The Gangotri Temple is an old shrine, but thanks to better accent in recent years has become part of a new and popular pilgrimage route. This route, consisting of a series of four temples known as the Chota Char Dham (not to be confused with the Char Dham), includes the sources of two of India’s sacred rivers, the northernmost of the Char Dham temples and one of the Jyotirlinga shrines. As its name implies, the Gangotri Temple is associated with goddess Ganga and stands close to the source of the Ganges River.
As far as is known, the Ganges River has been ultra-sacred since before recorded history began. It is likely that the Ganges, and its various tributaries, provided a critical migration route to early humans traveling from the Middle East to Southeast Asia and China, and was incredibly important to the very earliest settlers in India. Many of India’s most sacred Hindu cities, including Varanasi, are located along its banks.
Over time, the Ganges became Hinduism’s most sacred geographical feature. Naturally, it is not surprising the river’s source became an important pilgrimage destination. According to Hindu legend, one Sagar, a great king, defeated an army of demons. In commemoration of his victory, he endeavored to begin an around-the-world pilgrimage with sixty thousand of his sons. For some reason this angered the deity Indra, who subsequently began a series of events that ultimately culminated in the deaths of all of Sagar’s sons here.
After this disaster for King Sagar, his one surviving grandson decided to make a penance to Ganga, the goddess of the river. She acceded to his request, cleansing the souls of the sixty thousand dead and allowing their ashes to be committed to the river. This may have been the beginning of the tradition of pouring the ashes of a loved one into the Ganges.
Though this site has been of sacred importance for over a millennium, its inaccessibility left it pristine and shrine free for most of its history. It wasn’t until the 19th century that Amar Singh Thapa constructed what is believed to be the first Gangotri Temple. The temple’s popularity soared in the 1960s when India completed the first major road into the area. It is now part of the incredibly popular mini-pilgrimage route known as the Chota Char Dham.
The Gangroti Temple is set amidst the lush forests and soaring peaks of the Gangotri Valley. The Ganges River flows through the valley (technically its source are various mountain glaciers that overlook the town), with the ultimate source being the Gangotri Glacier on Gaumukh a few miles away. However, for those seeking the source, the traditional end of the pilgrimage is at the temple.
At only two centuries in age, the temple itself is a relative newcomer, and in fact partsw of the structure date from later reconstructions. It is relatively small considering its importance. Considering that it is primarily whitewashed brick, it is actually an attractive little shrine. The central figure of worship here, of course, is the river goddess Ganga.
The Gangroti Temple is located in the on the northwestern edge of Gangroti National Park in the foothills of the Himalayas approximately 180 miles northeast of New Delhi. Thanks to infrastructure improvements in the 1960s it is now reasonably accessible by road. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.uttarakhandguide.com/parks-and-sanctuary (official website).
Gangotri is very isolated, and there are no other major temples in the town. However, the other three Chota Char Dham are in reasonable proximity to each other. These include the Yamunotri Temple, source of the Yamuna River; the Kedernath Temple, one of the twelve sacred Jyotirlingas of Shiva; and the Badrinath Temple, the northernmost of the four sacred abodes.
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