Badrinath Dham is one of the oldest of Hindu places of worship. On the right bank of the river Alaknanda lies the sacred shrine perched at an altitude of 3133 m above sea level, guarded on either side by the two mountain peaks Nar & Narain with the towering Neelkanth peak providing a splendid back-drop. Also known as the Vishal Badri, the largest among the five Badris, it is revered by all as the apt tribute to Lord Vishnu.
The revered spot was once carpeted with wild berries which gave it the name 'Badri Van' meaning 'forest of berries.' Built by Adi Shankaracharaya, the philosopher-saint of the 8th century, the temple has been renovated several times due to damage by avalanches and restored in the 19th century by the royal houses of Scindia & Holkar. The main entrance gate is colourful & imposing popularly known as Singhdwar. References to Sri Badrinath have been made in the Vedas & perhaps it was a popular shrine during the Vedic age also. The Skand Purana gives an accvount of the Adiguru consecrating the idol of Lord Badri Vishal in the temple after recovering it from Narad Kund, in a pursuance of a divine call from heaven. The idol is made of black stone similar to granite. So holy is the shrine that it forms one of the four prominent places of Hindu worship. The epic Mahabharat, it is believed, was composed in the Vyas & ganesh caves close by. The Vishnu Ganga which later becomes the Alaknanda flows below the temple. Almost 3 km north of Badrinath, mana is the last Indian village before the Tibetan border. The Vasudhara falls are quite spectacular. On the closing day the residents of Mana offer a choli to the deity to cover the diety all the winter. It is taken off on the opening day & its fibres are distributed amongst the Yatris (pilgrims) as a maha prasadam. Joshimath is the winter deity of Badrinath.
The temple opens every year in the month of April-May & closes for winters in the third week of November. Badrinath's four subsidiary Badris include Bhavishya Badri, Yogdhyan Badri, Bridha Badri and Adi badri. It is popularly believed that with spread of Buddhism, the Buddhists enshrined the statue of Lord Buddha there and during the Hindu renaissance, the statue of Buddha was later restored by Adi Guru as the idol of Vishnu. This possibly explains the deity sitting in Padmasan posture, typical of Buddha icons. However, also according to Hindu mythology, Buddha was considered to be the ninth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Badrinath is devoted t the worship of Vishnu, who, according to an amusing tale, usurped this place from Shiva. For Vishnu had come here as the gods once did, to offer penance. He loved the place so much that he plotted to unseat Shiva from his meditation here. He took on the form of a beautiful child and began to wail. Shiva's wife, Parvati, picked him up but could not calm the child. Since his wailing continued to disturb Shiva, he shifted to Kedarnath in exasperation, leaving the spot free for Vishnu to occupy. But reminders of Shiva's stay continue to linger, most visible in the name, Badri, a kind of berry that Shiva was most fond of and the gigantic tree, invisible to the mortal eye, that served Shiva. Legend also has it, when the Ganga was requested to descend to earth to help the suffering humanity, the earth was unable to withstand the force of its descend. Therefore the mighty Ganga was split into twelve holy channels, Alaknanda was one of them that later became the abode of Lord Vishnu or Badrinath.
When the sage Narad disapproved of Lord Vishnu's way of living in worldly comforts, he was hurt and sent his spouse to nagkanyas. He himself decided to disappear in the Himalayan valley-whose peaks make for some of the most enticing manifestations of God's creations. The spot was carpeted with Badris or wild berries and hence was famous as Badri Van. The Lord Vishnu assumed a yogdhyani posture and for several years meditated at the same spot and fed himself with wild berries. Laxmi on return found the sesha shayya empty, she went to the Himalayas in search of the Lord and ultimately found him amidst the badri in deep meditation. He addressed the Lord as Badrinath and requested him to give up the yogdhyani posture to return to his original sringaric form.
He agreed to do so provided the entire mankind abides by that he will be worshipped in yogdhyana form by the Gods and in sringaric form by the mortals and further Goddess Laxmi will sit on the left side in yogdhayni form and on right in sringaric form. The Hindu tradition demands that the place of the spouse is on the left but sitting of the Goddess Laxmi on the right is meaningful to convey that they should not be worshipped as a divine couple but as two individual deities with no marital relation. It is for the reason that the Rawal (main priest) of Badrinath must not be married. The pilgrims to the temple worship the Lord in his sringaric form during the summer and in the winter, he is worshipped in his yogdhyani form by the devtas & sages. There are many sacred spots of pilgrimage in the heaven, earth but there has been none equal to Badri, nor shall there be.