Rahul Gandhi: the waters of Manasarovar are tranquil, calm; there is no hatred there

Congress President Rahul Gandhi had gone on a pilgrimage Lake Manasarovar . Here, Mrinal Pande, explains the myths and stories behind the mountain that most Hindus call their own

Rahul Gandhi
Rahul Gandhi

Mrinal Pande

On April 29 this year, addressing a rally at the Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi announced that he was planning to go on a personal pilgrimage to the holy Kailash Mansarovar region, the abode of lord Shiva and his consort Parvati, according to Hindu belief. This, he said was his way of offering his thanks to Lord Shiva for saving his life when a plane he was flying in, mysteriously developed a serious snag and could well have crashed. At that point it suddenly flashed in his mind he said, that he must visit Kailash Mansarovar. So on August 31st, he left on a two week Yatra via Nepal and Lhasa, while the BJP spokesperson fulminated against the route chosen by Mr Gandhi that would take him into China controlled territory. Political tensions between India and China had led to closing the pilgrimage route between 1954-78. But it is now fully functional. In 1997 a small medical centre was also built here to cater to the pilgrims’ needs by the Swiss Ngari Korsum Foundation.

The history of pilgrimages to Mount Kailash and the Mansarovar lake goes back to thousands of years. Himalayas have always been known to peoples of India as Devalaya, the dwelling land of the gods, and is replete with myths and legends associated not just with the mountains but also various rivers, lakes and glaciers therein. The transposition of Himalayas is widely believed to have taken portions of Himalyan peaks all over India : Govardhan in Braj, land of Krishna in northern plains, Girnar in Gujarat, the Palani hills in Tamilnadu, and then ofcourse the holy Thirumala hills of Andhra Pradesh. Ganesha rock at Trichinapalli is still called Dakshin Kailasha, as also one of the three hills at Kalahasti in Andhra.

So sorry, Mr Sambit Patra, you may try to limit Indianness to limit it to Hindus, but the mountains will fly over your head and keep uniting the north with south, Buddhist with Hindu, Vaishnava with Shaiva and agnostic mountaineers with devout pilgrims. Shri Shaila is where north hugs south. The estranged son Karthikeya runs away from his home in Kailasa and takes residence in the Shri Shaila hills. The mother, like all mothers, follows resolutely begging him to reunite. He refuses, finally the irate father in the manner of all fathers, fire on the outside and liquid gold inside, lands at Mallikarjuna and sets up base camp with the mother to be close to his son. Thus Akka Mahadevi’s lord at Sri Sailam, one white as a jasmine flower. Meanwhile Shiva, also permitted the sage Agatsya to carry clean holy waters from Kailasa across the Vindhyas which the sage tamed. Thus Kaveri, believed to be the holy river that runneth with waters released by Shiva from Kailasa.

Shiva is considered the Yogi lord of the mountains, Gireesh. And until he moved to Kashi, the Avimukt Kshetra, his abode in mountains with his lovably eccentric family including his consort Parvati, the daughter of the mountains, his son Kartikeya and his numerous familiars from a bull (Nandi) to snakes and ghostly beings, Bhoot Pishachas, made merry in the mountains. Artists have loved the idea and in the 16th -17th century Moghul and Pahadi paintings Shiva is shown as a happy go lucky hemp smoking family man surrounded by his family and loved ones.

Today Kailasa may be located inside the borders of Western Tibet, controlled by China, but the pyramidal black peak crowned with snow streaked with glaciers and ice remains a place of pilgrimage for all devout Hindus, in particular the Shaivites. Sheer poetry flows from Kailasah wherever you look. No wonder the pilgrims can not have enough of circumambulating the river and its blue fresh water lake, Mansarovar. The biggest simile for a total purity of heart and mind . The Mansarovar lake is among the five holiest lakes or Panch Sarovar : Mansarovar, Bindu, Pampa, Narayan and Pushkar. The Mahabharata describes Kailash as the monarch of all mountains, a golden lotus that is an eternal refuge of asetics and a source of rivers that are the elixir of life. What the Mahabharata tells us, is symbolically very true. This area is the fountainhead from which stems the virtually entire river system of the Indo Gangetic plains. The four great rivers : the Indus, Satluj, Brahmaputra and Ghaghra all have their source here among the holy snow covered region.

The Tibetan name for Mount Kailash, Gangs Rin po che ( Precious jewel of snows), sums up the sentiment associated with the mountain beautifully. The has also been a holy spot of pilgrimage for followers of Bon Po, the pre Buddhist Tibetan religion founded by Torpa Shenab in the area. Followers of Bon Po worship a deity, Zhang Zhung Meri.

The Buddhists believe that the Buddha (Anavatapta,)visited the area several times and meditated here. The Vajrayani Tantric sect of Buddhism was officially brought in to Tibet by the Buddhist sage Padmasambhava around 7th - 8th century. There are legends about him defeating the leader of the Bon Po sect in a duel of sorcerers, and christening a local mountain Bon ri with a fistful of snow , declaring it magnanimously as abode of his defeated but worthy adversary. Thus creating a peaceful togetherness of religions. The area is also sacred to the followers of Jainism. They refer to Mount Kailash Meru Parvat and believe their first Teerthankara Rishabhdev ji visited the spot and attained his Nirvana here at the mountain known as Ashtpad.

Interestingly, it is said that the 14th Dalai Lama saw three syllables reflected in the Mansarovar lake denoting the province, the district and the monastery where they could locate the present Dalai Lama.

Next to the mount Kailash lies the only sweet water lake in the region, the Mansarovar, fed by the glaciers at the mountain. At an elevation of 15,060 feet, it has a circumference of 410 kilometers. This is connected with another lake the Rakshas Tal which is a salt water lake. Legend has it that this is where the demon king Ravana of Lanka meditated to placate Lord Shiva. This lake has no aquatic or marine life and locals consider its waters poisonous.

At the heart of the pilgrimage is the circumambulation of the holy mountain, preferably within a day. This is a tough task given that the trek covers 52 kilometers at a very high elevation. Some local devotees even cover the entire distance by prostrating themselves all along the tedious route, but for most it is a two day trek layered with Buddhist, Hindu and Jaina meanings. In both Buddhist and Hindu traditions, Kailash is identified with Mount Meru, a mythical mountain that marks the centre of the earth and which the gods and demons used to churn the milky ocean or Kshir Sagar. For Hindu pilgrims the area still belongs to Shiva and his merry family. The nearby mountains are therefore, all named after his family members : Parvati, Skanda, Ganesha and Shiva’s mount and guard, the sacred bull Nandi. Kailasha it is said is the pgysical manifestation of Shiva’s Linga’s light that penetrated the earth’s crust at the beginning of time.

The BJP spokesperson has been predictably shrill in his condemnation of Rahul Gandhi’s pilgrimage plans. His criticism of Rahul’s professed veneration for Shiva stems from a desire to cling to a total institutional priesthood that his Party seems to have appropriated for itself for conducting all traditional Hindu pilgrimages and rituals. The shrill (but wrong) assertion of the Hindus taking only a Hindu route to Kailasha, the image of Kailasha as a specifically Hindu sacred space are all rooted in the same ethos that destroyed a mosque and is now pressing for the restoration of that site claimed by them as the original birth spot of Rama, desecrated by alien raiders. As Kelley Alley, an anthropologist observes shrewdly about the clean Ganga Abhiyan, “ In the current period, movements for reclaiming sacred spaces reproduce models of religious mobilization that successfully use relious mobilization for political effect, yet leaders have not transferred the dynamism…into environmental programmes.”

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Published: 05 Sep 2018, 1:04 PM