Char Dham are the four abodes of God in the four directions of India - Puri in the east, Rameshwaram in the south, Dwarka in the west, and Badrinath in the north. These are the most revered sites for Hindus that have to be visited in one's lifetime. They were collated by the 8th century reformer and philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, into the archetypal all-India pilgrimage circuit to the four cardinal points of the Indian subcontinent in a bid to unify people across the region.
Over the years, this has also lend itself to Char Dham pilgrimages in the Garhwal Himalayas, also known as Chota Char Dham or 'Little' Char Dham to differentiate them from the original Char Dham sites, though after mid-20th century they were started being called the Char Dham themselves
The great 8th century reformer and philosopher Shankaracharya (Adi Sankara) was prominently involved in reviving the Hindu Dharma in India (Bharat). He traveled throughout the country and grouped the four sacred places Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Puri and Dwarka as the Char Dham which are dedicated to the Vishnu Avatars (incarnations). Geographically spealing the char dham make a perfect square with Badrinath and Rameswaram falling on same longitude and Dwarka(old) and Puri on same latitude, representing the farthest north east west and south points of India( at that time, before coastlines changed).
Badrinath located in the North Indian state of Uttarkhand, is the most important of the four sites of Char Dham. It is in the Garhwal hills, on the banks of the Alaknanda River. The town lies between the Nar and Narayana mountain ranges and in the shadow of Nilkantha peak (6,560m).
Badri refers to a berry that was said to grow abundantly in the area, and nath refers to Vishnu. The legend Shankara discovered a black stone image of Lord Badrinarayan made of Saligram stone in the Alaknanda river. He originally enshrined it in a cave near the Tapt Kund hot springs. In the sixteenth century, the King of Garhwal moved the murti to the present temple.:-)
Dwarka located in the West is in the state of Gujarat, India. The city derives its name from word dvar meaning door or gate in the Sanskrit language. It is located close to where the Gomti River merges into the Gulf of Kutch. The city lies in the westernmost part of India.
The legendary city of Dvaraka was the dwelling place of Lord Krishna. It is believed that due to damage and destruction by the sea, Dvaraka has submerged six times and modern day Dwarka is the 7th such city to be built in the area.
Puri located in the East is located in the state of Orissa, India. Puri is one of the oldest cities in the eastern part of the country. It is situated on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
It is the only shrine in India, where Goddess Radha also referred to as Durga, Sati, Parvati, Shakti abode here with Lord Krishna who is Jagannatha. Puri is the site of the Govardhana matha, one of the four cardinal institutions established by Adi Shankaracharya.
Rameswaram located in the South is in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. It is situated in the Gulf of Mannar at the very tip of the Indian peninsula. According to legends, this is the place from where Lord Rama, built a bridge Ram Setu (also known as Adam's Bridge). The Ramanatha Swamy Temple occupies major area of Rameshwaram.
Rameshwaram is significant for the Hindus as a pilgrimage to Benaras is incomplete without a pilgrimage to Rameswaram. The presiding deity here is in the form of a Linga with the name Sri Ramanatha Swamy, it also is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. The four dhams are Puri, Rameshwaram, Dwarka and Badrinath.
There is another Char Dham also known as "Chhota" Char Dham located in the North India. This circuit consists of four sites