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'Char Dham', also written as 'Chardham' is a pilgrimage circuit, consisting of four sites, ('Char' is Hindi for four) very important to the Hindu community. The four sites are, namely, Badrinath in Uttarakhand, Puri in Odisha (Formerly Orissa), Dwarka in Gujarat and Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. There is also a smaller circuit of Char Dham sites, known as 'Chota Char Dham', with 'Chota' meaning small. All these four sites of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath (Badrinath is common to both the circuits) are located in the state of Uttarakhand alone. In this article, let us visit each one of them.

Yamunotri: This village marks the source of the Yamuna river. To the Hindus, it is the seat of Yamuna, the Hindu Goddess, who is depicted as having black complexion, and over a tortoise, having a pot of water in her hand. (As described in the Sanskrit Agni Purana, one of the eighteen major Puranas of Hinduism)

The temple here, housing a shrine to the Goddess, opens in the month of May and closes the second day after Diwali.

Gangotri: While Yamunotri is the origin of the Yamuna river, Gangotri that of the Holy Ganges. For readers who are unaware, Ganges, or Ganga in Hindi, is considered very sacred in Hinduism, and bathing in its waters is believed to facilitate 'Moksha', i.e. one's release from the circle of life & death. She is also worshipped as Maa Ganga. ('Maa' means mother) She is depicted sitting on a 'Makara', a mythical creature that has the head of an elephant, and the body of a fish.

The temple here dates back to the 18th century.

Kedarnath: The history of the town of Kedarnath dates back to the Mahabharata era. (The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit Hindu epics, with its origins dating back to 8-9th century BC.) The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, one of Hinduism's three major deities, the God of destruction. He is worshipped as 'Kedarnath' here, which means the Lord of Kedar Khand. (Historical name of the region)

Due to severe weather in winters, the temple is only open from the end of April to the autumn full moon.

Badrinath: Badrinath is the most important of the four pilgrimage sites of the Char Dham. The temple here is dedicated to Lord Vishnu, one of the three major deities of Hinduism (The third one is Lord Brahma, the creator), the God who is the preserver and protector. He is worshipped as 'Badrinath' here.

Once again, due to extreme weather conditions, the temple is open between the end of April and beginning of November.

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