Categories: Hindu Mythology

Rakshastal: The Mysterious Twin of Lake Manasarovar

Nestled in the remote reaches of western Tibet, within Burang County of Ngari Prefecture, lie two enigmatic lakes, standing side by side in the shadow of Mount Kailash (Kailash Parvat). One, Lake Manasarovar, revered as sacred across Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, is said to have sprung from the divine thoughts of Lord Shiva. Its counterpart, Lake Rakshastal, holds a starkly contrasting reputation. According to legend, it was conjured by Ravana, the demon king, fulfilling his wish granted by Lord Shiva. Despite their proximity, the lakes diverge in essence and significance.

Lake Rakshastal

Lake Manasarovar, also known as Mapam Yumco, embodies purity with its sweet, fresh waters, a symbol of spiritual sanctity. In contrast, Rakshastal, known as the Ghost Lake or Devil Lake, exudes an eerie aura, its bitter, saline waters mirroring its ominous reputation. While Manasarovar holds deep religious reverence, Rakshastal, referred to as La’nga Co in Tibetan, remains shrouded in mystery, lacking the sacred narratives that surround its twin. Yet, in Sanskrit, Rakshastal’s name translates to “Lake of the Demon,” echoing its association with the penance of Ravana, further adding to its enigmatic allure.

The Dichotomy of Lakes

Lake Manasarovar and the Ghost Lake, also known as Rakshastal

Nestled side by side, Lake Manasarovar and the Ghost Lake, also known as Rakshastal, share a unique connection through the Ganpa Chu channel. Despite the slight elevation difference between them, the channel remains dry for most of the year. What sets these lakes apart is not just their physical proximity but also the stark contrast in their water compositions. While Lake Manasarovar’s waters are sweet and fresh, Rakshastal’s are bitter, tepid, and notably saline—a striking duality that embodies the essence of Tibetan Buddhism.

Beyond their water content, the lakes’ shapes reflect opposing yet complementary forces. Lake Manasarovar’s round form evokes the radiant sun, while Rakshastal’s crescent shape mirrors the tranquil moon. This juxtaposition symbolizes the fundamental Buddhist concept of harmony through balance—wherein opposites coexist and are interdependent. Under the watchful gaze of Mount Kailash, these two lakes exist in harmonious unity, reminding visitors of Buddhism’s profound teachings on embracing diversity and finding equilibrium amidst contrasting elements.

Legends and Mythology

Long ago, in the ancient land of Lanka, there ruled a powerful king named Ravana. Seeking to augment his already formidable power, he embarked on a rigorous journey of devotion to Lord Shiva, the revered deity of transformation and destruction. Standing on one leg atop Mount Kailash, Ravana offered a gruesome sacrifice each day, hoping to win the favor of the mighty lord. After enduring this arduous ritual for a considerable time, his unwavering dedication finally impressed Lord Shiva, who bestowed upon him unparalleled powers. Overwhelmed with gratitude and eager to test his newfound abilities, Ravana created a vast lake filled with salty water, a testament to his newfound might.

Yet, conflicting interpretations of the legend persist. Some recount that Lord Shiva, disapproving of Ravana’s actions, imprisoned him beneath the scorching sun, surrounded by the salty waters of the lake, as retribution for his arrogance. However, Ravana’s remorse and earnest plea for forgiveness eventually moved the compassionate deity. Consequently, Lord Shiva liberated Ravana from his salty confines, but not before the tears of repentance shed by the remorseful king had imbued the lake’s waters with their characteristic saltiness. Thus, the legend serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating the consequences of hubris and the redemptive power of sincere repentance.

Attractions and Mysteries

Standing at the desolate shores of Lake Rakshastal evokes a sense of otherworldly intrigue, as travelers bear witness to its eerie tranquility. Barren expanses devoid of life surround the lake, shrouding it in an aura of mystery. Tales abound of inexplicable waves rippling across its surface, defying natural explanations. Yet, it is precisely this enigmatic allure that draws intrepid adventurers seeking to unravel its secrets and commune with its ethereal essence.

Nearby Marvels

Lake Manasarovar – The Holy Lake

Lake Manasarovar sits close to the Ghost Lake in Tibet and is among the Great Three Sacred Lakes of the region. It’s considered the most sacred by many because it’s where Buddha was said to be conceived. Hindus believe it’s a manifestation of Lord Shiva’s mind and represents purity. Both Buddhists and Hindus think bathing in the lake can wash away a lifetime of sins.

Mount Kailash – The Sacred Peak

Mount Kailash, also known as Kailasa, is thought to be the holiest mountain on Earth. It’s sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Bonpo. People see it as the earthly version of Mount Meru, the central mountain where gods live. Despite not being the tallest mountain, at 6,638 meters (21,778 feet), it’s so revered that no one has ever climbed it, and it’s unlikely anyone will because of its sacred status in China.

The mountain is famous for the Kailash Kora trek, a challenging pilgrimage route around it covering about 52 kilometers. Tibetans believe circling the mountain brings great spiritual merit, and completing the kora thirteen times can lead to enlightenment. Legend says doing 108 circuits will bring instant Buddhahood.

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Krishna Das is an experienced article writer. He writes about Hinduism in his spare time.

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