Panch Kedar (Sanskrit: पञ्चकेदार) refers to five Hindu temples or holy places of the Shivaite sect dedicated to god Shiva. They are located in the Garhwal Himalayan region in Uttarakhand, India. They are the subject of many legends that directly link their creation to Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
The five temples designated in the strict pecking order to be followed for pilgrimage for worship are the Kedarnath Temple (Sanskrit: केदारनाथ) at an altitude of 3,583 m (11,755 ft), the Tungnath Temple (तुङ्गनाथ)(3,680 m or 12,070 ft), the Rudranath Temple (रुद्रनाथ) (3,559 m or 11,677 ft), the Madhyamaheshwar Temple (मध्यमहेश्वर) or Madmaheshwar (3,490 m or 11,450 ft) and the Kalpeshwar Temple (कल्पेश्वर) (2,200 m or 7,200 ft). The Kedarnath is the main temple, which is part of four Chota Char Dhams (literally ‘the small four abodes/seats’) or pilgrimage centers of the Garhwal Himalayas; the other three dhams are the Badrinath, Yamunotri and Gangotri. Kedarnath is also one of the twelve Jyotirlingas.
The Garhwal region is also called the Kedar-Khanda after Kedar — the local name for Shiva. The region abounds in emblems and aniconic forms of Shaiva sect of Shiva, much more than the Vaishnava sect. The western part of this region in particular, which constitutes half of Chamoli district being known as Kedar-Kshetra or Kedar mandala, encompasses in its ambit all the five temples constituting the Panch Kedar.
It is said that the Panch Kedar Yatra (pilgrimage) could be directly related to the Gorakhnath Sampradaya (recognized for their pilgrim traditions) of Nepal. As a proof, it is stated that the culmination of the pilgrimage was at Pashupatinath temple in Nepal, rightly where Shiva’s head is worshipped and not at Kedarnath where the hump is venerated. A further supporting fact mentioned in this regard is that the emblem used in Kedarnath temple dome is the same as displayed in the Pashupathinath temple dome in Kathmandu.
Out of all the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, the cluster of five shrines of Shiva is the most revered. They are known as Panch Kedar. According to Mahabharata, when Pandavas were searching for Lord Shiva, he turned himself into a bull to avoid detection. However, when Bheema tried to capture the bull, it disappeared and later reappeared in body parts at five locations, presently known as Panch Kedar.
The hump reappeared at Kedarnath, the arms appeared in Tungnath, the navel appeared in Madhyamaheshwar, the face showed up at Rudranath and the hair and head appearing in Kalpeshwar. The Pandavs built temples at these five places for worshiping Shiva.
Many devotees of Lord Shiva take part in Panch Kedar Yatra to all the five Shiva temples mentioned above. Kedarnath temple is also a part of the Chota Char Dham circuit. Panch Kedar trek is also popular among younger people who like the thrill of trekking to the holy places perched in the mountains.
The best months for Panch Kedar Yatra are between May and October. All the temples of Panch Kedar open only for 6 months, generally from end April to October each year. During the winters the temples are inaccessible due to rainfall and snowfall. In winter, the sanctified symbolic of Lord Shiva in Kedarnath is worshipped at the Omkareshwar temple at Ukhimath, the representative idol of Tungnath is worshipped at Mokumath, the Rudranath symbolic image is brought to Gopeshwar, and the Madhyamaheshwar symbolic idol is venerated at Ukhimath. Only Kalpeshwar is open throughout the year.