The author recounts a journey full of divine adventure and unexpected twists to the Shiva temple, which withstood the fury of nature a few years ago.
Every time the ‘Namo Namo hi Shankara’ chant in the 2018 ‘Kedarnath’ movie starring Sushant Singh Rajput reverberated in my head, my heart ached to visit the pilgrimage place in the Himalayas.
But I had to wait to be called. In Hindu sanskriti, there is a firm belief that one embarks on journeys to religious or spiritual places only when the divine beckons.
As a devout Shiva bhakta, visiting the temple devoted to him in Kedarnath in Uttarakhand held a special allure for me. With the advent of 2023, a year marked by the spiritually significant number seven, I resolved to undertake multiple journeys with a spiritual or religious connotation. I distinguish experiences as either religious or spiritual. A trip to Haridwar evokes a sense of the religious/sacred, while Rishikesh embodies a spiritual essence. Religious travel establishes a connection with the divine outside whereas a spiritual excursion fosters a connection with the divine within. Life achieves equilibrium when both these connections are harmonized, aligning our journey on this earthly plane with the purpose of our existence.
Every time my friend Rachna Aurora proposed we go to Kedarnath and worship before the Jyotirlinga (pillar of light) enshrined there, a warm feeling enveloped me, spreading through my entire being, kindling an earnest desire to visit one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and most pre-eminent. The realization of this journey finally came last October, bringing forth a multitude of religious and spiritual revelations.
Kedarnath is part of the Hindu pilgrimage quadrangle called Char Dham, the other three being Badrinath, Gangotri, and Yamunotri. According to Hindu scriptures, the Pandavas undertook the Char Dham yatra to atone for their sins after the bloody Kurukshetra war as described in the epic Mahabharata. Upon learning of the Pandavas’ intentions, Lord Shiva sought to evade them, taking the form of Nandi the Bull. In that maneuver, his hump radiated ethereal energy. Despite his celestial agility, the Pandavas persisted in pursuing him. Kedarnath, on the bank of the river Mandakini, is believed to be where Lord Shiva (Nandi)’s hump manifested. The Pandavas erected the temple there, which has stood there for 4,000 years as a tribute to this divine episode.
Aparna Dedhia (middle) with her friends at Kedarnath. She could complete the pilgrimage but only after some anxious wait when their helicopter could not take off due to bad weather.
The Power of Faith
During the 2013 flash floods in the area, the Kedarnath temple miraculously survived the fury of nature. A sacred rock there named Bhima Shila interrvened, altering the course of the surging waters, and shielding the holy site even as other nearby structures succumbed to the deluge. I can only think of Voltaire, who said, “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”
The journey from Haridwar to Kedarnath, 125 km away, takes about five hours by bus. Gaurikund is the nearest motorable area. After that, you trek for 16 km to Kedarnath. While the trek can be challenging, it offers a thrilling experience amid breathtaking landscapes. Ponies, palkis (palanquins) and pittus (travelling on human back) can be hired from Gaurikund. Helicopter services are also available for Kedarnath darshan, with regular sorties from Dehradun, Phata, Augustmuni, and Gaurikund.
We decided to forgo the arduous trek and opted for a helicopter ride. As we waited at Phata, the sky turned a morbid grey, and the sun sought asylum behind moody clouds. Our pilot, an ex-army officer, sarcastically asked us whether we had conducted a havan or any rituals to appease the divine before starting our yatra. Fear etched across our faces, the question convulsing our minds was – “What if we are not able to make it?” We had heard of instances where people could not complete the yatra to this coveted shrine.
During the 2013 flash floods in the area, the Kedarnath temple miraculously survived. A sacred rock there named Bhima Shila came in between, altering the course of the surging waters.
The mention of havan by our pilot triggered thoughts of my Guru’s ashram – Shantikshetra Premgiri Ashram at Karjat in Maharashtra. I suddenly realized that I had the Divine Light – the jagrut (blessed) picture of our Guru — with me on one of the most important odysseys of my life. I held the Divine Light in my hands, and with full faith implored the divine to weave some magic in the sky and chanted some mantras. I felt a comforting pat on my head, and as I opened my eyes, my inner voice assured me that we would soon make it to our destination.
The helicopter man returned to where we were waiting anxiously. This time, he was all love and affection. “Lagta hai usne aapki prarthna sun li (it seems the divine has answered your prayers).” Within 15 minutes, they asked us to get on the helicopter as the skies had cleared, and the sun reappeared in its glory. My face lit up with a goofy grin – ‘The divine heard my prayers.’ My heart brimmed with joy and assurance that with unwavering faith, I can reach out to my Divine anytime, anywhere.
The Power of Now
“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.” In his modern classic, ‘The Power of Now’, Eckhart Tolle delves into mindfulness, consciousness, and the transformative power of fully embracing the present moment. On October 10, 2023, as the sun cast its final rays, Tushar my husband, and I found ourselves captivated by the aura of the temple complex. The mystical words of Eckhart Tolle suddenly made sense.
Amid the majestic snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas, the air resonated with the chants of ‘Shiva, Shiva’, creating a spiritually charged atmosphere. In this awe-inspiring setting, I unexpectedly found myself overwhelmed with tears, which washed away the pain accumulated over the years — the hurt, let-downs, frustration, and unrealized dreams.
In a moment of introspection, my husband, labeled a ‘kanjoos’ for being stingy with expressing emotions, drew my attention to the transient nature of life. He pointed out that despite the internal turmoil or the feeling that this day did not belong to us, there was a lesson in finding happiness in the present. That was Tushar’s inner Eckhart Tolle musing, I thought.
Whether it was a day seemingly unfavorable or a moment bathed in the mystical ambiance of the magical mountains, the recognition of transience became a guiding principle thereon. The acknowledgment that this day would never return added depth to the experience, encouraging a profound sense of happiness in the present, especially within the spiritual haven of Kedarnath.
My friend Rachna Aurora, a budding resin artist who works with her husband in their transformer business, now loves to recount our journey to the abode of Lord Shiva as a divine adventure with unexpected twists. The uncertainty of the helicopter taking off kept us on edge. But our prayers were answered as the weather gods smiled on us. Touching down in Kedarnath, peace enveloped us, blending divinity with breathtaking natural beauty.
Reflecting on those moments brings forth a surge of energy even now. The echoes of prayers and stunning views at Kedarnath transformed it into a transcendental experience. Exploring the landscape and hiking to nearby Bhairav Baba Mandir provided a perfect backdrop for introspection and bonding.
The entire trip was soul-stirring, the challenges heightened my sense of achievement. Those memories now fill me with renewed vigor, underscoring the profound connection between nature, spirituality, and the bonds forged with friends and family, creating a tapestry of magical energies that linger in the heart forever.
For information about pilgrimage and tourism in the area: https://uttarakhandtourism.gov.in/