I asked the Rawal Sri Badriprasad Namboodiri, His Highness the chief Priest of the Badrinath Temple that being a person hailing from Kerala, where the weather remains hot all the year round, did he feel uncomfortable to stay in the cool weather of Badrinath. He did not answer but smiled. From his smile it was clear that he really felt uncomfortable in the cold here.
So why should Sri Badriprasad choose to be the Priest in Badrinath?
Actually he was destined to be the Rawal. It was his mother’s choice in the first instance as she prayed to Badrinath to choose his would be son to be his Rawal. But it was also that he was born in the Namboodiri ‘Shrenee’ of Brahmins in Kerala. After that it was his long hours of learning specially the Vedas and other sacred texts of Hinduism that stood in good stead at the time of various tests and rigorous selection procedure through which the young Badriprasad went through.
One may wonder what part the Shrenee played in the choice of Rawal. Adi Sankaracharya, it is said that he went to Badrinathdham when he was only eleven. He reinstated the present idol of Vishnu, the Badrinath after recovering it from the Narad Kund in the river Alakananda. The idol was thrown there by some earlier priest to save it from Buddhist invaders from Tibet. Later on the priests lost trace of the idol.
Adi Sankaracharya appointed one of his followers and of his shrenee of Brahmins i.e., Namboodiri as the chief priest and named him Rawal. Till today from around 800 A.D Rawals must come from Namboodiri shrenee. From a face-to-face talk with the young Rawal, I could observe him to be particularly modern in outlook and well trained in English and Hindi.
People of every religion and faith are welcome and allowed in the sanctum-sanctorium of the Badrinath temple. We made a journey to the Hill station Badrinath (3133m) recently in August. Yes, it has now become an almost full-fledged Hill station since I last visited it in late May 1988. First you enter the city through a bus terminus, which many a modern city in the plains will be envious of. It is a large complex with ample number of living quarters with modern amenities for the visitors. A two lane metalled road with Hotels, Lodges and Ashrams lined along both sides of it leads you to the main part of the city. There is more than one spacious and clean taxi stand. These are strategically located so that tourists or pilgrims can be within a short distance from the Hotels etc.
The city more or less lies in a plane valley in between two parallel mountains, Nar (5831m) and Narayan (5965m) Parbat. Only the part nearing the river Alakananda is at a lower level. It rises again beyond the mandir on the other bank and up to the Narayan Parbat, where there are many small caves. Hermits inhabit these caves. Most of them stay there all the year round even when Badrinath remains covered under thick snow during November to April and almost nobody stays in the city. Puja at that time is offered from Nrishingha mandir complex down in Joshimath.
The samadhis of the hermits dying in Badrinath are all in this Parbat behind the mandir. A kilometer downstream of Alakananda, Rishiganga coming from the mount Nilkanth (6596m) lying in the northwest of Narayan Parbat meets it. There is a small hydroelectric generating station in Rishiganga. This has made the city self sufficient in power. The Telephone exchange and the Post office buildings are very big. Condition of Haridwar-Badrinath road (NH 58) was extremely dangerous. Landslides were rampant.
Starting from Haridwar at 7.30am. we reached Joshimath (297 Km) at 9.00pm. Next day we visited Jyotirmath, the first Ashram started by Adi Sankaracharya and the Nrishinghadev mandir complex. Then we reached Badrinath by the afternoon. The journey (45 km) this time was as smooth as it could be in the rains and along devastated road. Travels during rains in the mountains have its plus points. The scenery around becomes magnificent with lush green forests. So many temporary capacious waterfalls coming down roaring and of playing of hide and seek between the clouds and the near and distant mountains make one forget oneself.
In Badrinath the river Alakananda was at its dangerous best. We could roam about freely amongst small number of visitors.
The hotel charges were extremely low due to low turnouts and no prior bookings for hotels were necessary. I could get one very good subject for photography; some elderly garhwali women smoking in front of the mandir. There was a disappointment too. We could not view the Nilkanth in all the four days of our stay due to clouds.
Renowned mountaineer Frank S. Smythe described this peak as one of the most beautiful in the whole Himalayas.