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When men and mountains meet

“There is no place more powerful for practice, more blessed, or more marvelous than this; may all pilgrims and practitioners be welcome.”
- Milarepa, 11th - 12th century Tibetan Saint on Mount Kailas
Photo: Madan Gopal
This open invitation is a very tough one to accept in reality! But recently, at Venkatappa Gallery, Bengaluru it was a ‘dream come true’ for many less fortunate to undertake this exhilarating journey . The occasion was the photo exhibition titled "Kailas - 63", by Shri Madan Gopal.

According to the Shruthis and Smritis, Mount Kailas, ‘the snow jewel crowning the roof of the world’, and the ‘precious jewel of snow’ or Kang Rinpoche in Tibet , is the most sacred and admired. It is also known as the Mount Meru, the centre of the cosmos, navel or the axis of the Earth, Mount Sumeru, etc. According to the Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva resides on the summit of Kailas and is in constant meditation ensuring continuity of the 3 aspects of the Universe - Creation, Preservation and Destruction.

Kailas, unlike the other mountains of the world, has distinct shape which features most peculiar and pious, both outwardly and externally that are not known anywhere else.

Madan Gopal
Kailas rises like a symmetrical domed rock temple covered with ice and snow. It is hence in the shape of Lingam. Naturally Siddhas go there willingly and enthusiastically. One such Siddha is Shri Madan Gopal, for whom visiting Himalayan mountain ranges is a spiritual and metaphysical sojourn. His journey is captured through lenses which takes the shape of both aesthetic and spiritual exploration. The mystical Himalayas have been brought out vividly through his lenses to those who are less fortunate to undertake this exhilarating journey.

His first photo exhibition which were on display during August 2011 titled ‘Incognito’ drew lot of public compliments which inspired him to go further for a second photograph exhibition titled-’Kailas - 63’.

Here the artist juxtaposes 63 lives of great saints known as ‘Nayanars’ from South India as vividly described in the ‘Periyapuranam’, a Tamil classic dating to 12Th century.

The lives of the 63 saints, that too from the centuries from the past, reflect the cosmopolitan and all encompassing approach towards life. The Indian spiritual tradition has a great past of democratisation of religion. These galaxy of Saints - men and women, young and aged, kings and nobles, rich and poor, traders and labourers, preachers and peasants, edurite and illiterate, civilized and uncivilized alike in their saintliness and enjoyed alike the fruits of Supreme grace without any communal distinction whatsoever.

Photo: Madan Gopal

Linking the holy Kailas to the lives of these Great Saints finds an amazing and puzzling expression. The 63 photographs of the Kailas though reasons inexplicable to Shri Madan Gopal himself, represent 63 Saints and each photograph has been captioned with apt quotations from people like legendary Swami Pranavananda. Swami Parnavananda, astetic-scientist, who visit Kailas Manas several times between 1928 to 1946, has documented in detail the information on climate, flora-fauna and geology of the people of the region. He has also listed out the distinguished visitors to Manas- Khanda.

These juxtaposition of the different angles of Mt. Kailas with 63- Nayanar saints gives an inspiring view to the visitors. Shri Madan Gopal, for whom Kailas in particular and Himalayas in general have had a great impact on his total personality. A quote from William Blake, the 18th century English poet aptly reflects this relationship,“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”

Nayanars and the Panniru Thirumurai
Photo: Wikipedia

Saiva Bhakti Movement - one of the greatest pan-Indian movement, took place in the south of India between the 7th - 10th centuries. The movement touched and affected all the aspects of the human living - social, economic, literature, architecture and above all spiritual.

The owners and inspirers of this grand movement are the 63 Saints called the Nayanars. One of the main reason for the complete success of this movement was that the Hymns & the treatises were in the local spoken language of the region - Tamil. It was easily understood by one and all.

Another interesting fact is the movement had a cosmopolitan feature. Nayanars did not belong to any one particular class of the society, they came in all colours - young and aged, rich and poor, kings and nobles, preachers and peasants, literate and illiterates. The main objective of the movement was to bring the society as a whole closer to more ethical living through simple selfless devotion to the Supreme.

This humongous collection of hymns and text is collectively called the Panniru Thirumurai.Panniru Thirumurai is the corpus canonical unique Literature and has been divided into 12 major titles or 12 Thirumurais. These are again arranged in 4 distinct categories as -
  • Stothram - hymns in praise of the Supreme (Thirumurais 1 to 9)
  • Shaastram - guidelines or philosophical treatise (10th Thirumurai)
  • Prabhandam - song compositions (11th Thirumurai)
  • Puranam - historical recount (12th Thirumurai, Periyapuranam by Sekkilar)

This literature inspired and paved way for the devotional literature in other regions in the regional languages instead of Sanskrit. The furthered the structural growth of regional languages. It also spearheaded the Bhakthi movement through out the country.