REFLECTIONS ON KAILAS
Uday Sahay is a Communication Analyst. He can be contacted at uday.sahay[at]sauvcommunications.com.
Hindus believe that a triumvirate of gods – Brahma , Vishnu and Mahesh – live in Brahmalok, Baikunth, and Kailas, respectively. The first two are out of reach for us living mortals, but it is possible indeed to make a pilgrimage to the abode of the third, a sacred mountain.
Ensconced as it is in a remote part of the Greater Himalayas’ Ngari region of western Tibet, the mountain is held sacred not by Hindus alone but also by Jains, Buddhists, and Bonpos. The samadhi of the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabh Dev is in the lap of the hillock surrounding southern face of Mount Kailas.
Mahayana Buddhism found its foothold in Tibet through the Buddhist saint of Nalanda, Milarepa, who defeated Naro Bon Chun, the Bonpo shaman in a magical tantrik duel. So fierce was the fight, the legend goes, that both flew to the peak of Kailas for the first time and the last ever, by sheer force of their tantrik power. Even Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, undertook this difficult pilgrimage along with his followers to have His darshan and blessings.
Such are the strong spiritual vibrations from Kailas that many Christians from across the globe are drawn there each year; so much so that one of the most intense books on Kailas in recent times is by an American Christian, Kerry Moran.
Kailas region has always evoked deep emotions in sages, poets and writers and has ignited their imagination over the centuries. No wonder the rivers, the mountain ranges, the flora and the fauna find mention again and again in the great epics Ramayana and Mahabharat , and in host of classical Indian literature including Kalidas’s poetry.
The most powerful traditional ethnography of the region is found in the Skanda Purana. Recurrent imageries of Mans-ke-hans , Alka puri, Bhasmasur Paharh, Jambhu dweep, Om Parbat, abode of Lord Rama’s ancestor, of Kuber and of goddess Saraswati draw their inspiration from that region.
The road to enlightenment and the divine is never easy; the same holds true for Kailas. We know from geology that the tectonic plate of Gondwanaland separated from Africa millions of years ago and moved up the primodial ocean to collide with the Asian plate, giving birth to the Himalayas. Fossils of undersea creatures of the ancient Tethys Sea found in the high Himalayan ranges bears testimony to this thesis.
Names were later cultural constructs – the ranges on the Indian side today are known as Kedar Khand whereas on the Tibet side they are Manas Khand. The granite Kailas mountain is in Manas Khand, and is the symbol of sattva guna in us, overseeing the two other gunas – rajas in the form of Manasarovar and tamas in Rakshas Taal. On the base of this physical triangle of the eternal forces of Kailas, Manasarovar, and Rakshas Taal, the Gurla Mandhata ranges stand as sentinel. About two dozen rivers originate from Kailas, of which Brahmaputra , Sutlej, Indus and Karnali flow into India.
Kailas also has four visible faces – south, south-west , north and west. Its southern ladder-laden face, however, along the lake and its perfect northern face (as seen from Dirapuk) are the most mesmerizing. Its south-western face is visible from Yam Dwar, 5 km from the base camp.
The circumambulation – locally called Kora – of Kailas begins clockwise from the base camp at Tarchen and takes three days to complete. The
first day we reached Dirapuk , halted at night in a camp made of mud, and had a darshan of the northern face the following morning. Then we advanced onto the most difficult part of the trekking — through the valley of death literally — reaching the climax, the Dolma La (Tara Devi’s rock) at 18,000 ft to surrender our being. Gauri Kund, Parbati’s private bath, lay to the right where she was believed to have given birth to lord Ganesha.
The parikrama of Kailas undertaken by mere mortals is clockwise, along the outer hillocks surrounding Kailas, but some do the Kora of Kailas, Manasarovar and Rakshas Taal in three inter-linking circles. However, some adventurous locals and swamis daringly try the inner Kora, to touch the base of Kailas. This extremely arduous Kora involves taking round of Nandi Paharh that lies before Kailas’s actual base in the south-east . The most incredible account of this inner Kora is given in a book by Swami Vikas Giri.
Mansarovar is the highest freshwater lake in the world and Hindus believe that it was created by Lord Brahma who was touched after observing his son’s long penance for water. Belief further goes that you can get rid of the ominous influences of sins of your ancestors if you take dip in the lake; it is also held that eating leaves of a mythological tree at the base of the lake can cure any of your disease, and that the white swans – manas ke hans — swimming in the lake are the Lord Brahma , reincarnated. Another legend says that the Saptarishis — seven sages — descend to the lake to take a dip in the pre-dawn hours every day.
Rakshas Taal — a symbol of tamas, but beautiful nonetheless — is another turquoise (but saltwater!) lake near Manasarovar. Naturally, pilgrims never drink its water or take dip there. An interesting story of Ravana trying to trick Kailas into coming to his kingdom in Lanka is associated with the lake.
Before the political boundaries between India and Chinacame into being, there were about a dozen traditional routes to Kailas. Now only two routes are still open: one through Lipu Pass in Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, and the other through Nepal. Though the Nepali route is considered less arduous because the Landcruisers drive from Kathmandu to the base of Kailas, the route organised by the Ministry of External Affairs in India has two distinct advantages .
One, pilgrims get acclimatized to the high mountain through a weeklong trek in Indian territory and do not get high mountain sickness (which is common on the Nepal route); two, visitors do not miss the unforgettable sight of Om Parbat near the Pithoragarh border with Nepal at the tri-junction of India, Nepal, and China.
Despite its location on the Nepal border, interestingly an Om face on the mountain is seen only from the Indian border site called Nabidang. Seeing Om Parbat live, exotically picturised in Skand Purana, is a lifetime experience, especially when uncovered by clouds. Which is what makes the trip to Kailas a truly incredible journey to the feet of divinity…