September 14, 2001
People of all times from
around the world have stood in awe when faced with majestic mountains.
From these sublime experiences have come myths about great mountains as
homes of the gods, as stairways to the heavens, as pillars of the earth.
One mountain range in particular inspired this kind of awe, wonder and
devotion - the vast Himalayas.
The Tibetans and the Hindus especially held the great Himalayan mountain
range as sacred. Its grand peaks seemed to reach beyond the profane
human realm and stretch up, touching the divine realm of the gods, so
the Tibetans and Hindus saw the mountains as a means of transition
between both the human and heavenly worlds.
The mountains were created,
myth tells us, by the god Indra. A huge herd of flying elephants had
displeased him, so he punished them by cutting off their wings and they
turned into the Himalayas. The mountains were important to all of the
gods for they all made sacrifices there. They were especially
significant to the god Shiva, however, whose paradise was on Mount
Kailas and whose deep meditation upon the mountain ensured the continued
existence of all things. The most sacred mountain of the whole Himalayan
range though was most definitely Mount Meru.
As we have discussed, Mount Kailas is the home of the great god Shiva.
Well, Mount Kailas is an actual Himalayan mountain in the Ngari region
of Tibet. It rises 22,000 feet high from the edge of the Tibetan Plateau
and is highly inaccessible. It is Mount Kailas then that is the physical
embodiment of Mount Meru for the Buddhist and Hindu peoples.
Mythical Mount Meru was thought to be the axis of the universe,
sitting at the centre of the Himalayas. Myths say that Meru rested on
the hood of the coiled primeval cobra Vasuki, who, it was said, caused
earthquakes when he yawned. It was also believed that the whole world
would be devoured by this ancient snake at the end of the present age,
The Hindus and Buddhists both regarded Mount Meru as sacred for it was
thought to be the centre of the cosmos and supported all of the spheres
of existence, from Brahma's divine city of gold at its peak, to the
seven netherworlds at its base, and especially as the source of the
sacred Ganges river. They said that Mount Meru's slopes were studded
with glittering gemstones and were thick with trees heavy with delicious
fruit. Its peaks were rimmed with gold and a huge lake encircled it. The
divinity of this mountain is reflected in the religious objects of
worship, yantras, of these peoples for the mountain is symbolized in
their conical shape.
Indeed, this majestic mountain inspired much awe in those who beheld it.
How could they not think it supported the cosmos and was home to a great
god? It commanded respect in its sublime beauty and the peoples of the
region responded by holding it most sacred.