Panch Kedar, refers to the set of the 5 temples dedicated entirely to Lord Shiva. It comprises of five Kedars: Kedarnath, Rudranath, Tungnath, Madyamaheshwar and Kalpeshwar. The temples were built in the ancient times by the Pandavas. Lord Shiva is worshipped in five different forms in these five temples:
Kedarnath- Lord Shiva’s Hump
Tunganath- Lord Shiva’s arms
Madhyamaheshwar- Lord Shiva’s nabhi (navel) and stomach
Rudranath- Lord Shiva’s face
Kalpeshwar- Lord Shiva’s hair and the head
The five temples are located in Garhwal region of Himalayan Range.
The term “Kedar” refers to naturally occurring rock formation. The most crucial part of history of the Panch Kedars refers to the Pandavas from the Mahabharata. The Pandavas defeated their cousins Kaurvas in the great Mahabharat battle at the Kurukshetra. On completion of the battle they were certain they wanted the blessings of Lord Shiva to forgive them for their sins at the battle field.
They started their journey by visiting Varanasi (Kashi), Lord Shiva’s favorite place. Lord Shiva, however was not interested in listening to their prayers as he was really perturbed by the people lost and betrayed at the Kurukshetra. Hence, he changed his form into that of a bull and disappeared into the Garhwal region.
They then went to Garhwal looking for Lord Shiva. Bhima, the second brother of the Pandavas stood in between the two mountains looking for Lord Shiva. He witnessed a bull grazing near “Guptakashi” a word derived from hiding Kashi- the act of Lord Shiva. Bhima immediately tried to capture the bull by its hind legs and tails. The bull instantaneously disappeared into the ground, which is how the different part of Lord Shiva appeared in 5 places- Panch Kedars.
By building the 5 temples where the different parts appeared, the Pandavas redeemed themselves and acquired the blessings of Lord Shiva and relieved of their sins.
The five shrines of Panch Kedar are:
1. Kedarnath :
The Kedarnath temple is at an altitude of 3,583 m (11,755 ft). The temple is not directly accessible by road and has to be reached by a 14 km uphill trek from Gaurikund. The temple is believed to have been built by Adi Sankaracharya and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas, the holiest Hindu shrines of Shiva.
Tungnath is highest Hindu pilgrim temple in the world and one of the pach kedar.Tungnath situated in the height 3680 mts of above sea level. In last five years Tungnath attracted more pilgrims and getting popular day by day, due to the scenic beauty of Chopta and Chandrashila.
The Rudranath temple is located at an altitude of 2286 mts. Lord Shiva’s face is worshipped at Rudranath, the face of Lord Shiva looks like here. It is really believed that in the morning time Lord Shiva face looks like a young child, in the afternoon the face of lord like a young man but in the evening, the face of lord Shiva looks like an old man.
Located at base of Chaukhamba peak, at an altitude of 3,289 meters, Shiva is worshipped at Madhyamaheshwar in the form of navel – shaped lingum. The water here is said to be so pure and sanctified that even a few drops are considered sufficient for absolution. This is the only temple out of five temple (panch kedar) which can be visited 12 month of year.
The Kalpeshwar temple is situated in the beautiful valley of Urgam, here Shiva is worshipped in his matted Jata. A favorite spots for sages who come here to meditate, following the precedent of Arghya who performed austerities and created the celebrated nymph, Urvashi, here, and the irascible Durvasha who meditated under the wish fulfilling tree, Kalpavriksha, Pilgrims pray at the small rock temple at a height of 2,134 mts. before the matted tresses of Shiva enshrined in rock in the sanctum sanctorum.