Char Dham translates to the four holy abodes. Char Dham is to the Hindus what Mecca is to Muslims. According to the Hindus, there are four Yug or time periods. In each Yug, Lord Vishnu incarnates to destroy the evil. All the four pilgrimage sites, therefore, have a significance to Lord Vishnu. Hindus believe that doing the Char Dham Yatra (journey of the four abodes) will rid them of their sins. These are also mentioned in the scriptures.
1. Badrinath Temple, Uttarakhand
Situated in the lap of the high Himalayas that tower around it, the Badrinath Temple is visited by crores of devotees every year. Just like I mentioned earlier, this temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple looks like a Buddhist monastery from the outside. Some say that Adi Shankara converted it into a Hindu temple in the 8th century while some believe its resemblance is just a coincidence. Whatever the truth is, it has a marvellous structure with bright paints, and it is very admirable.
Although there are many stories related to this temple, the most acceptable one is that Lord Vishnu came to meditate here in the form of Narayan. Because of the extreme cold weather, Goddess Lakshmi took the form of a Badri tree (jujube tree) to protect Lord Vishnu and therefore, the temple got its name.
The temple is very prone to destruction by avalanches, but people’s faith in the temple makes them forget the risk. It also consists of a 1 m tall statue of Lord Vishnu. The temple is only open to the public for six months in a year. It is closed during the other six months because of the extreme climate and probable risk.
2. Rameshwaram Temple, Tamil Nadu
The Rameshwaram Temple is located in the small city of Rameshwaram. The complex is gigantic, and it’s made up of white sandstone. It is built in the typical architectural style that most temples in South India are built. The temple also has a small river near it with clear water.
Just like all the other temples, this temple also has many legends. But the reason that it has acquired the position of a holy Dham is that of one of Vishnu’s famous incarnation, Lord Ram. After killing Ravan, Lord Ram and his wife Sita stopped at Rameshwaram, right at the place where the temple stands today. Since Ravan was a Brahmin and killing a Brahmin is the greatest sin in Hindu religion, Lord Ram decided to ask for penance to Lord Shiv. He asked Hanuman to bring an idol of Shiv from Mount Kailash, and Sita herself made a Shiv Ling. Both the Shiv Ling are in the temple today. It is because of Lord Ram’s descent here that this place became holy.
3. Dwarkadeesh Temple, Gujarat
Lord Krishna is the most famous incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Going back into the Dwapar Yug, approximately 1500 BC, Krishna built a city entirely made of pure gold. Scriptures say that Dwarka was unlike anything humans have ever seen. There were prosperity, wealth and happiness in the kingdom always. But just like all good things come to an end, the end of Dwarka was predestined. At the end of Dwapar Yug, a massive flood came that engulfed the entire city and it got submerged under the sea.
Now this story, like all other stories, was believed to be a myth. It was a myth until a group of marine geologists found the remains of this city under the sea near Gujarat. And the most shocking fact is that the dating confirms the city to be as old as 1500 BC, the time when Dwarka was submerged. Well, apparently it’s not just a myth.
The Dwarkadeesh Temple in the present day Dwarka is one of the holy abodes. People believe that their sins will surely be forgiven in this “Devabhoomi” (land of the God).
4. Jagannath Temple, Odisha
Located in the extreme eastern part of the country, Puri is one of the oldest cities in India. It is very close to the Bay of Bengal. Jagannath Temple is in Puri.
This old temple is also dedicated to Lord Krishna. The unique fact about this temple is that Lord Krishna is not the only deity here. His brother Balram and his sister, Subhadra are also worshipped with equal reverence here.
Hindus believe that the universe was created by the three powers, Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Mahadev (Shiv). Thus, people think that Lord Krishna, Balram and Subhadra symbolise the three powers. There is also a sea beach in Puri which is very famous.