filling the jeeps to maximum capacity.

When traveling from Joshimath to Badrinath, it's advisable to leave Joshimath early in the morning (by 8 a.m.). The traffic is often regulated during peak season in May and June, with vehicles only allowed to go in certain directions at certain times due to the narrowness of the road. The scenery is spectacular though!

Darshan (Viewing the Deity) at Badrinath Temple

Daily rituals at Badrinath temple commence at 4:30 a.m. with the Maha Abhishek and Abhishek Puja. Depending on how much time and money you have to spare, there are a number of options for viewing the idol of Lord Badrinarayan inside the temple. The general public can attend these rituals by making a booking and paying a fee of around 4,000 rupees per person. It's a peaceful and enchanting way of seeing the idol.

The temple opens to the public each morning at 6:30 a.m. and closes at noon. It's open again from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. The most auspicious time to visit is at 6:30 a.m. for the first public puja (worship) of the day, so it does get crowded then.

The temple rituals continue throughout the day, with the price starting from 151 rupees for attending the evening Kapoor Aarti and going up to 35,101 rupees for the performance of a special seven-day Shrimad Bhagwat Saptah Path Puja. The cost of attending all the temple's daily rituals is 11,700 rupees per person.

During busy times, those who don't want to pay extra to skip the line can expect to wait a couple of hours to see the idol, even despite getting there really early. Be prepared to only get a glimpse of the idol for a few seconds, as the temple priests hurry people through.

A token system is in place at the temple, to regulate the entry of pilgrims according to allocated times. However, it's not always functional.

When viewing the deity, it's customary to make a devotional offering (known as prasad) to be blessed. This can be purchased at the temple and typically includes candy, dried fruits and tulsi (holy basil).

Do note that photography is prohibited inside the temple.

Best Time to Visit Badrinath Temple

To avoid the crowds and inclement weather, October (or November if the temple is still open) is considered to be the best time to go. It's not as busy as the May to June peak season, and the wet June to September monsoon season is over.

Keep in mind that the weather at Badrinath can be erratic, with freezing nights and rainy or sunny days. So, do pack accordingly.

If you want to catch a festival at the temple, Krishna Janmashtami is celebrated in August, the Mata Murti ka Mela takes place every September on the occasion of Vaman Dwadashi, and there are ceremonies when the temple opens and closes every year. It will be busy then though! At the opening, many people come to see the burning lamp that was lit by the priest before closing the temple the previous year.

Package Tours to Badrinath Temple

If you don't mind being locked into a fixed schedule of sightseeing, a multitude of companies offer package tours to Badrinath temple (and the other Char Dham in Uttarakand), including transport and accommodations. Some popular and reliable ones are Government-operated GMVN, Divine Journey, Southern Travels, and Shubh Yatra Travels.

If money is no object, Heritage Aviation conducts helicopter tours to Badrianth from Dehradun in Uttarakhand. Expect to pay 275,000 rupees for five people. Timberline Helicharters is reliable another option.

What to See

The temple's 3.3 feet-tall black stone idol of Lord Badrinarayan is sitting in a meditative pose, rather than his usual reclining pose, under a badri tree and canopy of pure gold.

There are idols of 15 other deities within the temple premises, some located in the inner sanctum and others outside it. These include Uddhava (Lord Krishna's friend and devotee), Garuda (Lord Vishnu's vehicle), Kuber (the god of wealth), Lord Ganesh, Nara and Narayana, Shridevi and Bhudevi, and Goddess Lakshmi.

There's also a medicinal hot sulfur spring, Tapt Kund, below the temple that pilgrims can take a dip in before entering.

What Else to Do Nearby

Mana village is most popular attraction near Badrinath temple. It's located only a few kilometers beyond the temple, along a paved path, and is the closest village to the Tibetan border. Further on from Mana, a two-hour trek will take you to Vasudhara Falls. If you're feeling energetic, you can go even further on a multi-day trek to Satopanth Lake.

There are many religious spots to visit in the vicinity of Badrinath temple. These include Brahma Kapal (where ceremonies for departed souls are performed), Charan Paduka (a boulder in a meadow, with Lord Vishnu's footprint on it), and Shesh Netra (a boulder with an imprint of serpent Shesha Nag, on which Lord Vishnu reclines). There are Panch Shila (five sacred stone slabs) around Tapt Kund on which sages meditated, and Panch Dhara (five sacred streams) in which sages bathed. It's also possible to visit the cave where Sage Vyasa composed the "Mahabharata" with the assistance of Lord Ganesh.

Between Badrinath and Joshimath, Pandukeshwar is thought to have been established by King Pandu, who is the son of Sage Vyasa and father of the Pandavas brothers from the "Mahabharata." It has two ancient temples. One of them, Lord Vasudev's temple, functions as the abode of Lord Badrinarayan when Badrinath temple is closed during winter and all rituals are performed there.

From Joshimath, it's worth checking out the ski resort of Auli (an aerial tramway runs between both places). Those who are adventurous and have extra time can also do the Valley of Flowers National Park trek.