History of Panch Kedar
The term “Kedar itself means a natural rock formation or a glacial moraine. The most famous history about Panch Kedar relates to the Pandavas, the 5 heroes of the epic Mahabharata. The Pandavas defeated and killed their cousins — the Kauravas in the epic Mahabharat war at Kurukshetra. They wished to atone for the sins of committing fratricide (gotra hatya) and Brāhmanahatya (killing of Brahmins — the priest class) during the war. Thus, they handed over the reins of their kingdom to their kin and left in search of the god Shiva and to seek his blessings. First, they went to the holy city of Varanasi (Kashi), believed to Shiva’s favorite city and famous for its Shiva temple. But, Shiva wanted to avoid them as he was deeply incensed by the death and dishonesty at the Kurukshetra war and was, therefore, insensitive to Pandavas’ prayers. Therefore, he assumed the form of a bull (Nandi) and hid in the Garhwal region.
Not finding Shiva in Varanasi, the Pandavas went to Garhwal Himalayas. Bhima, the second of the five Pandava brothers, then standing astride two mountains started to look for Shiva. He saw a bull grazing near Guptakashi (“hidden Kashi” — the name derived from the hiding act of Shiva). Bhima immediately recognized the bull to be Shiva. Bhima caught hold of the bull by its tail and hind legs. But the bull-formed Shiva disappeared into the ground to later reappear in parts, with the hump raising in Kedarnath, the arms appearing in Tunganath, the nabhi (navel) and stomach surfacing in Madhyamaheshwar, the face showing up at Rudranath and the hair in Kalpeshwar. The Pandavas pleased with this reappearance in five different forms, built temples at the five places for venerating and worshipping Shiva. The Pandavas were thus freed from their sins. It is also believed that the head of Shiva appeared at Pashupatinath, Kathmandu — the capital of Nepal.
A variant of the tale credits Bhima of not only catching the bull but also stopping it from disappearing. Consequently, the bull was torn asunder into five parts and appeared at five locations in the Kedar Khand of the Garhwal region of the Himalayas. After building the Panch Kedar temples, the Pandavas mediated at Kedarnath for salvation, performed yagna (fire sacrifice) and then through the heavenly path called the Mahapanth (also called Swargarohini), attained heaven or salvation.
The 5 temples designated in the strict pecking order to be followed for pilgrimage for worship are the Kedarnath at an altitude of 3,583 m (11,755 ft), the Tungnath (3,680 m or 12,070 ft), Rudranath (2,286 m or 7,500 ft), Madhyamaheshwar or Madmaheshwar (3,490 m or 11,450 ft) and Kalpeshwar (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 12 Jyotirlingas.
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 God 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.
The priests and pundits who worship in the Panch Kedar temples are from South India, except in Tungnath. Namboodiri brahmins hailing from Malabar, in Kerala officiate as chief priests at Badrinath temple and they are known by the name Rawals. Jangamas who are pure Veerashaiva Lingayats from Chitrakal in Mysore are the chief priests at the Madhyamaheswar temple. Dasnami Gosains founded by Adi Shankaracharya is the chief priests in Rudranath and Kalpeshwar temples. The Tunganath temple is served by the Khasi Brahmins. In the case of Tungnath, it is also said that the local brahmins from Mokumath officiate as priests.
Kedarnath Teerth Purohit all Kedarnath Teerth Purohit (Panda) are the ancient brahmin of this Himalaya region of Kedarkhand, these are there from the end of treta yug and start of kali yuga, when Pandava came to Himalaya for finding moksha, and then went to mahapanth, after their journey to mahapanth, their grandson King Janmejay came to Kedarnath and gave the right of worshiping of Kedarnath temple to these brahmins. These lives near Guptakashi. At the start, the total no of these brahmins were 360 numbers.