Nepalese Myths

snow lion drawing

The snow lion, who lives in the Glaciers of the Himalaya, is a mythical creature of the Buddhist realm. Photo courtesy of the Ladakh Ecological Development Group.

From Observations on Conservation of Snow Leopards in Nepal, by Som B. Ale and Bhaskar S. Karky.

In the northerly societies of Nepal many indigenous beliefs and shamanistic practices, reflecting local pre-Buddhist traditions, were incorporated and subsequently reworked into the Buddhist pantheon and ritual system. One such ritual in Manang connected to the snow leopard and its depredation forbids alpine herders to roast meat, for otherwise the mountain god will send its “dog”, (i.e. snow leopard) and one has to suffer livestock losses.

In Dolpo there are stories of great lamas frequently making trips to Tibet in the form of snow leopards, in search of rare medicinal herbs. Other folklore describes the snow leopard as a “fence” for the crops, meaning that in the absence of snow leopards livestock would be free ranging and thus would invade crop fields.

Local inhabitants still believe that snow leopards (and domestic cats) are considered to have taken birth particularly to remove the sins of their past lives, and killing these animals means having their sins transferred to your own life.

In Mustang, killing a snow leopard is considered to be more sinful than its prey species (for instance blue sheep), because all sins it has committed during its lifetime by killing its prey will then be transferred to you.

looking down the Lapche Valley

“The blue-green valleys of Khumbu…”

Edwin Bernbaum, Ph.D., writes in The Way to Shambhala: A Search for the Mythical Kingdom Beyond the Himalayas:

We were standing beside the monastery of Tengboche on a ridge beneath Mount Everest, gazing out over the blue-green valleys of Khumbu, set deep in ranges of shining snow peaks. Far off below us, where morning shadows still lingered, wisps of smoke from cooking fires floated like river mist over Sherpa villages scattered between terraced fields and forests of pine and rhododendron.

“Khumbu used to be sacred,” Kalsang, the Head Lama’s brother, remarked.

“Isn’t it still?” I asked, continuing to gaze at the peaceful valleys below us.

“No, not anymore – not since people came to live here years ago. They built villages and fields and made it into an ordinary place like anywhere else. Now anyone can come here; it’s no longer special.”

“But somewhere up there, behind those mountains,” he added, pointing at the snow peaks east of Everest, “there’s a sacred valley called Khembalung. A long time ago, when Guru Rimpoche brought the teachings of Buddhism from India to Tibet, he set the gods to watch over it and keep it hidden from the world. It’s supposed to be a peaceful place, with food and everything you need for meditation. Only the true followers of Guru Rimpoche, the ones who really practice his teachings, can find it. There’s a guidebook to Khembalung, but if the wrong kind of people try to follow it, snow leopards will attack them at the mountain passes and drive them away.”