UKHIMATH - A DESTINATION IMBUED IN MYTHOLOGY
|The outer facade of the famed Omkareshwar temple complex in Ukhimath|
After having visited Chopta as the first destination from my so called base camp i.e. Syalsaur, we were ready for our next trip to Deoriatal. However, being a Tuesday, as per my practice, I had to visit some Hanuman temple, but this time around I chose to visit Ukhimath because of its importance as a pilgrimage destination that finds mention in the annals of ancient scriptures. Ukhimath is a small little hamlet situated in the Rudraprayag district of Uttarakhand State in India. It is situated at a distance of 41 km from Rudraprayag and is perched at an elevation of 1317 metres above mean seal level and is juxtaposed to another ancient township of Guptkashi, on the Kedarnath route, saddled on the opposite ridge across the valley. As we started for temple town in the early morning, the weather was clear and very pleasant and we traversed a distance of about 19 Kms. along the same route that we had taken the previous day and reached the temple precincts of the famed Omkareshwar temple.
|As we get ready for the journey - a perfect clear day lights up Kedarnath peaks - view from Syalsaur|
This temple popularly known as Omkareshwar Pith is one of the oldest in the country and houses the deities of Kedarnath and Madhmaheswar during the winter months (November to April). During this time the temple of Kedarnath and Madhmaheshwar remains closed. The deities are brought here from Kedarnath after Diwali and from Madhmaheswar in December and worshipped here for six months. These deities are taken back in a procession to their original temples in mid-May and in 2018 the opening of Kedarnath temple is scheduled for 29th of April, 2018. Ukhimath can be used as nodal destination for visiting different Shiva temples of the Panch Kedar fame that are located nearby, i.e. Madhmaheshwar (Second Kedar), Tungnath ji (Third Kedar) and also Deoria Ta l(natural fresh water alpine lake) that we were scheduled to visit later in the day.
|View of the inner courtyard of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
|Typical pahari style painted frames in Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
Ukhimath temple dates to the time of Mandhaata, ancestor of Rama. It is believed that the wedding of Usha (Daughter of Vanasur) and Anirudh (Grandson of Lord Krishna) was solemnized here. This place was named as Ushamath after the name of Usha and is now known as Ukhimath. Ukhimath is also written as Okhimath and the temple is known as Omkareshwar. There are quite a few mythological anecdotes associated with this destination and the name of the temple as Omkareshwar is related with story of Mandhaata. According to one of the legends, the emperor Mandhaata, during his last years of his reign gave up everything, including his empire and came to Ukimath and did penance for 12 years by standing on one leg. At the end Lord Shiva appeared in the form of ‘omnipresent sound of Omkar', and blessed him. From that day onwards this place came to be known as Omkareshwar. Ukhimath has many other ancient temples dedicated to several Gods and Goddesses such as Usha, Shiva, Aniruddha, Parvati and Mandhata. The anecdote associated with Mandhaata is quite intriguing, it is written in the ancient scriptures that Yuvanashva, Mandhaata's father, had one hundred wives but no children. So his guru advised him to perform ‘Putrakameshti yoga’ to beget a child. The sacred water that was generated from this yaga was supposed to be given to his wives, the next morning. But destiny played a different hand or rather a prank with him and that night Yuvanashva, who was feeling thirsty at night, so he got up and drank the sacred water without realizing that it was the holy water and not the normal water that was kept alongwith. Thereafter, Yuvanshava started having intense pain in his chest and within a few days Yuvanashva's chest got torn open and therefrom emerged a child, was born as Mandhaata. Normally, whenever a child's birth takes place from the mother's womb, she feeds the infant with her breast milk to satisfy his hunger and then the child becomes calm and quiet. However, in this peculiar case ast the child that was born from Yuvanashva's chest, it started crying. Yuvanashva could not feed the infant, so it started sucking its own fingers. Lord Shiva had blessed that child with nectar (Amrit) in his fingers. Thus sucking his fingers and satisfying his hunger and thirst, the child grew up and in course of time became an Emperor. This emperor, during his last years gave up everything and did penance for 12 years by standing on one leg. At the end Lord Shiva appeared in the form of ' the omnipresent sound of Omkar', and blessed him. From that day onwards this place, where the present temple stands came to be known as Omkareshwar.
|The main temple base of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
|The Chatri shading Nandi bull in front of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
|The statute of Mandhata inside Omkareshwar temple complex in Ukhimath|
There is another interesting ancient anecdote associated with Ukhimath, Okhimath or so called Ushamath of ancient times. Ushadevi, was the daughter of the devil king Banasura, who used to reside at Ukhimath. Ushadevi had a close friend whose name was Chitralekha. Once, in her dreams, Ushadevi saw a very handsome prince and in her dreams she instantly fell in love with him and married him. Not only this, she even experienced a physical relationship with him in her dream. The next day she described her dream to her close friend Chitralekha and told her to search for this prince as Usha had decided to marry him in real life too. Hence, Chitralekha started making portraits of all the princes on this earth. After observing all the portraits, Usha was able to identify the prince who had appeared her dream. Usha asked Chitralekha to cast a magic spell to locate his whereabouts and bring him to Ukhimath. The name of the prince was Anirudha, the grandson of Lord Krishna, and he was staying in Dwarika. Ushadevi with the help of her friend Chitralekha brought him here to Ukhimath, where Anirudha and Usha started living together. When Usha's father Banasur came to know about it he got angry and put prince Anirudha in prison.
|The temple spire of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
|Close up of the temple top of Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
Lord Krishna came to know about the imprisonment of his grandson Anirudha and attacked Banasur. A fierce battle took place. There was no sign of vicotry on either side and it became a stalemate, because Krishna himself was God and Banasur had the blessing of Lord Shiva. Thus, there was no sign of this fierce battle ending soon. At this juncture Lord Kedareshwar appeared there and placated the anger of either side by consoling them. With the blessings of Lord Shiva, the marriage ceremony of Usha and Anirudha took place in Ukhimath. Even today you can see the place where they got married. In the beginning this place was known as USHA MATH later it changed into UKHA MATH and now it is popularly known as UKHI MATH.
|Worn out sculptures of temple pillars that pre-date history|
|The panoramic view of the old temple complex behind the Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
|The bill board displaying historical facts about Omkareshwar temple in Ukhimath|
The temple precincts and the holy shrine therein is built in the North Indian Nagara style of architecture. The temple houses, a navel-shaped Shivlinga, made of black stone and is located in the sanctum sanctorum. Furthermore, there are shrines of both Shiva's consort, Parvati, and Ardhanarishwara, an image of half Shiva and half Parvati. To the right of this temple is a small shrine of Maa Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of art and learning. It is wholly made of marble. Ukhimath is dotted with several artistic ancient temples dedicated to Usha, Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvati, Aniruddha and Mandhata. Ukhimath is mainly inhabited by the Rawals, who are the head priests (pundits) of Kedarnath. Snow-capped peaks of the splendid Himalayan range are distinctly visible from Ukhimath. From Ukhimath on a clear day one can see the beautiful view of Kedarnath peak, Chaukhamba & other green beautiful valleys that sprawl alongside the lower reaches along the enchanting Mandakini River. Having performed puja at this ancient temple town and especially when both the deities of Kedarnath & Madhamaheshwar were being housed there, made our souls feel blessed and rejuvenated.
Here is the link to the video for the destination -