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Monasteries in Mount Kailash

Source: གངས་དཀར་ཏི་སིའི་གནས་ཀྱི་དུས་ཆེན་རྟ་ལོ་འཁོར་ཆེན་ལ་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་ཞུ། བོད་ལྗོངས་ནང་བསྟན། 1990 (Published by Buddhist Association of Tibet Autonomous Region in 1990 on the occasion of the Year of Horse Mount Kailash Pilgrimage)

The Legend of Mount Kailash & Lake Manasarovar

Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar are the only two places in the whole of Tibet that were visited by Lord Buddha, accompanied by five hundred Arhats. During the turning of the Three Wheels of the Dharma, Buddha Shakyamuni extensively explained the merits of building images. So Indra (the king of gods) offered precious articles of the gods, Ananda (the king of Serpents or Nagas) offered precious articles of the Nagas and Bimbisara (the king of Magadh) offered gold and silver, etc. to the Buddha and requested him to have three images of the Buddha made, as a means of generating merit for the sentient beings in the future.

On the instructions of the Buddha, the master craftsman Viswakarma made three images of the Buddha that were blessed by Buddha Shakyamuni. A fifteen-foot image was taken to realm of the gods, a ten-foot image was taken to the realm of the Nagas and a two-foot image of the Buddha was kept at Magadh, in order for the devotees to make offerings and pay homage.

One day, Mahakala miraculously took the image of the Buddha from Magadh to his palace at Lake Lanka, located at the foot of Mount Kailash, and made offerings. Then he thought a special place was needed to keep such a sacred statue and attempted to carry Mount Kailash on his back to the realm of the Nagas in Lake Lanka (also known as Lake Rakshastal).

Satellite view of Lakes Rakshastal (left) and Manasarovar with Mount Kailash in the background

Buddha Shakyamuni and the 500 Arhats flew from Bodhgaya to Mount Kailash and landed on the rock known as Kyil Khor Teng, or 'Ganachakra Basin of Arhats', on the western face of Mount Kailash. Buddha left his footprint on four corners of Mount Kailash and prevented Mahakala from carrying Mount Kailash to the realm of the Nagas. These four footprints of the Buddha are known as the 'Four Nails Holding Mount Kailash', because they prevented Mahakala from carrying the mountain away. Then Buddha sat on the rock in front of Mount Kailash and gave teachings to the Nagas residing in Lake Manasarovar and Lake Lanka. Today, Buddhist pilgrims call this rock the 'Throne of the Buddha'.

Mount Kailash is the only holy place in the world that is regarded as equally sacred by Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bonpos. To the Theravadan Buddhists, it is the abode of Sthavira Angaja, with an assembly of 1,300 Arhats; and to the Vajrayana practitioners it is the mandala or palace of Chakrasamvara. The sacred nature of Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar is mentioned in the Sutras. To the Hindus it is the abode of Lord Shiva. Mount Kailash is sacred to the followers of Jainism because their first saint or Tirthankar, Bhagwan Rishabdevji, attained Moksha (liberation) after meditating here. To the Bonpos it is the sacred place where Miwo Shenrab, the founder of the Bonpo faith, landed from heaven. For the Bonpos, Mount Kailash is the 'life mountain' and Lake Manasarovar is the 'life lake' of earth.

The four great rivers of the Indian sub-continent: Karnali (which feeds into the Ganges), Indus, Sutlej and Brahmaputra all originate from Mount Kailash. The average altitude of the region is 4,700 meters above sea level. The altitude of Mount Kailash is 6,714 meters above sea level. To the west of Mount Kailash is the Karakorum range, to the north is the Kunlun range, to the east is Magyal Pomra range and to the south is the Himalayan range.

The distance between Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash is approximately 26km and the distance between Lake Manasarovar and Lake Lanka is about 5km. Lake Manasarovar has a radius of 84km and generally a complete circumambulation of the lake can be finished in four days.