Kailash : Jewel of the Snows

I wonder if I shall ever visit Kailas and Manasarovar.But I can at least read about them and look at pictures of them and thus to some extent soothe the longing which has possessed me for so long.

--Jawaharlal Nehru in his Foreword to Swami Pranavananda’s Kailas-Mansarovar, Calcutta, 1949.

This is a delightful account of a ‘sacred journey’ to Manasarovar-Kailash made in 1985 but published only this month. I wonder why the author held on to the manuscript for so long, or could it be that he found the required leisure to write the book only now, thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown. He must have had fairly exhaustive notes by his side from that time to describe the events of so long ago so vividly.

Rajinder went on the long and arduous trek to Kailash with a motley group of fifteen others, two of them women, from different parts of the country. Most of his companions were, like him, young and the yatra for them was sort of a rite of passage, adventure and pilgrimage all packaged into one.

They saw their endeavour as holy but young as they were that did not deter some of them from indulging in some youthful peccadilloes like taking a few drags of weed on way or getting rat-arsed on potent Tibetan liquor one night after the yatra.

Manasarovar and Kailash are both highly sacred to followers of all Indic faiths but a yatra to these is not a sin qua non for the Hindus as the Char Dham yatra or the Kumbh Fair are, probably, because the high altitude trek is so hazardous for the aged and the infirm.

Those looking for basic information on Kailas will find it in the last chapter of Rajinder’s book. Others wishing to dig deeper may consult Swami Pranavananda’s encyclopedic work Manasarovar-Kailash published in 1949.

Rajinder had carried a copy of it with him on his Kailas yatra for guidance and learning the many secrets of the region that one cannot discover on one’s own. His book shows that he has made good use of the Swami’s work.

I wonder if I shall ever visit Kailas and Manasarovar. Swami Pranavananda’s remarkable 242-page book with eight appendices, 142 illustrations, 10 folded maps and 20 other inset maps and sketches has never been republished since it went out of print 70 years ago. Rajinder tells me that the book is available on the net but I have not checked. I would, however, still recommend the book for reprinting to publishers in this line.

Rajinder has a keen eye for detail and a feeling for nature. His description of the natural scenery of the high Himalayas and of the play of light and dark on snow-clad mountaintops is charming, and he is also capable of invoking quite some thrill when narrating the misadventures that fell the group’s way in the Chinese part of the journey.

On a long walk like this, one cannot avoid ruminating about first causes. The high mountain air and scenery induces Rajinder too to reflect on life, nature, beauty and god, even if briefly and in fragments. Like many of his generation that grew up to adolescence during the 1960s and ‘70s he hangs between religion and non-religion. He does not seem to be religious in the mundane sense but he has a feeling for religion.

He tries to define religion for himself and comes to the conclusion that his religion must lie in the beauty and grandeur of nature. He ruminates rather intensely on nature in two short pages in a chapter to which he has given the heading “Ecology as religion.” The chapter reads as if he had lifted it straight from the 19th century American transcendentalist Thoreau who revered nature.

Reading Rajinder’s book I was often reminded of Thoreau’s Walden and his essay on walking. “To me, if there is anything worthy of worship, it is nature,” says he, like Thoreau. But, no, let us stay nearer home. Doesn’t our own Rigveda ask us to live in accordance with nature’s laws--ऋतस्य प्रेत? And, as for beauty, isn’t it an attribute of dharma itself? All Hindu gods and goddesses are imagined to be beautiful in body and mind—Shiva is described as ‘मनोभूतकोटिप्रभाश्रीशरीरम्’ and Sri Rajrajeshwari is spoken of in offerings with as ‘श्री त्रिपुरसुन्दर्यै नमः’, ‘सुन्दरीम् त्रिनयनाम्.’ Nature, beauty and the god intermingle in Hinduism, as they do in Rajinder’s book.

Rajinder interrupt to ask how come these pious sentiments have failed to induce us to treat nature with responsibility, let alone with love and respect. Instead, man has unhesitatingly exploited nature. So much so, that degradation of mountain sides, soil, forests, rivers, lakes and ponds through the last some centuries has now reached a level where polluted air, poisoned waters and changing climate are imperiling entire mankind. After such lamentation, he sends out a cry: “Let us adopt ecology as our religion.”

Once he has arrived at his nature religion, he starts looking for a patron god to embody his idea. And who else can better fit the bill than Shiva to whose abode in Kailas he is on way. “Shiva because is a Naturalist,” he says, perhaps, meaning that Shiva lives in total harmony with nature.

“Every bit of nature manifests in Shiva’s being,” says he, “He carries the River Ganga in his matted locks; holds fire in the left palm; his necklace is snake; rides a bull, wears a tiger skin; adorns a crescent moon as a chip on his tresses; is barefoot, applies ash (bhasma) on his body, drinks bhang and smokes weed.” It is as simple as that.

He does not, however, stop there. He goes on for another full page singing praises of Shiva. He is in communion with his Lord now after having imbibed a few drags of fresh Kumauni weed. That is not strange, for have not people in all lands sought and imbibed some such exciter or elixir before meditating on their gods?

Some took wine, some somaras, others psychedelic mushroom juice, and yet others peyote. The favourite of our sadhus have been bhang, ganja and charas for as long as one can remember. Shiva himself has been portrayed as a votary of the weed. Rajinder’s own initiation into the Shiva camp started with that in his college days.

If he and other Shiva devotees miss it these days they must curse Indira Gandhi because it was she who scrapped their right to smoke weed in 1971-72 under the US pressure. But that is another story for some other day.

One last word about Rajinder’s book. Though nicely designed and well produced, it is carelessly edited which is a common fault with most books these days. What a regret that the neglect begins showing in the very blurb itself—‘burnt’ for ‘brunt’, for instance. Frankly, every sentence of the blurb has been handled crassly. I do not have time to list the proofreading errors inside. Publishers must hire editors and proofreaders for that.

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