Mount Kailas/Lake Manasarovar

Mount Kailas/Lake Manasarovar (Tibet)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The spectacular Mount Kailas in Tibet and the equally beautiful Lake Manasarovar, which lies atits base, are sacred to both the Buddhists and followers of the Bon religion in Tibet, as well as the Hindus in India. The waters that flow from the glaciers on Mount Kailas feed the lake (the highest freshwater lake of any size in the world) and four rivers: the Indus, Brahmaputra, Sutlej, and, most importantly, the Ganges.

Tibetan Buddhists identify Mount Kailas with Mount Meru, the mythological center of the universe and symbolic of the single-pointedness of mind sought by practitioners. It embodies the principle of fatherhood. Bathing in Lake Manasarovar is said to assist one’s entrance into paradise, and drinking the water can lead to healing. Pilgrims walk around the lake, occasionally stopping to bathe in its waters and quench their thirst. The lake embodies the mother principle. The completed trek around the lake, which takes three days or more, leads to instant Buddhahood.

Among the important mythological events to occur at the mountain and lake was the encounter of Buddhist pioneer Milarepa and a representative of the traditional Tibetan Bon religion. They held a competition demonstrating their spiritual powers. At one crucial point, the Bon leader flew to the top of the mountain on his drum. When he arrived, Milarepa was waiting for him. As pilgrims make their journey around the mountain, they pass by a set of what are believed to be Milarepa’s footprints and a shrine that houses a silver-covered conch shell that belonged to him.

Over the centuries, the Buddhists built thirteen monasteries near the mountain and lake and along the path the pilgrims travel to them. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the monasteries fell victim to the Red Guards. Their artworks were taken and their building destroyed. Pilgrimages began again in 1981, and subsequently most of the monasteries have been rebuilt, though resident to only a token number of monks. They now serve the pilgrims and mark the progress of their trek around the mountain. Among the best descriptions of the region come from the accounts of modern pilgrims.

Many Hindus consider the mountain the axis of the world, and its sacredness interacts with the sacred quality of the rivers that have it as their source. Among the many stories told of the mountain is that it was the site of the god Shiva meeting one of his consorts, Meenakshi. Meenakshi was a king’s daughter born with three breasts. It was said that she would lose one of them when she met her future husband. When she met Shiva, the third breast disappeared. Their wedding took place at Madurai, Tamil Nada, now the sight of a temple built in 1560 in Meenakshi’s honor. Each evening the temple is closed, and the main statue of Shiva is taken from its daytime spot to a room designated as Meenakshi’s bedroom as music is played. It is returned at six o’clock the next morning. Three festivals annually mark the lovers’ life together.

Jains believe that Rishaba, the first of their tirthankaras (teachers), received enlightenment at Mount Kailas.


Johnson, Russell, and Kerry Moran. The Sacred Mountain of Tibet: On Pilgrimage to Kailas. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1989.
Pranavananda, Swami. Kailas-Manasarovar. Calcutta: S. P. League, 1949.
Thurman, Robert A. F. Circling the Sacred Mountain: A Spiritual Adventure through the Himalayas. New York: Bantam, 1999.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.