Kedarnath is in the most dramatic location of the char dham temples, located at the base of 6970m peaks and 22km from the nearest road. The puja offered inside, especially around the stone 'hump', is fervent and can be quite intense. The site is so auspicious that pilgrims used to throw themselves from one of the cliffs behind the temple in the hope of instantly attaining moksha (liberation from samsara).
Much of the village around the temple was destroyed by the raging waters and huge rocks that washed down from the surrounding slopes. Today, nearly as much reverence is paid to a massive boulder that sits behind the temple – which, incredibly, shielded it from the worst of the onslaught and saved it from collapse – as to the temple itself.
In the epic Mahabharata, after the Pandavas defeated the Dhartarashtras, they sought forgiveness for killing their own family members, as their enemies also happened to be their cousins. Shiva refused them, but the Pandavas were so relentless in their quest for absolution that Shiva, in the form of a bull, dove into the ground to elude them. He left his hump behind at Kedarnath, below the source of the sacred Mandakini River, where a magnificent stone temple – built in the 8th century by Guru Shankara – marks the spot. (Other portions of Shiva’s bull-form body are worshipped at the other four Panch Kedar shrines, which take some effort to reach: the arms at Tungnath, the face at Rudranath, the navel at Madmaheshwar and the hair at Kalpeshwar.)