‘At the centre of the earth,
There stands a great mountain,
Lord of snows, majestic, rooted in the sea,
Its summit wreathed in clouds:
A measuring rod for all creation.’ — Kalidasa
Legend has it that Mount Meru is the central axis of the Universe, sitting at the centre of the Himalaya. Four rivers emerged from the mountain and a lake encircled it. It was said to be the stairway to Heaven and was the abode of many Gods.
As Kailash, the 22,028-ft high snow covered sacred mountain in the Ngari District of Western Tibet, had all these qualifications, it came to be revered by the Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and Tibetans as the ‘axis mundi’ that runs centrally through the various planes of creation, Mount Meru that defines the centre of the earth.
This watershed of Asia has four rivers flowing down its slopes in the four cardinal directions — the Senge Khambab (Indus) in the North, the Tamchok Khambab (Brahmaputra) to the East, The Mapchu Khambab (Karnali), in the South draining into the Ganga and the Langchen Khambab (Sutlej) flowing towards the West.
The Tibetans and the Buddhists identify this ‘supreme mandala’ as the Kangrinboque or Gang Rinpoche. Milarepa, a poet saint and pupil of the great Guru Marpa, the translator belonging to the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries wanted to legitimise Buddhism over the more ancient, animalistic Bon religion. The result was a fierce contest between the two gurus representing the Buddhist and the Bonpo sects. The contestants had to scale the sacred Kailash.
The Bonpo priest, Naro Bon-Chung started the journey on his ritual drum, beating it all the way even before Milarepa awoke. When the Sun rose, Milarepa rode on its rays and in a flash reached the summit before the Bon priest. Naro Bon Chung was totally dismayed. His drum fell breaking into two and came hurtling down banging against the mountain. The couloir that one sees on the South face is believed to be the path drawn by Naro’s drum. Buddhism gained prominence over Bon and Naro had to leave the place and establish his monastery far away from this holy land.
The Jains revere it as Sumeru or Meru Parvat. It is here, at the Ashtapada, that the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabadeva attained nirvana.
To the Bons, who are a shamanistic sect, this ‘Yung Drung Gutsek’ is a nine-storey swastika mountain, which they circumambulate counter-clockwise.
The devout Hindu considers the dazzling dome of Mt. Kailash as the meditative abode of Lord Siva and Mother Parvati. The striations that resembles a stairway, on the Dakshinamoorthy face (South) is considered to be the spinal column through which the Kundalini rises.
Till date, Milarepa is the only one who has summited this sacred mountain of Kailash.
The writers are ace photographers known for their travelogues