Panch Kedar: A spiritual journey through the Himalayas

After fighting a bloody war of Mahabharat for 18 days, Pandavas wanted to absolve themselves of the sin of killing so many people of their own clan. They went to the Himalayas in search of lord Shiva, the only one who could absolve their sin.  Lord Shiva was reluctant to help them as he was displeased by the bloodshed in the war, so he assumed the form of a bull and disappeared into the mountains. However, Pandavas kept on chasing the bull. Finally, as the bull was trying to hide in the ground, Bhima caught hold of the bull's tail and pulled it up. The bull rose up with its different parts appearing in different places. The hump appeared at Kedarnath, the arms at Tungnath, the navel at Madhyamaheshwar, the face at Rudranath, and the hair and head appeared at Kalpeshwar. The Pandavas built temples at these five places for worshiping Shiva, which are now known as panch Kedar. The story is to indicate the significance of Panch Kedar in the spiritual system of Shiva.

Panch Kedar
Kedarnath Photo by Sagar Shally

'Panch' means five and 'Kedar' means the lord of the mountain- one of the many names of lord Shiva. Panch Kedar holds a great place in the spiritual ethos of India, especially for the Shiva devotees, as hundreds and thousands of pilgrims make this arduous journey through the ups and downs of the Himalayan mountain to the five temples of Panch Kedar in total devotion and surrender to Lord Shiva. Apart from the spiritual and religious significance of the Panch Kedar, the pilgrimage route goes through breathtakingly beautiful Himalayan terrain which alone is reason enough to partake in this journey even if one is not spiritual and religious. All of the Panch Kedar temples are located in the Indian hill state of Uttarakhand. Let's explore each of these five temples in detail. 

Kedarnath Temple

Located at an altitude of 3,583 meters above sea level in the lap of the majestic Himalayas, Kedarnath Temple is considered to be the most important of all the Panch Kedar temples. The Lingam in the temple is believed to be one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva and is considered to be self-manifested. The temple is open to devotees from April to November every year and is closed for winter. The Kedarnath Temple is accessible by foot through a 14 km difficult and steep trek from the Gaurikund, taking you through the rugged terrain and offering breathtaking views of the Himalayan mountain range and the surrounding valleys. However, if you have weak legs and lungs you can use helicopter services which saves you the effort of climbing the mountain but also leaves you bereft of the joy of pilgrimage. 

Tungnath Temple

Panch Kedar
Tugnath Photo by Vikas Bhandari

The highest Shiva temple in the world, Tungnath is located at an altitude of over 3,600 meters and can be reached via a very beautiful 3.5-kilometer trek from Chopta. The temple is made of stone and has simple yet elegant architecture. The temple complex includes a Nandi bull statue, a small mandapa, and a sanctum sanctorum. The temple is open to devotees from April to November every year, as the temple is covered in snow during winter and not accessible to devotees.

As you trek through the region, you'll discover large meadows called Bugyal that are an absolute treat for the eyes. These lush green oases are surrounded by towering mountains and pristine forests. At the highest point of the mountain after Tunganath lies Chandrashila, where the sunrise is an absolute masterpiece of nature. If you're brave enough to wake up early, you'll witness the sky being painted with vivid colors as the sun rises above the horizon. It's a truly magical experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Rudranath Temple

Panch Kedar

Located at an altitude of 2,286 meters above sea level, Rudranath Temple is the third temple on the Panch Kedar pilgrimage. The temple is situated in a beautiful meadow surrounded by mountains and very picturesque surroundings. In the Rudranath temple, Lord Shiva's face is worshiped, while the whole body is worshiped in the Pashupatinath temple of Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu. The temple is open to devotees from May to November every year and can be reached via a 21-kilometer trek from Gopeshwar.

Madhyamaheshwar Temple

Located at an altitude of 3,497 meters above sea level, Madhyamaheshwar Temple is the fourth temple on the Panch Kedar pilgrimage. The temple is situated in a picturesque valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is believed to be the navel of Lord Shiva. The temple is in the green valley surrounded by Chaukhambha massif. Small temples of Parvati, Ardhanarishwara, and Saraswati are also present nearby. The temple is open to devotees from May to November every year and can be reached via a 32-kilometer trek from Ransi village.

Kalpeshwar Temple

Located in the beautiful Urgam valley at an altitude of 2,200 meters above sea level, Kalpeshwar Temple is the last temple on the Panch Kedar pilgrimage. The temple is situated in a cave and is believed to be the hair of Lord Shiva. The temple is open to devotees from April to November every year and can be reached via a 10-kilometer trek from Helang.

The Panch Kedar temples are believed to be the most important pilgrimage sites for Lord Shiva devotees. The pilgrimage to all five temples is considered to be an act of complete devotion and dedication to the Lord. Each of these temples has its own unique charm and beauty and is worth visiting for the spiritual and natural experience it offers. These temples are not only significant from a religious perspective but also hold great importance from a cultural and historical perspective. A visit to the Panch Kedar temples is a must for anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment and an unforgettable travel experience in India.

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