Ukhimath and Panch Kedar in Garhwal Himalaya
Ukhimath, in Garhwal Himalayas, has none of the bazaar glitz associated with a place of pilgrimage importance. 182 km from Rishikesh, it is the winter seat of Kedarnath and a quiet getaway facilitating communication with nature and Creator.
Quiet, except for the Sanskrit chants of cherubic Gurukul students and Acharyas at the Omkareshwar Shiva temple, and the sound of River Mandakini tumbling a 100 metres or so below. Mandakini's source is near Kedarnath.
A spread of flowers
We arrived here under a starlit sky at 10 p.m. Accomodation at Bharat Sevashram overlooking River Mandakini was simple yet mind blowing. Windows opened to bring in the pristine Chaukhamba peaks and the sound of the racing river. Wild flowers -- purple madar, pink and white roses in thick bunches, and marigolds along with smaller colorful petalled delights dressed entire mountainsides.
Ukhimath is a green and beautiful place in summer, monsoons and early winter. Winter itself I have yet to experience here. That is when the deity from Kedarnath comes down here from his snowed in home at Kedarnath.
Panch Kedar worship
Kedarnath, Madhmaheshwar, Tungnath, Rudranath, and Kalpanath Shiva temples in the Himalaya are collectively known as Panch Kedar.
Omkareshwar temple at Ukhimath is a kind of central point connecting all five of these important Shiva shrines. Deities from all five of these Panch Kedar shrines are worshipped here all year round. There are short cuts from here to Madmaheshwar, Tungnath and Rudranath that have been in use for centuries or more.
Utsav deities from Kedarnath and other Panch Kedar shrines arrive here in palanquins before winter sets in. They are accompanied by mantra chanting Acharyas and a retinue of simple hill folk with unquestioned reverence. Interestingly, there are images of local deities here that people can also take home for a few days to honour and please.
The temple is in the middle of the village. School going young people and people out on their daily work in the fields or with their cattle are part of the temple-landscape. The temple itself has a statue of King Mandhata who meditated here. Shiva appeared to him as the auspicious symbol 'Om'. Therefore, the name, Omkareshwar Mahadev.
It is also the spot where Krishna's grandson Anirudha married Banasura's daughter Usha.
A young Brahmin reciting the Durga Saptshati with no distraction of a human audience. His act of worship, resonated with bridled power, a sign of the goddess herself
Sharad Navratri at Ukhimath
I was here in Sharad Navratri, October. Kedarnath is not only a Shiva shrine with a recorded history of 5,500 years it is also a Shaktipith. No flambouyance here in this beautiful Himalayan destination. The Shakti puja was being conducted at the Sati temple by a young Brahmin reciting the Durga Saptshati with no distraction of a human audience. His act of worship, resonated with bridled power, a sign of the goddess herself.
Keepers of the Vedic keys: Brahmins of Ukhimath
All Brahmins here were strikingly good-looking and emanating a sense of content. Their voices echoed off the old temple walls, as soothing as the sound of birds or the gurgle of the Mandakini river. They belonged here with nature and Shiva.
They were barefoot and wore simple cotton dhotis, even though it was cold. But that was part of their discipline so they didn't notice the cold or heat. The morning arti, sringar arti and the evening shayan arti were all unique experiences here. Vedic studies are an integral part of life here.
Sanskrit chants recited by Acharyas and Gurukul students alike reminded me of the evening arti at Parmarth Ashram, Rishikesh. Ganga is worshipped at uncountable places in the Himalayas. Her dignity intact till Haridwar or so. When she touches the plains, all of her living force is traded for human conveniences such as transporting waste.
Call of the Ganga
A mountain spring danced across the road to join Mandakini Ganga in its journey to nurture life in its travails. There's so much love flowing in nature, how long can we resist and not respond in kind, is a question with myriad answers from individuals and institutions...