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 widely considered to be one of the holiest Hindu temples, and is dedicated to god Vishnu. The temple and town are one of the four Char Dham and Chota 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, due to extreme weather conditions in the Himalayan region.
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 considered by many Hindus to be one of eight swayam vyakta kshetras, or self-manifested statues of Vishnu. The murti depicts Vishnu sitting in meditative posture, rather than His far more typical reclining pose. In November each year, when the town of Badrinath is closed, the image is moved to nearby Jyotirmath.
The temple is approximately 50 ft (15 metres) tall with a small cupola on top, covered with a gold gilt roof. The facade is built of stone, with arched windows. A broad stairway leads up to a tall arched gateway, which is the main entrance. The architecture resembles a Buddhist vihara (temple), with the brightly painted facade also more typical of Buddhism temples. Just inside is the mandapa, a large pillared hall that leads to the garbha grha, or main shrine area. The walls and pillars of the mandapa are covered with intricate carvings. The main shrine area houses the black stone image of Lord Badrinarayan, sitting under a gold canopy, under a Badri Tree.
There are fifteen more murtis around the temple that are also worshipped. These include murtis of Nara & Narayana, Narasimha (the fourth incarnation of Vishnu), Lakshmi, Narada, Ganesha, Uddhava, Kubera, Garuda (the vehicle of Lord Narayan), and Navadurga. Hard sugar candy, Tulsi, and dry fruits are the typical prasad offered at Badrinath temple. The Tapt Kund hot sulphur springs just below the temple are considered to be medicinal-many pilgrims consider it a requirement to bathe in the springs before visiting the temple. The springs have a year-round temperature of 45°C.
Although Badrinath is located in the far north of India, the head priest, or Rawal, is traditionally a Nambudiri Brahmin from the far south of India in Kerala. This tradition was begun by Adi Shankara, who was a great Indian philosopher from Southern India. The Rawal is assisted by the Garhwali Dimri Pundits belonging to the Village Dimmer. Badrinath is one of the few temples in North India that follow the ancient Tantra-Vidhi of Shrauta tradition more common in South India. Devotees of all faiths and all schools of thought of Hinduism visit the place. Many religious heads of various Muths, such as Jeeyar Mutt (Andhra mutt), Sringeri, Kanchi, Udupi Pejavar and Manthralayam Sri Raghavendra Swamy Muths have their branches/guest houses.
The Rawal (chief priest) is selected by erstwhile rulers of Garhwal and Travancore. The Rawal has been accorded high holiness status by Garwhal Rifles and also the state governments of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. He is also held in high esteem by the Royals of Nepal. For six months in a year (during march to pre November), he performs his duties as a temple priest. Thereafter, he either stays in Joshimutt or goes back to his ancestral village in Kerala. The current Rawal is Shri V. Keshavan Namboothiri. The duties of the Rawal starts at 4 A.M every day, with the Abhishekam. The Rawal should not cross the river till Vamana Dwadasi and must be a Brahmachari.
Badrinath was originally established as a pilgrimage site by Adi Shankara in the ninth century. Shankara discovered the image of Badrinarayan in the Alaknanda River and enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. In the sixteenth century, the King of Garhwal moved the murti to the present temple. The temple has undergone several major renovations, due to age and damage by avalanche. In the 17th century, the temple was expanded by the Kings of Garhwal. After significant damage in the great 1803 Himalayan earthquake, it was rebuilt by the King of Jaipur. It is one of the five Punyakshethras where the Hindus offer Shraddhakarmas (oblations) to their 42 line of ancestors (Other four are Kashi (Varanasi), Gaya, Prayaga (Allahabad) and Rameswaram). It is believed that once the Shraddha Karma is performed here, the descendants need not perform the yearly ritual.
The temple is one of the holiest Hindu Char Dham (four divine sites) sites, comprising Rameswaram, Badrinath, Puri and Dwarka. Though the origins are not clearly known, the Advaita school of Hinduism established by Sankaracharya, who created Hindu monastic institutions across India, attributes the origin of Char Dham to the seer. The four monasteries lie across the four corners of India and their attendant temples are Badrinath Temple at Badrinath in the North, Jagannath Temple at Puri in the East, Dwarakadheesh Temple at Dwarka in the West and Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameswaram in the South. Though ideologically the temples are divided between the sects of Hinduism, namely Saivism and Vaishnavism, the Char Dham pilgrimage is an all Hindu affair.
There are four abodes in Himalayas called Chota Char Dham (Chota meaning small): Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri - all of these lie at the foot hills of Himalayas. The name Chota was added during the mid of 20th century to differentiate the original Char Dhams. The journey across the four cardinal points in India is considered sacred by Hindus who aspire to visit these temples once in their lifetime. Traditionally the trip starts are the eastern end from Puri, proceeding in clockwise direction in a manner typically followed for circuambulation in Hindu temples.
The Badrinath temple is one of five related shrines called Panch Badri that are dedicated to worship of Lord Vishnu.
- Vishal Badri: Badrinath Temple in Badrinath.
- Yogadhyan Badri: Located at Pandukeshwar. It also has an image of Badrinath in meditative posture. Legend has it that King Pandu installed a statue here named Yogadhyan Badri.
- Bhavishya Badri: 17 km (10.6 mt) from Jyotirmath at Subain. Legend says that when evil is on the rise in the World, Badrinath will become inaccessible and Lord Badrinath will appear at the Bhavishya Badri temple. Thus it is the future, or Bhavishya Badri.
- Vridh Badri: 7 km (4.3 mt) from Jyotirmath in Animath. Vridh Badri means 'Old Badri.' Legend says this is where the Badrinath image was originally worshipped, before being enshrined at the current Badrinath.
- Adi Badri: 17 km (10.6 mt) from Karnaprayag. A temple complex consisting of sixteen small temples with intricate carvings houses a three foot black stone statue of Lord Vishnu.