The miracle at Manimahesh peak, Chamba

In Rabbinical literature from the scene of the Law-giving, there are different names that have been attributed to the Mountain of Horeb, the sacred peak under whose shadow Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Etymologically speaking, the name Horeb is thought to mean Glowing Heat which could reference the Sun. The alternative name given to this peak is Sinai, a name derived from Sin, alias the Moon God who is a Sumerian deity. Among other names, are the Mountain of Elohim and Mountain of Yhwh, but the peak finally settled with the name of the Mountain of Horeb while the land around it is called Sinai, and in Hebrew literature, this is referenced as a desert. 

Let’s go back to the moment, when the Lord appeared in front of Moses in the form of a burning bush and gave him the Ten Commandments of good living. Moses saw this bright fire while he was tending his sheep. Working back on what this vision would have been, Moses would have seen an extremely bright light on the peak of the Mountain of Horeb, a blinding light that glowed on him as the sacred rules came forth. What a miraculous moment in time it was, experienced by Moses and recorded for posterity. Further in this story as referenced in the bible, the Israelites came to camp at Rephidim after the Exodus from Egypt. Moses watched his people suffer from thirst and by the Grace of God and His command, he smote water from a rock on Horeb, and there is believed to be this rising oasis of water in this bleak region that surrounds the Sacred Mountain. 


Lost in deep mountains of the Himalayas, in the steep undulating landscape of Himachal Pradesh near the village of Bharmour, Chamba district is a mountain of equally great value. Proclaimed to be a replica of the great mountain of Kailash, this peak rises up into the landscape delivering a majestic view of itself. Gigantic in form that almost reduces us to mere ants in its monumental presence, this peak rises up into the sky draped in the white robes of the glacier that covers it. And right there, at its foot is the Shiv Kund, the natural lake that mimics the Mansarovar at the foot of Kailash Parvat.

The vision of this peak and the landscape around it as well as the value of sacred lore that covers it make this experience a lot more worth while. Apart from the treacherous trek of 13 kms up-slope following narrow paths along these steep slopes, the view of this Mountain is what we received when we finally reach the foot of Manimahesh Mountain, and this is a divine treat for all the hard work.   
The Lord's grace works in strange ways. While Moses had the opportunity to see the Grace of the Lord in what is referenced as a burning bush of fire, this piece of paradise in Chamba promises similar grandeur. The serenity of this location, in poetic terms is known to showcase the many aspects of Lord Shiva. In the backdrop of the blue sky, dotted with clouds that seem like celestial beings floating and gracefully dancing around, this peak mirrors itself in the reflection visible in the sacred Kund that stand directly below it. What a presence it has and what a view it is for us to imbibe.

They say that when the sky is clear, on a starry night, the moonlight falls on the white glacier of this peak and the reflection of it in the Shiv Kund below appears like the very Lord Shiva is seated here, draped in light with the same crescent moon on his forehead, glowing as it were on the peak of Manimahesh mountain. The moon, as it adorns this peak, appears like a sparkling jewel, alias Mani, which glows in the night sky giving this mountain its name - Manimahesh.

But what happens the next morning is an even more breath taking view. Strange at it is, the direction for the view and the location of the mountain with the Shiv Kund at is feet, is a magical placement to bring us one of the most divine spectacles of life. People flock to Manimahesh to catch a glimpse of this miracle, which in my mind equals that of what Moses saw on the sacred mountain of Horeb.

During the months of August and September, people scale these great slopes of the Himalayan foothills to reach this mountain and be granted this view. The idea is to wake up early and catch the first glimpses of the sun as it rises. And then the divine world strikes its chord. In the early hours of the morning, as the sky begins to slowly brighten up, this great mountain stands in front, as a silhouette to the phenomenon that is about to unfold. The day brightens slowly, and as we face east to view this great wall of earth, the first glimpse of the Sun God we receive is from the pinnacle of this mountain. As time passes by, and the light glows into the horizon, the sun rises up in dazzling light, like a blazing diamond glowing in its supreme self at the peak of Manimahesh, blinding us and blessing us with this experience. At this moment, the Mani on Lord Shiva's head shines out far more in brilliance like a thousand suns glowing in the morning sky presenting us this absolutely spectacular view. 

This divine experience, this breathtaking view is one such example that showcases the miracles of the supreme in its own strange way, making us relive the presence of Lord Shiva during our earthly existence. This is reality in our terms and this divine experience is not hard to come by, it just needs to be discovered!

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The Rebel Saints of Shaivism

History has showcased many types of Bhaktas who have searched for Lord Shiva through their lives. They have taken to different schools of thought and within Shaivism itself we see these variants. While the Pasupatas live in silence and mysterious solitude, the aghoris lead a esoteric lifestyle too far to fathom. 

And then there are the popular saints who have defined Shaivism for the ordered society. While Kannappa Nayanar and Karraikkal Ammaiyar found place in the list of 63 Nayanars, Adi Shankaracharya rephrased the laws of divine worship to the society we know today and this tradition has come down to us as accepted, agreeable and conformist to today's social principles. There are the other great poets and mystic writers like Sundarar, Thirugnanasambandar, Thirumular and Manikkavachakar who turned their love for Lord Shiva into divine rhythmic poetry and defined the Shaiva Siddhantas and continued to propagate worship as we know it.

Few have lived in our times, rekindling the laws of spiritualism during their lives. While Paramacharya Sri Chandrasekhar Swamigal brought back the joys of good living, humility and renunciation to the throne of the Shankara at Kanchi Mutt, Ramana Maharishi keeps the fire growing at Thiruvannamalai. And so Shaivism was defined, while Lord Shiva himself defines the truth of the self without the presence or the need of ordered society, we, who are within this system have tried to tame the wild side of Shaivism into the claws of social acceptance.

Little do we know that there was a movement of Shaivism that rocked the social landscape around the 11th century A.D. and this firey sect came to life as the Virashaivas more commonly known as the Lingayats. Few have been taught the path of spiritualism re-described by this sect for these great Kannada poets of the Virashaiva sect preached Shaivism without social rules or discrimination towards the weaker sex. Unlike the Brahmana order where women do not hold equal seat as men, in the Virashaiva order, Lord Shiva is accessible to all. Gender didn’t matter and society was always scorned for its hypocritical ways.

The Vachanas of Basavanna, Mahadeviakka and Allama Prabhu have resounded through the ages, bringing rebellion into conformist lifestyle. I am a rebel, and as I understand the suffering of these great saints in a small way, and I have come to love them for their thirst for the real truth. I remain speechless as I realize how much they have lived their lives fighting society and its many rules and finally have found freedom in the power of Shiva Bhakti.

Lord Shiva played with their minds, he was the unattainable supreme power to some and the elicit lover to some others. They lived their lives in the perennial game of hide and seek, looking for the Lord everywhere within and beyond. They defied the rules of ordered living, scorned at society for its misguided rules and even reduced the achievements of great tantriks and siddhas to ash.

This sect of great gurus, these super saints in their own right, describe spiritualism to be a lonely road beyond the powers of occult worship and warn of self destructive egoism with every candy bar of siddhis achieved. They awaken us to the fact that yoga gets us a superior body, alchemy achieves superior metal, knowledge and vedas give us superior control over a beautiful string of words, tantra achieves superior physical love but the spirit of Shiva Bhakta is scarcely available in any of these methods.

Quoting from "Speaking of Siva" translated by A.K.Ramanujan [Page 147]

The Vachana of Allama Prabhu goes as follows...

With your alchemies,
you achieve metals,
but no essence.

With all your manifold yogas,
you achieve
a body, but no spirit.

With your speeches and arguments
you build chains of words
but cannot define the spirit.

If you say
you and I are one,
you were me
but I was not you.

Drastic though this school of thought may sound to the ordered social environment we live in, I would believe this is meant for superior souls who have already been blessed with spiritual insight. For the lesser mortals like me who still struggle with the basics of spiritualism, siddhis and perfect yoga seem miles away in my list of spiritual achievements. Where does one like me go in search of the Lord in this vast spiritual landscape where every powerful thought I conquered only raises another question on my beliefs formed so far? 

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Talking to God in the Mother Tongue
A.K. Ramanujan


Analogy of the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life was first planted by Asoka as the backbone on which his edicts were inscribed, a code of conduct that engraved the principles of dharma presented for evolved living to the common man. Back then, the earth was dug open ceremoniously with great honor and respect, and a pot with pure water was laid inside it signifying the cosmic ocean over which this great stone edict was hoisted. With this started a new beginning, faith was reborn and the principles of good living were declared to the masses.

This was how Asoka had envisioned it, during the birth of the Buddhist era. The pot signifies the constant presence of the cosmic ocean, undying and enriching, sustaining all of life that flourishes across this land. This principle never died and through these ages, it took shape in different ways across regions. Hinduism adopted the essence of this principle, and extended the philosophy of water cosmology not just into its temples and art forms but into is life style and ritual as well.

Temples boasted this principle along their walls. The Bhiti [walls] was an elaborate canvas that displayed great Gods in their iconic representations seated or standing within their niches. The tree of life has been depicted as an elaborate decorative pot oozing with the cosmic waters supporting all of life, life that was blessed by the divine parent Lord Shiva and Parvati. These pillared examples, depicted deities as well as architectural structures that rose out of this pot of cosmic water.

Ritual brings out this very same principle by representing all of divinity in the sacred waters of the pot that is the main deity, pulsating with life during the course of the ritual. The Kalasha, brimming with sacred water, capped by mango leaves, signifying the king of all trees, holds a coconut in the center which in reality holds water within itself, signifying the larger principle of the tree of life rising out of its natural cosmic waters. 

These various representations of the tree of life, celebrate the miracle of life in Hindu mythology as the birth of Brahma in the center of tender lotus petals that bloom out of the navel of Lord Vishnu who floats in the cosmic ocean. This deep rooted law of life, curiously depicted by Lord Vishnu and Brahma is a representation of life as we see it in reality within the womb of the mother. The womb is the shell within which lies the cosmic waters, self generated miraculously by Shakti to house the unborn, the pulsating tree of life that is floats in this ocean, sustained by the lotus stem of the umbilical chord.

And then... the pot breaks, transitioning life from one realm into the next. The waters of the sacred Kalasha are sprinkled all over the house and its respective family members, as it soaks them in its divine blessings and transitions them to evolved living symbolically. In reality, the mother delivers her new born into this world transitioning it towards the next realm amidst much pain.

But all pots breaking may not result in happy endings, though they depict transition from one realm to a different realm. This is another journey to be done, another transition to be crossed. When life has come its full way, and all the waters of life drain out of the physical body, what remains behind is the corpse that awaits it final journey. Be it burial or be it cremation, the dead lie facing north/south and the final rites are performed.

Three rounds of circum-ambulation depict the transition of consciousness from one state to the next. With each round, a hole is punched into an unburnt earthen pot that releases this precious cosmic water that flows out gently around the dead, signifying the cosmic ocean at the center of which they lie asleep, awaiting to be woken up into the next realm. With the third hole punched, all of the cosmic waters are released, signifying the opening of the third eye of the dead for an enlightening journey ahead to the next world. With this life in our reality moves on and the pot now empty is broken to transition the soul to the next realm.

This journey doesn’t end here, for it is blessed with the glorious representation of the inner truth of the immortality of life, celebrating the journey of the soul in the presence of the trinity at this hour. A simple earthen clay pot carries much significance in the ritual representation of this transition of the soul, be it in the echoes of the sacred Asoka edicts or be it the loud cries of a mother in labor, life is born again.

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Photo courtesy: Kerala Murals