Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailasa

Pahari, Guler
Circa 1790
Opaque pigments heightened with gold on paper
8 1/8 by 5 ½ in. (20.7 by 14 cm.)
Provenance: California Private Collection
Shiva, the Auspicious One, is seated with his wife, Parvati, on a tiger skin atop Mount Kailasa, the “precious snow mountain.”  The river Ganges flows from Shiva’s hair, and his snake Vasuki is coiled contentedly around his neck.  Parvati holds forth a plate as Shiva meditates. Shiva’s trishula (trident) is planted in the mountain behind the couple, and a triangular pennant in green and red waves from the staff.  The recumbent white bull Nandi, Shiva's primary vehicle and principal follower, rests quietly beneath the deities. 

According to Hinduism, Lord Shiva resides at the summit of the 22,000-foot Mount Kailasa, in southwestern Tibet, where he sits in a state of perpetual meditation along with his wife Parvati.  The mountain was described in the Vishnu Purana as having four faces, composed of crystal, ruby, gold, and lapis lazuli and was thought to be a “pillar of the world.”  

Every year, thousands make a pilgrimage to Kailasa, following a tradition going back millennia.  Devotees of several religions believe that circumambulating Mount Kailasa on foot is a holy ritual that will bring good fortune.  The peregrination is made in a clockwise direction by Hindus and Buddhists, while followers of the Jain and Bonpo religions circumambulate the mountain in a counterclockwise direction. The path around Mount Kailasa is 52km (32mi) long, with some pilgrims believing that the entire walk around the massif should be made in a single day (which is not considered an easy task).