Thursday, December 29, 2011
This is the only Divya Desam outside India. Tucked away in the midst of the mighty peaks of the HimalayAs in Nepal, this Divya Desam is the hardest to access, but the beauty surrounding it makes it worth the effort. Also, this the Divya Desam associated with the sacred Saligramam stones that are considered a manifestation of Lord Sri Vishnu and which are worshipped everyday in many Sri Vaishnava households all over the world.
Location and Access:
[Click here for a description of our trip to Mukthinath]
Mukthinath is a small mountain village nestled in the Himalayas near the settlement of Jomsom in Nepal. Mukthinath is located at an altitude of 3800 m above sea level.
Pilgrims who are travelling from outside Nepal need to first reach Katmandu, the capital of Nepal. Katmandu has a fairly big international airport and is well-connected from several major cities in the world. From there, visitors need to take a flight to the town of Pokhara. The journey from Katmandu to Pokhara can also be made by land. By flight it is about 30 minutes, and by land it is about six hours.
From Pokhara, pilgrims have to travel to the settlement of Jomsom (2800 m above sea level). This journey is best made by flight, although snowfall can sometimes cause flight cancellations. In case of flight cancellations, pilgrims can travel by land – this can take about 12 hours through tricky mountain paths.
From Jomsom, Mukthinath can be reached by land. The uphill journey takes about 1.5 hours by car/jeep and takes us along the River Gandaki . Alternately, this journey can be made by pony or by foot. By foot, it can take several hours and can be very tedious.
Mukthinath is a small mountain village and there are small lodges (no heating of rooms). Pilgrims should not expect the comfort of a proper hotel. From these lodges, the Mukthinath temple is about 15-30 minutes by walk uphill. There are also motorbike services that can take pilgrims from the lodges to the temple.
There is also a helicopter service that takes pilgrims directly from Pokhara to Mukthinath. However, this service can often get cancelled due to adverse weather and non-availability of aircraft.
Pilgrims who travel to Mukthinath should be mentally and physically prepared for very cold weather (up to even -10 degrees C) and the possibility of mountain sickness caused by reduced availability of oxygen at higher altitudes. Travel to Mukthinath calls for meticulous preparation. But it is a rewarding experience. Visitors may also consider the possibility of staying overnight at Jomsom instead of Mukthinath, since staying overnight at Mukthinath might be physically challenging.
The best time of the year to visit Mukthinath is mid to late March. It is advisable to make your hotel , flight and land transport bookings in advance with a travel agent (especially for flights within Nepal) or travel as part of a package tour.
The Mukthinath temple is not very big at all. Once you reach the temple compound, it can be covered at a leisurely pace in about 45 minutes. A hurried visit can be completed in as little as 15-20 minutes. There are only two main sannidhis – (1) The main sannidhi of Sri Mukthinath occupied by the Lord and His Consorts – Sri Devi and Bhoo Devi and (2) A smaller, recently-built sannidhi in the open corridor (prakaaram) that houses the vigrahams of Sri Ramanuja and Sri Andal.
The inside of the main sannidhi is about 8 feet by 8 feet. Sri Mukthinath is seated under Adi Seshan and is flanked by thaayars who are standing. The thirumeni of Sri PerumAl and thayaars is of metal (probably bronze or other copper alloy). The mUlavar here is also known as SrI mUrthy and the thAyars are SrI devi and bhU devi. There is no separate uthsavar. There are small idols of Sri GarudAzhwar and Sri Ramanuja in the main sannidhi beside Sri PerumAl. The worship is carried out by Buddhist nuns. The style of worship and alankaaram is very different from the Divya Desams of South India.
Around the main sannidhi, in the second open corridor, there are 108 water spouts that represent the theerthams of the 108 Divya Desams. Some pilgrims take a bath in the waters here, but it can be really cold. Personally I would not recommend this for people who are old or sick. Also, while you are visiting Mukthinath, it is not a good idea to get your clothing wet – because the weather is already cold.
Also in the second corridor, directly in front of the temple, there are two small square water tanks (pushkarinis) that represent Sri Bhoo Devi and Sri Nila Devi.
Legends and History:
According to one version, the Salagramam Divya Desam is just the bank/bed of River Gandaki and not the Mukthinath temple. According to another version, the Mukthinath temple is very much the Divya Desam of Salagramam. It is difficult to establish which of the two versions is right. Either way, there is no question that Sri Thirumangai Azhwar visited atleast the banks of the Gandaki River, as did Sri Ramanuja. And no matter which version is accurate, there is no taking away from the beauty of this Divya Desam and its surroundings.
Saligrama (ammonite) stones with special markings are considered manifestations of Lord Sri Vishnu Himself. Such stones are unique to this part of Nepal. There are several roadside shops in Mukthinath (and also several ones in Pokhara) from which Salagramam murthys can be obtained.
SrI Tirumangai AzhwAr 988-997
SrI periAzhwAr 206,399
(pAsuram numbers as found in any standard Divya prabandham book)
A sample pAsuram:
கலையும் கரியும் பரிமாவும் திரியும்கானம் கடந்து போய்
சிலையும் கணையும் துணையாகச்சென்றான் வென்றிச் செறுக்களத்து
மலைகொன்டு அலை நீரணைகட்டி மதிள் நீரிலங்கை வாளரக்கர் தலைவன்
தலைபத்து அறுத்துகந்தான் சாளக்கிராமம் அடை நெஞ்சே
In this pAsuram, Tirumangai AzhwAr exhorts his mind to attain the Lord of Salagrama. It was this Lord who, armed with bow and arrow, crossed forests inhabited by wild deer, elephants and horses, and then built a bridge of boulders to reach the high-walled fortress of Lanka and severed the ten heads of Ravana- the king of the RakshasAs.
SrI bhU devi SrI dEvi samEtha Sri mUrthy thiruvadigaLae saraNam
Posted by Sriman Venkatesan at 10:17 PM