Kedarnath Mandir dedicated to Lord Shiva is on the Garhwal Himalayan range near the Mandakini river in Kedarnath, Uttarakhand. The temple is open only between the end of April (Akshaya Tritriya) to Kartik Purnima . During the winters, the vigrahas (deities) from Kedarnath temple are brought to Ukhimath and worshipped there for six months.
The temple is not directly accessible by road and has to be reached by a 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) uphill trek from Gaurikund. The temple was built by Pandavas and revived by Adi Sankara . Pandavas were supposed to have pleased Shiva by doing penance in Kedarnath. The temple is one of the four major sites in India’s Chota Char Dham pilgrimage of Northern Himalayas.
Kedarnath was the worst affected area during the 2013 flash floods in North India. The temple complex, surrounding areas and Kedarnath town suffered extensive damage, but the temple structure did not suffer any "major" damage, apart from a few cracks on one side of the four walls which was caused by the flowing debris from the higher mountains. A large rock among the debris acted as a barrier, protecting the temple from the flood. The surrounding premises and other buildings in market area were heavily damaged.
The temple, at an height of 3,583 m (11,755 ft), 223 km from Rishikesh, on the shores of Mandakini river,, is an impressive stone edifice of unknown date. The structure is believed to have been constructed in the 8th century CE. The present structure is on a site adjacent to where Pandavas are believed to have built the temple. It has one Garbhagriha and a Mandapa, and stands on a plateau surrounded by snow clad mountain and glaciers. In front of the temple, directly opposite to the inner shrine, is a Nandi carved out of rock.
The Pandavas to atone for the sins of killing their relatives undertook a pilgrimage. But Lord Vishweshwara was away in Kailasa in the Himalayas. On learning this, the Pandavas left Kashi. They reached the Himalayas via Haridwar. They saw Lord Shankara from a distance. But Lord Shankara hid from them. Then Dharmaraj said: "Oh, Lord, You have hidden yourself from our sight because we have sinned. But, we will seek You out somehow. Only after we take your Darshan would our sins be washed away. This place, where You have hidden Yourself will be known as Guptakashi and become a famous shrine."
From Guptakashi (Rudraprayag), the Pandavas went to Gaurikund in the Himalayas valleys. They wandered there in search of Shankara. While doing so Nakula and Sahadeva found an unusual buffalo. Bheema chased the buffalo with his mace but failed to catch him. He hit the buffalo with his mace. The buffalo had its face hidden in a crevice-in the earth. Bheema started to pull it by its tail. In this tug-of war, the face of the buffalo went straight to Nepal, leaving its hind part in Kedar. The face is Doleshwar Mahadev in Sipadol, Bhaktapur, Nepal.
On this hind part of Mahesha, a Jyotirlinga appeared and Shankara appeared from this light. By getting such a Darshan the Pandavas were cleansed of their sins. The Lord told them, "From now on, I will remain here as a triangular shaped Jyotirlinga. ". A triangular shaped rock is worshipped in Garbhagriha of the temple. Surrounding Kedarnath, there are many symbols of the Pandavas. Raja Pandu died at Pandukeshwar. The mountain top where the Pandavas went to Swarga, is known as "Swargarohini", which is located off Badrinath . When Dharmaraja was leaving for Swarga, one of his fingers fell on the earth. At that place, Dharmaraj installed a Shiva Linga, which is the size of the thumb. To gain Mashisharupa, Shankara and Bheema fought with maces. Bheema was struck with remorse. He started to massage Lord Shankara’s body with ghee. In memory of this event, even today, this triangular JyotirLinga is massaged with ghee. Water and Bel leaves are used for worship.
The presiding image of Kedaranth in the form of lingam is or irregular shape with an pedestal 3.6 m (12 ft) in circumference and 3.6 m (12 ft) in height. There is a small pillared hall in front of the temple, that has images of Parvathi and of the five Pandava princes. The first hall inside Kedarnath Temple contains statues of the five Pandava brothers, Lord Krishna, Nandi and Virabhadra, one of the guards of Shiva. Statue of Draupadi and other deities are also installed in the main hall. Behind the temple is the Samadhi od Adi Sankara.
The head priest (Raval) of the Kedarnath temple belongs to the Veerashaiva community from Karnataka. However, unlike in Badrinath temple, the Raval of Kedarnath temple does not perform the pujas. The pujas are carried out by Raval’s assistants on his instructions. The Raval moves with the deity to Ukhimath during the winter season. There are five main priests for the temple, and they become head priests for one year by rotation. During Pooja of Lord Shiva at Kedaranath the mantras will be pronounced in the Kannada language. This has been a custom from hundreds of years.
The Pandavas are believed to have visited this area several times. Arjuna is believed to have come here to pray to Shiva to obtain the coveted Pasupataastra. The other Pandavas are believed to have come here in search of him, where Draupadi came across the heavenly lotus Kalyana Saugandikam, and requested Bheema to bring here some more of the same. It was during his venturing out to seek these flowers that Bheema met Hanuman.