Editor’s note: The global COVID-19 crisis has left each one of us deeply affected and we want to help. Burda Media India has organised a fundraising campaign to #FightBackWithTesting and donating RT-PCR test kits to the worst-affected areas in India, which will be secured from our testing partner Mylab Discovery Solutions. You can help these kits reach many more by donating for the cause or by adopting a kit. Click here to join the fight.
When life throws curveballs at you – especially as gigantic as the ones we’re living through right now – looking at the heavens above is often a preferred path to calm. In India, with the many deities that reside here all across the country, spiritual tourism tends to take precedence. The Char Dham Circuit, often, emerges victorious as the most-trodden spiritual journey. Here is a lowdown on what this famous route has to offer, and why it should be on your travel bucket list once the situation improves. By Bayar Jain
In a country where a majority of the population follows Hinduism, it’s only natural for a Hindu-led spiritual circuit to catch the attention of travellers. Considered one of the holiest pilgrimage paths for Hindu devotees to explore, the Char Dham (four abodes) is believed to help Vaishnavite Hindus attain moksha, or divine salvation. This holy circuit is considered a ‘must’ in the lives of devotees and spans across the entire country with the four cities of the route nestled in each of the four geographical directions – North, East, West, and South. Each of the four destinations – namely, Badrinath, Dwarka, Rameswaram, and Puri – come backed with historical importance linked to mythological beliefs.
Located in the Eastern part of India, Puri in Odisha is a unique destination for the four major Char Dham sites. This city holds spiritual importance to Hindus, as well as Jains. As per Hindu mythology, the main temple here dates back to over 1,000 years. Believed to be constructed by Raja Choda Ganaga Deva and Raja Tritiya Ananga Bhima Deva, the temple here worships Shri Krishna – or Jagannatha – along with Subhadra (his sister), and Balabhadra (his brother). The worship of this trio here makes this dham the sole such shrine in the country.
However, Puri’s connection to Jainism devotees is derived from the belief that Jagannatha was a deity of Jain origin. It is believed that the word Nath added to many Jain Tirthankars is derived from Jinnath, which itself is a variation of Jagannath. Moreover, the notion of moksha (kaivalya in Jainism) serves as a meeting point for the two religions. Additionally, the steps leading to the temple – 22 in total – is said to be symbolic of the first 22 (of the total 24) Tirthankars of Jainism.
With this amalgamation of religious ideologies fusing together in one place, Puri doubles as a revered destination among many pilgrims. The epitome of its holy nature is visible once a year during the Ratha Yatra, wherein the deity’s annual visit from Gundicha Temple to Saradha Bali is commemorated with much furore.
Located in Tamil Nadu at the tip of the Indian peninsula at the Gulf of Mannar, Rameswaram is believed to have gotten importance when Lord Rama built a Shiva-Lingam here, hoping to seek blessings from Lord Shiva himself. In fact, this linga is considered one of the 12 Jyotirlingas. With this backdrop, it becomes easy to understand why the Rameswaram Temple or the Ramanatha Swamy Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Adding to this already holy story is another belief. As per mythological beliefs, Lord Ram and his brother, Laxman and devotee Hanuman started the construction of the Rama Setu (a bridge to Sri Lanka) here. So revered is this city that many devotees feel that a pilgrimage to Varanasi is incomplete without a stopover at this holy land.
Dwarka (Dvar means ‘door’ in Sanskrit) lies in Gujarat at the confluence of the Gomti river and the Arabian sea. This third of the four dhams rose to fame as a spiritual destination since it is believed that Lord Krishna made this place his residence, as opposed to Mathura. However, it is also believed that the current city as it stands today is not like the first one to have been established. Legend has it that the original dwelling was submerged in the sea over six times, and the modern-day version of it is the seventh variation of it.
What truly sets this fourth dham apart is the fact that it doesn’t remain open for tourists throughout the year. Located in the Garhwal hills of Uttarakhand, close to the Alaknanda River, Badrinath welcomes tourists only between April and October owing to the difficult climatic conditions it witnesses. That, however, doesn’t stop pilgrims from rushing to the spot the first chance they get.
As per Hindu mythology, this hilly destination attained religious statures when Nar-Narayan (an avatar of Vishnu) went here to do tapasya, the practice of spiritual realisation. Locals believe that the very spot where he was meditating – under a large berry tree – prevented him from the harsh climatic conditions. Legend has it that the power of Mata Lakshmi helped shield him from these extremities – making this destination all the more revered among devotees.