Astyuttarasyaam Dishi Devatma Himalayao Naam Nagadhiraajah
Poorvaparau Toyanidhi Vagaahya Sthitah Prithivya Ev Maandandah
In the direction of North, forming the heartland of Gods, Himalaya stands as the king of mountains. Stretched across the eastern and western oceans, it’s similar to an object that assesses the earth.
The opening shloka of the first canto in Kalidasa’s epos talks about the immensity of the Himalaya while emphasizing its spiritual grandness. All the way, it’s purposeless to discuss the magnanimity of the Himalaya without mentioning Shiva, the supreme deity who has inspired yogis, spiritualists and seekers of supernatural powers on a grand scale to invigorate this region as their taposthali.
In the broad list of sacred places sitting in the lap of serene Himalayan mountains, Tungnath (the lord of the peaks) is particularly revered among the people of faith for being one of the Panch Kedar temples. Located at an altitude of 3,680 m. in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand’s Rudraprayag district, Tungnath is the highest Shiva temple in the world having an unmatched panorama. In Kedarkhand Purana it has been termed Tungochh Shikhar.
The anger of Shiva and atonement of Pandavas
As the legend goes, Pandavas wanted to repent the sins of killing Kauravas and their cohorts during the epic battle of Kurukshetra, which till the date echoes as an utterly ruthless event transcending the scale of catastrophe. After sage Vyasa advised them that this act can be pardoned only by Shiva, they relinquished their royal pleasures and majestic lifestyle, and ensued the journey of atonement searching the supreme Lord. Outraged with the bloody battle where dishonesty played a key role, Shiva was avoiding them and surreptitiously settled himself in Guptakashi. When Pandavas were successful in locating his coordinates, they tried to meet him but Shiva continuously averted them adopting the form of a bull (Nandi). Bhima however recognized the bull and grabbed it by the tail but at the end of the match-up Shiva disappeared in the ground only to reappear in five parts of a body at five different places – arms in Tungnath; hump in Kedarnath; navel in Madhymaheshwar whereas face and hair in Rudranath and Kalpeshwar respectively.
Seeking pardon, Pandavas built temples at these locations to worship Shiva and were eventually fortunate to please him. These five pilgrimages, now known as Panch Kedar, are widely visited by the believers seeking religious and spiritual enrichment.
A treasure of faith
The picturesque Chopta is the nearest town to Tungnath with Chandrashila being its highest peak. Standing at a height of 3,700 m, Chandrashila is the place where Lord Rama had meditated after slaying Ravana. For many years, he worshiped Lord Shiva to be forgiven for his sin of committing Brahmanhatya since Ravana himself was an ardent follower of Shiva and an astute Brahmin.
Priesthood of Tungnath is given to local Brahmins whereas South Indian pundits manage religious practices at rest of the four temples of Panch Kedar. This tradition has been set by Jagadguru Adi Shankaracharya, the great seer of eighth century who renovated these temples during his visit to the Himalaya and renounced his mortal life at the age of 32 in Kedarnath.
Due to exceptionally chilly weather and heavy snowfall, the Tungnath temple is closed every year around the end of October – beginning of November and is reopened at some point between the end of April and the first week of May. During the closure period of six months, symbolic idol of temple is shifted in an exquisitely decorated “Utsav Doli” (palanquin) to Markandeya temple in Mukkumath – a serene village located around 20 km away from Tungnath. The opening and closing ceremonies are celebrated with religious fervor and zeal.
The remote lands where sages have practiced austerity and obtained enlightenment are highly esteemed by devotees and they visit these pilgrimages with everlasting reverence. However, there is a category of people who visit these pristine places just only to take countless selfies and show their Instagram followers how awesome trekking is. Such creatures can be often found sipping beer and puffing smoke like a decade old second-hand vehicle on the places of religious significance, though such queerish behaviors fail to deter the pious intentions of devout pilgrims.