The Badrinath Temple is one of India’s most important pilgrimage temples. It is the northernmost of the four Char Dham, or Sacred Abodes, among the holiest places in Hinduism. It was established as such in the 9th century by the Hindu saint Shankara. The smallest and most inaccessible of the four sacred abodes, it is probably the least visited of the four, though it is extremely popular and busy during the summer months. It is one of the most sacred Hindu temples dedicated to the deity Vishnu.
Badrinath is one of Northern India’s oldest sacred places. Records indicate that it may have been an important religious center as far back as over three thousand years ago. It is believed that the first shrine on the site was a Buddhist Temple, and may have been so until the early Middle Ages. To this day the temple’s architecture recalls its Buddhist roots.
According to Hindu legend, the deity Vishnu was residing in the city of Thuling in the mountains. But he found himself angry at the locals, who had become pleasure-seeking and corrupt. He departed from their and traveled to Badrinath, where he decided to meditate. His wife, Lakshmi, accompanied him here, where she protected him from the elements during his meditiations. The site where Vishnu and Lakshmi resided went on to become a place of great sanctity to the locals.
At some point in the 8th or 9th century, the famous Hindu teacher Adi Shankara came to Badrinath. As the story goes, he drove out the local Buddhist leaders, possibly converting the local population to Hinduism. The old Buddhist temple there was subsequently converted to use as a Hindu shrine.
Shankara determined that Badrinath should be a major center of pilgrimage, and the city has been so now for over a thousand years. During this period, the elements have not been kind to the shrine. It fell into disrepair numerous times, and was nearly completely destroyed by avalanches and earthquakes. The temple as it now stands largely dates from the early 19th century.
The Badrinath Temple is one of the least Hindu-like temples in appearance in India. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas, it looks more like it had been lifted straight out of a traditional Buddhist monastery, the types of which can be found all over the area. It is also relatively small, however its size is offset by its decorative color scheme that makes it stand out from the surrounding neighborhood.
The temple complex has several buildings, with the focus being on the main sanctuary hall. The centerpiece is black-idol shrine to Vishnu. However, over a dozen other deities are also honored here, including Lakshmi and Shankara. Next door is a bath house with waters from a natural spring which is considered sacred. Visitors to the temple must ritually bathe first before going into the shrine.
The Badrinath Temple is located on the northwest side of Badrinath, isolated in a Himalayan valley close to the border of Nepal, approximately 200 miles northeast of New Delhi. It is tightly closed in on all sides by buildings and homes in the surrounding neighborhood. As of this writing no visitor information was available. However, the temple and town are generally only accessible from May through October. Web: www.badarikedar.org (official website).
Because of the small size of Badrinath and its relative isolation, there are no other major sites of Hindu interest in the general vicinity.