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The Sleeping Buddha of the Himalayas

Dr A K Chatterjee, a Gynecologist by profession, is an enthusiastic traveler, researcher on religious places, an author and blog writer.

Sleeping Buddha in the Kanchenjunga range, seen in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India.

Sleeping Buddha in the Kanchenjunga range, seen in Darjeeling, West Bengal, India.

An Amazing Gift of the Nature

Lord Buddha in a reclining position—often referred to with specificity as Reclining Buddha—is an important part of Buddhist iconography. It represents Lord Buddha in his last days of life. In these depictions, he is shown lying on his right side (not in a supine position) with his head resting either on a pillow or on his right flexed elbow.

This attitude of Lord Buddha is attributed to either the state of Nirvana, the sleeping attitude, or, less commonly, a teaching attitude. This stylistic representation of the figure emerged during the Greek-influenced Gandharan period.

There are scores of statues of Lord Buddha in reclining positions in different countries which include: Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Tajikistan, India (in cave number 26 of Ajanta), Pakistan (the Bhamala Buddha Parinirvana statue, 1,800 years old, is the oldest Reclining Buddha statue in the world), Bangladesh and even in the United States (at the Linh Son temple in Santa Fe, Texas).

Some of the famous examples that I have visited are:

  1. The Reclining Buddha statue at Lumbini, Nepal, the birthplace of Lord Buddha.
  2. Cave number 26 of Ajintha Leni—more popularly called "Ajanta caves"—in Maharashtra, India.
  3. The world-famous, gold-coloured and 100-foot-long Reclining Buddha statue at the Vimukti Bidarshan Bhabna Kendra temple of Ramu, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. It is the largest Reclining Buddha statue in the country.

The following three photos are ones I've taken on my travels to see these depictions of Buddha.

Sleeping Buddha in a temple of Lumbini, Nepal

Sleeping Buddha in a temple of Lumbini, Nepal

Sleeping Buddha (Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha); cave number 26, Ajanta, Maharashtra, India

Sleeping Buddha (Mahaparinirvana of Lord Buddha); cave number 26, Ajanta, Maharashtra, India

Reclining Buddha; Ramu, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

Reclining Buddha; Ramu, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

Sleeping Buddha in the Himalayas

From certain areas in the northern parts of the Indian states of West Bengal and Sikkim, the mighty Kanchenjungha (also called Kanchanjangha) mountain range—when viewed straight from on—looks like a huge human being in a supine position. This is seen from a particular perspective you get when facing the mountain range. The image conjured is purely imaginary, though a fun image to decipher nonetheless.

The image created reminds me of the popular images of the Reclining Buddha. The difference here is that Buddha is lying on his back (i.e. in a supine position), and not on his right side like the more traditional Reclining Buddha statues around the world. For the purpose of this article, we'll call this natural image of the figure the Sleeping Buddha.

Parts of the Sleeping Buddha

The different mountain peaks that constitute the Himalayan Sleeping Buddha are as follows (from left to right of the observer):

  1. The violet arrow is Mount Kumbhakarna (or Janu) and constitutes the bun/topknot of his hair.
  2. The yellow arrow is Mount Kabru South and constitutes the head and the forehead.
  3. The green arrow is Mount Kabru North and constitutes the face and chin of the figure.
  4. The red arrow is Mount Kanchenjunga and forms the chest and abdomen (or tummy).
  5. The blue arrow is the high-altitude mountain ridge connecting Kanchenjunga to other mountains. This part makes up an imagined leg.
  6. The black arrow is Mount Pandim and it constitutes the feet standing upright.
For specifics on the parts of Sleeping Buddha, see the text below where I name the individual peaks.

For specifics on the parts of Sleeping Buddha, see the text below where I name the individual peaks.

Peaks Constituting the Sleeping Buddha

The different peaks constituting the Sleeping Buddha are parts of the Kanchenjunga range or "Kangchenjunga Himal", as said in the Nepali language.

Now, let's briefly discuss those peaks.

Mount Kabru consists of point one, Kabru South; point two, Kabru North; point three, Kabru Dome. This view is from Darjeeling.

Mount Kabru consists of point one, Kabru South; point two, Kabru North; point three, Kabru Dome. This view is from Darjeeling.

Mount Kabru at sunset; Kabru Dome is in the foreground. This view is from Darjeeling.

Mount Kabru at sunset; Kabru Dome is in the foreground. This view is from Darjeeling.

Mount Kabru

This mountain is on the border of India and Nepal and is a part of the ridge that extends south from Mount Kanchenjunga. Its height is 7,412 metres or 24,318 feet, making it the 65th tallest mountain in the world.

It has two main peaks: Kabru North and Kabru South (7,318 metres, the tallest southernmost peak in the world) connected by a tall saddle that stands at 7,200 metres.

There is confusion over the height of Kabru North. Though shorter than the highest point of the Kabru saddle region (7,412 metres), it is often considered the highest point of the Kabru range. Kabru South is flanked on South West by Rathong peak (6,682 metres) and on South East by Kabru Dome (6,600 metres).

Mount Talung

It is a 7,349 metre tall summit, connected to Kanchenjunga South by a 6,600-6,700 metre tall saddle; another 6,983 metre tall saddle connects it to Mount Kabru.

Mount Kanchenjunga

Kanchenjunga (also spelt Kangchenjunga, Kanchanjangha, Khangchendzonga) is the third highest peak in the world and stands 8,586 metres (28,169 feet) tall. It is part of the Kangchenjunga Himal, which is bounded, in the west, by the Tamur river, in the east, by the Teesta river and, finally, to the north, by the Lhonak river and Jongsang La.

It has five visible peaks: Main (8,856 metres/28,169 feet), Central (8,482 metres/27,828 feet), South (8,494 metres/27,867 feet), West (8,505 metres/27,904 feet) and Kangbachen (7,903 metres/25,928 feet). Of these five peaks, three (Main, Central and South) are on the Sikkim-Nepal border, and the remaining are (West and Kangbachen) entirely in Nepal.

Up until 1852, Kanchenjunga was considered to be the highest peak in the world, but then in 1856, it was re-designated as the third-highest peak. It now comes after Mount Everest (8,849 metres/29,031.7 feet) and K2 (8,611 metres/28,251 feet). Of these, Everest is also in the Himalayas, while K2 falls in the Karakoram range.

Mount Pandim, as seen from Darjeeling

Mount Pandim, as seen from Darjeeling

Mount Pandim at sunrise, as seen from Darjeeling

Mount Pandim at sunrise, as seen from Darjeeling

Mount Pandim

Mount Pandim—standing 6,691 metres/21,952 feet tall—is located in Sikkim, India. It is not directly connected to the Kanchenjunga range, but due to the perspective from Darjeeling, it works to form the upright "feet" of the Sleeping Buddha.

Sleeping Buddha in Southern India

Though we are familiar with the Sleeping Buddha in the Kanchenjunga range in the Himalayas, there is a lesser-known Sleeping Buddha in southern India. It is near the Shahpur town in the Yadgir district of the state of Karnataka, between Shahpur and Bheemaryanagudi. It is arranged in such a way that, from certain viewpoints, it gives an impression of a man lying in a supine position with his head to the right (from the viewer's perspective). The hill is called The Sleeping Buddha Hill.

If you are interested in seeing the details of this range, simply google "the Sleeping Buddha of South India."

A Sight to Behold

Sleeping Buddha in the Himalayas is an interesting image produced by visual illusion and the fertile imagination of people who wants to see their Lord in Nature. Seeing is in during sunset is an even more enchanting experience.

All in all, it is a beautiful concept, one that can be appreciated by all, whether they practice Buddhism or not. I hope this article inspired you to consider taking the time to see this natural depiction of the Sleeping Buddha.

© 2022 Dr A K Chatterjee