M. Amirthalingam

Sacred places are a prominent feature of different cultures all over the world. In most cases, it can be shown that the sacredness of a place is linked in some way or the other to natural objects such as trees, groves, gardens, water bodies, caves, landscapes and mountains. These sacred forms and shapes that are derived from natural objects and features often become symbolic or emblematic. These sacred places are indeed a rich source of cultural heritage.

Mountains loom large in any landscape and have long been invested with sacredness by many people around the world. The vertical axis of the mountain drawn from its peak, down to its base links it with the world axis and is identified as the centre of the world. This is believed of Mount Meru of the Hindus. 

In Tibet, Mount Kailas, one of the tallest peaks in the Himalayas, near the source of the Ganges, is venerated by and is a pilgrimage site for Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. Buddhists regard this mountain as a mandala. 

The other important sacred mountains are Govardhana at Brindavan in Uttar Pradesh; Simhachala, near Visakhapatnam; Vindhyas, Tirumala, Sabarimala, Palani, Pazhamudhir Cholai, Thiruparanguntram, Marudhamalai, Thiruthani and Thiruvannamalai. 

Sacred mountains played a vital role in the conservation of local ecology and the environment. A variety of themes are often found within sacred mountain traditions. The beliefs demonstrate an important link between the community’s cultural identity and traditional patterns of land conservation. Sacred mountains are distinguished from other sacred sites as being exceptionally comprehensive ecosystems.

Sacred Mountains and sacred sites within mountains have resulted in communities maintaining and preserving their natural resources in often-pristine conditions. Indigenous communities have long realized the value of the high diversity and natural resources within mountains and that mountain are resources of nature which nurture. The sacredmountain protected due to cultural beliefs and has resulted in precious water, timber, flora, fauna, and other natural resources being maintained and preserved for future generations.

The next post will highlight some of the sacred mountains of Tamilnadu. 

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