Manimahesh, home of Lord Shiva
Location – Manimahesh range, Bharmour, Himachal Pradesh
Coordinates - 32°23’42″N 76°38’14″E
Manimahesh Lake, also known as Dal Lake, Manimahesh, is a high altitude lake with elevation of 4,080 meters or 13,390 feet situated close to the Manimahesh Kailash Peak in the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas, in the Bharmour subdivision of Chamba district of state Himachal Pradesh. The Manimahesh Kailash peak close to the lake is believed to be the home of Lord Shiva. A rock formation in the form of a Shivling on this mountain is considered as the manifestation of Lord Shiva. The snow field at the base of the mountain is called by the local people as Shiva’s playground.
The route to Manimahesh is via Chamba, Bharmour and Hadsar. Motorable road goes till Hadsar. The rest of the path,13 km of climb, is covered by foot by the banks of Manimahesh Ganga, which originates from the Manimahesh Kailash peak.
The name Manimahesh signifies a jewel (Mani) on Lord Shiva’s (Mahesh’s) crown. Local people claim that the moon-rays reflected from the jewel can be seen from Manimahesh Lake on clear full-moon nights (which is a rare occasion).
Legend of Manimahesh
According to one popular legend it is believed that Lord Shiva created Manimahesh after he married Goddess Parvati and performed penance on the banks of Manimahesh Lake. There are many legends linking Lord Shiva. It is mentioned that Gaddis, adopted Lord Shiva as their deity. Gaddis are the people who live in the Bharmour Valley. According to the legend, Lord Shiva, gifted the Gaddis with a Chuhali topi (pointed cap), which they wear traditionally along with their other dress of chola (coat) and dora (a long black cord about 10–15 m long). The Gaddis started calling this mountainous region as ‘Shiv Bhumi’ (Land of Shiva) and themselves as devotees of Shiva. The legend further states that before Shiva married Parvati at Mansarovar Lake and became the “universal parents of the universe”, Shiva created the Mount Kailash in Himachal Pradesh and made it his home. He made Gaddis his devotees. The land where Gaddis lived extended from 15 miles (24 km) west of Bharmour, upstream of the confluence of Budhil and Ravi rivers, up to Manimahesh.
Manimahesh is also considered the home of the three Lords of the universe, Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Manimahesh is reckoned as the heaven of Lord Shiva (kailasa). The waterfall seen at the Dhancho on the way to Manimahesh Lake, which emanates from the lake, is considered as the heaven of Vishnu (Vaikunta). The heaven of Bramha is cited as a mount overlooking the Bharmour town. The Gaddis also believe that Shiva resides in the Mount Kailash for six months, thereafter he moves to the netherworld handing over the reigns to Lord Vishnu. The day he departs to the netherworld is observed reverentially every year on Janmashtami day, the birthday of Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu). Shiva returns from the netherworld to Bharmour at the end of February, before the night of his wedding and this day is observed as the Shivratri day. Locals observe this as a festive day as Shiva and Parvati returned to Mount Kailash on this day.
A legend in which Lord Shiva himself is tricked is narrated. This legend is linked to Dhancho where pilgrims spend a night on their way to Manimahesh Lake, Lord Shiva pleased with the devotion of one his ardent devotee Bhasmasur (an asura or demon) bestowed a boon, which gave powers to Bhasmasur under which Bhasmasur touching any one would reduce that person in to ashes. Bhasmasur wanted to try this boon on Shiva himself. Therefore he followed Shiva to touch him and get rid of him. However, Shiva managed to escape and enter into the waterfall at Dhancho and take shelter in a cave behind the rolling waters of the fall. Bhasmasur could not get through the waterfall. Then, Lord Vishnu intervened and killed Bhasamasur. Since then the fall is considered holy.
Geography of Manimahesh
The lake, of glacial origin, is in the upper reaches of the Ghoi nala, which is tributary of Budhil river, a tributary of the Ravi River in Himachal Pradesh. However, the lake is the source of a tributary of the Budhil River, known as ‘Manimahesh Ganga’. The stream originates from the lake in the form of a fall at Dhancho. The mountain peak is a snow clad tribal glen of Bharmour in the Chamba district of manimahesh range. The highest peak is the Mani Mahesh Kailas, also called ‘Chamba ‘ overlooking the lake. The lake, considered a glacial depression, is sourced by snow-melt waters from the surrounding hill slopes. Towards the end of June with ice beginning to melt, numerous small streams break up everywhere, which together with the lush green hills and the myriad of flowers give the place a truly remarkable view. The snow field at the base of the mountain is called by the local people as Shiva’s Chaugan Shiva’s playground. According to a belief, Lord Shiva stayed here with his consort Parvati.
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