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Monday, 22 November 2010






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Superlatives and names at Himalaya range

What has Asia got to be proud of? A lot. At the very top looms the Great Master of many names and epithets. He himself was born at the base of what perhaps comes next in line, ie. the great Himalayan range.

Himalaya is a Sankrit word that means Abode of Snow. What an awesome spread of snow on the Karakoram, on the Hindu Kush and other ranges! Beating Europe in this respect? Yes. Aconcagua in the Andes, highest peak outside Asia rises only 22,841 feet while Mt. Everest, rises 29,035 feet. In fact there are said to be hundred peaks in the Himalayas outdoing Andes. Done deliberately to vanquish other continents? No. They have just gone up and up after a dramatic birth attributed to a continental collision begun in the Jurassic era, 80 million years ago! Want more surprises? The Himalayan mountain range,that looks as though it had stood there since the wombs of Time, is known as one of the youngest mountain ranges in the world!

As if all those feats are not sufficient it goes on to become the major springboard for the world’s major rivers - the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Mekong, Salween, Red River, Xunjiang, Chao Phraya, Irrawaddy, Amu Dharya, Tarim and Yellow river. Strangely some of these names as Brahmaputra are very familiar to us perhaps through ancient Buddhist literature.

And here comes the greatest credential - Himalaya’s drainage basin is home to almost half the world’s population according to Internet sources. That is 3 billion people inhabiting the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, People’s Republic of China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Cambodia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhastan, Kyrghiztan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Pakistan! For better or worse we just missed the list.

And now on to some peculiar features of the ten highest mountains in the world all belonging to the mighty Himalayan range. A good many of them carry female names. Ever heard of Sagarmatha? Well. It is nothing but the Nepalese name for Everest, the highest mountain in the world. Everest itself is a Western name, named after a Mr Everest, a British Surveyor General (1790-1866) responsible for locating it.

The colonial administrators though vilified often never idled in India. Sagarmatha is sited between Nepal and Tibet. Tibetans have named it Chomolangua, meaning Goddess Mother of Snows. Why such hard awesome looking masses are named after females pose a mystery. I remember a mountain in our own country while on a circuit to Uva province schools. As we got down from the vehicle a beautiful range of mountains encircling the valley below greeted our eyes. A colleague pointed to one range and asked me whether I know the name of that range. I replied in the negative.

“It is called Dethanagala,” he said. ‘Mountain of the two breasts’. Sure enough, two mounds rose evoking such an image of breasts of a well-made woman... The Knuckles range is yet another range named after a part of human anatomy. But not all mountains carry female names or even rational names. There is our Pidurutalagala. Is it connected to straw? No. It is said to be connected to a Christian friar, more likely a Roman Catholic friar named Pedro! How this friar got connected to this peak is worth investigation. Back to Himalayan hills. Next in line is Chogi Gangri in between China and Pakistan. Height 28,251 feet.

Third comes Kangchen Dza’nga hedged between the states of Nepal and Sikkim, India. Height 28,116 feet And then the South Peak, Lhotse ,native name, rising between Tibet and China..Now comes Great Black or Makalu rising 27,765 feet between China, Tibet and Nepal. And now a queen rises, The Turquoise queen, 26,905 feet between Tibet, China and Nepal. Can there be White Mountains? Yes. only in Nepal and it is named Dhaulgiri.

And Spirits? Again in Nepal. Manaslu,Mountain of the spirits rises again 26,758 feet. Do mountains wear cloths? No. They are swathed in snow or green foliage. Yet there is a Naked Mountain, Nanga Parbat rising 26,660 feet in North Pakistan. Anapurna meaning Goddess of the harvests, rises again in Nepal.

Who names mountains? Not gods but humans. Not intellectuals, but ordinary people who see them every day. Their imagination runs riot on the shapes or some feature of the giant mound. Some carry no names. Well.We just call it the Kande or the Mountain, they say. It happens usually when there is only one mountain in sight. But many a human is creative and like to christen mountains. Hills around Kurunegala and Kurunegla (Ethugalpura) itself owe their names to animals whose figures evoke the names.

Kurunegala is the City of Elephants named after a hill of carrying the shape of a pachyderm. Around the city rise hills such as Ibbagala and Andagala named after tortoises and eels. And then there is a Kotiyagala.

I wonder whether there is a mountain in Moneragala which has to take the shape of a peacock if so.

But not necessarily as there is nothing to prevent irrationality. For why on earth should our hoary Sri Pada be called Adam’s Peak in English usage? Adam belongs to Christian literature which does not place the character of Adam or the Garden of Adam and Eve in our island. Bahirawakande of Kandy is okay namewise for it had been the residence of a Bahirawaya who demanded a young lass every year from the monarch of Kandy till somebody had been clever enough to stall this wicked Bili or Prana Pooja.


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