The pristine Himalayas, also known as “Abode of Gods” or “Valley of Gods” in the Uttarkashi district of the state of Uttarakhand are home to one of the holiest rivers in the world, the River Ganga. The temple dedicated to River Ganga, The Gangotri Temple is located at the origin of the river, at an elevation of 3048 meters above the sea level. The temple is one of the destinations in the Chhota Char Dham yatra of Uttarakhand, the other three being Yamunotri, Badrinath, and Kedarnath.
The Gangotri Temple is located on the left bank of River Bhagirathi (one of Ganga’s seven streams when she descended on the Earth). The river is called Ganga when she reaches Devprayag and joins with Alaknanda (another Ganga tributary). The actual origin of the holy river Ganga is the Gangotri glacier, also called Gaumukh. The 19 km trek to Gaumukh starts from the temple.
The Gangotri Temple opens for public to visit on the day of Akshaya Tritiya in April – May. The temple closes on the day of Diwali which signals the start of the winter season. The shrine remains closed from November to April due to harsh weather conditions.
In terms of architecture, the gangotri temple is very simple and does not have any exquisite carvings or sculptures found elsewhere. The Temple is constructed with white marble stone. The steps lead to the Sabha mandap that eventually meets the main sanctum. There are three main cupolas located on the upper floors each having a golden spire. A small temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is present inside the Temple complex.
Gangotri Temple History
- The Gangotri temple was built by Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa in the 18th century.
- As per Hindu Mythology, Ganga is the daughter of Brahma. She was born from his kamandala (a spout shaped vessel) when he was washing the feet of Vamana (Incarnation of Lord Vishnu).
- In Valmiki Ramayana, Ganga is depicted as the daughter of King Himavat and Queen Menaka. She is also the sister of Parvati, Lord Shiva’s wife.
- According to the Vishnu Purana, Ganga was created from the sweat of Lord Vishnu’s feet.
- The main legend associated with the Ganga’s origin which is a fascinating read is mentioned in the Brahma Rishi Vishwamitra’s Ramayana Bal Kand. As per the legend, King Sagara of the Ikshvaku dynasty who ruled Ayodhya had two queens, Keshani, and Sumati. They were unable to bear him a child. Sagara performed several rituals to please the God. Soon, he was blessed with one son named Asmajas from Keshani and 60000 sons from Sumati. After some years, the King conducted the “Ashwamedha Yagya” to establish the superiority of his kingdom. According to the custom, the horse that was supposed to be sacrificed for the Yagya was let loose into the nearby kingdoms. If the horse was caught by anyone, a battle would happen between that kingdom and king Sagara’s kingdom.
- The 60000 sons of the king followed the horse and saw him entering a cave where sage Kapila was meditating. The sons following the footsteps of the horse entered the cave and could not find the horse in it. They assumed that the horse was caught by the sage and thought it as an act of war. They started disturbing the meditation of the sage and insulting him. Sage Kapila became annoyed and cursed the 60000 sons to a fiery death.
- King Sagara became worried about the fate of his sons and sent his grandson Anshuman to enquire about their fate. Anshuman came upon the ashes with Sage Kapila standing nearby. He asked for forgiveness and salvation on the princes’ behalf. Kapila was impressed but informed him that only the water of heavenly Ganga can wash away the sins of the princes’ and provide them salvation.
- Despite several efforts of Anshuman and his son Dileep, they could not please Brahma and bring Ganga down to Earth.
- King Bhagiratha, son of King Dileep prayed with utmost devotion and as a result, Brahma gave a darshan to him. Brahma asked him to pray to Lord Vishnu to release Ganga from his toe. Lord Vishnu agreed but Ganga felt insulted that she had to flow through Earth instead of Heaven. Lord Shiva agreed to bear the force of the Ganga’s descent onto Earth by absorbing it into his locks of hair. The flow through the locks slowed the flow and split it into seven streams – Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Janhvi, Saraswati, Bhilangana, Rishiganga, and Mandakini.
- Ganga on touching the Earth started flowing violently and destroyed several towns and cities on its way. Sage Jahnu was very angry when Ganga destroyed his Ashram. By using his power, he drank the whole of Ganga. However, after listening to Bhagiratha’s requests, the sage released Ganga from his ears. That is the reason that one of the streams is called Janhvi.
Significance of the Temple
- The Gangotri Temple is built close to a pillar called “Bhagirath Shila”. The pillar is believed to be the place where King Bhagirath worshiped Lord Shiva and requested him to bear the brunt of Ganga’s descent.
- A natural rock shaped like a Shiva Linga can be seen in Gangotri during the beginning of the winters as the water recedes. According to the legends, this is the place where Shiva allowed Ganga to flow through his locks and stabilized her flow.
- The water of River Ganga collected here is believed to be an Amrit (nectar) and is considered a holy drink. People collect water here and carry it home to be used for holy purposes.
- It is generally believed that the Pandavas performed the great “Deva Yagna” here to atone the death of their kinsmen in the epic battle of Mahabharata.
- On the day of Ganga Dussehra, it is believed that taking a holy dip in Ganga and hymning of the Ganga Stotra on this day would cleanse the human soul. Scriptures in the Agni Purana and the Padma Purana mention that bathing in Ganga on this day eliminates 10 types of sins from the human soul.
- Immersion of ashes of the departed souls in the River Ganga is believed to release the soul from the cycles of death and rebirth.
- One of the most significant facts about the purity of the water of River Ganga is that, the water can be collected and kept in a bottle for forever without it ever becoming slimy, green or spoilt. This is the main reason that the people believe that the water is holy and they keep it in their Pooja grahas as a representation of the deity herself.
- The Pandav Gufa (cave) located at Gangotri is the place where the Pandavas meditated for Moksha during their final journey in the epic Mahabharata.
- The Lanka Pul, highest river bridge in India is located at Gangotri and can be visited near Bhairon Ghat.
Gangotri Temple Timings
- The Gangotri Temple opens daily at 6:15 AM and closes at 9:30 PM.
- The afternoon break is from 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM.
The Gangotri Temple remains open in the summer seasons of the year. However, a summer in the Himalayas is actually very cold. Hence, it is recommended to wear sweaters, jackets, socks and gloves. Carry extra blankets if traveling with children and elders. An Umbrella should be carried as an emergency. The place can get quite dark and Gangotri is not a bustling city. It is advised to carry torches with extra batteries.
Poojas and Rituals
- The Aartis and Poojas at the Gangotri temple are performed by a priest known as Pand under the head priest known locally as Rawal. All the priests belong to a village named Mukhwa, located near Gangotri.
- Gangotri Mangal Aarti – The morning Mangal Aarti is performed at 6 AM behind closed doors. The public is not allowed to view the Aarti.
- Sandhya Aarti – The evening Aarti is performed at 7:45 PM in summers and at 7 PM in winters.
- Ganga Devi Pooja – This pooja can be performed both at the Ghat of Ganga near the Temple as well as in the main shrine of the Temple. The Pooja has a special significance if performed on the Ganga Saptami day. The Pooja is done by reciting several Ganga Mantras and Stotrams.
- The rituals that have to be performed by a devotee during his or her visit are – Take a dip in the River Bhagirathi, perform Ganga Pooja and then have a Darshan of the Goddess herself at the main shrine.
- Ganga Dussehra – The festival is celebrated over a period of ten days starting from the first day of the Jyeshta month (May – June) in the Hindu calendar. The word Dussehra can be split into two words, the “Dus” meaning Ten and “Sehra” meaning victory. So the festival means victory over 10 sins.The festival signifies the day that Goddess Ganga descended on Earth to cleanse the souls of cursed ancestors of King Bhagiratha. The pilgrims are convinced that if they pray to Ganga on this particular day, they will be absolved of the ten major sins of a Hindu. Thousands of pilgrims across the country take a holy dip in the river chanting the Ganga Stotrams. The beautiful Ganga Aarti is performed in the evening where a large number of leaf boats laden with flames, flowers, and sweets are offered to the River Ganga.
- Diwali – The holy and much celebrated day of Diwali marks the closing of the Gangotri Temple for public viewing due to the harsh onset of winter. After special poojas throughout the day, the idol of Ganga is taken to the Mukhyamath Temple in the small village of Mukhwa. The temple is the winter home of Goddess Ganga. On this day, people in Mukhwa clean the village in preparation for the Goddess’s arrival. The idol is kept in the Mukhyamath temple among an artistic decoration of deepams and sweets to celebrate Diwali.
- Akshaya Tritiya – The auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya occurs in April – May every year. On this day, the idol of Goddess Ganga is brought back from her winter home of Mukhwa. The Temple is decorated with flowers. The Ganga Goddess is brought back and installed in the main sanctum among the songs and dances of the pilgrims. The homes are decorated with Diyas and people wear new clothes on this day. Special Poojas are arranged in the temple premises as well as in their homes.
How to reach: Road, Rail and Air
- By Air – The Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun is the nearest airport to the town of Gangotri. Regular taxis and buses are available from the airport to reach Gangotri.
- By Train – The nearest railway stations are Rishikesh and Haridwar. The frequency of trains to Haridwar is more from major cities in India as compared to Rishikesh. From Haridwar or Rishikesh, one must take buses or taxis to Gangotri.
- By Road – The town of Gangotri is accessible from all major cities in Uttarakhand and from Delhi NCR. Gangotri is well connected by road to places like Haridwar, Rishikesh, Dehradun, Roorkee, Chamba, Tehri, Barkot, Hanuman Chatti and Janki Chatti.
Where to stay
The options to stay in Gangotri are limited. Most of the pilgrims stay in Uttarkashi or Harsil and make a day trip to Gangotri. However, the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam (GMVN), a Government of Uttarakhand undertaking has a few guesthouses that can be booked for a night’s stay. These Guest houses are located at Bhairon Ghati, Bhojvasa, Shivalik, and Himalaya. GMVN Yatri Nivas can also be booked by the pilgrims. Some of them provide basic facilities only.
A few private hotels like Hotel Mandakini, Hotel Bhagirathi Sadan, and Ganga Niketan Hotel are situated in Gangotri that provide a comfortable stay for pilgrims.
Several 2-star and 3-star hotels operate out of Harsil like Harsil Retreat and Harsil Char Dham Camp.They can be booked at nominal rates.
Where to eat
A large number of small hotels are situated in the small town complex of Gangotri. The cuisine is mainly North Indian. Only vegetarian food is served in the town. Non-vegetarian food and alcohol are banned.
- The Kashi Vishwanath Temple – The historic temple has been mentioned in Puranas like Skanda Puranam and Kedar Khand. The temple is located near the Uttarkashi bus stand. The temple is believed to date back to several centuries ago. The Temple is believed to have been built by the Vishnu avatar Parashurama.
- Shakti Temple – The temple is located in Uttarkashi, just opposite to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. A massive Trishul is placed in the center of the temple. The Trishul is 6 mt high and 90 cms wide at the base. It is believed that the lower half of the Trishul is made of copper and the upper part is of iron. According to the legends, Goddess Durga aimed this Trishul to slaughter the devils.
- Bhairon Ghati – The Bhairon Ghat is located at the convergence of the River Bhagirathi and Jatganga.
- Gaumukh Glacier – The glacier which is 30 km long and 3-4 km wide is the actual source of the Ganga River. The face of the cave from where the water gushes out resembles like a cow and hence the name Gaumukh – Gau meaning Cow and Mukh meaning Face. The 19 km trek will take you through the beautiful Himalayan landscape. The Government of Uttarakhand has passes a law stating that only 100 persons per day can trek to the Gaumukh glacier in order to conserve the ecology of the area.
- Gangnani – This place is located on the way to Gangotri. The hot spring is called the Rishikund here. The Temple is dedicated to Sage Parashar who is the father of Sage Ved Vyas.