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  • Writer's pictureSukrit Gupta

Nanda Devi: An Ongoing Affair

Nanda Devi: An Ongoing Affair [/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6190″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text] It’s a bit unfortunate that culturally we are apathetic to mysteries, the unknown. What we see and know is carefully forgotten within the folds of memory as we move through the crowded streets of an experience we call ‘life’. Since philosophical beginnings mostly signify more confusion than clarity, let’s get straight to the point. This essay is a reflection of my experiences with the myth of Nanda Devi.  Mountains are seen as a perfect path to both enlightenment and escapism, this largely happens because mountains and their geography are looked through the western imaginative spectacle where they are a means to an end. Mountains didn’t have this place in our imagination until the nineteenth century, they were not places where one could discover oneself but were viewed as hazards where one could get lost in a matter of seconds. To the oriental imagination, mountains were holy places where gods and demons reside. In most of the regional languages the word “summit” didn’t exist. Himalayas are a young and dynamic mountain range, the terrain is perpetually evolving. This sublime nature has inspired countless myths and legends. While Buddhists view mountains as individual gods, Hindus associate them with gods of Hindu pantheon. These peaks are the homes of deities and saints, believed to directly affect the well-being of millions of people. Annnapurna is revered as the goddess of food, Kanchenjunga as the protector deity of Sikkim, Nyenchen Tanglha  is thought to be the protector deity of Marpori, the hill in Lhasa on which the Potala Palace stands. Shivling, is the lingam (phallic symbol) of Shiva “Mahadeoka linga”. Shiva’s consort is Devi (meaning goddess), who in a gentler form is Parvati (one “from the mountains”). The mountain Nanda Devi is a manifestation of Parvati.  To the people of Uttarakhand ‘Nanda Devi’ is a sister, a mother, she is revered since her lore relates to the daily life of her worshippers. Some of the greatest tensions and anxieties of local peasant women in Uttarakhand relate to the nature of marriage where the bride has to change her residence after marriage. Uttarakhand like many South –Asian hill economies has been ‘money-order’ based. Men are chiefly away from their homes and the lion’s share of household chores is done by women.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6192″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Nanda faces a similar plight when she has to go away from her home and live with her husband on the icy –slopes of Mount Kailash. When one travels through villages a rather interesting picture is obtained. In folk songs Nanda Devi is seen as the source of life, and not as Shiva’s consort. These songs are passed on through generations and many have internalized them to a large extent. Women cry when they participate in the twelve year pilgrimage – ‘The Nanda Raj Jat’. They are worried for their daughter’s well-being. “Why did she marry a recluse who lives on a hill? Smokes and wears tiger’s skin? What will she eat?  Where will she sleep? “, are some of their questions and worries. These women travel less for the boons granted by gods and more for their daughter’s safe passage.   Physically it’s difficult to acknowledge the influence ‘Nanda Devi’ actually has on Uttarakhand. The peak is nestled between two concentric circles of mountains that stand guard to her entrance. Gaumukh is visibly the source of Ganga, Nanda Devi is one of the primary sources. Mythologically, Meru is the centre of the universe but in topological sense Nanda Devi is the center of the Himalayas. It was acknowledged as the greatest puzzle in the Himalayas, until Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman forged a way through the Rishi Ganga Gorge.  Today, Nanda Devi is recounted as the second highest mountain in India or is infamously remembered as the mountain where a joint Indo-American expedition lost a nuclear fuelled device. To me both these definitions are extensions of our outlook in the present age, where success is always measured upwards and thought, essentially an amalgamation of incomplete wishes and fantasies we are keen to forget. The definition I keep for myself is an incomplete one, incomplete because I haven’t actually seen the mountain from either of its base camps. Goethe said that architecture is frozen music. Architecture of mountains transcends both the audibility of sound and the vision apparent in arts, since they are in a constant process of change. What intrigues me beyond comprehension is Nanda Devi’s myth. From the time I was born, being brought up in Kumaon, I have constantly heard the name and the references about her; but couldn’t actually connect to her myth. Like most gods Nanda was always in her palanquin, and I was supposed to be at a reasonable distance. Then one day when I was hiking on the road opposite Panchu Glacier I got the first glimpse of the goddess, the sensations for unknown reasons are impossible to translate into words. They were barely sensations, I felt connected to the landscape, I wasn’t rushing ahead of time, wasn’t behind it. All of a sudden I had something to believe in and the belief was in front of me, something I could feel with every breath I took.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”6193″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]I was determined to come back, and as they say “see the mountain for myself”. I asked friends, made preparations but I could barely get myself out of the city. The trip was postponed for the next season. Finally I was ready, the sleeping bag I was carrying was a bit bulky but nothing else posed a problem. I reached Munshayri, once again rain, then some other preoccupation; it seemed that only when the blue moon came would I be allowed to go.  My friends left but I couldn’t muster the will to leave, the ambiguity didn’t even explain itself. After dinner I found myself alone in a room, not a star shining in the sky as a sign of compensation. Beneath all the speculation in the limited dimensionality of my head, something told me that I was being too hasty. I wanted to shape my journey and in –turn wanted to shape my memory. This is never the course of nature, where opposites complete each other. I wasn’t afraid that I would never again have the chance to come back. It just didn’t feel right to have a different ending than what I had anticipated. And so, I wait till the day comes and I can experience the myth I created around the mountain. Till then I shall use the term, ‘an ongoing affair’.


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