Kedarnath has been a pilgrimage center since the ancient times, although it is not certain who constructed the original Kedarnath temple and when. A mythological account ascribes the temple’s construction to the legendary Pandava brothers mentioned in the Mahabharata. However, the Mahabharata does not mention any place called Kedarnath. One of the earliest references to Kedarnath occurs in the Skanda Purana (c. 7th-8th century), which names Kedara (Kedarnath) as the place Kedarnath temple where Shiva released the holy water from his matted hair, resulting in the formation of the Ganges river.
According to the hagiographies based on Madhava’s Sankshepa-Shankara-Vijaya, the 8th-century philosopher Adi Shankara died at Kedaranatha (Kedarnath); although other hagiographies, based on Anandagiri’s Prachina-Shankara-Vijaya, state that he died at Kanchi. The ruins of a monument marking the purported resting place of Shankara are located at Kedarnath. Kedarnath was definitely a prominent pilgrimage center by the 12th century, when it is mentioned in Kritya-kalpataru written by the Gahadavala minister Bhatta Lakshmidhara.
2013 flash floods
On 16 June 2013 at approximately 7:30 p.m., a landslide occurred near Kedarnath Temple with loud thunder followed by gushing of huge amount of waters from Chorabari Tal or Gandhi Tal down Mandakini River at about 8:30 p.m. which washed away everything in its path. On 17 June 2013 at approximately 6:40 a.m., waters rushed down from Chorabari Tal or Gandhi Sarovar bringing along with its flow huge amount of silt, rocks, and boulders. A huge boulder got stuck behind Baba Kedarnath Temple, protecting it from the ravages of the flood’s fury. The flood water gushed on both sides of the temple destroying everything in its path. Thus in the middle of the pilgrimage season, torrential rains, cloud bursts and resulting flash floods nearly destroyed the town of Kedarnath. The town was the worst affected area by the floods. Thousands of people were killed and thousands of others (mostly pilgrims) were reported missing or stranded due to landslides around Kedarnath. Although the surrounding area and compound of the Kedarnath temple were destroyed, the temple itself survived. The rescue operation resulted in more than 100,000 people being airlifted with the help of mainly the Private Helicopter Operators who began the rescue mission voluntarily without any clear directives from the State Government or the Ministry of Defence. The Indian Army and Indian Air Force helicopters arrived much after the Private Helicopter Operators had already begun the massive air-rescue mission. Dare-devil helicopter pilots, mostly ex-Indian Air Force and Ex-Army Aviation officers flew relentlessly. Capt. Unni Krishnan from Prabhatam Aviation & Capt. Bhatnagar from Premier were few such outstanding pilots who landed at the Sh. Kedarnath Ji right-ridge at dusk hours – 1910hrs (almost 35 minutes after ‘sunset’) to pick-up the ‘last’ batch of survivors for the day. The NDRF represented by a commandant and another junior officer arrived at the Sh. Kedarnath Ji ‘right-ridge’ unprepared with a malfunctioning satellite phone. They, later next-day, however, brought in more men and supplies. The first Indian Army officer to arrive at the Sh. Kedarnath Ji ‘right-ridge’ was a Captain from the Assam Rifles regiment. He single-handedly displayed exemplary courage in rescuing many survivors by climbing up steep slopes and fractures along the Rambara ridge-line. His cool demeanor and stable poise, even under such intense and perilous circumstances, are proof of the impeccable training & discipline imbibed within him. The Indian Army later launched a massive rescue effort with thousands of its brave-heart men and vital equipment. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the reserve battalions of the Uttarakhand Police displayed outstanding courage in the rescue mission. A Eurocopter AS350 B3 helicopter, each, of the private helicopter operators – Prabhatam Aviation & Simm Samm Aviation, were lost during the rescue mission without any reported casualties. An Indian Air Force helicopter (Mi 17) also crashed during this exercise killing all 20 people on board (all of them were soldiers involved in relief and rescue work). The Air Force dropped logs to build pyres for mass cremations of the victims. It was reported that previously uncollected bodies were still being found one year after the tragedy.
Places of interest
Other than Kedarnath temple, on the eastern side of the town is Bhairava temple and the deity of this temple, the Bhairava, is believed to protect the town during winter months. About 6 km upstream from the town Kedarnath, lies Chorabari Tal, a lake cum glacier also called Gandhi Sarovar. Near Kedarnath, there is a cliff called Bhairav Jhamp.