There are 4 most important places in Sanaatan dharma to where each Hindu is supposed to make pilgrimage at least once in life. These 4 places are called chaar dhaam , four auspicious abodes of the Lord.
1. Badrinaath (Uttarakhand, North India)
2. Raameshwaram (Tamil Nadu, South India)
3. Dwaarka (Gujarat, West India)
4. Jagannaath Dhaam Puri (Orissa, East India)
Badrinath temple, sometimes called Badrinarayan temple, is situated along the Alaknanda river,in the hill town of Badrinath in Uttarakhand state in India. It is one of the holiest temples, and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple and town are one of the four Char Dham pilgrimage sites. It is also one of the 108 Divya Desams, holy shrines for Vaishnavites. The temple is open only six months every year (between the end of April and the beginning of November), due to extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.
Badri Narayan Narayan Hari Hari
Badri refers to a berry that was said to grow abundantly in the area, and nath refers to Vishnu. Badri is the Sanskrit name for the Indian Jujube tree, which has an edible berry. Some scriptural references refer to Jujube trees being abundant in Badrinath. Legend has it that the Goddess Lakshmi took the form of the berries to provide sustenance to Lord Vishnu during his long penance in the harsh Himalayan climate.
Several murtis are worshipped in the temple. The most important is a one meter tall statue of Vishnu as Lord Badrinarayan, made of black Saligram stone. The statue is one of eight swayam vyakta keshtras, or self-manifested statues of Vishnu. The murti depicts Vishnu sitting in meditative posture, rather than His far more typical reclining pose.
Badrinath is mentioned in religious texts as far back as the Vedic period.
Jai Sri Badri Vishal
One legend explains the reason that Vishnu is shown sitting in padmasana, rather than reclining. According to the story, Vishnu was chastised by a sage who saw Vishnu's consort Lakshmi massaging his feet. Vishnu went to Badrinath to perform austerity, meditating for a long time in padmasana. To this day, the area around Badrinath attracts yogis who come for meditation and seclusion.
According to the Srimad Bhagavatam, "There in Badrikashram, Sriman Naryana, in his incarnation as the sages Nara and Narayana, had been undergoing great penance since time immemorial for the welfare of all living entities." The Skanda Purana states that ?There are several sacred shrines in heaven, on earth, and in hell; but there is no shrine like Badrinath.?
The area around Badrinath was also celebrated in Padma Purana as abounding in spiritual treasures. In the Mahabharata, Lord Shiva, addressing Arjuna, says, "Thou was Nara in a former body, and, with Narayana for thy companion, didst perform dreadful austerity at Badari for many myriads of years."
One legend has it that when the goddess Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help suffering humanity, the earth was unable to withstand the force of her descent. Therefore the mighty Ganga was split into twelve holy channels, with Alaknanda one of them. It later became the abode of Lord Vishnu or Badrinath.
The mountains around Badrinath are mentioned in the Mahabharata, when the Pandavas are said to have ended their life by ascending the slopes of a peak in western Garhwal called Swargarohini - literally, the 'Ascent to Heaven'. Local legend has it that the Pandavas passed through Badrinath and the town of Mana, 4 km north of Badrinath, on their way to Swargarohini. There is also a cave in Mana where Vyas, according to legend, wrote the Mahabharata.
It is the most important of the four sites in India's Char Dham pilgrimage. Badrinath is in the Garhwal hills, on the banks of the Alaknanda River. The town lies between the Nar and Narayana mountain ranges and in the shadow of Nilkantha peak (6,560m). Badrinath is located 301km north of Rishikesh. From Gaurikund (near Kedarnath) to Badrinath by road is 233km.
Jai Jai Narayan Narayan Hari Hari
Rameshwaram is the southern most Jyotirlinga established from where Rama's bridge to Lanka commences. It has two lingams.
Sri Ramanathaswami Vijayate
Rameshwaram is one of the Dwadasa Jyotirlingas. It is situated on an island off the coast of Tamil Nadu. The island covers an area of 61.8 square kilometers and is shaped like a conch. Rama?s bridge to Lanka was built from Rameshwaram. In fact this Jyotirlinga is named Rameshwaram because of Rama?s association with it.
The main entrance of the temple has a tower or gopuram 126 feet tall and has nine levels. The Western gopuram is also impressive. Both gopurams have intricate carvings. The temple has several shrines apart from the Jyotirlinga.
The prayers begin at 4 am and continue till 10 pm, when separate statues of Shiva and Parvati are put to bed on a golden swing. Important days in the worship calendar are Mahashivratri and the 15th day in the Hindu month of Ashadha. The unique feature of worship at Rameshwaram is that water from the Ganga is brought by devotees and used to bathe the lingams (there are two lingams at Rameshwaram). The devotees then carry sand from Rameshwaram and deposit it in the Ganga. This dual ritual completes the pilgrimage and is considered a blessing.
The legend of Rameshwaram is mentioned in scriptures like the Skanda Purana and the Shiva Purana. According to one legend Shri Ram created the lingam before embarking to Lanka. He asked for blessings in his impending war against Ravana and also requested Shiva to eternally reside in this lingam.
The more popular legend has the lingam built on Rama?s return from Lanka after slaying Ravana. Ravana was a Brahmin and therefore it was a sin to kill him even in war. Hence Rama decided to atone for this sin at the place from where he began his battle march. Hanuman was dispatched to Varanasi to bring the image of the lingam from the Kashi temple there. However he was delayed and the auspicious moment was about to pass. Therefore Sita built a lingam of sand and the prayers were conducted. This lingam is referred to as Ramalingam. When Hanuman returned with the lingam from Varanasi he was peeved to find that the prayers were completed. To placate him Sita also installed the Kashilingam and decreed that this lingam should be worshipped before the Ramalingam.
Nasa picture of Sri Ram Setu
Puri, Orissa - Jaggannath ji Maharaj
Jagannath Puri Dham or Jagannath Puri or even Puri as it is called, is situated on the sea shore of the Bay of Bengal in the State of Orissa (India). It is one of the four Holy Kshetras of India including temples at Rameshwaram, Dwaraka, Badrinath and Puri.
Sri Balaram ji, Subhadra ji & Sri Krishna
The annual Rathayatra festival is the high point of all the festival celebrated and has been attracting thousands of devotees and pilgrims since time immemorial. To see the Lord on the Chariot on the Ratha yatra day is to secure salvation from the cycles of birth and death.
There are two interesting stories associated with this deity. First is the story of how Krishna appeared to a great devotee of the lord, King Indradyumna and ordered him to carve a deity from a log he would find washed up on the sea shore. King Indradyumna found a mysterious old Brahmin carpenter to carve the deity, but the carpenter insisted that he not be disturbed while he was carving the deity. The king waited anxiously outside his room, but after some time, all sound stopped. The impatient Indradyumna worried what had happened and assuming the worst, opened the doors - only to find the deity half-finished and the carpenter gone! The mysterious carpenter was none other than Vishvakarma, the heavenly architect. The king was distraught as the deity had no arms and legs. Utterly repentant that he had interrupted the carving, the king was only pacified when the muni (sage) called Narada appeared and explained that the form the king now sees is a legitimate form of the supreme personality of godhead. The second story here was narrated to further explain and remove any doubts and confusion.
The second reason for Lord Jagannath's appearance is the story of how Krishna was eavesdropping on the gopis as they spoke amongst themselves of His pastimes, and how much they loved him. Sister Subhadra was instructed to keep watch and ensure Krishna wasn't nearby while the gopis spoke of Krishna. But after a while Subhadra was so overwhelmed by the gopis' devotion and their stories that she became completely engrossed in listening. She didn't see the brothers Krishna and Balarama approaching. As the brothers listened their hairs stood on end, their arms retracted, their eyes grew larger and larger, and they smiled broadly in ecstasy. That is why Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra look like they do
This form is worshiped by Vaishnavas as the abstract form of Krishna.
The deities - Jagannath, Balabhadra (Balarama) and Subhadra (Krishna's sister) are usually worshipped in the temple, but once in every Ashaadha Maasa (Rainy Season, usually June or July), they are brought out onto the main high street of Puri and travel (3 km) to the Mausimaa Temple, allowing the public to have Darshan (holy view) of the deities as they pass. This festival is known as Ratha Yatra.
The Rath carts themselves are huge wooden structures built new every year and are pulled by the millions of pilgrims who turn up for the event from all parts of the Globe. The festival commemorates Krishna's return to His home in Vrindavan after a long period of separation from the people there.
Ratha Yatra Parade
Five hundred years ago, Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went to live at Jagannatha Puri after taking sannyasa. He enjoyed many pastimes there worshipping the deities of Lord Jagannatha (Lord Krsna), Balarama and Subhadra, and dancing in ecstasy before the ratha yatra cart at the yearly festival in Puri.
Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1535) . He appeared in Navadvip, West-Bengal and started His worldwide Sankirtan mission of propagating the chanting of the holy name of the Lord (the process of self-realization for this age - to meditate upon the sound of the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare).
Gujarat ? Dwarka
Dwarka is one of the four holiest places of significance and is located on the west coast of India in Gujarat. Sri Krishna built the city of Dwarka as his capital with the aid of Viswakarma, after moving from Mathura.
The Dwarkadeesh temple has a five storeyed tower supported by 60 columns. This temple is known as Jagat Mandir and is believed to have been built by Sambha the grandson of Krishna. Visitors enter through the Swarga Dwar (door to heaven) and exit through the Moksha Dwar(door to liberation)
Dwarka is sanctified as the place where Lord Vishnu slew the demon Shankhasura.
The Jagat Mandir or Nij Mandir forms the sanctum of the Dwarkadish temple and dates back to 2500 years. Jagat Mandir has its own hall of audience and a conical spire. The roof of the hall is supported by 60 columns and the main temple rises five stories high. The spire rises to a height of 157 feet and is richly carved. There is the one-meter tall, four handed black idol of Ranchhodrai, ruler of Dwarka.
In Puranic times, present-day Dwarka was known as Kushasthali or Dwaravati and enjoyed pride of place as the most important spot on the Saurashtra coast. It is said that Lord Krishna, after slaying Kansa, left his abode at Mathura and traveled with the entire Yadava community to the coast of Saurashtra where he founded a town and named it Swarnadwarika.
Vajranabh, Lord Krishna's successor and great grandson, is believed to have built the present temple Dwarkanath, also called Trilok Sundar. Many Hindus fervently believe that the temple was erected in one night by a supernatural agency, under Vajranabh's direction. Legend has it that Lord Krishna asked his devotees to leave Swarnadwarika so that the sea could engulf it. Until this day, Lord Krishna's city lies buried under the sea. Excavations have revealed that the sea swallowed five settlements, the present-day Dwarka being the sixth in line.
Amongst the large number of temples belonging to different periods in the history of Dwarka, the most popular with pilgrims is the temple of Rukmini, Lord Krishna's wife, who is an incarnation of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and beauty. This small temple, 1.5km north of town, is an architectural masterpiece. The temple walls are decorated with beautiful paintings depicting her pastimes with Krishna. This temple is said to date back to the 12th century.
The story behind this temple is that one day, Durvasa Muni, who is easily angered, was invited by Lord Krishna and his wife, Rukmini, to dinner. When a person is invited to dinner, etiquette dictates that the host should not eat until the guest has been satisfied. On the way to dinner, Rukmini became thirsty and asked Krishna for help. Krishna then put his foot in the ground and the Ganges waters flowed forth from the earth while Durvasa was not looking. As Rukmini was drinking the water, however, Durvasa turned and saw her drinking without his permission. He became angry and cursed her to live apart from Lord Krishna. That is why Krishna's temple is in the town and hers is located outside the town.
Shri Dwarkadhish Bhagwan Ki Jai
Nearby is Somnath, another prime pilgrimage centre of India. Aadhi Sankara established one of his four Peethams at Dwarka, the other three being Sringeri, Puri and Joshi Mutt.