India's love of mountains

The Indian civilization is so deeply indebted to the many mountain ranges of the subcontinent that any cultural resurgence must begin from an effort of ecological conservation.

India's love of mountains

Worshipping the mountains as a unique manifestation of Ishwara since the time immemorial, the people of  India continue to maintain this tradition to flock not only to the Himalayas but also other hills strewn across the country. The underlying sentiment is that purifying the soul, positive approach towards life and attainment of enlightenment by linking ourselves with the infinite cosmos are the essential tenets of Hinduism. No wonder, our ancient scriptures talk about great sages and seers making their way to Mount Meru to attain the highest level of awareness or “Gyan” in its tranquil surroundings.

Relevance of “Shri-Chakra” and Mount Meru

The mountains are the finest manifestation of Mother Nature. According to Hindu beliefs, the gods reside in the mountains. The Yogis, Sanyasis, Seers, and Sadhus have always found the mountains to be especially suited for carrying out austerities or  Tapasya. Even the learned Gurus built their Gurukuls and Ashrams at the foot of the hills. Today also, a large number of Gurukuls function in the hilly areas.

In fact, Bharat-Khanda or Aryavarta is considered a land bound by “Shri-Chakra,” the symbol of celestial union between Lord Shiva and Parvati. The Mountain Meru is the pivot that holds Bharat-Khanda. The basis of “Shri-chakra” like any other yantra is concretization according to Vedic principles and corresponds with the topography of India that is Bharat-Khanda.

In the map of India, we find the union of three mountain ranges: Aravali, Himalaya, and Satpura. They form a triangle with Himalaya on the right, Aravali on the left and Satpura at the base. The Bharat-Khand is also having a triangle of mountains in the lower-side of its geography. These three mountains are Eastern Ghat in the eastern side of the country, Western Ghat (Sahyadri mountain range) in the western part of the country and the mighty Vindhya Mountain Range at the base.

When we talk of “Shri-Chakra” as a symbol of divinity, the name of golden mountain Meru comes to the mind. As per our sacred scriptures, the cosmological Mount Meru is positioned at the Centre of the Universe. It is believed that Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara reside on the top of Mount Meru. This is the axis of the world for the Hindu.

Traditional scholars have been on a never-ending quest to identify the physical location of the mythical Mount Meru and different texts have put forth different theories regarding this holy mountain. Some believe that the Mount Pamirs in North-East of Kashmir is the legendary Mount Meru.

Other Important Hills

In the epics, religious texts and sacred books, we always find the mountains to be the preferred backdrop against which the devas, rishis, munis, and avatars enact the divine leela. Mandar Hill, 49 km from Bhagalpur (Bihar, India), is a living example of it —- this sacred-most hill is not only mentioned in Vishnu Purana but also in the epic Mahabharata. According to the Vishnu Purana, during the Samudra Manthan— (churning of the sea for amruta by Devas (gods) and Danavas (demons)) — the Mandar hills were used as the main road to stir the sea water.

Similarly, Pawanputra Hanuman too carried a whole mountain (Dronagiri) to save the life of Laxman when he was hit by an arrow. As Hanuman could not recognize the “Sanjeevani Booti” or the celestial herb capable of giving life to a dying person, he carried the whole mountain that was the source of Sanjeevani Booti, the lifesaving herb. Lord Krishna also used Gobardhan Giri (mountain) to save the masses from torrential rains unleashed by the infuriated Indra.

Amarnath, one among the different peaks of Himalayas, has been considered as a living deity since time immemorial. The formation of the natural Shiva Linga in the cave of Amarnath has made it an independent god. Another peak Kedarnath is considered a manifestation of Lord Shiva.

Mountains also play an important role in Buddhism and Jainism. Lord Buddha meditated at different hills in Bihar after attaining his enlightenment beneath a Banyan Tree in Bodh Gaya. Similarly, Tirthankar Mahavir (founder of Jainism) also had meditated at the Parasnath Hills in Jharkhand.

Mountain Worship in Hinduism

In Sanatan Dharma, the Himalayas have always played a supreme religious role. A large number of the peaks of Himalayas are worshipped in India and Nepal as the gods or their manifestations. The mighty mountains are undoubtedly one of the most strikingly beautiful creations of Mother Earth. Look at the Mt. Kailash! On glancing the snow-clad mountains, one’s mind is automatically inspired to contemplate on the mysteries of the universe. Standing at the foot of the hills, in idyllic-sylvan surroundings far away from the maddening crowd, an extraordinary kind of solace descends upon us.

Naturally, it comes as no surprise if we find the Hindus worshipping some mountains as manifestations of the Almighty. While the Hindu tradition assigns different hills as abodes of its myriad gods and goddesses – Kailash is known as the abode of  Lord Shiva, for example – the Himalayas themselves are considered as “Devadideva”: “Adi” or the earliest “Deva” (god) of all “Devas” (gods).

Hinduism divides the average human lifespan into four phases or “Chaturashrama” consisting of Brahmacharya (bachelor student), Grihastha (married life), Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. In the third phase – Vanaprastha – the scriptures suggest that people travel around the forests and mountains in preparation for Sanyasa, which involves the final ascent of the soul towards the creator.

It was in keeping with the concept of the ultimate goal of Moksha, the “Pancha Pandava” or five Pandava brothers – Yudhisthira, Arjun, Bhim, Nakul, and Sahadeva – along with their wife Draupadi, started their journey to heaven by trekking through the mighty Himalayas.

For aeons, we have reserved a special place in our hearts for our magnificent mountains. However, we have now reached a point in history, when the ecology of these stupendous structures is under threat and yet we remain unconcerned about it. Even while we are witnessing an Indic cultural resurgence, the people leading the same seem unaware of, or indifferent to, the deep connection between India’s blessed geography and the culture that flourished as a direct consequence of it. If we want to really work towards rebuilding Bharat, we must not lose sight of the natural heritage that underlies the greatness of our civilization. May the lord of Kailash grant us the wisdom and strength to follow our Dharma.

About Author: Amlan Chowdhury

Beginning his career with the Press Trust of India in 1979, Amlan Home Chowdhury served different media houses in senior journalistic positions in New Delhi and Mumbai. He served The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Free Press Journal and Afternoon Despatch and Courier. As a Feature Writer in Hindustan Times, the author wrote over 278 full-page research-based articles on Indian archaeology, art, literature, culture, and philosophy in a section styled as “Heritage”. The author holds a P.G. Diploma in Journalism from the Werner Lamberz College of Berlin in Germany. He has travelled extensively in India, Europe, Russia and Asia.

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