Lake Manasarovar

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Lake Manasarovar with Mount Kailash in the distance.
Location of the lake in Tibet.
Location of the lake in Tibet.
LocationBurang County, Ngari Prefecture, Tibet,
Coordinates30°39′N 81°27′E / 30.65°N 81.45°E / 30.65; 81.45Coordinates: 30°39′N 81°27′E / 30.65°N 81.45°E / 30.65; 81.45
Native nameMapam Yumtso  (Standard Tibetan)
Surface area410 km2 (160 sq mi)
Max. depth90 m (300 ft)
Surface elevation4,590 m (15,060 ft)

Lake Manasarovar (Sanskrit: मानसरोवर), also called mTsho Mapham (Tibetan: མ་ཕམ་གཡུ་མཚོ།, Wylie: ma pham g.yu mtsho) or mTsho Ma-dros-pa locally, is a high altitude freshwater lake fed by the Kailash Glaciers[1] near Mount Kailash in Burang County, Ngari Prefecture, Tibetan Autonomous Region. The lake along with Mount Kailash to its north are sacred sites in four religions: Bön, Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism.[1]


The Sanskrit word "Manasarovar" (मानसरोवर) is a combination of two Sanskrit words; "Mānas" (मानस्) meaning "mind (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers), intellect, intelligence, understanding, perception, sense, conscience"[2] while "sarovara" (सरोवर) means "a lake or a large pond deep enough for a lotus".[3]


Mount Naimona'nyi (Gurla Mandhata) and Lake Manasarovar
Map of the region

It is located about 50 kilometers to the northwest of Nepal, about 100 kilometers east of Uttarakhand, and in the southwest region of Tibet near China National Highway 219. Lake Manasarovar lies at 4,590 m (15,060 ft) above mean sea level, a relatively high elevation for a large fresh water lake on the mostly saline lake-studded Tibetan Plateau. It freezes in the winter. According to Brockman, it is the highest freshwater lake in Asia.[1]

Lake Manasarovar is relatively round in shape with the circumference of 88 km (54.7 mi). Its depth reaches a maximum of 90 m (300 ft)[citation needed] and its surface area is 320 km2 (123.6 sq mi). It is connected to nearby Lake Rakshastal by the natural Ganga Chhu channel. Lake Manasarovar is near the source of the Sutlej, which is the easternmost large tributary of the Indus. Nearby are the sources of the Brahmaputra River, the Indus River, and the Karnali, an important tributary of the Ganges.[citation needed]

Lake Manasarovar overflows into Lake Rakshastal which is a salt-water endorheic lake. When the level of Lake Rakshastal matched that of Lake Manasarovar, these (very narrowly) combined lakes overflowed into the Sutlej basin.[citation needed]

In May 2020, India inaugurated a new 80 km long motorable road from Dharchula to Lipulekh Pass on India-China border [under geostrategic India-China Border Roads project] to the Kailas-Manasarovar in Tibet.[4]


Climate data for Lake Manasarovar
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) −3.2
Daily mean °C (°F) −8.9
Average low °C (°F) −14.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 52

History and texts[edit]

There is no mention of Manasarovar lake or its location in Vedic literature, or ancient Sanskrit and Prakrit texts. Though colonial era and modern texts state Kailash-Manasarovar to be among the most sacred sites of Indian religions, particularly Hinduism, this status is not found in early Indian texts prior to mid to late 1st-millennium texts.[5][6] Instead, the early Buddhist, Hindu and Jaina texts mention a mythical Mount Meru and lake Manasa. The mythical Manasa lake is described as one created through the mind of Brahma, thereafter associated with Brahma and as the preferred abode of his vahana hamsa. Considered to be sacred, the hamsa is an important element in the symbology of the subcontinent, representing wisdom and beauty.[7]

The earliest known mention of Manasarovar in European writings is found in the report of a Jesuit traveller named Antonio de Monserrate.[5] He wrote that he met Indian yogis who claimed there is a "very old city" on the banks of certain lake "Mansaruor" on a plateau over the Himalayas. He added that these "yogis visit many territories but tell many lies and mix legends with facts".[5] The 16th-century report of de Monserrate was forgotten, rediscovered in the 20th-century, states Alex McKay.[5] Typically, major historic pilgrimage sites that were frequented by Buddhists, Hindus and Jains attracted a discussion in their respective texts and the construction of infrastructure by wealthy patrons or kings. In Hinduism, these were the mahatmya chapters in the Puranas, and the infrastructure include temples, dharmasalas, ashrams and pilgrimage facilities. At least till the 1930s, there is no evidence of such structures in the Kailash-Manasarovar region.[6]

An 18th-century map of lake Manasarovar by the Jesuit Joseph Tiefenthaler.
Satellite view of lakes Manasarovar (right) and Rakshastal with Mount Kailash in the background

The earliest verifiable reports that confirm that this lake site attracted pilgrims are those of the Buddhists. Another Jesuit from Italy named Ippolito Desideri wrote about Kailas in 1715. He mentions Tibetans monks meditating here and circumambulating the entire mountain as part of their pilgrimage. Desideri calls the mountain as "Ngari Niongar" and the lake Manasarovar as "Retoa", adding that superstitious local people revere this place and believe that "Retoa" is the source of rivers Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra.[5] According to Luciano Petech, Tibetan records confirm that Buddhists considered the region now identified as Kailasa and Manasarovar to be their sacred geography by late 12th-century, with many reports of Buddhist monks meditating in Go-zul cave of Kailash and circumambulating this site. This region, between the 12th and 15th-century, was under the rule of Indo-Tibetan kings led by Nagaraja, Capa, Capilla, Kracalla, Asokacalla, the descendants of the Malla dynasty of Nepal, and others.[8]

While there is no explicit mention of this lake or the nearby mountain in ancient Sanskrit texts, there is indirect mention of this region of Tibet in hymn 2.15 of the Rigveda. There it says that Indus river keeps flowing north because of god Indra's power, a geographical reality only in Tibet. This is in the context of Himavant (or the Himalayas). According to Frits Staal, a Sanskrit and Vedic studies scholar, this makes it likely that some among the ancient Vedic people had traced the Indus river route and had seen the valley near Mount Kailash. However, there is no mention of this lake or it being a tirtha (pilgrimage site).[6]

Texts mention Meru and Kailash, but in many texts these are two different mythical mountains. One is linked to the churning-of-ocean creation mythology, and the other as abode of Kubera (Kailash gets associated with Shiva later, c. 8th or 9th century).[9] Kailash is one of many mountains that are declared "sacred beyond all others" in Hindu texts. For example the major Hindu epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, mention "Kailash parvata" where gods and goddesses gather, mortals cannot reach, with the exception that this place can be reached by yogis who have reached the state of inner serenity, have no ties to the world, are explorers of the soul, on whom neither anger nor joy appears. These texts make no mention of a lake or the mountain's location in Tibet.[9] The Puranas, particularly the Bhagavata Purana mentions Manasa, but again in the sense of mythology and a simile with human mind. A 13th-century manuscript of the Brahma Purana mentions Manasarovar as a pilgrimage site for ascetics, but does not mention mount Kailash in that section. In contrast, the older Shiva Purana lists twelve most important Hindu pilgrimage sites for Shiva, but this list of twelve does not include either Kailash or Lake Manasarovar.[9]

According to Alex McKay, the possible synthesis of esoteric Buddhism and Shaivism in Nepal, Tibet and eastern region of India may have expanded and brought Kailash and lake Manasarovar into the shared sacred geography for both Buddhists and Hindus. The 13th-century text Mahanirvana Tantra dedicates it first chapter to Kailash and Manasarovar lake as a pilgrimage site. This may have been coupled with the re-discovery of its importance to major rivers on the subcontinent.[10]

The significance of Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash to its north increases after the 13th-century, given its mentioned in popular Hindu texts. For example, the 16th-century Tulsidas mentions both in the first book of his Ramacharitamanas, a text that is partly the basis of Ramlila – a popular rural theatre in north India every year around Dussehra, before Diwali. A hagiography about Tulsidas – written by Beni Madhavdas in 17th-century as a "eye-witness" account – states that Tulsidas visited lake Manasarovar, one of the four sacred sites before he wrote his Ramacharitamanas.[11] However, scholars have criticized the hagiography as fictional given the specifics and details contained therein.[12][11] Yet, the repeated mention of lake Manasarovar with Mount Kailash as an actual tirtha, suggests that by or before the 16th-century, it had become an important part of the sacred geography for Hindus. According to Philip Lutgendorf, the passages about Manasarovar by Tulsidas are mystical and it can be read two ways, like most of the classic and revered Hindu literature and poetry tradition. It can be literally interpreted as an actual Himalayan lake, or allegorically interpreted as a locus within the human body, where there is a constant spiritual dance between both the outer and the inner world.[11]

Between 1901 and 1905, southern Tibet became strategically important to the British Empire. The colonial era officials decided to encourage and assist religious pilgrimage to this lake and Kailash with comments such as "a devotee will be the pioneer of trade". By 1907, about 150 pilgrims a year visited this site, a number significantly higher than those in the 19th-century. The number of Indian pilgrims grew to 730 by 1930. Pilgrimage road and facilities to this lake and Kailash were constructed by Indians, in cooperation with Tibetan monks and officials, along the route after 1930.[13]

Religious significance[edit]

View from Chiu Gompa Monastery

In Hinduism[edit]

Lake Manasarovar and Mount Kailash is believed to be the abode of Shiva. This is where the mythical river Ganges is believed to be tamed by Shiva and sent to nourish the fertile valleys below the Himalayas. It is sometimes conflated with Meru.[1]

In the Bon religion[edit]

The Bon religion is also associated with the holy place of Zhang Zhung Meri sacred deity. When Tonpa Shenrab, the founder of the Bon religion, visited Tibet for the first time – from Tagzig Wolmo Lungring – he bathed in the lake.

In Buddhism[edit]

Buddhists associate the lake as the mother principle, with Kailash as the father principle. The Yamantaka shrine here is one of the eight guardian deities, who is shown in the act of a sexual embrace to unite compassion and wisdom. A traditional 32-mile circuit around the mountain, called kora, is believed to be particularly holy walk.[1]

The lake has a few monasteries on its shores, the most notable of which is the ancient Chiu Monastery built on a steep hill, looking as if it has been carved right out of the rock.

In Jainism[edit]

In Jainism, Lake Manasarovar is associated with the first Tirthankara, Rishabha.[1] As per Jain scriptures, the first Tirthankar, Bhagwan Rishabhdev, had attained nirvana on the Ashtapad Mountain. The son of Bhagwan Rishabhdev, Chakravati Bharat, had built a palace adorned with gems on the Ashtapad Mountain located in the serene Himalayas. There are many stories related to Ashtapad Maha Tirth like Kumar and Sagar's sons, Tapas Kher Parna, Ravan and Mandodri Bhakti, among many others. [14]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Brockman, Norbert (2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 356. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  2. ^ Williams, Monier. "Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2012-12-03. Retrieved 2017-10-10. mánas n. mind (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers), intellect, intelligence, understanding, perception, sense, conscience, will RV. &c. &c. (in phil. the internal organ or antaḥ-karaṇa of perception and cognition, the faculty or instrument through which thoughts enter or by which objects of sense affect the soul IW. 53
    • in this sense manas is always is always regarded as distinct from ātman and puruṣa, 'spirit or soul' and belonging only to the body, like which it is – except in the Nyāya – considered perishable
  3. ^ Williams, Monier. "Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary". Archived from the original on 2015-05-20. Retrieved 2017-10-10. sarovara ○vara n. (accord. to some also m.) a lake or large pond, any piece of water deep enough for the lotus Kāv. Pur. &c
  4. ^ Suhasini Haidar, New road to Kailash Mansarovar runs into diplomatic trouble, The Hindu, 9 May 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Alex McKay (2015), Kailas Histories, Brill Academic, pp. 375–379 with footnotes
  6. ^ a b c Alex McKay (2013). Pilgrimage in Tibet. Taylor and Francis, {ISBN| 9781315027180}}, pp. 165–168
  7. ^ Eckard Schleberger, Die Indische Götterwelt. Eugen Diederich Verlag. 1997 (in German)
  8. ^ Luciano Petech (1980), Ya-Tse, Gu-Ge and Pu-Rana, a New Study, Central Asiatic Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1/2, pp. 85-111, JSTOR 41927281
  9. ^ a b c Alex McKay (2013). Pilgrimage in Tibet. Taylor and Francis, {ISBN| 9781315027180}}, pp. 167–175
  10. ^ Alex McKay (2013). Pilgrimage in Tibet. Taylor and Francis, {ISBN| 9781315027180}}, pp. 175–176
  11. ^ a b c Philip Lutgendorf (1989), The View from the Ghats: Traditional Exegesis of a Hindu Epic, The Journal of Asian Studies, Volume 48, Number 2, pp. 273–275, JSTOR 2057378
  12. ^ Kisorilal Gupta (1964), Gosamcarita (Acts of the Master), Banaras: Vani Vitan Prakasan, pp. 52–60
  13. ^ Alex McKay (2013). Pilgrimage in Tibet. Taylor and Francis, {ISBN| 9781315027180}}, pp. 177–181
  14. ^ "'Lost' tirth of Jains traced to Himalayas - Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis". 30 December 2011. Archived from the original on 15 August 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2018.

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