For the Hindus, it is a holy place associated with Lord Shiva. While for the Buddhist, the sacred place associates with Guru Padmasambhava along with Dakini Mandarava, where they attained immortal life.
Right about 185km southwest of Mount Everest in the Khotang district of eastern Nepal lies the religious pilgrimage site of the Halesi Maratika caves. The site is a mystical natural cave in between two holy rivers: Dudhkoshi and Sunkoshi. The cave is a rich natural site holding great religious, historical importance.
It has a remarkable prominence to both the Hindu and Buddhist religion pilgrims. For the Hindus, it is a holy place associated with Lord Shiva as it is also called the Pashupatinath of eastern Nepal. While for the Buddhist, the sacred place associates with Guru Padmasambhava along with Dakini Mandarava, where they attained immortal life.
The site attracts many pilgrims throughout the year and holds significant cultural importance among both religions. This pilgrimage site has several special ceremonies, rites, and rituals performed in festivals like Bala Chaturdashi, Shiva Ratri, Ram Navami, and Teej, etc. It is once in a lifetime must-visit place.
RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE IN HINDUISM
The Hindu pilgrims come to worship the Halesi Mahadev – the two feet tall Shiva Linga in the cave. To the north of the Shiva linga is a narrow path made by two pillars where it is believed that sinners cannot pass through. Only after confessing about their wrongdoings can they get access through it. Holding a belief that the Halesi Mahadev blesses the poor with prosperity and ignorant with knowledge, many devotees come to worship the deity.
The three mysterious caves are believed to represent the three eyes of Lord Shiva. The first cave, Haleshwor Mahadev – Lord Shiva, second cave, Basaha cave – Nandi, and the third cave, Bhairava cave – Bhairav. The cave holds its religious importance also based on the legend that Lord Shiva took shelter in the cave from the Bhasmasur, who was earlier his devotee but, after gaining the ability to finish people only by putting hands on their heads, turned on Shiva himself. Legend says that Lord Shiva was able to trick Bhasmasur to kill himself. The cave also has a footprint of Shiva standing on the intestines of the demon Bhasmasur on the ceiling.
There are five different doors of the Halesi as the major attraction of the Halesi tour. It is believed that if one can easily pass through these doors, one can earn a preservation/lifeline. The mythology connected with it says that only people having pure faith and devotion towards God can pass through these doors, which those who lack the trust and belief in God cannot pass through these gates. These gates are namely:
- Ghopte Dwar: North-west of Halesi Cave
- Janma Dwar: 6 feet east of Ghopte dwar
- Paap Dwar: South-east of the cave
- Dharma Dwar: West-North of the cave
- Swarga Dwar (Heaven door in English): Can be seen from Yagya Shala near Paap Dwar
RELIGIOUS SIGNIFICANCE IN BUDDHISM
Maratika, or "Chi bam thar byed" in Tibet, means "eliminates from death". For Buddhists, it is a site of immortality for Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), along with Dakini Mandarava, attained immortality here. Legends say that on the request of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the Amitabha Budhha taught 18 Tantras of long life, which Dakini Sangwa Yeshe recorded and hid as Terma at Maratika. Guru and Mandarava attained the Vidyadhara of longevity after practicing the long-life teachings for 90 days when Budhha Amitayus appeared in the sky and gave the initiation. Maratika is also blessed by the families of three protectors Manjushree, Vajrapani, and Avalokiteshvara.
The four gates in different locations of the cave are believed to purify one from a variety of downfalls and negative karmas on passing through it.
The first gate purifies karma of taking birth in hot and cold hells,
the second gate purifies karma of passing through the state between birth and death,
third purifies the karma of taking womb birth and accumulates merit and wisdom and
finally, the fourth purifies all damages and breakages in Samaya, the vows of the tantrika and vows of the foundational and bodhisattva vehicles.
Hence the sacred cave rich in history and mythology attracts Buddhist pilgrims seeking long life and Padmasambhava practice.