Holy Mountains

Window Rock

Window Rock, in eastern Arizona, is the center of the Navajo nation. The sky, the sun, and the moon shine through a large opening in this magnificent rock.  Below the rock lies a memorial to the Navajo war dead, who have a well-deserved reputation for exceptional bravery on the battlefield fighting in the U.S. military.  During World War II, the “Navajo code talkers” communicated in a code language that the Germans could never decipher. It was their own Navajo language, unlike any language the Germans had ever come across.

Also at the foot of Window Rock are the government offices of the Navajo Nation. Clearly, the central structures of the Navajo nation grew up here because Window Rock has always been a sacred site for the Navajos, no doubt for many thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans.

Zion National Park

Rocks, Zion National Park

Covering 229 square miles in southern Utah, with amazing red-rock cliffs of many hues extending straight up for 5,000 feet, these canyons and cliffs have always been sacred to Native Americans.  The sense that these giant cliffs are a doorway to other sacred worlds is unmistakable.

Everywhere in the world, since time immemorial, sacred mountains and, by extension, sacred stones and rocks have been worshipped.


In Tamil Nadu, India, at Thiruvannamalai, around 100 miles southwest of Chennai is the holy mountain, Arunachalum, sacred to Lord Shiva; one of the five major shaivite holy sites in Tamil Nadu, it represents the element fire.

According to legend, one day there was a disagreement between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu as to who was really superior.  Lord Shiva put an end to the argument by manifesting on the spot as a colossal column of fiery light, which shot up out of sight into the sky, and then eventually took the form of the sacred mountain, Arununachala.

One of the best known saints to live on Arununachala was Sri Ramana Maharshi, who lived in a cave on the mountain. He came to the mountain at the age of sixteen, following life-changing mystical experiences, and never left, living there from 1896 to 1950.  Later on, his mother and younger brother joined him there.

Pilgrims and devotees from all over the world came to visit him, and he taught them a path to enlightenment known as “atma vichara” or “self-inquiry.” He was very insistent that all the animals on the mountain be protected and well looked after; his favorite cow was named Laxshmi.  He taught that, as well as humans, both animals and plants can also reach enlightenment.

Mount Meru and many mountains throughout history

Mount Meru, a Jain water color

Mount Meru is the gold mountain standing at the center of the Cosmos.  It is the axis of the world, and the Himalayas are its foothills.  It reaches down below the ground, through the earth, and also up to the heavenly regions.  Mount Meru is present, as well, as the tower over the shrine of a Hindu temple.

Mountains – and the great stones or rocks that form them — have always had a deep significance for people. In ancient Greece, the gods lived on Mount Olympus.  Jesus Christ was crucified on the hill of Golgatha. Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive the ten commandments.

In the Old Testament, in First and Second Kings, the Hebrews were told not to go up to the hills to worship foreign gods; clearly these “foreign gods” who lived in the hills were the gods of the Caananite people, who the Hebrews had invaded and conquered.

After Noah had sailed on the flood waters for forty days and nights, the ark finally rested on Mount Ararat.  On the Holy Mount, where the Al Aksa Mosque stands, is the Dome of the Rock, a sacred stone; this is the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven.  At Mecca, where millions of Moslem pilgrims go to make the Hajj, they circle the Kabaa; a large, cubical, dark stone building where a black stone has been set into one corner. Broken and damaged over the centuries, the black stone is now held in a silver mount.

The Kabaa and the black stone pre-date Islam. In early times, the Kabaa contained 360 idols, the most prominent being Hubal.  His name may be a combination of Hu, meaning “spirit,” and Baal, the Semitic storm god. Hubal’s name also appears in a Nabataean inscription. In 630 AD, when Mohammed invaded Mecca, he smashed all 360 of the statues, including Hubal, and re-dedicated the Kabaa to Allah.

Mount Kailash

Mount Kailash

Mount Kailash, in Tibet, is sacred to many traditions. To Hindus, it is the home of Lord Shiva, and is near the source of four of the longest Indian rivers, the Indus, the Sutlej, the Brahmaputra and the Karnali, which leads to the Ganges.

For Buddhists, Mount Kailash is the home of the guardian deity, Samvara, a representative of Buddha. Bon Po, the original religion of Tibet, believed that Kailash is the home of the wind goddess. The first Jain Thirthankara, Rishabhadeva, attained enlightenment at Mount Kailash, after having lived for 592,704 quintillion years (a quintillion is 10 to the 18th power in the U.S. system or 10 to the 30th power in the European system – a long time either way).

Most of the world’s spiritual traditions have held sacred all the elements of nature; water, air, earth, fire, and ether or space. Holy mountains and stones, as an aspect of earth, have held a special place and have been revered since the earliest times.

It may be said that a temple is, symbolically, a mountain and serves the same function by reaching up to heaven.  Christian churches generally have steeples, which extend up to heaven – though as far as we know Jesus Christ had no knowledge of steeples.

The mosque has a minaret from which the call to prayer goes forth.

Pyramids and megalithic stones all over the world accomplish a similar purpose – enabling contact between the spiritual levels above and the earth below – a pathway from one level to the next.

In Africa, back to where scientists believe that the human race can trace its origins, there is a strong sense, for the traveler who pauses for a moment to gaze on the rocks scattered over the hills, that the land and the stones are incredibly ancient, going back to a simpler time – and even that the stones themselves, as a part of the planet earth, have an awareness and consciousness all their own.

The rocks, the stones, and the mountains that surround us on the earth, worshipped in many traditions, but also often unnoticed, especially in the modern world– have a cosmic role more profound and deeper than we might imagine.  They seem to come from a level of existence that transcends, and has a spiritual essence more meaningful than the everyday consciousness in which we tend to live our lives. Or perhaps they simply have longer memories?

Top photo: Sharon St. Joan / Window Rock at Window Rock, Arizona

Second photo: Sharon St. Joan / rocks at Zion National Park

Third photo: image uploaded by Anishshah19 / Wikimedia Commons, public domain  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mount_Meru.jpg  / 17th century water color Jain text 

Fourth photo: Ondřej Žváček/ wikimedia commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kailash_north.JPG

5 thoughts on “Holy Mountains

  1. Indeed, a wonderful post! And Ramana Maharshi is indeed Arunachala Shiva – I’ve read that account of all kinds of people who came to meet him in the 1930s and 40s – and the sublime qualities of Lakshmi. Many interesting conversations in that book.

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