Name : RudraNath. The strange mountain formation when given a close glance resembles the face of Lord Shiva. Hence the place is known as Rudramukh. “Rudra” refers to Lord Shiva and “mukh” means “face”.
Location : 23 km from Gopeshwar, Gaurikund, Uttranchal. Rudranath is sometimes considered as the toughest Panch Kedar temple to reach.
Altitude : 2,286 m
Year of Construction : 8th Century AD
Legend : According to the legends of Panch Kedar, this temple shelters the face of Shiva. There is a small rectangular space just outside the sanctum sanctorom. The deity is a Swyam Bhuva (Self Appeared) Shivalinga shaped like a human face formed by the projection of a huge rock. This face has a serene smile and a gaze of pure benevolence in the all-seeing eyes. Measuring about 3 feet from the chin to the top of the jatas, a white cloth remains bound tightly on the crown of Lord Shiva.
The Rudranath temple is believed to be established by the Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Legend has it that the Pandavas came to the Himalayan mountains in search of god Shiva, to redeem them of the sins of killing in the epic Kurukshetra war. God Shiva did not want to meet them and escaped in form of a bull in the ground and reentered in parts in the Panch Kedar places: the hump raising in Kedarnath, the arms appearing in Tunganath, the navel and stomach surfacing in Madhyamaheswar, the face showing up at Rudranath and the hair and the head appearing in Kalpeshwar. In winter, a symbolic image of Shiva is brought to Gopeshwar for worship. The Doli Yatra starts from Gopeshwar. The Doli Yatris cross Liti Bugyal and Panar and finally reach Pitradhar. The worship of ancestors is done here. Then, after crossing Dhalabni Maidan, the Doli or the symbolic image of Shiva, reaches Rudranath.Here first the Vandevi is worshipped. The local belief is that Vandevi protects the area. The Kheshtra is protected by Vandevi or Vandevatas.
Rudramukh is located at a height of 2286 meters and is surrounded by supreme natural beauty. The temple is the third temple to be visited in the Panch Kedar pilgrimage circuit, comprising five Shiva temples in the Garhwal region. The other temples in the circuit include: Kedarnath and Tungnath to be visited before Rudranath and Madhyamaheshwar or Madmaheshwar and Kalpeshwar to be visited after Rudranath. The face (mukha) of god Shiva is worshipped as "Nilkanth Mahadeva" here.
Tourists need to trek for fifteen kilometers in order to reach Rudranath from Gopeshwar. The Mandir Committee has a guesthouse where devotees can spend the night if they wish to. A motorable road is present up to the village Sagar — 5 km (3 mi) from Gopeshwar, beyond which a 20 km (12 mi) trek has to be undergone to reach Rudranath. The trek winds through tall grass, oak and rhododendron forests. The trek path is stated to be slippery. Other routes include: an uphill, 17 km (11 mi) trek from Gangolgaon — 3 km (2 mi) from Gopeshwar — through the forest and Panar and Naila shepherd settlements. Another trek route from Gopeshwar to Rudranath passes via Mandal (13 km/8 mi) and then additional 6 km (4 mi) to the Anusuya Devi temple and then another 3 km (2 mi) to Rudranath. The Anusuya Devi temple is home to goddess Anusuya, who is believed to help devotees in distress.
There is a natural ledge overhanging the face of Shiva from where droplets of water fall perennially. The temple is very damp and cold with small puddles here and there. There are a few pieces of flat wood on which the pujari or temple priest and his assistant stand during the performance of the elaborate rituals. The large half open eyes of the deity are kept covered with larger golden coverings. The enormous upturned, golden moustaches transform this face into a terrifying angry face. Every evening, in elaborate worship, the mask is removed from the face of Shiva to give a brief glimpse of a rarely-sighted aspect of Shiva. This is the only temple of Shiva where his face is his symbol.
There are numerous sacred water tanks ("Kund") near the temple. These include Surya-kund, Chandra-kund, Tara-kund, Mana-Kund etc. Nanda Devi, Trishul and Nanda Ghunti are the famous mountain peaks, which provide the backdrop to the temple. The Vaitharini stream or Baitarani or Rudraganga flows near the temple, which has a grey stone idol of Rudranath. The river is identified with the "river of salvation", where souls of the dead cross to reach the other world. Thus, devotees visit Rudranath to perform rituals of the dead, such as performing a pind offering. Some believe that offering a pind to ancestors here equals offering a hundred million at the holy city of Gaya.
The temple celebrates an annual fair on the full moon day in the Hindu month of Sravan (July–August). The fair is attended mainly by locals. The priests at the Rudranath temple are Bhatts and tiwaris of Gopeshwar village. At Nandikund (2,439 m/8,002 ft), on the trekking route to Rudranath, devotees worship old historic swords protruding from the rocks, believed to be of Pandavas.
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