Badrinath: History and Traditions

(Dr. Nagendra Rawat)

Department of History and Archaeology,

Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna University Garhwal

Badrinath is one of the holiest places in Hinduism which is located at the right bank of river Alaknanda in high Himalayan mountains. The main shrine at Badrinath is dedicated to the lord Vishnu. This place was earlier known as Badrikashram, Mukriprada, Vishalapuri, and Nar-narayanashram. It is believed that during 7th century AD AdiSankaracharya visited Himalaya for the revival of Hinduism and established four major Maths in the four corners of the country namely Sri SringeriSharadaPeetam in Chikmaglur in Karnataka, KalikaMatha in Dwarka in Gujarat, GovardhanaMatha in Puri in Odisha and JyotirMatha in Garhwal.

Jyotimath is presently known as Joshimath which is the winter seat of lord Vishnu of Badrinath. Apart from establishing the four major Math Sankaracharya’sfollower also established or revived many other maths in Garhwal region such as Shankarmath at Srinagar, Ukhimath, Makkumath etc., which are still worshipped. The idea behind establishing the Math traditionwas to strengthen the belief in Hinduism and educating people about Hindu philosophy, practices and benefits not only for existing life but also for the life after death. In this tradition there is also a concept of PanchBadri (five Badri) among them the Lord Badrinath is known as Vishal Badri and others are named as- VriddhBadri, YogBadri, DhyaanBadri, and BhavishyaBadri.

Traditionally, it is believed that, when the wrist of the statue of lord Nrisinghalocated atVasudev temple inJoshimath would break down, the path to Vishal badri will also be closed and people will have no access to visit the Vishal Badri and the BhavishyaBadriwill be there for worshiping the god. The existing temple is in Nagara style of temple which has Mandap, Antarala and Garbhgriha in its ground plan (Talchhand) and pithika, Jangha, Shikhara, Skandha, Greeva and Amlaka in elevation (Urdhwachhand).

Badrinath has prescribed traditional rule regarding the appointment of chief priest from ‘Nambudri’ Brahmin familyof South India. The opening date of Badrinath temple is also traditionally announcedby the royal court of Tehri, the king,inhis palace at Narendra Nagar, TehriGarhwal, on the day of Basant Panchami which is celebrated in the month of January or February. Also,the ‘Maha Abhishek’ the ‘first great Bath’ of the lord Badrinathis performed with the sesame oil which is processed and prepared by the women of royal family along with other women at the King’s palace, locally known as GaaduGhada (Tel KalashYatra). This GaaduGhada is sent to Badrinath in a procession in a special cart and reaches prior to the arrival of the Doli of Lord Badrinath at Badrinath temple.

The closing date of Badrinath temple is also traditionally announced on the day of Vijayadashmi (Dusshara) every year. The closing and opening of the Lord Badrinath is celebrated with special worship as it is believed that the Lord Badrinath protects this region during these months when the temple remains closed for devotees.Apart from these major regular practices of Pooja, Alamkaran, Abhushanprabandhan, Bhog, and Darshan are followed as per the traditional practices propounded by the AdiSankaracharya in the morning and evening. The preparation of Vanmala is another important tradition in which chief priest prepares new Vanmala made of Tulsi (Basil) for the decoration of the deity every day.

Besides the shrine of lord Vishnu, there are many other important temples and places in the complex of Badrinath which have different religious valuesand managed by different brahmin castelike the management of  TaptKund. Among all the Kunds, ‘NaradKund’ has the highest value as it is believed that Lord Vishnu resided in the sanctum sanctorum which was first found in this Kundand kept in the main temple by AdiShankaracharya after purification.Similarly, there is a BrahmaKapalatirth near main shrine which is significant for the PitrSradhh which is conducted byHathwal, Kothiyal and Satti families.

Attendees of lord Badrinath belong to Duriyal caste the local inhabitants of Badrinath. They are actively involved in the all kinds of rituals and practices related to Badrinath. Divine council of lord Vishnu is also practiced at Badrinath which is known as Panchayatan system in which Garuda,Lord Kubera, lord Uddhawa, Nar-Narayan and brahmrishi Narad are treated as members.The temple of Lord Badrinath also follows the tradition of seasonal shifting from higher Himalayan region to lower valleys during winters and resides at Joshimath which was established by AdiSankaracharya as mentioned earlier. 

In the list of traditions related to Badrinath one of the important socio-political relation is visible which is related to the Tehri state kingdom as the king of Tehri’s princely state was called as Bolanda Badrinath (Talking Bandrinath). The people of Tehri state still consider their king as the direct representative of lord Badrinath which always helped the King to manage his policies, rules and regulation within his kingdom and also work for the welfare of the people.

The GaaduGhada tradition of the royal court which is followed even after so many centuries stand in testimony to the faith and belief system of the people in the customs, traditions and culture of this area and temple. The BheemPul associated with Pandav’s journey to heaven called Swargarohan is also worshipped by people. It is said that this was prepared by Bheem for his wife Draupadi to cross the fast flowing stream.  The priesthood and local market is the main source of livelihood of the local people and communities.

The Bhotiya tribe, a transhumant community, who resides in Mana, the last village located on the border with Tibet is three km from Badrinath. These people of Bhotiya tribe not only prepare various woollen items for pilgrims and tourist for earning livelihood but also act as eyes and ears for the security of this area. These communities also shift to lower areas during winter season and move to Badrinath during summer season. Their shifting is not ritualistic like shifting of Lord Badrinath Ji but purely seasonal.