One little thing has always struck me since childhood. In the Western Himalayas there are a lot of places connected with Hindu mythology and the Mahabharata to be particular. And out of the Mahabharata about the Pandavas and the time spent in “Vanvas”. Any and every place had something or the other to do with the Pandavas. So it seemed everything which couldn't be explained or attributed to someone was made a part of the Pandavas vanvas. All this sounded nice and dandy till the time you don't put your mind to it. And then I thought how could they be at all these places at the same time ? And then I asked myself who were the Pandavas. Well they were a part of the Epic. But these places do exist for real and they must be someone’s handiwork. And looking deeper a pattern emerged. Of course at that time no one really questioned the authenticity of these claims. Most will not even now. But I have the right to know who built the “Pandava Temple”, who made the Horses at Ghoda Gali attributed to the “Pandavas” or the countless other things that are attributed to them. Because if I keep believing the Pandava theory then it means I keep denying myself the history of the people who actually built this. And on a larger scale everything was attributed to Hindu mythology / Gods which again was a something hard for me to swallow. I guess you would have got the gist of what I am saying. Ok moving on to a more particular example.
In parts of Western Uttarakhand and Eastern Himachal Pradesh the people share reverence to a particular Devta, known as the Mahasu devta. Infact the Mahasu Devta seems to reign supreme in the Hilly/Mountainous areas between the Satluj and the Yamuna River. His domain also spreads to neighbouring areas in the lower Hills. The main stronghold of Mahasu Devta domain is the Jaunsar Bawar area in Dehradun District but Mahasu Devta is also revered in the neighbouring parts of Himachal Pradesh in Shimla and Sirmaur Districts.
I have been hearing of Mahasu Devta since I was born as my Mother's family had Apple Orchards in the Kotkhai region and we used to visit on and off. The Village where we had the Orchards came under the purview of a bigger Village known as Mahasu. Infact during the older times the whole belt of Himachal from Chopal to Kotkhai to Jubbal to Rohru was known as the Mahasu District. Also in the neighbouring areas of Uttarakhand especially the Jaunsar Bawar region also Mahasu Devta was the one of the main deities. Infact one of the main Temples of Mahasu Devta lies in Hanol which is in Uttarakhand adjacent to the border with Himachal Pradesh. Infact its now the Jaunsar Bawar Region that is considered the stronghold of Mahasu Devta.
Mahasu Devta now holds precedence over all the other local Gods and Goddesses and is the the supreme Lord of the Region. As per the legend there are four main Deities and Mahasu Devta is the numero uno. It is said that Lord Shiva’s son Kartik is personified by the four Mahasu deities, who are brothers, as Botha Mahasu, Bashik Mahasu, Pavashi Mahasu and Chalda Mahasu. Out of all the four the most important one if Botha Mahasu or simple referred to as the Mahasu Devta. Of course in the present time all the Devi Devatas are connected with Hindu mythology and their actual origin has gone into obscurity.
Moving away from the mythological account, as per some accounts the name Mahasu is a derivation of the word Mahashiv and and it came along when Shaivism was introduced in the region. Infact the deity worshipped as Mahasu Devta at Hanol is still actually a Buddha in a seated position. This points out to the fact that Buddhism was prevalent in the Ref]gion before the Shiva cult came in and a majority of the people turned to worship him. This was a continuation of the same events that took place in Kashmir. Infact it is said that it was a Brahmin from Kashmir, Huna Bhat who introduced Mahasu Devta in this area. It is said that the Brahmin was earlier serving the ruler of Kashmir at that time, Mihirakula who was an avid Shivite. Now Mihirakula who was an Alchon Hun (or Svet Huna / White Huns) , was deemed to be very cruel and destructive towards Buddhism and he is supposed to have destroyed many Buddhist Temples and icons. The Alchon Huns had themselves come down from Central Asia and conquered the Gandhar and the Kashmir region and even carried on their conquests in the Northern Plains. Mihirkula sent emissaries to spread the cult of Shiva into other places in the Himalayas as well. And Mihirakula is detested in Buddhist text for the destruction he wrought upon the Buddhists in Kashmir and its him thought to be responsible for the eventual disappearance of Buddhism from Kashmir.
Huna Bhatt, was probably a name given to this Priest who was himself probably a Hun or of Hunnic descent. And Hanol was named after him. Think about it. A Central Asian Hun who came down from Kashmir to Garhwal and laid the foundation of one of the most revered Devatas, Mahasu Devta and introduced the cult of Shiva.
Of course there is another tale which does rounds of how Huna Bhatt was a local Brahmin who was sent for penance into the Mountains of Kashmir and how Lord Shiva himself appeared before him and granted him….he thence returned to Hanol and set up the Temple.
What this points out to the fact that the whole of the Himalayan Region from Kashmir to Himachal to Uttarakhand was predominantly Buddhist or Animist/ Local Devta worshipping by some accounts. And to counter Buddhism and the Buddha in particular the cult of Shiva was propagated. And it helped that Shiva was shown as the God of the Mountains with his home on the mighty Kailash but the fact remains that the first time Lord Shiva or Osheo as he was called appeared in any physical form was in the First Century in a coin issued by Great Kushan Emperor Kanishka. The physical postulation of the Buddha in the form of visuals and sculptures pre-dates those of Shiva, which is a clear evidence of who came first. It would also be pertinent to point out that the name “Shiva” does not appear in the Rig Veda and it is said by some that he was called Rudra in the Rig Veda.
Anyways before ruffling more feathers let me state that the Himalayas predate “Religion” by millions of years. Religion is matter of personal belief but the Himalayas are the eternal fact. And quite a big one at that.
Disclaimer : The Vedic Religion of the Vedas is the fountainhead of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. All are Vedic Religions.
And I quote the Rig Veda Hymn 10:129
"But, after all, who knows, and who can say
Whence it all came, and how creation happened?
the devas (gods) themselves are later than creation,
so who knows truly whence it has arisen?"
This is what I believe in.