Mount Kailash and Its Symbolism
“There is no place more powerful for practice, more blessed, or more marvelous than this; may all pilgrims and practitioners be welcome!”
Mount Kailash (6,714 m) is a peak in Tibet, in the Gangdise Mountains, which is part of the Himalayas.
The word Kailasa means “crystal” in Sanskrit.
In Tibetan, Kailas is called Kang Rinpoche, or the “Precious jewel of snows”. The Bon call it Yung-drung Gu-tzeg which means “Nine story swastika”, because there is a swastika symbol can be seen on the south face of the mountain.
The mountain lies near Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshas Tal.
This region is a source of some of the longest rivers in Asia — the Indus River, the Brahmaputra River, the Sutlej River (a major tributary of the Indus River), and the Karnali River (a tributary of the Ganges River).
Mount Kailash is symbolically viewed as the earthly manifestation of Mount Sumeru or Meru, as it is also known. Sumeru is considered the actual focus - the absolute central point - of the mandala of the universe. Some think that the name Sumeru is a reference to the ancient kingdom of Sumer that laid far to the west in Mesopotamia - maybe human race’s first city.
The cosmologies and origin myths of Asian religions speak of Kailash as the mythical Mount Meru, the Axis Mundi, the center and birth place of the entire world.
Mount Meru Mandala
There have been no recorded attempts to climb Mount Kailash; it is considered off limits to climbers in deference to Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. It is not clear whether this has ever been done.
Buddhists believe that Milarepa is the only human being to have stood on its peak.
Kailash is considered as a sacred place in four religions of the region - Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Bon.
Hindus regard Mount Kailash as the earthly manifestation of Mount Meru - the spiritual center of the Universe. It is a World Pillar, its roots in the lowest hell and its top kissing the heavens. On the summit sits Lord Shiva sits in a state of perpetual meditation with his consort Parvati. Below, Manasarovar floats in the shadow of holy Kailash as the lake formed in the mind of God.
Shiva and Parvati On Kailash
Some traditions also aver that the mountain is Shiva’s lingam and Lake Manasarovar below is the yoni of his consort Parvati.
Shiva and Parvati On Mount Meru
According to Vishnu Purana, Mount Kailash is the center of the world; its four faces are made of crystal, ruby, gold, and lapis lazuli. It is the pillar of the world; is 84,000 leagues high; is the center of the world mandala; and is located at the heart of six mountain ranges symbolizing a lotus. The four rivers flowing from Kailash then flow to the four quarters of the world and divide the world into four regions.
Kailash, Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal represent the water tanks present at the entrance to every Hindu temple. The round shape of the former is like the sun and the curved outline of Rakshas Tal symbolizes the moon.
Mount Kailash also appears in the epic poem, Ramayana. Hanuman was sent there on a mission to fetch the sanjwini herb.
Mount Kailash is also the residence of Kubera, god of wealth, the offspring of Shiva and Parvati.
In another Hindu myth, Mount Kailash was overturned and used as a churning stick by the deva gods and asura demons to churn the cosmic oceans in order to make Amrita, the Elixir of Immortality.
For the adepts of Jain religion, which arose in India around the 6th century BC, Mount Kailash or Ashtapada is acclaimed as a site where their first prophet Rishabha (Rishabhadeva), the first of the twenty-four Tirthankaras, achieved Moksha or Nirvana (spiritual liberation).
Mount Meru In Jainism
The Bon religion originated possibly somewhere near modern Soviet Central Asia before the arrival of Buddhism in the 7th century. Its main religions functions were concerned with control of powerful spirits, divination, exorcism, death and burial, and a few other related matters. Its important cult center was called Zhang Zhung. Zhang Zhung was an ancient kingdom that covered a lot of western Tibet and some of the north and northeastern parts of the Tibetan plateau as well. The capitol was located just west of Kailash at the “Silver Castle” of Khunglung. Eventually, with the introduction of Buddhism into the area, Bon had adapted some principles of Buddhism and vice versa.
In the ancient Bon cults, mountains were seen as important power points that linked heaven and earth, and in so doing were endowed with powerful cosmological and geneological associations. This made them considered to be the “souls” (Lari) of certain areas. In Mount Kailash’s case, it was seen as the Soul Mountain of Zhang Zhung. They also call it Yungdrung Gu Tse, “The Nine Story Swastika Mountain.”
This is the very place where the sect’s legendary founder, Tonpa Shenrab descended from heaven to earth.
Bon-po also call the mountain Tise and believe it to be the seat of the Sky Goddess Sipaimen.
Mount Kailash is known in Tibetan as Kang Rimpoche (meaning “Precious One of Glacial Snow”), or by its aboriginal name Ti-Se.
The Tantric Buddhists believe that Kailash is the home of the Buddha Demchog (Chakrasamvara in Sanskrit, whose name is in fact, an epithet of Shiva) who represents supreme bliss, and his consort Dorje Phamo. The two symbolize compassion and wisdom, making Kailash and Manasarovar the perfect complement: father and mother of the Earth. Dorje Phamo is usually associated with a small peak next to Kailash called Tijung.
Chakrasamvara Yab-Yum With Dorje Phamo
According to one of legends, the Buddha emanated the mandala palace on the top of Mount Kailash and adopted this archetype deity form of Chakrasamvara to teach the knowledge of tantra to Shiva and Parvati.
Three hills rising near Kang Rimpoche are believed to be the homes of the Bodhisattvas Manjushri, Vajrapani, and Avalokiteshvara.
Mount Meru is a center of the Universe according to Abhidharma cosmology.
Vairocana On Mount Meru
There are numerous sites in the region associated with Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), who is credited with finally establishing Buddhism as the main religion of Tibet in the 7th-8th century AD.
It’s said that Milarepa, legendary guru-poet of the Karma Kagyu School, champion of Tantric Buddhism of 12th century AD, arrived in Tibet to challenge Naro Bon-chung, champion of the Bon religion.
The two magicians engaged in a terrific sorcerers’ battle, but neither was able to gain a definite advantage. Finally, them agreed that whoever could reach the peak of Kailash most rapidly would be the victor.
While Naro Bon-chung sat on a magic drum and soared upwards the slope, Milarepa’s followers were amazed to see him sitting still and meditating. When Naro Bon-chung was already near the top, Milarepa suddenly entered the action and overcame him by riding on the rays of the sun, thence winning the competition.
He did, however, whirl a handful of snow on to the peak of nearby mountain, since known as Bonri, leaving it to the Bonpo and thereby assuring continued Bonpo connections with the region.
Milarepa On The Top Of Kailash
Set amidst Mount Kailash and Mount Gurla Mandhata at height of 4,557 m above sea level is Manasarovar Lake, the highest freshwater body in the world. The lake stretches majestically over Tibetan Plateau with a circumference of about 88 km and covers an area of 320 km. From this lake originate four of the great rivers of the Indian subcontinent that flow in four cardinal directions before reaching the ocean.
Kailash And Manasarovar
The word ‘manas’ means mind or consciousness; the name Manasarovar means Lake of Consciousness and Enlightenment.
Tibetans say that when the Chakravartin (World Emperor) Nug Bam was cooking rice to feed the entire world, the hot water that was strained from the pot cooled and became the lake.
According to Indian believes, Manasarovar was created by Brahma at the request; of the great Rishis. This mind born lake contains the essence of all the Vedas.
Bathing in the icy sapphire water of Lake Manasarovar is considered to remove the sins of innumerable lifetimes.
Adjacent to Manasarovar is Rakshas Tal, the Lake of Demons.
The grand view of Mount Gulra Mandhata, Manasarovar and Rakshas Tal Lakes hypnotizes the onlooker into subliminal aura.
Both the lakes are full of swans.
Pilgrims of several religions believe that circumambulating Mount Kailash on feet, known as the kora, has special significance. Buddhists believe that making one kora washes away the sins of a lifetime, and that 108 kora confer instant nirvana.
The highest point of the kora is a pass at 5,630 meters. There is an inner kora that leads to a special pilgrimage site at 6,096 meters, Serdung Chuksum, the Cave of the Thirteen Golden Chortens. By tradition, this inner kora cannot be attempted unless one has made 13 kora (also known as the outer kora).
The peregrination is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus and Buddhists. Followers of the Jain and Bonpo religions circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction.
The path around Mount Kailash is 52 km long. Some make this path only within one day.
Some devoted people prostrate themselves fully along the rough path around Kailash. This method normally takes them two weeks.