The Story of Sri Badrinath
” Badrikashram is an eternal city and lord Narayan is its presiding deity. A mere
sight of Badrikashram is enough to free a man from all the bondage of life “
– Lord Siva to Kartikeya in the Skand Purana(4.2.22)
Sri Badrinath Dham is situated on a valley covering both banks of the Alaknanda river. Standing like twin sentinels over the valley are the Nar Parvat and Narain Parvat, two peaks on either side of the Alaknanda river. And far in the distance soars the magnificient Nilkanth peak. Sri Badrinath Temple is in the lap of Narain Parvat on the right bank with Nilkanth in the background. Most of township is on the other side on the left bank of the river.
The main entrance gate of the temple, popularly known as Singhdwar, is colourful and imposing. A flight of steps takes pilgrims to the main gate and then into the temple premises from where the devotees enter the Sabha Mandapam. The deity is seated in the Garbha Griha and Darshan can be had from the Sabha Mandapam.
The temple was designed and constructed at an age when yatra was done on foot and the number of pilgrims visiting Sri Badrinath was not very large. With the increased flow of visitors after the motor road reached badrinath town, the mandapam became inadequate for the assembly of growing number of devotees. A renovation work was started around 1978 whereby the mandapam was enlarged with granite slabs brought all the way from Andhra Pradesh. The Garbhgriha portion, where the deity is seated, has its canopy covered with a sheet of gold offered by Queen Ahilyabai Holkar, was kept intact. The deity behind the beautiful silver frame of the garbhgriha can now be better glimpsed from every part of the mandapam. A small square in front of Mandapam hall is reserved for those offering “Abhisek”, a special puja performed very early in the morning.
Historical records are not available as to the age of the shrine and the temple. However, references of Sri Badrinath are seen in the Puranas, indicating that perhaps Sri Badrinath was a popular shrine during the Puranic age. It was certainly popular enough and important enough during the British rule in India that they took measures to introduce proper administration of this shrine through the Badrinath temple Act of 1939. That in itself is an interesting story.
The idol of Lord Badrivaishal is made of black stone similar to granite. The sculptural details are not very distinct, due perhaps to the result of weathering, when lying in the Narad Kund for many years. The Lord is seated in Padmasan posture, which was a common form of Bodhisatva in Buddhist sculptures. There are different views on the common belief as how the idol was lying in Narad Kund. One popular belief is that with the spread of Buddhism, the temple of Shri Badrinath was also converted into a Buddhist temple, and the idol was thrown in the Narad Kund. But this does not answer the question of the Lord being seated in Padmasan posture rather than the usual form of Vishnu iconography. The other line of thinking therefore is that after the conversion of the temple, the Buddhists enshrined the statue of Lord Buddha there, and during the Hindu renaissance, the statue of Buddha was thrown in the Narad Kund, which was restored by Adi Guru as the idol of Vishnu. This view is supported by the fact that the deity is seated in Padmasan posture, which is a common form of Buddhist icons. Lord Buddha in this posture is called Bodhisatva. Opinions can be divided on the origin of the idol, but there are no two opinions on the popular faith that the idol is of Lord Badrivishal, which is the other name of Vishnu Bhagwan. According to Hindu mythology, Buddha was the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and therefore, Buddha can be considered another form of Badrinathji.
The Skand Purana gives an account of how Adiguru re-enshrined the idol of Lord Badrivishal in the eighth century A.D. When the Adiguru was climbing to a place called Ashta Khand for meditation, an Akashvani (Voice from heaven) said to him “Oh Shankar, the thing thy wanteth to attain through meditation, can be attained by thee, by re-enshrining the idol of Lord Vishnu, which lays asleep in the Narad Kund. Avail of this opportunity and be blessed for having done so”. In pursuance of this divine order, Adiguru dived into the Narad Kund and recovered the idol of Lord Vishnu, which he duly re-enshrined, and once again Sri Badrinathji became a Hindu Temple.
Where is the Ashta Khand? The Adi Guru meditated at Jyotirmath, where he attained the divine light, the JYOTI. Is Jyotirmath the Ashta Khand of Skand Puran, and has the divine light attained by Adi Guru, been referred to as Akashvani ( a halloed voice from the sky or heaven ). The sequence of incidents, lead us to conclude that Jyotirmath alone was the Ashta Khand and the divine light was the Akashvani.
The legend of Lord Badrinath
Sri Badrinath is the other name of Lord Vishnu. So how did he end up taking residence in this remote place.
In the Skand Puran, Lord Shiva narrated the following tale to Kartikeya–‘ In Satyayuga, lord Vishnu existed in his physical form at Badrikashram for the benediction of human beings. But, in Tretayuga, only sages had the privilege of perceiving him with the help of yoga. At the advent of Dwapar things changed drastically and lord Vishnu just disappeared from Badrikashram. Deities became worried and asked lord Brahma about the reason that made lord Vishnu disappear. Even lord Brahma had no answer to this question.
Thinking that lord Vishnu must have gone to Ksheer sagar-his eternal abode, all the deities led by Brahma went there. They eulogized Vishnu, who emerged from the Ksheer sagar. But, none of the deities except lord Brahma could see him. Lord Vishnu told Brahma that the main reason why he disappeared from Badrikashram was the flawed intelligence and arrogance of the deities. Brahma informed the deities whatever Vishnu had told him. All the deities were ashamed of themselves and returned to heaven with long faces. Feeling pity on the deities, I (Shiva) disguised myself as a sanyasi and carried lord Vishnu’s idol from Naradteerth to Badrikashram and installed it over there to uplift the sagging morale of the deities. This is how lord Vishnu once again graced Badrikashram with his presence. Even a grain of ‘prasad’ had at Badrikashram is enough to liberate a man from all his sins.
And here is another story: Lord Vishnu was luxuriating on his sesha shaiyya(recliner formed by the sesh-naag) in the kshir-sagar ( sea of milk ) with Goddess Laxmi caressing his feet. Narad the sage saw this and expressed His displeasure at Lord Vishnu’s ways of living in worldly comfort. Lord Vishnu was moved by this criticism and He sent Laxmi away to the nagkanyas (sea maids) while he Himself disappeared into a Himalayan valley. The valley was covered with badri, the wild berries, on which Lord Vishnu fed himself. Loed Vishnu assumed a yogdhyani (meditating) posture and meditated for several years. Meanwhile Laxmi returned from the nagkanyas and on finding the sesha shaiyya vacant, she went to the Himalayas and found Vishnu in a meditating posture in Badrivan amidst the wild badri berries. Seeing this, she addressed the meditating Lord Vishnu as Badrinath, the Lord of Badri and requested Him to give up the yogdhyani posture and return to His original sringaric form.
Lord Badrinath agreed to do so if mankind to abided by three conditions: Firstly that Badrivan should remain a valley of meditation and not worldly pleasures. Secondly that he should be worshipped in both his yogdhyani and sringaric forms. The Gods should worship him in the yogdhyani form and mortals should worship him in the sringaric form. Lastly, he said that in his yogdhyani form Goddess Laxmi will sit on the left-hand side and in the sringaric form she will sit on his right-hand side.
The three conditions laid down by the yogdhyani Vishnu were agreed upon and have been strictly adhered to down through the ages. During the summer months Lord Vishnu is worshipped in his sringaric form by the pilgrims. And during the winter when the temple is closed to the public, he is worshipped by the devas and sages in his yogdhyani form.
The local legend
The locals have a more colorful and interesting legend on how Sri Badrinath ended up choosing their vallay for his home. According to the local legend, Lord Badrinath was earlier worshipped in Tholingmath in Tibet. Tholingmath at that time was a vibrant centre of vaishnava pilgrimage. Now it needs to be remembered that Lord Vishnu is a vegetarian and he does not like animal sacrifices. According to the local legend, the people of Tholingmath slowly started to lose their moral compass and began to offer animal sacrifices to Lord Vishnu.
Angry and disgusted with the ways of the people of Tholingmath, Lord Vishnu decided to run away from Tholingmath. The people of Tholingmath however came to know of this plan and so they took care to lock all the temple doors and gates from the outside.
To escape from this prison-like situation, Lord Vishnu burst open the roof of the Tholingmath temple and fled towards India. His route was through the Niti Pass. When the Tibetens came to know of lord Vishnu’s escape, they rode in hot pursuit and managed to catch up with him. Luckily there were some yaks grazing in the area and Lord Vishnu managed to hide under the bushy tails of the yaks who were very glad to protect Lord Vishnu. Having given the slip to his Tibetan pursuers, Lord Badrinath entered India through the Niti pass and eventually made his home in the Badrinath vally as Lord Badrinath.
The local legend is interesting because it seems to suggest that the present idol of Lord Badrinath was brought from Tholingmath, perhaps by a dedicated priest who was fed up with the wicked ways of the local people.
Tholingmath is across the Niti Pass in Tibet and is today known by its new name Zanda, given by the Chinese. The main temple in this town was brutally damaged by the Chinese Red Guards but we have historical records that confirm that the temple was a buddist temple with heavy influenve of Indian vaishnism.
Note: We are trying to get a clearer picture of this legend and will continue to update this page.