Char Dham as defined by Sri Adi Shankaracharya are the four abodes of divinity namely Badrinath, Dwaraka, Puri, and Rameswaram. A visit to these sites of revered pilgrimages of India is considered as a religious fulfillment to every Hindu. It is rather intriguing to note two of these are abodes of Lord Vishnu, one of Lord Shiva and one is a mixed site. Adi Shankaracharya, the 8th century sage and religious reformer of Hinduism is believed to have established the concept of Char Dham. Four cardinal monasteries of Hinduism were established by the Saint across the nation along with the attendant temples. Badrinath in the North, Jagannath Temple at Puri in the East, Dwarakadheesh Temple at Dwaraka in the West and Ramanathaswamy Temple at Rameshwaram in the South, make the circuit of Char Dham. The monasteries or the Mathas are the Sringeri matha located on the Sringeri hills in the south, the Sarada matha on the west coast of Dwaraka, the Jyotir or Joshi matha in North at Badrinath, the Govardhan matha at Puri in the east.
The responsibility of maintaining, preserving and passing across the knowledge of the four Vedas from generation to generation lies with these Mathas. Sarada Math takes the onus of - Sama Veda, Sringeri Math - Yajur Veda, Jyotir/ Joshi Math - Adharvana Veda and Govardhan Math - Rig Veda. It is believed that all these four abodes are linked to Lord Vishnu as Rameshwaram is where he bathes, Badrinath is the place he meditates, Puri he dines and rests at Dwaraka. Traditionally the circuit begins with Jagannath Temple at Puri in the East moving in clockwise direction typical to the circumambulation of Hindu temples. As per the geographic location these four locations make a perfect square having Badrinath and Rameshwaram on the same longitude and Dwaraka (old) and Puri on the same latitude. They marked the farthest points of India in all four directions during the time when they were made part of this circuit before the coastlines of the country were amended.
Puri is the abode of Jagannath or the Lord of the universe and is the foremost visited pilgrim of the Char Dham circuit located on the coast of Bay of Bengal. The main Deity Lord Krishna popularly known as Jagannath is housed in a colossal and ancient temple. The shrine in this temple is in the form of a wooden image. This is the mixed Char Dham site where in the wooden images of Lord Krishna’s brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are also enshrined along. The almost 1000 year old main temple was built by Raja Choda Ganga Deva and Raja Tritiya Ananga Bhima Deva. As per the legend and also Rig Veda the wooden image of Lord Krishna of this temple was made out of a log of wood floating in the ocean. Puri is very popular for the Rath yatra of the Lord Jagannath along with Balabhadra and Subhadra.
Ramanathaswamy Temple is located in Rameswaram town of Tamil Nadu state at the tip of the Indian peninsula in the Gulf of Mannar. As per the Hindu legends Lord Rama constructed the bridge Ram sethu up to the island of Lanka from Rameswaram. The main deity of the temple is Lord Shiva in the form of Linga known as Ramalingeswara as Lord Rama had worshipped here. This temple has a great religious significance as it is believed that a trip to Varanasi is incomplete till it is capped with a visit to Rameswaram.
Dwarakadheesh temple at Dwaraka is located in the state of Gujarat, India forming the western link of the circuit. It is in the close proximity of the Gulf of Kutch where Gomti River merges into the Arabian Sea. The legendary city is believed to be the dwelling of Lord Krishna. This city had been submerged in the sea six times so far and the existing city is the seventh Dwaraka that had been built again.
Lord Krishna is the main deity of the temple and is popular as Dwarakadheesh meaning first lord of the city. Jagat Mandir is the primary temple which is a 5-storied structure with 72 pillars estimated to be 2500 years old. The temple has two entrances Moksha Dwaar to the North and Swarg Dwaar towards the south leading down to the banks of river Gomti. The legend says that the temple was created by the divine architect Vishwakarma in a day. This magnificent temple is nominated for the UNESCO world cultural heritage site status.
Badrinath temple also known as Badrinarayan temple, it is situated along the Alaknanda River, in the hill town of Badrinath. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is widely considered to be one of the holiest Hindu temples in India. Badrinath is the only temple included in the Chardham India as well as the small Chardham. This circuit includes four Garhwal Himalaya pilgrimages namely Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath of Uttarakhand state. The Garhwal Chardham opens on the day of Akshya Tritiya falling on 24 April in 2012.
Adi Shankara first discovered the image of Badrinarayan in the Alaknanda River and preserved it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. The main deity Lord Vishnu is in a sitting meditative posture. The idol is moved to nearby Jyotirmath when the temple is closed in the month of November and is reopened only in the last week of April every year when the summer season onsets in India.