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The Himalayas (Himācala or Himavanta) are the 2500 kilometre long chain of mountains that form the northern edge of the Indian subcontinent. The name is derived from the words hima and mālā meaning ‘garland of snow’ or according to some, from hima and ālaya meaning ‘abode of snow.’ The Jātaka describe the Himalayas as ‘a vast region, five hundred yojanas high and three thousand in breadth’ (Ja.V,415. The Buddha called them Pabbatarāja, ‘Lord of Mountains’ (S.II,137). Shortly after his enlightenment he is said to have used his supernormal powers to visit Lake Anotatta which is now identified with Lake Manasarovar at the foot of Mount Kailash (Vin.I,27). Later in life he occasionally ‘sojourned in a forest hut in the Himalayan region,’ probably the thickly wooded hills of the lower Kumaon or the Mahabharata Hills of Nepal (S.I,116).
The Himalayas form the setting for numerous Jātaka stories. In many of his previous lives as a bodhisattva, the Buddha renounced the world and went to live as an ascetic in the mountains or retired there towards the end of his life (e.g. Ja.I,140; 362; 371; 406; 440). He and other ascetics lived off wild fruit and grains and often made friends with the forest animals. As the winter approached they would come down to the plains to escape the cold, collect salt, vinegar and other supplies and then return four months later. To the Buddha, the majestic sunlit snow peaks of the Himalayas were a symbol of goodness and purity. In the Dhammapada he says: ‘The good shine from afar like the Himalayas. The bad are obscure like an arrow shot into the night.’(Dhp.304). See Meru.