We human beings are amusing creatures; trapped within the illusions of our own mental prison! We surround ourselves with umpteen materialistic milestones in a bid to achieve a sense of success and satisfaction. Our eternal industry seems to revolve around being socially worthy in terms of those material achievements. And yet, we seem to be forever searching for something more… We are forever on the move, achieving one goal after another, not feeling the adrenaline rush that we were expecting on achievement of our goals. What is the reason that this quest for peace and happiness are always elusive? We will need to travel back in time to understand this elusive nature of human being’s spiritual progression.
Indian philosophies articulate the goals of humankind as ‘Purusharthas’ – the blueprint for the fulfillment of human birth. Purusha is the individual, and Artha signifies the objective, meaning, or pursuit of that individual. The four stages of Purusharthas are Dharma (Righteousness), Artha (pursuit of material Wealth), Kama (fulfillment of Desires) and Moksha (Liberation). To reach the ultimate destination of ‘Moksha’, the barrier of the first three aspects of life must be crossed. Therefore, while the race for material possessions that humankind indulges in is required, peace can only be achieved when we break free of this cycle to amass physical wealth and strive towards self-knowledge, leading to self-realization. But how do we achieve freedom from worldly attractions, and how do we work towards self-realization and ultimate salvation?
The ‘Char Dham’ pilgrimage marks a special significance amongst spiritual seekers as it is considered as one of the ways of reaching this stage of liberation. The literal meaning of ‘Char Dham’ is ‘four abodes or seats of God’. The actual ‘Char Dhams’, or abodes of God, as coined by Indian Sage and philosopher Sri Adi Shankaracharya, are situated in the four directions of India – Badrinath in the North, Puri in the East, Rameshwaram in the South and Dwarka in the West. There is also a ´Chhota Char Dham´, or a smaller circuit, comprising of four famous holy destinations in the north of India, namely Yamuotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. They represent all three major sects of Hinduism i.e. ‘Vaishnava’, ‘Shaiva’ and ‘Shakta’ traditions. Seated in the backdrop of epic, mythology and culture, these destinations attract millions of pilgrims every year; some, walking barefoot on the sheer wings of faith.
The pilgrimage starts with Yamunotri Dham, the source of the sacred Yamuna River. It is believed that anyone taking a dip in the Yamuna achieves salvation. From the origin of the Yamuna, pilgrims walk to the origin of the Ganga river – the Gangotri and Gomukh. The story goes that King Bhagirath meditated for thousands of years to bring the river Ganga to earth and grant life to his children. The Ganga is believed to be so holy that one dip in her waters is supposed to wash all sins of believers.
Shri Kedarnath, a prominent pilgrimage and one of the twelve ‘Jyotirlingas’ (Radiance of Lord Shiva), is the next stop of this pilgrimage. The present temple here was built by Adi Shankaracharya, and stands adjacent to the site of an earlier temple built by the Pandavas.
Shri Badrinath is considered as the most sacred among the four shrines. It also forms a part of the larger Char Dham circuit. The shrine of Lord Badrinath is made of Shaligrama, a highly sacred stone, worshipped for six values of life – righteous living, creation of wealth, protection, sound health, pleasures and spiritual attainment. The Badrinath temple opens only for six months and is closed during winters. A small lamp is always left burning inside the temple, and is found burning even when the temple is reopened after six months of winter. Also, the flowers that are offered to the deity in the temple remain fresh during this time. This is considered a miracle. This region is also believed to have witnessed the Adi Shankaracharya attaining freedom from the process of reincarnation.
Nestled in the lap of the mighty and mesmerizing Himalayas, the ‘Char Dham’ journey truly opens the traveler to the minuteness of human existence and spirit. The sheer altitude of the mountains, lush green forests and the freshness in the unadulterated atmosphere with the thick layer of soul-soothing air of divinity crafts a perfect meditative atmosphere.
This phenomenal journey also trials the seeker in countless ways. Human frailness comes to fore as the multitude of furious rivers. The known appear unfamiliar; strength is tested to limits. And when one is on the verge of defeat, a stranger lends an encouraging hand. The simplest gets hardest and the hardest part of the journey brings calmness. In the silence of nature, thoughts start clamoring for attention; and amidst the loud drumming of bells and chants it gets still as the stretches of eternally frozen glaciers. Treading these routes, in this quest towards salvation, one travels to the unexplored places within; uncovering one’s TRUE SELF! … Isn’t that what Yoga is really all about??