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Kailash Mansarovar: Mountain trek or religious pilgrimage

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By Akash Shukla

 The idea of a trek has a sense of achievement but the idea of a pilgrimage is to subdue self.

Dominating with a 21778 ft high presence, the herculean but majestic Mount Kailash is any day more than just a mountain. It’s a legend. It’s a revelation. It’s an epiphany.

It’s not a sojourn but a journey that occurs both within and outside. Amazingly situated in the Himalayan range of the remote South Western corner of Tibet, Kailash is not only one of the highest spots of the world but a very significant seat of spirituality in the world.

It’s a source of four mighty rivers of Asia— Sutlej, Ganga, Indus and Brahmaputra. From different religions across the world, millions of people revere this seat of spirituality.

Kailash important for Hindus, Jains & Budddists

Hinduism: According to the Hindu faith, lord Shiva, the destroyer of illusion and ignorance, rests at the summit of a legendary mountain named Kailash. Here, he sits in a state of perennial meditation along with his wife Parvati. He is not just the ultimate ascetic but also the divine master of Tantra.

In accordance with the Hindu belief, the lake was first created in the mind of the Lord Brahma. Hence, in Sanskrit it is called Manasarovar. It is a combination of words, namely, ‘Manas’ (mind) and ‘Sarovar’ (lake).

One description in Vishnu Purana about the mountain states that its four faces are made of crystal, ruby, gold, and lapis lazuli.

It is a pillar of the world and is located at the heart of six mountain ranges symbolizing a lotus.

Jainism: In Jainism, Kailash is relished as Meru Parvat or Sumeru. Ashtapada, the mountain next to Mt Kailash, is the site where the first Jain Tirthankara, Rishabhadeva, attained nirvana.

Buddhism: Tantric Buddhists believe that Mount Kailash is dwelling of Buddha Demchok (also known as Chakrasamvara). He represents supreme bliss.

Above everything, the journey to Kailash Mansarovar is a life-changing experience for countless pilgrims who undertake it every year; it teaches them a sense of self like nothing else can.

A sojourner who chooses to be at this roof of the world might feel that the journey is arduous but on the way, it becomes a rewarding one.

Tears in heaven

After the political and border disturbances across the Chinese-Indian boundary, pilgrimage to the legendary abode of Lord Shiva was stopped in 1954 till 1978. Since then, only a limited number of Indian pilgrims are granted permission. Under the eyes of Chinese and Indian governments, either by a lengthy trek over the Himalayan terrain or journey from Lhasa where flights from Kathmandu are available to Lhasa, the journey takes four night stops.

Despite minimal infrastructure, modest guest houses are available for foreign pilgrims while Tibetan pilgrims generally sleep in their own tents.

Kailash: A beginning with no end

Every single traveler of this incredible journey undergoes a humbling and enlightening transformation, which cannot be described, but can only be felt in first person presence…

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Buddhist Monk Losang Samten Uses Colors to Spread Message of Peace

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

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Samten
Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten uses colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism. VOA

According to one estimate, there are a 5 quintillion, 5 hundred quadrillion grains of sand on earth, a number so large it must be approaching infinity. This makes sand an appropriate medium for the construction of spiritual images of the universe.

Former Buddhist monk and Tibetan scholar Losang Samten does just that, using colored sand to build mandalas, circular images filled with complex iconography, which have great meaning in Hinduism and Buddhism.

Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Tibetan monks have created mandalas over the centuries from a variety of materials. Before sand, they used crushed colored stone. VOA

Decades of mandalas

Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama.

“When I was a teenager, age of 17,” he told VOA, “I had a privilege to enter His Holiness Dalai Lama’s monastery … in India. I have been studying sand mandalas ever since then. So it’s a long time.”

VOA found Samten painstakingly layering grains of colored sand at the gallery of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The particular mandala he was working on was the mandala of compassion, or unconditional love.

Far from random designs, mandalas have been perfected over centuries.

“These are uniquely designed many, many, many, many, many years passing to an artist to another artist to another artist to another artist,” Samten said. “The color has a meaning, the shape has different meanings. Not my design; it didn’t come out of my own idea.”

When Samten created a sand mandala at the American Museum of History in New York in 1988 at the request of the Dalai Lama, it was the first time the 2,600-years-old ancient ritual art was seen outside of monasteries. Since then, Samten has made sand mandalas in museums, galleries and universities across the U.S. and many parts of the world.

“They are used to enhance the spiritual practice through image and meditation, to overcome suffering. Mandalas represent enlightened qualities and methods which explain this path, making them very important for the spiritual journey,” Samten wrote on his web site.

Nothing is permanent

Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. They lived in a refugee camp for years.

Now Samten travels around the world to find sand in various colors. He also dyes sand in watercolors.
Samten, in his mid-60s, learned the craft at the feet of the Dalai Lama. VOA

“In the winter of 1959, [we] crossed Mount Everest, it took us two months to cross,” he told VOA. “You cannot travel during the day and so scared and not enough food not enough clothes. I was age of 5. I saw, I mean unbelievable dead bodies, people dying without food. I became a monk at age 11 when I was in school, refugee school.”

Samten left monastic life in 1995 and became the spiritual director at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia. He says the patience of the creative process, can lead observers to find calm determination within themselves.

“When I am doing this mandala at universities and schools, many kids came to me, (saying) ‘when I saw you doing the sand mandala, that help me so much to finish my education, patience …’ I have a lot of stories,” he said.

Monk Samten
Samten was born in Tibet. When he was a young boy, his family escaped to Nepal fleeing Chinese Communist control of his homeland. VOA

Beauty comes and goes

After a sand mandala is completed, it is dismantled ceremoniously.

“Dismantle has many different reasons,” Samten said. “… One thing is, dismantle is a beauty, whatever we see as a beauty on the earth, never be everlasting as a beauty and impermanent, impermanent, comes and goes. It’s like a season.”

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Or like sand, ever changing in the wind.

Samten often invites children to participate in the ceremony.

To gallery visitor Traci Chiodress that was part of the charm of the event.

“I think it’s powerful to see something so beautiful created, and then taken apart, and to be done in a community with a group of people of different ages,” she said. “I just think it’s an important type of practice.” (VOA)