Char Dham (literally: ‘the four abodes/seats’) are the names of four pilgrimage sites in India that are widely revered by Hindus. It comprises Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. It is considered highly sacred by Hindus to visit Char Dham during one’s lifetime. The Char Dham defined by Adi Shankaracharya consists of three Vaishnavite and one Shaivite pilgrimages.
The other pilgrimages sites in the Indian state of Uttarakhand viz. Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath were known as Chota Char Dham to differentiate them from the bigger circuit of Char Dham sites, but after the mid-20th century they have been also referred to as the Char Dham.
According to Hindu scripture, Badrinath became prominent when Nar-Narayan, an incarnation of Vishnu did Tapasya there. At that time that place was filled with Berry trees. In Sanskrit language they are called Badri, so the place was named Badrika-Van i.e. the forest of Berry. The particular spot where the Nar-Narayan did Tapasya, a large Berry tree formed covering him to save him from rain and sun. Local believe mata Lakshmi become the Berry tree to save Narayan. Post Tapasya, Narayan said, people will always take her name before his name, hence Hindus always refer “Lakshmi-Narayan ” unlike “Shiva-Parvati” . It was therefore called Badri-Nath i.e. the Lord of Berry forest. This all happened in the Sat-Yuga. So the Badrinath came to be known the first Dham.
The second place, the Rameshwram got its importance in the Treta-Yug when Lord Rama built a Shiv-ling here and worshiped it to get the blessings of Lord Shiva. The name Rameshwram means “the God of Lord Rama”. Rama himself is considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
The third Dhaam Dwarka got its importance in Dwapar Yug when Lord Krishna another incarnation of Lord Vishnu, made Dwarka his residence instead of Mathura, his birthplace.
The Four Shankaracharya Peeth (Seats) at the Chaar Dham school of Hinduism, created at least four Hindu monastic institutions. He organised the Hindu monks under four Maṭhas (Sanskrit: मठ) (monasteries), with the headquarters at Dvārakā in the West, Jagannatha Puri in the East, Sringeri Sharada Peetham in the South and Badrikashrama in the North.
The four associated places of the Char dhaams:
In Hindu Puranas Hari (Vishnu) and Har (Shiv) are referred as eternal friends. It is said wherever there resides Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva also resides nearby. Chaar Dhaams are also not exception of this. So the Kedarnath is considered as the pair of Badrinath, Rangnath Swami is considered the pair of Rameshwaram. Somnath is considered as the pair of Dwarka. However one thing is also to be noted here that according to some traditions the Char Dham are Badrinath, Rangnath-Swami, Dwarka and Jagannath-Puri all the four of which are Vaishnav sites and their associated places are Kedarnath, Rameshwaram, Somnath and Lingaraja Temple, Bhubaneswar (or may be Gupteshwar) respectively.