Located at an altitude of 3,710m at the foot of Thorong La Pass in Mustang, Muktinath is a holy place among the Hindus as well as the Buddhists. Hindus call the place Mukti Kshetra, from where people are liberated or obtain moksha. Among the Sri Vaishnava sect, the temple is regarded as 106th among the available 108 Divya Desam. Even before the Buddhists, this place was known as Thiru Saligramam, according to Vaishnava literature.
The cultural value
The temple hosts Shaligram or Sshila that is considered to be the naturally available form of Sriman Narayana, the Hindu Godhead. Buddhists call the place Chumig Gyatsa, that translates to Tibetan as “Hundred Waters”. While it is considered to be a holy place among the Vaishnavas, this place is also important for Tibetan Buddhists as they consider the temple to be an important place of dakinis, goddesses known as Sky Dancers and one of the 24 Tantric places. The murti, for them, is an embodiment of Avalokitesvara.
For Hindu Vaishnavas, the shrine is one of the eight most sacred shrines, known as Svayam Vyakta Kshetras (others being Srirangam, Srimushnam, Tirupati, Naimisharanya, Thotadri, Pushkar, and Badrinath). For all Hindus, Muktinath is one of the most ancient Vishnu temples.
The central temple of Sri Muktinath
The murti is made of gold and is the size of that of a complete human figure. The outer courtyard – known as the prakaram – has 108 bull faces through which water is poured.
There are 108 pipes around the complex and water continuously flows through it. The 108 pipes denote the sacred Puskarini waters from all 108 Sri Vashnava Divya Desams, a holy place to take a sacred bath even in freezing temperatures.
Buddhists worship in the place in presence of a Buddist monk, and also local nuns manage the prayers.
The Shakti Peeth at Muktinath
First, you need to know what Shakti Peetha is. It is the sacred abode of the cosmic energy Shakti which is formed by the falling body parts of the corpses of Sati Devi when Lord Shiva carried and wandered across the earth. Shaktism reveres 51 Shakti Peethas, each which is associated with 51 alphabets in Sanskrit. Muktinath is one of those Shakti Peetha for a yatra, and is addressed as “Gandaki Chandi”, and the Bhairava as “Chakrapani”. The temple of a forehead of Sati Devi is said to have dropped when Shiva roamed around here.
It is said that Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and also known as Padmasambhava, mediated on his way to Tibet. Also, many saints praise the sacredness of this temple. One can find the scriptures in Vishnu Purana with Gandaki Mahathmya.
There is water downstream from Muktinath along the Kali Gandaki river. It is the source of Silas or Shaiigrams, which are the requisites to make a temple of Vishnu. The 108 water springs have great significance, as in Hindu astrology, the 12 Rashi (zodiac) and 9 Grahas (planets) give a total of 108 combinations. Also, the 27 Lunar mansions of Nakshatras, each divided into 4 quarters, give a combination of 108 quarters.
In the Sri Vaishnava tradition, Alvars have contributed to the legend of Muktinath. Thirumangai Alvar, one of the Alvars, could not reach Muktinath, but sad 10 parshurams from the nearest place to praise Lord Sri Murthy. Periyalvar also had song the Salagramamudaiya nambi in praise of Sri Murthi. The most venerated Srivaishnava pilgrim center in Tamil nadu, the Srivilliputtur, installed idols of Andal, Ramamuja, Manavala in the sacred place recently in August 2009. It is also said that Lord Vishnu resides in the form of Sri Paramapatha Nathan with his divine consorts of Sri, Bhoomi, Neela and Gotha Devis in this place.
The place of five elements in Muktinath
Muktinath is the only place on earth where one can find all five elements – fire, water, sky, earth, and air. They found in their own form at the place near Jwala Devi temple. Thus, is known as Sri Murthy Mahatmyam.
How to get there
The best time to visit is during March to June, other times the weather conditions make it difficult to get there. One needs to take flights from either Kathmandu or Pokhara to Jomson, and then trek their way or take a jeep to Muktinath. Chartered helicopters are also available, and is available for 45 minutes flight since there is a risk of acute mountain sickness (AMS).