The Yamunotri 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 Yamunotri Temple is associated with goddess Yamuna and stands close to the source of the Yamuna River.
The Yamuna River, one of the major tributaries of the Ganges, is considered one of India’s sacred rivers (second only to the Ganges by some accounts). As part of the Ganges river system, it shares much of its history. The area has been opulated for just as long, if not longer, and like the Ganges is closely associated with one of Hinduism’s most important deities, the goddess Yamuna.
Ancient Hindu legends tell of a time when the clear waters of the Yamuna River ran black. One story speaks of how this happenned, that the goddess turned the waters dark because her twin brother, Yama, served as the Lord of Death. Another story speaks of hoe the Lord Shiva, distraught over the death of his wife, leapt into the river thinking that it was Sati. In response the waters turned black.
In centuries long past, the Ganges came to be held as the most sacred river of Hinduism, and as one of its largest tributaries, the Yamuna became sacred by extension. However, it developed its own traditions. Local tradition holds that to drink from the river or bathe in it near its source would cleanse the drinker/bather of sin.
While temples have stood here for time immemorial, the current temple is relatively young, having been rebuilt on several occasions over the last few centuries. One reason for this are the violent floods which periodically devastate the narrow valley. 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 Yamunotri Temple may be one of India’s most unassuming and mysterious major temple. Nestled in the tiny village of Yamunotri, this relatively small, mostly wooden structure stands next to the Yamuna riverbed. The building is virtually hemmed in on all sides by the river gorge, and the steep walls blanketed in thick forest rise up around it. It is easy to see how a flash flood could be so problematic here.
The temple complex, such as it is, is a jumble of wooden structures piled up along the hillside above the river. The main shrine is home to a magnificent black idol of Yamuna carved from marble. Few of India’s temples enjoy such a lush and remote setting.
The Yamunotri Temple is as remote as they come. It is located close to the southern border of Govind Pashu National Park, a nearly ten mile hike from the nearest town, approximately 170 miles northeast of New Delhi. Thanks to infrastructure improvements in the 1960s it is now somewhat more accessible by road. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.uttarakhandguide.com/parks-and-sanctuary (official website).
Yamunotri 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 Gangotri Temple, source of the Ganges River; the Kedernath Temple, one of the twelve sacred Jyotirlingas of Shiva; and the Badrinath Temple, the northernmost of the four sacred abodes.