Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore
I was returning from a spiritually invigorating visit to Tirunaaraayana puram (Melkote). Both at Melkote and en route to Coimbatore, some of the most panoramic views are available for those who admire Mother Nature. From some spots, you can see mountains, scores of them, undulating and stretching in the distance as far as the eye can see. From a vantage point, I spent some time contemplating the distant hills. They looked majestic, magnificent and mighty, making me feel small, insignificant and inconsequential. They appeared indomitable, inspiring and doughty, inviting you to emulate them if you could. And it was a pleasure just to watch them, their slopes clothed in lush greenery, their nooks and crannies providing home and hearth to myriad birds, bees and animals, their crests rising tall into the skies with an upward tilt, as if in silent communion with their Maker. Home to tall trees, verdant grassy knolls, thick bushes, bubbling streams and roaring waterfalls, these mountains teemed with life, while giving the overall impression (to the distant observer) of absolute inactivity. Strong and silent, stoic and severe, they had been there for ages, watching hordes of human beings pass by, laughing inwardly at the fickleness of their lives and fortunes.
With the bus conductor calling all passengers back, I pried myself away with reluctance from the enchanting scene and boarded the bus. However, the hills refused to leave my sight and thoughts, and as usual, I took off on the hobby horse, looking for references in the Scripture to these stationary sentinels. To my surprise, my usually sluggish brain poured out references rapidly and in minutes, I found myself with a plethora of quotes awaiting to be assembled into an article.
A quick perusal of the textual references threw up an extremely close connection between the Paramatma and mountains. A startling find was that Sriman Narayana appeared to be extremely enamoured of mountains. On analysis, I found that at more than 10% of the Divya Desams sanctified by Azhwars’ adulations, the Lord had made His abode on hills. The first and foremost on the list to come to my mind was of course Tiruvenkatam, where Emperuman sports the tirunaamam ‘Ezhumalayaan’ or the Lord of Seven hills. And in quick succession, I thought of Ahobilam or Singavel Kundram, Tiruukkadigai or Cholasimhapuram, Hastigiri at Kanchi, Tiruneermalai, Tirukkurumkudi (Malai mel Nambi), Tiruvattaar, Tirumaalirumsolai malai, Saalagraamam, Badarikaashramam, Tiruppiridi and Kandam ennum Kadinagar (on the banks of the Ganga). And there appeared to be any number of other shrines too, big and small, famous and not so renowned, where the Lord preferred to live on hills and mountains-to mention but a few, Simhaadri, Mangalagiri, Paatalaadri (Singapperumal Koil), Yadugiri (Melukote), Biligiri Rangana Betta, Tirumalai Vaiyyavoor-the list stretched on. It appeared as though, recognizing the Lord’s liking for the hills, Kings and lesser men had constructed temples for Him atop almost all hills-so much so that whenever you think of a mountain, it is Emperuman who comes to your mind automatically. This is borne out by Sri Nammazhwar’s pasuram, ‘Nindra kundrattinai nokki Nedumaalae! Vaa endru koovum’-any towering hill involuntarily prompts thoughts of the Lord.
When we think of all this, a question naturally pops up in our minds–Why should this be so? Why should Emperuman not confine Himself to plains and why should He prefer lofty places and high altitudes? We find the answer in the Shruti-to be more specific, in the Jayaadi Mantraas, which tell us that Emperuman is the Overlord of all mountains-‘Vishnu: parvataanaam adhipati:’. Is He not the Lord and Master of everything and not merely mountains, we wonder? Yes, He is indeed the indisputable master of the entire universe, consisting of sentient beings and non-sentient objects. However, among the latter, He is specifically designated as the Lord of the hills-‘Parvataanaam adhipati:’
We have so far seen Emperuman’s predilection for hill resorts in the Arcchaavataaram. If we consider the matter further, we find that even during His Vibhava avataraas, the Lord has had a close association with mountains. During the strenuous search beneath the waters for Nectar, He took the form of a giant turtle (Koormaavataaram) and bore the great Mantara Parvatam on His back, to provide it a steady and stable platform during the churning exercise. We are told by Swami Desikan that the back and forth movement of the mighty mountain on His back provided a pleasant scratching sensation for the Lord. And the Bhagavata Purana tells us that while lifting the mammoth mountain from its place, the Lord did so almost playfully (‘leelayaa’) and put it on Garuda’s back, to be transported to the Milky Ocean as the churning rod.
However, it is during the Ramavatara that Emperuman places on record His deep love for mountains. In fact, He waxes so eloquent in the description of Chitrakoota Parvatam, that one wonders whether He was a bow-wielding warrior Prince or a poet par excellence. Sri Valmiki devotes an entire Sargam to an enchanting account of Chitrakootam, quoting Sri Rama’s lengthy account of the lofty mountain. Sri Raghava declares to Sri Mythily that the mere sight of Chitrakootam gladdens His heart so much as to make Him forget major personal tragedies like the loss of crown at Ayodhya and the parting with near and dear-
‘Na raajyaat bhramsanam Bhadre! Na suhridbhi: vinaabhava:
Mano me baadhate drishtvaa ramaneeyam imam girim’
He goes on to tell Sita that they could comfortably spend the rest of their jungle sojourn at Chitrakootam. Sri Raghava is so captivated by Chitrakoota’s environs that He admits frankly to be enchanted beyond measure-‘vichitra shikhare hyasmin ratavaan asmi Bhaamni’. And when it is time to leave the place, He performs pradakshinam of Chitrakootam, as a tribute to its sanctity. It is in commemoration of this event that till date, visitors to Chitrakootam perform circumambulation of the mountain, deeming it a privilege and honour to tread on ground sanctified by the footsteps of Sri Raghunandana. It is worthy of note that others too share Sri Rama’s enchantment with Chitrakootam, equating it with the King of Mountains-‘Subhaga: Chitrakootosou Giriraajopama giri:’. It is noteworthy that Chitrakootam finds appreciative mention in Sri Mahabharatam too.
If you wish to perform kainkaryam to the Lord, you must choose an Emperuman with a hilly abode. This is not an audacious prescription from humble me, but the wish of Sri Lakshmana, who declares his intention to perform unending and comprehensive service to Sri Rama, while the latter and Sri Janaki amuse themselves in mountainous caves and slopes-
‘Bhavaanstu saha Vaidehya giri saanushu ramsyate
Aham sarvam karishyaami jaagrata: svapastascha te’.
(It is noteworthy that Sri Nammazhwar too, while wishing to perform ceaseless kainkaryam, chooses Tiruvenkatamudayaan as the object of the same-
‘ozhivil kaalam ellaam udanaai manni vazhuvilaa adimai seyya vendum naam
Tezhi kural aruvi Tiruvenkatattu ezhil kol sodi endai tandai tandaikke’)
After Her abduction by Ravana, hills and mountains play quite a considerable role in aiding Emperuman in His search for Sita. While being dragged in the skies by the terrible raakshasa, Vaidehi appeals to Maalyavaan and Prasravana, both mighty mountains, to tell Rama that Ravana had abducted Her. While dispatching search parties in the four directions for locating Sri Mythily, Sri Sugriva gives an account of various strange mountains the Vanara veeras would encounter on their way-some golden, some silvery, some a startling white, some insurmountable, some inapproachable, some with their crests nestling in the clouds and so on. Sugriva appears to have been widely-traveled, from the way he reels off the names of mountains and their characteristics, in all the four directions of the world. Here are some of the names of exalted Parvatas mentioned by Sugriva-Hemagiri, Sudarsanam, Krouncham, Mainaakam, Somagiri, Vindhya, Sishira, Udaya Paravatam, Jaataroopa shila, Soumanasam, Maha Meru, Kaanchanam, Ayomukham, Malaya Parvatam, Rishabham, Pushpitakam, Shwetam, Sooryavaan and so on.
Sugriva doesn’t merely list the mountains to be encountered, but throws in several interesting bits of information about each of them. For instance, most of us may not know where exactly Emperuman put His first footstep, while measuring the Bhoolokam during Trivikrama avataaram. We learn from Sugriva that it is the mountain named Soumanasam which was fortunate to receive the Lord’s stretched tiruvadi, marking the first step with which the entire world was measured. The second step of the Lord was put atop the Maha Meru Parvatam, we are told. And did you know which is the home of the thousand-headed Adisesha? It is Jaataroopa Shila, which also marks the eastern frontier of the world and sports a Palm tree at its crest, forming the flagstaff of Ananta. The exact spot at which the Lord destroyed the asuras Panchajana and Hayagriva and captured the Divine Conch and Discus, is the mountain known as Chakravaan, on which the divine architect Visvakarma has established a cosmic wheel with a thousand radii, known as Sahasraaram. We get to know too that the Malaya Parvatam is the abode of Sage Agastya, that it was he who pushed the great, golden Mahendra Parvatam under the ocean. At the confluence of river Sindhu and the sea is located Hemagiri Mountain, with a hundred peaks, in whose caves live flying lions. The Meru, called Maha Meru due to its greatness and spiritual significance, comes in for specific and elaborate mention-the Sun is supposed to perform pradakshinam of this great mountain, at sunrise and sunset. When Emperuman tells us that He is Meru among mountains (in Bhagavat Gita) we can readily appreciate its greatness. These and a hundred other pieces of information about hills and mountains are available in the Kishknindha Kaandam of Srimad Ramayanam as also the Vana Parva of Sri Mahabharatam.
It is again a great mountain-the Mahendra Parvatam– which serves as a launching pad for Anjaneya and provides him with the requisite impetus for his prodigious flight to Lanka. Readers would remember that this was the mountain placed under deep waters by Agastya Muni-presumably, it must have regained its original place on land after a length of time. According to Sri Mahabharatam, the same mountain is the choice of Sri Parasurama for performing penance, after He annihilated twenty one generations of Kshatriyas.
One more interesting tidbit we gather from Sundara Kaandam is that mountains had wings and used to fly hither and thither, terrifying Devas, Rishis and ordinary people, who were in constant fear of these titans dropping down on their heads. They represented to Indra, who, on consideration, saw no need for mountains to be airborne and cut off their wings with his Vajraayudham. This episode is related by Mainaaka Parvatam to Sri Hanumaan, during his phenomenal flight to Lanka.
During the Krishnavataram, the Lord’s association with hills is even closer. Single-handedly, He lifts up and holds on His tender little finger the great Govardhana mountain for seven long days and nights, to provide shelter underneath for hundreds of inhabitants of Gokulam from the torrential rain and sleet let loose by an Indra enraged by denial of customary tributes. More than any other of Sri Krishna’s innumerable and wonderful acts, it is the holding up of the hill as a spacious umbrella that captures Sri Nammazhwar’s imagination-so much so that he finds the lives, of those who do not admire and adulate Emperuman for Goverdhanoddhaaranam, to be a criminal waste. Acccording to Sri Andal, if there is one single act which amply demonstrates the Lord’s Souseelya gunam, it is the aforesaid-‘Kundru kudayaai edutthaai gunam pottri’.
The abode of Sri Nrisimha is definitely the hills, if we are to go by the Shruti, which tells us, ‘Mrigo na bheema: kucharo girihstthaa:’ And the ‘Seeriya Singam’ that Sri Andal refers to, which sleeps in hilly caves and marches out with blazing eyes, bristling mane and deafening roar (‘Maari malai muzhainjil mannik kidandu urangum seeriya singam’) must also refer to Nrisimha only.
We thus see that whatever be Emperuman’s state, be it the Arcchavtaram or His other renowned Vibhava avataras, hills and mountains have an extremely significant role to play.
Mountains are the subject matter of an extremely beautiful comparison. Sri Tirumangai Mannan tells us that these tall sentinels are nothing but the breasts of Mother Earth-‘Kaaraar varai kongai kannaar kadal udukkai. neeraara veli Nila Mangai’. ‘Parvata stana mandite’ says another text, confirming the comparison. The Bhaagavata Puranam (Fifth Skandam) tells us that there are innumerable hills and mountains in Bhaarata Varsham and enumerates the principal ones as follows:
Malayam, Mangalaprastham, Mainaakam, Trikootam, Rishabham, Kootakam, Kodakam, Sahyam, Devagiri, Risyamookam, Srisailam, Venkatam, Mahendram, Vaaridhaaram, Vindhyam, Rikshagiri, Paariyaatram, Dronam, Chitrakootam, Govardhanam, Raivatakam, Kakubham, Gokaamukham, Indrakeelam, Kaamagiri, etc.
Another great mountain, perhaps the greatest, which is close to the Lord’s heart, is the Himalayas-so much so that while searching for examples of the invincible, it is this mountain that comes to His mind unprompted. While assuring Droupati that His word would never prove untrue, the Lord declares that several impossible things may happen–the heavens might fall, the oceans dry up, the earth might crack wide open and the Himavat Parvatam might explode into pieces– but His spoken word could never prove false
(‘Dhou: patet, Prithivi seeryet, Himavaan sakalee bhavet
Sushyet toyanidhi: Krishne! Na me moham vacho bhavet’).
To Sri Narada too, who searches for an example for Sri Rama’s courage, immutability and invincibility, it is the Himalayas that come to mind -‘Dhairyena Himavaan iva’. Srimad Ramayanam tells us that this Himavat Parvatam had two daughters-first the famed and sacred Ganga and the second, Parvathy, who was given in marriage to Rudra, whose abode again is another great mountain, Kailasam. It is this Kailasam that Ravana tried to lift and almost succeeded, before Rudra literally put his foot down and trapped the raakshasa’s hand, making the latter realize that lifting mountains is no easy joke. It is not only Emperuman who lifted mountains-even Sri Hanuman did it, carrying the Oushadha Giri, the Sanjeevini Parvatam, from its sources to the battlefield, so that the fallen Lakshmana could be revived. We also find from the Yuddha Kaandam of Srimad Ramayanam that hills were used as weapons and missiles, in the battle between Ravana’s minions and Vanara veeras. It speaks volumes about the strength of warriors on either side, if they were able to uproot, carry and throw hills at one another.
Before I am pronounced guilty of the Himalayan blunder of testing readers’ patience, I would like to conclude here. However, whatever I have written doesn’t even scratch the surface of these mountains, which require a chronicler with much greater knowledge and narrative powers than poor me.
Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore