Of the four sites of the Char Dham pilgrimage Badrinath is considered the most important. Situated on the banks of the Alakananda River in the Garhwal hills, this holy town is in the Chamoli district of the Uttarakhand state of India. It is located as high up as 3416 meters above sea level.
It was in the 9th century that Adi Shankara became aware of the importance of this place and established it as a major pilgrimage site. The Badrinath temple is particularly sacred to the Vaishnavs. Nevertheless Badrinath attracts multitudes of other pilgrims besides the Vaishnavs.
The sacred scriptures and legends of India have had a special place for Badrinath over thousands of years. Lord Vishnu is said to have been incarnated as the sages Nara and Narayana, who have been performing penance for the benefit of mankind. This has been cited in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
This place supposedly derives its name from a berry called Badri that is indigenous to this region whereas nath is indicative of Lord Vishnu. The Indian Jujube tree is known as Badri in Sanskrit. There is mention of a wealth of Jujube trees in Badrinath according to some of the scriptures. Folklore has it that the berries are actually a form of Goddess Lakshmi. She materialized in this form so her spouse, Lord Vishnu could be sustained during his long penance in the austere Himalayan environment.
In the Hindu scriptures, Badri is mentioned as Badarikaashram. This place is predominantly sacrosanct to Lord Vishnu chiefly in his twin form of Nara-Narayana. When Shiva addressed Arjun in the Mahabharat, he informed him, “You were Nara in your previous birth, and you performed severe penance at Badri for countless years with Narayana for company”.
The Padma Purana refers to the vicinity of Badrinath as reserve of spiritual wealth. As per the Skanda Purana, There is no shrine anywhere in heaven, earth or hell that comes close to Badrinath. It is believed that Badrinath is the earthly dwelling of Lord Vishnu. Several Brahmasuthras and Upanishads have been written here in Badrinath. Religious intellectuals like Madhawacharya, Ramanujacharya and Vedanta Desika composed these sacred texts. In keeping with another belief, Goddess Ganga was appealed to descend on earth. Since the earth wouldn’t be able to survive the strength of her descent, the mighty Ganga was divided into twelve holy conduits. Alakananda, which flows here, was one of them.