Why are Temples and Monasteries Built on Cliffs and Mountain Tops?

by Pulkit Mathur, The Spiritual Bee

Flower postage stamps - A Russian stamp depicting yellow pasque flowers.

“What would we do if the stars only came out once every thousand years? The world would become religious overnight, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.” -- Paul Hawken

Growing up in India, I have vivid memories of many a train journeys that my family undertook, to visit relatives who lived in towns all across India.

As the train chugged through the countryside one would spot little white
temples built on remote hill tops. At other times, one would catch glimpses of conical temple roofs and saffron flags, peeking through the mango groves of a nearby village. It was, and continues to be a mesmerizing sight.

It is interesting to note that Mother Nature forms the backdrop of not only these small village shrines, but also of major pilgrimage sites in India, many of which are located deep in the Himalayan mountains, inside caves, carved out of sheer cliff faces, near beautiful rivers and lakes or by the ocean-side.

And this leads one to wonder: Is there a reason behind choosing these sites as the locus of worship?

“Meditation means the mind is turned back upon itself. The mind stops, all thought-waves and the world stops.

Your consciousness expands. Every time you meditate you will keep your growth.”
– Swami Vivekananda

There is, as the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore revealed in his book Sadhana – The Realisation of Life: “India chose her places of pilgrimage wherever there was in nature some special grandeur or beauty, so that her mind could come out of its world of narrow necessities and realise its place in the infinite (God).”

And while Tagore offers an answer in the Indian context, it is just as applicable to Christian and Buddhist monasteries throughout the world, many of which are built in places of immense natural beauty and solitude. Such a setting being highly conducive to prayer, contemplation and meditation.

So the next time you trek to a temple or a monastery, remember the effort is not in vain. There is a purpose hidden behind the journey – to turn your mind away from the distractions of the outer world, and focus it on discovering the profound truths of the inner world.

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Join the Discussion | Share Your Thoughts

  • Nitya Priya

    It not actually so for mere distraction from outer world. In those days visiting temples is pilgrimage to the hill top temples and its a few days or even months process and not as of now like take a luxury car from home and drop directly in the temple. In those days it involves lot of physical hardship to reach the top so in the process the physical pain rupture the physical ego naturally,so while they reach the top the expression of the atman is sensed more where bakthi is natural

    • Amit

      Nitya Priya ! I think you have expressed it in a better way……

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