Beautiful Badrinath - Part 1
Of all the Himalayan shrines, Badrinath is very unique. This is because legend goes that the Himalayas belonged to King Himavan, the father of Parvati. The entire Himalayas were gifted to Lord Shiva during the marriage with Parvati. And so it is that the whole mountainous kingdom is pervaded by Shiva temples and shrines all over. Badrinath is the only shrine which has as its presiding deity, Lord Vishnu!
How Lord Vishnu came to be worshipped in Badrinath is a story that has many accounts and versions. I will share in brief the version that I heard. This is important and it is called the sthala purana or “the special story of the place”.
There is this demon named Sahasrakavacha (which translates into “one with thousand armors”). He had a special boon - it would take 1000 years of penance followed by 1000 years of fierce fighting to break one of his armors. The two heroes, Nara and Narayana, who are aspects of Lord Vishnu decided to end the tyrannical reign of Sahasrakavacha. They had a plan - while one of them would fight the demon, the other would do penance.
It was at this time that Sage Narada, the celestial wanderer, came to the spot called Badrinath which was inhabited by Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Even a day’s penance at this place was equivalent to penance for a thousand years. Thus, the sage suggested to Nara and Narayana that they do their penance at this spot as it would drastically reduce the time needed to kill the demon.
Now came the next problem. How to get the place from Lord Shiva?
Narayana donned the form of a baby wailing for milk. Parvati saw the baby and her heart melted for it. Lord Shiva said,
“Goddess! You know who this is and what his intention is. Why do you pick up the baby?”
“My Lord! My duty as a mother is foremost for me. I cannot forsake this baby”, was the reply.
The baby is taken home by the divine pair. However, when the pair left their home for their daily walk, Narayana assumed his true form and locked them out stating that he needed the place for penance! It was a 'funny' situation - to be locked out of one's own home! The divine pair had known that this would happen and they just played out the Divine drama. Thus, they shifted to Kedarnath about which I shall write soon.
Having obtained the holy place, Narayana began meditating while Nara fought the demon. 1000 years passed in a day due to the specialty of Badrinath. The next day, Nara and Narayana interchanged roles and this continued till the demon lost 999 armors. After losing all but one armour, the Rakshasa feared his end was near and prayed to Sun God for his safety. Sun God took pity on him and promised to help him. The demon was transported into the womb of Kunti to be born as Karna (a hero of the Mahabharata).
Nara and Narayana were surprised at the sudden disappearance of the Rakshasa. Narayana through this yogic power could figure out all that had happened and decided that they, Narayana and Nara would also take birth as Krishna and Arjuna and vanquish Karna. At last, in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, Arjuna killed Karna. Thus Narayana and Nara put an end to the demon, Shasrakavacha. The Badrinath shrine is where one finds Nara and Narayana engaged in penance, forever, for the benefit of humanity. Anyone who does penance here is said to gain great merit.
Now that we know the story of Badrinath, let me assure you that one does not need the story to realize that there is something very special about the place. We landed there late in the evening and were housed in the GMVN dormitories. ( Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam or GMVNis a convenient and economical way to book the travels and accommodation to all these Himalayan shrines.)
When you stay overnight at Badrinath, you must wake up at least by 5:30am. Sunrise happens quite early in these places and along with the sunrise, some unforgettable scenes open out. Badrinath is surrounded by many peaks - the Neelakanth peak, the Nara peak, the Narayana peak, the Kuber peak, Urvashi peak and so on.
The striking one among them all is the Neelakant peak. The first rays of the sun hit this peak and slowly uncover its snowy slopes. And even as you are thinking that the Neelakant peak has been fully uncovered, clouds fly in from nowhere and completely mask the mountain. And the mountain remains masked by clouds throughout the day! Even I did not believe this legend till I saw it for myself. This is a spectacle that nobody should ever miss. You will stand transfixed with the beauty of this natural wonder.
The next thing to be done is to wake up from this ethereal beauty to complete the morning’s ablutions. The temperatures here in the peak of summer will be around 4-5 degrees Centigrade. Hot water comes at a premium - Rs. 40 per bucket! But as they say, the best things in life are for free. Pick your belongings and go straight to the temple. At its base is the marvel of nature - the Tapt Kund.
Water from a natural hot-water spring has been led into this little bathing spot and it will be bustling with people. One is not allowed to brush one's teeth or use soap for bathing at the bathing spot. But as I said, the spot is fed by an eternal spring. The inlet is at one end and the outlet at another. The outlet leads to another bathing spot where the water temperature is cooler - about 55 degrees Centigrade. The primary bathing spot has water at almost 75-80 degrees centigrade! The authorities have intelligently diverted some of the spring water to taps where one can brush and have bath with soap!
It is an amazing sight to behold - 2 degrees Centigrade water and 80 degrees centigrade water within meters of each other! The 2 degrees Centigrade water is from the river Alakananda that emerges in the peaks behind Badrinath.
The association of the shrine with Swami...
Once the bath was done, excitement filled me. I was about to enter the temple which had been blessed by Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba in 1961! I had read an amazing account from theSathyam Shivam Sundaram (Part 2 of the biography of Baba). I quote it here:
“At Badrinath, Baba drew from under the present Narayana image, a Nethra-linga (symbolic representation of Lord Shiva as an oval globule) which according to Him was brought from Mount Kailasa (!) and ceremonially installed there, by no less a person than Sankaracharya about twelve hundred years ago! This Nethralinga when it emerged at the call of Baba, created a chapter in history; a Linga as the basis of the celebrated Vaishnava shrine was a welcome reminder of the basic harmony of Saivites and Vaishnavites.”
Swami spoke of the Linga which He had brought out as being one of the Five Lingas which Adi Sankaracharya brought from Kailas and installed in India. When Swami said this, the wonder grew and there was earnestness among the members of His entourage to know more of this divine mission of Sankara.
Remember, this was 1961 when there were many skeptics! Those who knew Him accepted the accuracy of this exalted origin of the Linga which they were privileged to see for some precious minutes on that never-to-be forgotten day. However, there was one certain Saligrama Srikantha Sastry. He was afflicted by an earnestness to discover the authenticity of what Swami had said. He had studied the Sankara-vijaya, the classical biography of Adi Sankaracharya and he sought to know the origins of the Lingas that had been installed by Sankaracharya in the monasteries which he had founded.
He wrote to the nucleus of Sankaracharya’s establishments - the Sringeri Mutt. In the reply he received from the Sringeri Mutt, the monastery established by Sankaracharya amidst the mountains of western Mysore, he was told that mention was made of these Lingas in the Sivarahasya Mahethihasa, a book which he was able to get after elaborate search from the library of a Vedic College at Varanasi.
In the XVI chapter of the IX Section of this book, it is said that Lord Siva welcomed Sankara at Kailas and blessed him with the words,
"You are marked out for the establishment in the world of the true teaching of the Vedas, viz., Adwaitha (non-dualism). Spend 32 years of your earthly existence spreading this faith and overwhelming those who decry or deny it. Accept these five Lingas that I am giving you now. Worship them with the Panchakshari and with Satharudrabhisheka. Offer the sacred Bilva leaf and Vibhuti and recite the holy Pranava (Aumkaaram). Complete your three Tours of Victory dispelling the darkness of Dwaitha (dualism) and then, install these Lingas from this thrice-holy Kailasa, marked by the effulgence of the Crescent, named Yoga Bhoga Vara Mukthi and Moksha, in sacred sites chosen by you, before you shed this mortal frame at Kanchipuram."
Thus it was that the great scholar and follower of Adi Sankaracharya was convinced through research, the authenticity of Swami’s manifestation. Swami had then materialized Thumme flowers and golden leaves of the Bilva. He re-charged the Jyotir-Linga before sending it back to its resting spot under the main deity. And now, it was this very temple precincts that I was about to enter. About 30-50 steps separated me from the shrine.
to be concluded in Part 2
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya