History of Sri Hemkunt Sahib
Hemkunt Sahib finds mention in Bachitra Natak, autobiography of Guru Gobind Singh. But the place has been considered to be Lokpal, a place supposed to be existing from the times of Ramayana. It is said that Lokpal was the place where Sri Lakshman sat on meditation. Lokpal has been associated with Lakshman, for being his favorite place. There are many folklores that go with Lakshman and his attachment with this place. The place has also been associated with Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, for Gobind Singhji also talked about Ramayana and his own association with the place in his earlier incarnations. He said that it was ordered by lord to him, about finding the place where he meditated as Dusht-Daman sage. Gobind Singh ji also wrote about his last live's experiences here.
The small town of Hemkunt Sahib has a star shaped Gurudwara, dedicated to Guru Gobind Singhji, the last guru of Sikhs and his saintly teachings. The place was not established as a pilgrimage centre till 20th century, as it was a hidden from people's reach. The autobiography of Gobind Singhji has mentions of Hemkunt Sahib, but the chapter was not believed much, as there was no sign of such place. Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, a nineteenth century Nirmala scholar, was the first Sikh to trace the geographical location of Hemkunt. Later, renowned Sikh scholar, Bhai Vir Singh was instrumental in developing Hemkunt after it had been, discovered in search of the Guru's tap asthan.
Sri Guru Gobind Singh, while on his penance here wrote about his earlier incarnations. In 'Bachitra Natak' the great Guru relates his story in the following words- "I shall now relate my own story, how God sent me into this world. I was busy performing penance on the hills of 'Hemkunt' where seven peaks are prominent. The place is called 'Sapt Shring’ where King Pandu had performed Yoga, there I practiced austerity and worshipped the god of death." There is a small lake near the Gurudwara, called Amrit Sarovar, is considered very holy and its a ritual to bath in the lake. Though the lake remains frozen for almost entire year, it doesn't stops a devout to take a dip in the freezing waters of lake, to pay homage to Gobind Singhji.
In the above verses, the Guru Ji tells of His origins. He describes the place Hemkunt Parbat Sapat Sring, the "lake of ice" "mountains" adorned with "seven peaks", as the same place where King Pandu, the forefather of the five Pandava brothers of Mahabharata fame, practiced yoga. There, the Guru Ji did intense meditation and austerities until He merged with God. Because His earthly parents had served God, God was pleased with them and gave a commandment that the Guru Ji to be born to them. In the mortal world He would carry out a mission to teach the true religion and rid people of evil ways. He was reluctant to leave his state of union with the creator, but God compelled Him. In this way the Guru Ji took birth into the world.
The search for and discovery of Hemkunt came out of the desire of the Sikhs to erect shrines to honour places consecrated by the visit of the tenth Guru during his lifetime or, in the case of Hemkunt, during his previous lifetime. Although Bachitra Natak was included in the Dasam Granth some time in the 1730s, Sikhs apparently did not consider looking for Hemkunt Sapatsring until the late nineteenth century. It did not become a place of pilgrimage until the twentieth century. Pandit Tara Singh Narotam, a nineteenth century Nirmala scholar, was the first Sikh to trace the geographical location of Hemkunt. He wrote of Hemkunt as one among the 508 Sikh shrines he described in Sri Gur Tirath Sangrah (first published in 1884). Much later, renowned Sikh scholar Bhai Vir Singh was instrumental in developing Hemkunt after it had been, in a sense, re-discovered by another Sikh in search of the Guru's tap asthan.
Sohan Singh was a retired granthi from the Indian army who was working in a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Tehri Garhwal. In 1932, he read the description of Hemkunt in Bhai Vir Singh's Sri Kalgidhar Chamatkar (1929). This account of the place and the meditation of a great yogi there was based on the tale of Guru Gobind Singh's life and previous life as told in Bachitra Natak and the Suraj [Prakash] Granth.
In 1930, Sant Sohan Singh, a retired Granthi from the Indian Army, claimed to have found Hemkunt as stated in Bachitra Natak. To some extent he was financed by Bhai Vir Singh, a romantic poet of Punjab, belonging to landed gentry. Bachitra Natak was somehow able to capture the imagination of Sikhs, largely because of the beautiful poetry, and songs and verses that resonated to their sentiments and music. Sohan Singh, who died around 1937, was assisted by a Sikh soldier, Havildar Modan Singh of the Bengal Sappers and Miners, who then laid the foundation of the first building and opened access to the public through Govindghat. Later, he went on to live here and stayed until his death in 1960. The Sikh religious organizations designated Hemkund as a special place for worship.
Hemkunt Sahib is reached by trekking 19 Km from Gobind Ghat. Gobind Ghat can be reached by buses and taxis from Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Rishikesh is 250 Km from Gobind Ghat. Alternatively visitors can go to Joshimath (40 Km) or Gobind Ghat (20 Km)
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Hemkund is inaccessible because of snow from October through April. Each year the first Sikh pilgrims arrive in May and set to work to repair the damage to the path over the winter. This Sikh tradition is called kar seva ("work service"), a concept which forms an important tenet of the Sikh faith of belonging to and contributing to the community.
The take-off point for Hemkund is the town of Govindghat about 275 kilometres (171 mi) from Rishikesh. The 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) trek is along a reasonably well maintained path to the village of Ghangaria. There is another Gurudwara where pilgrims can spend the night. In addition there are a few hotels and a campground with tents and mattresses. A 1,100-metre (3,600 ft)climb on a 6-kilometre (3.7 mi) of stone paved path leads Hemkund. There are no sleeping arrangements at Hemkund so it is necessary to leave by 2 pm to make it back to Govindghat by nightfall.
Design and construction of the present gurudwara was started in the mid-1960s, after Major General Harkirat Singh, Engineer-in-Chief, Indian Army visited the gurudwara. Major General Harkirat Singh selected Architect Siali to head the design and construction effort. Thereafter, Architect Siali made annual trips to Hemkunt and organized and supervised the very complex construction process.
The tributaries of the Ganges merge along the way and the towns at the confluences carry the suffix prayag ("confluence").
At all major prayags there are Hindu temples precisely in the V of the confluence, and it is generally possible to walk down to these temples and watch the water up close.