Nanda Devi

NANDA DEVI

Nanda Devi is the second highest mountain in India, and the highest located entirely within the country. (Kangchenjunga, which is higher, is on the border of India and Nepal.) It is the 23rd-highest peak in the world. It was considered the highest mountain in the world before computations in 1808 proved Dhaulagiri to be higher. It was also the highest mountain in India before 1971 when Sikkim, the state in which Kangchenjunga is located, joined the Republic of India. It is part of the Garhwal Himalayas, and is located in the state of Uttarakhand, between the Rishiganga valley on the west and the Goriganga valley on the east. The peak, whose name means "Bliss-Giving Goddess", is regarded as the patron-goddess of the Uttarakhand Himalaya. In acknowledgment of its religious significance and for the protection of its fragile ecosystem, the peak as well as the circle of high mountains surrounding it—the Nanda Devi sanctuary—were closed to both locals and climbers in 1983. The surrounding Nanda Devi National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

The story

The mountain tale is that of Nanda Devi, presiding Goddess of the Chamoli, Pittorgarh and Bhageshri Districts.

A beautiful, young princess, Nanda, daughter of the King of the Chanda Dynasty of Chamoli, ran for her life to escape the wily Rohilla prince, who was chasing her. He was madly in love with her. As her father refused to give her in marriage to him, he waged war against this Kumaon King and defeated him.

To save herself, Nanda Devi climbed up to the snowy pinnacles and merged with the holy mountain. This mountain (25,643ft) came to be revered as a temple for Nanda and she was deified as the Devi, the patron goddess. The Nanda Devi Massif has two peaks on its ridge; the western one is higher and is known as Nanda and the lower eastern summit, is Sunanda, her sister.

She is an angry Goddess who is believed to be an avatar of Durga. Every activity, whether it is a village festival or a special family event, will begin with an offering that ranges from simple stones, coins and flowers to animals.

During Tretha Yuga, when Lakshmana fell unconscious on the battlefield, Hanuman’s search for the Sanjeevani herb took him to the Dunagiri Mountain (23,182ft) in the Chamoli district in Almora. Unable to identify the herb, Hanuman broke off a piece of the mountain, without obtaining permission from Goddess Nanda, and carried it off to Sri lanka.

The Goddess became angry and passed a decree that anybody who utters Hanuman’s name will be severely punished. Hence there are no shrines dedicated to Hanuman in these parts. Interestingly, parts of the Dunagiri Mountain seem to have fallen along the route. One part is believed to exist even today, near Nagerkoil. It is popularly known as Marundhu Vazh Malai. Curiously, the shape of this Hill resembles a reclining Hanuman facing upwards.

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