Mountains have always been revered and remained integral to Hindu history. The Vedic seers received apocalyptic raptures on the Himadri (as the Agni Purana calls the Himalaya) and at the confluence of rivers. The poet Bharthari in his Vairagya Shataka mentions the longing of the old people to spend the fag end of their life meditating upon God in seclusion of the Himalayas. The Rigveda says, ‘O Mother Earth! May thy hills, thy snow-clad Himalayas and thy forest lands, be pleasant to us……’.
There are several references of the Himalayas in the Vedas and the Puranas. The Vishnu Purana gives details of the Himalayas – ‘Jambudvipa is in the centre of all these and in the centre of this continent is the golden Meru, O Maitreya….The boundary mountains (of the earth) are Himavan, Hemakuta, and Nisadha, which lie south of Meru; and Nila, Shveta and Shringin, which are situated at the north of it.’ Jambudvipa is one of the continents of the cosmic ocean in Hindu history. Suryasiddhanta mentions of the mountain Meru in the land of Jamboonada to lie in ghoogola-madhya that is the middle of the earth-globe near the equator.
The Meru stands out the greatest individual mountain within the Himalayan range. The Puranas put the height of this golden Meru as eighty-four thousand yojanas; and its depth below the surface of the earth is sixteen thousand yojanas. Its diameter at the summit is thirty two thousand yojanas and at its base sixteen thousand yojanas giving the shape of a seed cup of the lotus. However, different Puranas attribute different shape to its summit. Its summit is the seat of Brahma, his vast city extending fourteen thousand leagues and around it in the cardinal points and the intermediate quarters are situated the opulent cities of Indra and the other regents of the sphere. All the three worlds and the heavenly bodies circumscribe Meru as the centre.
The lore goes that once Vindhya, the deity of the Vindhya Range in the Deccan, became jealous of Himavan, the God of the Himalayas. He instructed the sun to circumambulate around him as well, like he did around Himavan. The god Sun declined to do so. This led Vindhya to start attaining a bigger size and he started growing so as to occlude Himavan from the sun. This became a serious concern and so the gods implored Agastya Muni to dissuade Vindhya from his aggrandizement. Agastya was Vindhya’s guru. Agastya Muni thought of a plan. He told Vindhya that he had to undertake a journey to the south and again come back. And if Vindhya could bow down he could easily proceed on his journey. So he bade him to bow until he came back. Vindhya complied to do so. But his preceptor, Agastya Muni never came back leaving Vindhya bowed down forever.
According to the Puranas, Himavan later incarnated in human form when the gods desired Sati to be reborn. First he became the father of Ganga and then of Parvati. His wife was Maneka. Several other places of the Himalayas became part of our historical lore. Mount Mandara was considered mighty enough during samudramanthan, churning of the milk ocean. Mandara became the home of Durga. Mount Kailash is the abode of Shiva.
Mount Meru is not delineated only in heaven and on earth, but also in individual human beings. This exegesis of the dead and the world to come finds mention in Pretakalpa of Garuda Purana – ‘In the body as it is in reality are contained all worlds, mountains, continents and seas, the sun and the other constellations…..In the triangle (supposedly, the mythological region of the heart) rises Mount Meru, in the lower corner the Mandara, in the right-hand corner the Kailash and in the left-hand corner the Himachal; on the upper side Nisadha, on the right-hand side Gandhamadana, and in the left-hand side Ramana: these are the seven mountains of the world”. Several Hindu temples including the Angkor Wat, Cambodia have been built upon symbolic representations of this mountain. The central quincunx of towers symbolises the five peaks of the mountain. Mount Meru finds a prominent mention ata great length in Buddhist history as well.
(The writer is a freelance journalist with varied interests, reachable at [email protected])