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Why several Hindu temples are on mountain tops? – Symbolism

Mountains are an important part of Hinduism and many Hindu temples are atop mountains. There is deep symbolism in it. Shiva resides atop the Kailash Mountain. Goddess Durga resides on mountain. Vaishno Devi gives darshan atop a mountain. Some of the most important sacred places in Hinduism are in the Himalayas. Many of the temples in South India are on top of mountains including the world famous Tirupati Balaji temple. The temples of Ayyappa and Muruga in South India are on mountain tops. The reason why several Hindu temples are on mountaintops is because a devotee has to undertake penance and undergo the purification process before reaching God. Hindu temples are centers of self-realization.

Climbing the mountain symbolically represents shedding all negativity and lower level of thoughts. Desires, ego, hatred, violence, lust… have to be dropped one by one before we reach the temple. As we take each step up, we are dropping a form of ignorance that is blinding us from seeing truth.

Climbing the mountain provides opportunity for a devotee to think – purify the thoughts. The climb does not happen in a single session. The devotee has to take rest. This is the time of contemplation. By the time the devotee reaches the temple on the mountain top, the person is ready to receive knowledge of self realization.

Today things have changed; there are numerous comfortable options to reach the mountain top shrines. We even have helicopters taking devotees to mountaintop temples. Earlier the journey was by feet. It used to take several days. The journey was spiritual preparation. It involved sharing and caring. It involved meeting many pious souls. It involved direct connection with nature. We have stories of gods and goddesses taking forms of animals, plants, trees and humans and appearing before devotees who are on the journey to temples. We have gods testing the determination, devotion and dedication of the devotee.

Mountains point towards the heaven and for a common devotee living on earth the Gods reside in the heaven. The temple atop the mountain connects earth and heaven. The Mahabharata ends with Pandavas climbing the Himalayas. They climb the mountain to reach the doors of heaven. Thus there is a strong belief that mountaintops especially the Himalayas are the gateway to heaven.

Today many devotees climb mountains to reach a shrine for desire fulfillment. They take a pledge to climb the mountain and visit the shrine if such and such desire is fulfilled. When the desire is fulfilled, the devotee visits the shrine repeatedly. The news spread and today we have heavily populated mountain top temples.

Desire is the first thing that a true devotee drops before starting the pilgrimage. The devotee climbs the mountain through the arduous trek; and finally when he/she stands before the sanctum sanctorum all the devotee sees is his/her image in the sanctum. God and devotee becomes one. This is moksha or liberation. This is achieving bliss on earth. This is happiness. You see this ecstasy in rare devotees in temples. To a person who has not dropped the ego this might be madness. But that is bliss. That is what every spiritual aspirant is seeking.