Kedarnath Procession

 

Many of the temples in the high Himalayas are at such forbidding locations and such high altitudes that they are only open for part of the year.  This includes the most important Himalayan temples--Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath (Kedarnath is the highest at 11,700 feet)--as well as smaller temples such as the Gauri temple at Gaurikund.   These temples open in April/May and close in October/November (both dates are based on the lunar Hindu festival calendar).  At closing the temples' deities are conveyed in state down to their winter quarters, where they are worshipped during the colder months.  In the spring the procession goes in reverse. 

 

 

The Panch Kedar is a group of five Shiva temples, with each site identified as part of Shiva's body: Kedarnath as Shiva's back, Madmaheshvar his navel, Tungnath his arms, Rudranath his face, and Kalpeshvar his matted locks.  Each deity is taken in fall to winter quarters--Kedarnath and Madhyamaheshvar to Ukhimath, Tungnath to Makkumath, Rudranath to Gopeshvar, and Kalpeshvar to Urgam (see map).

The procession from Kedarnath goes the longest distance, and takes three days (see segments at far left), stopping at Rampur, Gupt Kashi, and finally Ukhimath. 

*This map is came from the Nest and Wings map of Uttaranchal, which is the best map by far.

 

The Kedarnath procession is not simply theater, but a group of devotees accompanying and conveying the deity from one temple to another.  The more appropriate image is that of a court, in which the deity is the king, and is served by his (or her) retainers. 

The procession leaves Kedarnath on the morning of Bhai Dhuj, two days after the festival of Diwali, and arrives in Gupt Kashi on the evening of the next day.   The road distance is 46 km., but the procession travels on the older paths, for which distances are a bit shorter.  Still, the marchers are tired by the time they get there. 

November 2005

 

The drummers and the silver staff with the standards are both conventional symbols of royalty, reinforcing the image of Kedarnath as a traveling king.  The large silver disk carried by the man in front is a canopy that hangs over the primary image at the Kedarnath temple, and is carried down to Ukhimath as another symbol of the deity. 

Since the image at Kedarnath is an outcrop of stone--considered to be a self-manifested (svayambhu) linga, there is no way the image itself could be taken to Ukhimath, and so the deity is "conveyed" by means of these symbols.

 

 

November 2005

 

Here's a picture of the whole procession, with the dholi or palanquin bringing up the rear.  Given the importance of the Kedarnath temple, I was a bit surprised at how relatively few people were in the procession. 

November 2005

 

Here's a closer shot of the dholi (palanquin), which has a trident at the left (one of Shiva's symbols), and the traveling image of Kedarnath in the palanquin.  Many Hindu temples have a traveling or festival image (utsava murti), since many stone temple images (even when they are sculpted and not natural formations) are much too heavy to move anywhere. 

This one was light enough for two men to carry, but as you'll see it was hard work. 

 

November 2005


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Last modified 28 January 2006