Kailash: the sacred mountain for four religions

Mount Kailash

Mount Kailash, also referred to as Gang Rinpoche by the Tibetans and Gangdisi Shan by the Chinese, is a 21778 feet tall majestic peak located in Tibet. Though it does not rank among the tallest peaks in the Himalayas, one of Mother Nature’s finest creations, Mount Kailash holds significance for other reasons. It occupies an important position in the beliefs of four religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bönism.


According to followers of Tantric Buddhism, a sect that firmly believes in the Mahayana philosophy of Buddhism, Mount Kailash is the home of Demchok, the divine figure who is associated with the feeling of ultimate bliss. Moreover, there are many religious sites dedicated to Guru Padhmasambhava who is said to have laid the foundations for the spread of Buddhism in Tibet.

According to religious folklore, Mount Kailash was the scene of one of epic battles between proponents of two religious faiths. Before Buddhism planted its roots firmly in Tibet, Bön was the predominant religion in this region. However, Jetsun Milarepa, a famous Buddhist yogi and poet, called upon the advocate of Bon religion Naro Bön-chung for a combat. Both the warriors were equally matched and during the course of the battle it became evident that neither one of them would be able to claim a conclusive victory. Finally, it was mutually agreed that whoever reached the top of Mount Kailash first would be declared the winner. Naro Bön-chung quickly began his ascent but just when he was about to reach the summit, Jetsun Milarepa rode on the rays of the sun and pipped him to the finish. Thus, this landmark race firmly established Buddhism as a major force in this region.


Jains believe in the concept of rebirth and they also believe that the soul can attain ultimate liberation or moksha only if it frees itself from the human form that it is constrained to. According to Jain texts, Rishabadeva – the founder of Jainism – is said to have attained moksha at Ashtapada, a mountain peak adjacent to Mount Kailash.

Jain literature also refer to Mount Kailash as Meru Parvat and consider this peak to be the centre of all physical as well as spiritual cosmos.


Lord Shiva, one the three most important gods of Hindu religion, dwells in Mount Kailash. Mount Kailash is the abode of Shiva and his wife Parvati where they are said to exist in a state of constant meditation. Moreover, many Hindu texts assert that the Sun God Surya along with his planets travel around Mt.Kailash every day.

In another famous Hindu mythology, Mount Kailash was used as a churning stick around which a snake called was tied and used as a rope.  The Deva Gods manned one end of the rope while the demons called Asuras manned the other. The two groups then churned the oceans using Mount Kailash in order to discover Amrita, the elixir of life.


It is a religious sect in Tibet that is different from Buddhism though many of its rites, rituals, principles and teachings mirror that of Tibetan Buddhism. Ancient Bön belief was that mountains were a powerful medium that connected the Heaven and the Earth. The Böns even believed that the mountain ranges were bestowed with powerful cosmological associations. The mountains were considered to have life souls of their own and Mount Kailash was deemed as the soul of Zhang Zhung, a powerful ancient Bön kingdom.

Pilgrimage to Mount Kailash

Thousands of pilgrims from different religious faiths undertake a holy pilgrimage to Kailash every year. It is also interesting to note that the Hindus and Buddhists traverse around the mountains in a clockwise direction while the Böns and Jains traverse the mountain in the anti-clockwise direction.

Devout followers even believe that walking the entire distance (52 km) on foot is the most appropriate way to carry out their yatra. Some devotees embark on an even more arduous campaign. They traverse the entire distance by lying down in a prostrate position and crawling forward.  The sheer determination of the pilgrims who accomplish this task despite the rugged terrain, unforgiving weather conditions and high altitude is indeed praiseworthy. No wonder, the Kailash yatra is one of the most physically demanding pilgrimages in the world.

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