Mahadeva, Bholenath, Shiva, Shankar, Shambhu!
Many names, one God.
Lord Shiva or Bholenath (the innocent one) – as he is affectionately called – is one of the most recognized deities in the world. Undoubtedly the most famous Hindu god, Lord Shiva is a part of the holy trinity of the Hindus pantheon consisting of the three primordial gods of the universe.
A craving to find a way to attain god has been inside humans since the primordial times. However sophisticated our brain might be, it stops short at the existential questions of the universe. One attempt to answer those questions is what has shaped god into its present being; an ideal being. With around 95 percent world population believing in some kind of higher entity and following one of the many world religions, I think it won’t be an understatement to say that our lives revolve around God.
Archeological evidence suggests that temples and worship places all around the world are as old as human civilization itself. Whether it be the temple mount of Jerusalem or the Stonehenge, searching for a way to attain the ultimate truth has always been one of the fundamental priorities for us.
For Hinduism, -one of the top three world religions-, God takes many forms. Though it is erroneously noted that there are 84 million Hindu gods, Hinduism indeed has a lot of deities, gods, and divine beings. Nevertheless there always have been some names that have trumped the others. Shiva comes on top of all those names. Being the most popular and perhaps the oldest god of Hinduism, temples dedicated to Lord Shiva are as old as Hindu religion itself. Infact the origin of Shiva’s story is often dedicated to the much older Indus Valley Civilization. The seal of Pashupati, one of the oldest sources of writing in the Indian subcontinent and a religious marking dating from 3000 BCE, bears the picture of an older form of Shiva.
When it comes to the life story of Lord Shiva several prevalent theories exist, that are vastly different from each other. One thing is however common; Shiva is said to be an ascetic and a yogi. He frequented forests preferring the company of wild animals and beasts over that of human beings. Although he went on to marry Lady Parvati and had two sons and a daughter, he remained loyal to his ascetic ways and lived a better part of his life in the cold engulf of the Himalayas.
But where exactly did he live?
Shiva is said to have lived for millennia on Mount Kailash meditating with his three eyes closed and looking inwards. With time as the lore grew so did the mysteries around his abode did. Some legends say that nobody can climb Kailash and others talk of the evil that rains down on people who try to disturb the great lord at his abode.
Mount Kailash is one of the holiest sites for four religions: Hinduism, Bon, Buddhism, and Jainism. As such climbing this holiest of the holy mountains is forbidden, not only by law but also by religious decree.
However, a pertinent question arises at this point. Which Kailash are we talking about?
Confused? You should be.
There are not one, but three mountains called Kailash in and around India. It is unknown at this point which mountain exactly is the original, or if there is an original one. Perhaps all of these mountains were once home to Lord Shiva or none of them were. We won’t be getting into the debate whether you can find God in one of these mountains. What we will do is go through this list telling you where exactly you can find and reach these holy sites.
- Mount Kailash, Manimahesh (Lord of the Snow Jewel)
Location: Bharmour, Chamba District, Himachal Pradesh
Reachable by Road, 13 km trek
Starting close to home, this Mountain Kailash also known as Manimahesh is situated at a distance of 400km from Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh. Adorning the top of the Chamba valley, it is at an altitude of 5,653 meters (18,547 ft) from sea level. Snow clad for the whole year the trek to Manimahesh starts in June and continues till August. It is famous among the devoted and trekking enthusiasts alike for the mysterious mani or jewel that is visible on the mountainside at the time of sunrise. Directly in front of the holy mountain is the famous Manimahesh lake where it is said that Mata Parvati used to bathe.
- Kinnaur Kailash
Location: Kinnaur District, Himachal Pradesh
Reachable by Road, 14km trek
One of the most visited tourist places for Hindus and Buddhists all around the world, Kinnaur Kailash is the second one on our list. Known for its unique myths and legends, it is also situated in Himachal at a distance of around 250km from Shimla and 6050 meters (19850 feet) from sea level. One prominent legend about this mountain says that it mountain mysteriously changes color when sunlight falls on its snow-covered hood. There is a Shivalinga at around 4000m height for people who don’t want to go all the way to the top and still claim to have visited Kinnaur Kailash.
- Mount Kailash or Gang Rinpoche
Location: Kailash Range, Ngari Prefecture, Tibet
Reachable by Foot, 52 km circum-ambulation trek
Perhaps the most famous mountain bearing the name Kailash, Gang Rinpoche is the most difficult one to reach out of all three. Situated in the Ngari Prefecture of Tibet, this Kailash is situated at 6637m (21778 feet) right in front of Lake Mansarovar and Lake Rakshastal. Lake Mansarovar is the source of many prominent South Asian rivers like Satluj, Brahmaputra, and Indus giving this place not only religious but also practical significance. Several tales are famous about this mysterious place so much so that it has been featured in the controversial TV series Ancient Aliens. Bon religion considers it as the Axis Mundi, Hindus call it the abode of Lord Shiva, and Buddhists call it Mount Meru.
The famous stature of this mountain, however, doesn’t provide any respite to the pilgrims who come every year to pay their respects. Since climbing Kailash is strictly forbidden the common method of pilgrimage is circum-ambulating the peak which comes to a distance of 52 km. Covering this distance in some of the harshest conditions know to man and that too on foot is challenging to say the least. But people do it out of sheer devotion and love for the mountain.
While many myths, legend and wild tales surround all of these mountains, a humble writer from India like me knows only one thing. Places such as these that mean a lot to billions of people around the world should always be revered and preserved. If not for the religious beliefs or the stories around them, then for the resolute belief and feelings of the people who travel every year to get one glimpse and fill their heart with love and devotion for the almighty one.
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