Since times immemorial, Kailash and manas have been an integral part of the Faith and imagination of the peoples of South Asia and Tibet. The imprint of their influence is engraved in stone in the architectural wonders of Borobudur and Angkor Wat in Southeast Asia. Hindus and Buddhists have considered it the ultimate pilgrimage.
Even considered the abode of Shiva, the most powerful and enigmatic of deities, over time Kailash became identified with Meru, the mythical mountain, which connected heaven and earth with the world revolved, the very centre of creation.
Kailash the crystal mountain to Hindus, is kang Rinpoche, the precious snowy mountain to Buddhists where dwells Heruka Chakrasamvara, adorned like Shiva with the crescent moon. Bons worship it as the holy mountain, Tise, and for jains it is ashtapada, where Rshavadeva attained nirvana.
Kailash and Manasarovar: A Quest beyond the Himalaya into mythology and the experience of travellers and pilgrims through the centuries to depict what Kailash has meant to peoples through the ages, and how its influence has permeated literature and great achievements in architecture.
The text includes descriptions of three journeys undertakes over twenty-one years, both along the traditional pilgrim route from India over the Lipu pass and across Tibet. Over two hundred photographs accompany the text.
Deb Mukharji conducted the first group of Indian pilgrims to Kailash and Manasarovar across the Lipu Pass in September 1981, when Indian pilgrims returned after a gap of twenty years following an agreement between the governments of India and China. He revisited the region along the same route in 1993 and returned again in 2002, driving across the Tibetan plateau from Kathmandu. The author has been exploring the Himalaya for over five decades. The photographs taken by him have been published in numerous journals and have featured in exhibitions where their artistic quality has been critically acclaimed. He has written two books, one on Nepal and one on the Kailash-manas region.
Deb Mukharji was a member of the Indian Foreign Service and presently resides in Delhi.
Through millennia, kailash and Manas have influenced and excited the imagination of the peoples of India,Nepal, Tibet and lands far away. Kailash has been identified over time with Meru, the mythical mountain, which was the centre of the universe, the axis mundi round which the world revolved. Ti is the abode of Shiva, the lord of destruction, who resides there with his consort Parvati, daughter of the Himalaya. Kang Rinpoche and Tise to Buddhists and Bons, the crystal mountain is the abode of Heruka Chakrasamvara who, like Shiva, is adorned by the crescent moon. Rshavadeva, the first tirthankara, has been associated by Jains with Kailash and many of the figures in Hindu and Buddhist mythology have paid their homage here. Manas, one of the great mahasaravars of mythology and the only extant one, has had a deep spiritual influence on the minds of the people of the region. Hindus and Buddhists have considered Kailash and Manas to be the ultimate pilgrimage.
Like many Indians I wished that someday I may be able to visit kailash. It was not simply an urge to see for myself this solitary peak an urge to see for myself this solitary peak standing tall in a bleak landscape which had attracted my forfathers since ancient times. A genetic urge, one might describe it. And over the year as I walked in the Himalaya, looking at the wall of snow-clad peaks, I could visualise the barren vastness of Tibet that lay beyond, home to Kailash and Manas. But the wish seemed to have little possibility turning to hope, because relations between India and China did not indicate any possibility of the route to kailash being opened to Indian. Then, suddenly, in the summer of 1981, Delhi and Beijing decided that Indian pilgrims would be allowed to visit Kailash and Manas in conducted and regulated groups. Today, more than thirty years later, when over ten thousand Indians or more are visiting the region annually it is difficult to visualise the frisson of anticipation and excitement that frisson of anticipation and excitement that swept over India. It would, at last, be possible to visit Kailash and Manas to undertake the ultimate pilgrimage.
The Ministry of External Affairs was in charge of the arrangements for the pilgrimage (as it continues to be today) and was then on a home assignment. My experience of trekking in the Himalaya (and, no doubt, my own enthusiasm!) caused me to be named the liaison officer for the first group of pilgrims which was to leave Delhi in early September. No one was quite sure about the quality of the arrangements on the Indian side nor, of course, what could be expected from our bosts in Tibet. It was important for the group to lay the foundation for the groups which were to follow in 1981 and subsequent years.
It was in retrospect, and only after my two subsequent visits over twenty one years, that I could recognise another dimension to the significance and value of the first visit. Kailash has been circumambulated by pilgrims in all records over the past 500 years and this must be assumed to be an age old practice. By far the largest number would have been devout Tibetan Buddhists and Bons, with some resolute Indian and jain pilgrims. But in our two and half days round the mountain in 1981, we saw only one Tibetan family on their parikrama. Clearly, Tibetans were not feeling encouraged to pay their homage to the mountain, at least in any significant numbers. For the past 900 years, since Milarepa's victory over the Bons, there bave been Buddhist monasteries round the mountain – Tarchhen, Nyanri, Diraphuk and Zutulpuk, offering shelter and support. But in 1981, with the pale exception of tarchhen, there were no monasteries. They had been razed to the ground, whose evidence we saw in the scattered debris of Buddhist images and iconography, during the 'Cultural' Revolution a dozen years earlier normal flow of pilgrims to Kailash and the deluge that exists today. We were thus privileged to see Kailash in a pristine environment without human presence or intervention, devout, secular or malign.
I volunteered to be the liaison officer again in 1993 when I was back in Delhi on a home posting. Sitting on the pebble strewn lakeside during the parikrama of Manas, I felt that another book on Kailash needed to be written. I had read all readily available literature on the subject in English and Bengali, as well as translations of some Sanskrit texts, and was pronounced religious overtones, Tibetan Buddhism in respect of those by western anthors and Hinduism and Lord Shiva in respect of Indian authors. Both approaches were of courses, entirely valid, for kailash is indeed a place of supreme religious significance for both religions. I felt, however, that there was room for a book that looked on Kailash not exclusively or very largely as an object of devotion but as a fount or well of inspiration that has continued to permeate our lives an thinking in multiple ways. Kailash has never been just a remote inaccessible height in the wilderness that only a fortunate few could visit. It has been an intimate part of our lives and thinking.
The elements of the subject were many and the scope vast. Mythological references, particularly as Meru has transmuted into Kailash, would be innumerable. Meru which has seen the dawn of creation in that cataclysm that is beyond comprehension and is at the centre of lands and peoples, rivers, lakes and continents, that connects the nether regions with the high heavens, can itself be the subject of great research from multiple ancient sources. And, called by different names, the concept of Meru exists forcefully in Bon and Buddhist belief. Then we have the extensive references in Hindu Mythology relating to Kailash and the establishment of Lord Shiva on the mountain. To discover the strands of this belief in different parts of India would in itself be a major task. Ancient Bon beliefs which were overtaken and partly assimilated by Tibetan Buddhism continue to exist in Tibet and neighbouring areas. The submission to nature and magical forces which are central to it seem most appropriate in the fierce and inhospitable terrain of Western Tibet. It was on the slopes of Kailash that Bons and Buddhists fought their epic duel a thousand years ago to gain control of the precious mountain with its powerful emanations.
The geography portrayed in ancient texts remains a fascinating area of study. We know today that from Tibet and the adjacent knot of the Pamirs rise rivers that spread to south Asia, China and central Asia. How precise were the ancient descriptions as they related to land masses, lakes and rivers? Meru as then descried should be placed in the Pamirs to the north of Kailash. When did the transmutation of Meru to Kailash take place? To what extent and on what evidence could the ancients believe in the verdant land that is now the desolate landscape of Tibet?
Archaeology provides existing evidence, beyond surmises and mythology, about the influence of Kailash for over two millennia. Some of the connections are self- evident. The 8th century monastery at Samye in Tibet, the stupa at Borobudur in Java, the temples of Angkor Wat, Brihadesvara temple in thanjavur, the temples at Chidambaram and Nasik are all in one way or the other, infused with the concept of Meru or simulating the image of Kailash. And these are only a fraction, only the better known, of the vest number of temples across the length and breadth of India which have been inspired by Kailash. Besides temples across the length and breadth of India which have been inspired by Kailash. Besides temples, there are the sculpted images from kailash to be seen in India and southeast Asia, the rock – carved temple and images at Ellora being among the most famous.
Besides Puranic references of uncertain age, the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata speak of acquaintance with Meru and Kailash. The Sanskrit poetry of Kalidasa in the 4th century speaks of Kailash, as does that of Banabhatta a few centuries later. The tevaram poets of Tamil Nadu memorably invoke Shiva in a regional language. And any reference to Shiva, anywhere, remains incomplete without visualising his abode at Kailash.
Each of the elements above can be the subject of detailed research. This book attempts a broad brush on what the region has meant to us over millennia and the canvas of its influence on our art and culture.
I have to add with regret that recent developments in the area, presumably related to promoting tourism are affecting both the natural beauty and the environment. Access roads to the base of Kailash or to the lake may be justified. But to proceed with a vehicular road round the mountain takes away from the very purpose of the parikrama, which have been the raison d'etre of diverse faiths for visiting Kailash. Permitting large numbers of pilgrims and visitors with inadequate measures on pollution control may be justifiable in terms of the revenue earned, but plays havoc with the environment. On my last visit in 2002, I had found stretches on the lakeshore where smashed beer bottles made walking hazardous. The garish video and beer parlours at the southern base of Kailash where the parikrama commences, need never have been permitted. One can only hope that better sense and greater recognition of the faith of peoples shall prevail.
Millions of years ago, the region that
now cradles Kailash and Manas
was the northern shore of the primordial
Tethys Sea, the southern edge of the
Laurasian supercontinent. Then, one
day, India broke free from her mother
continent of Gondwanaland In the
southern hemisphere of planet Earth and
sailed northwards. And as she crashed into
Laurasia, the Himalaya rose.
The ancient Indians believed this area
of impact to be the centre of creation.
From the depths of this primeval ocean
rose the earth. This was the home of Mount
Meru, the very axis round which the earth
revolved. It was the point of reference for
all peoples, lands and rivers. The home of
Through millennia, the Himalaya have
influenced the people of India in all facets of
life-religion, art, architecture, literature,
mythology. It was a unique relationship
between man and mountain. The Himalaya
enriched the lives of the people around in
multitudinous ways. In turn, the faith of the
people enriched the Himalaya.
As a people, Indians understoo? nature
and appreciated her bounties. They revered
the Himalaya as the source of the Ganga.
Ancient literature, from the great epics to
the Puranas and poet Kalidasa, speaks of the
exquisite beauty of the king of mountains.
The Ramayana and the Mahabharata tell us
how well people at the time knew of the
valleys and mountains, the herbs and the
flowers of the crown of India.
Above all, the Himalaya was the abode
of gods. The devout came here for the
absolution of their sins and to be one with
nature and divinity. As they still come in
search of beauty and the infinite.
But the greatest of all such journeys lay just
across the Himalaya-to Kailash, the crystal
abode of Shiva, the very centre of creation,
reflected in the blue waters of Manas, the
holiest of all the lakes of the world.
If Kailash and Manas have been linked
in mythology to creation itself, this is not
surprising, because here indeed was the
point of impact of the South Asian land mass
on what would then have been a verdant
coast and was to be slowly and irrevocably
transformed into the barren desert of 'the
roof of the world'. It was a cataclysm such
as the earth may never have experienced.
In its wake would be left not only the still
rising Himalaya, but a complex system of
interlinked mountain ranges and systems
stretching deep into the heart of Central
Asia. These mountains remain the source of
the rivers that gave birth to civilisations in
the vast plains of South Asia, China, Central
Asia and the valleys of the Euphrates and
It is interesting to observe that in many
of the Puranie accounts of the Kailash-Manas
region, there are references to forests and
glades, and even the magnificent imaginary
city of Alkapuri. These references could
not have been through observation, for
the region already wore the mantle of the
bleak desert of today. One must wonder
if they reflected an understanding of the
rich and lush terrain that pre-existed the
geological processes that converted Tibet
into an arid plateau.
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