The Rightful recognition of Nanda Devi East as Sunanda Devi

Nanda Devi and Sunanda Devi

It was described in the last post that the goddesses Nanda and Sunanda occur together in mythology and worship. Nanda goddess means the Bliss giving goddess whereas Sunanda means the good bliss giving goddess. One may wonder why the prefix good is added to Sunanda when in fact Nanda is the more active and senior goddess. The reason is perhaps that Nanda Devi also takes on fearful avatars in mythology when she goes about conquering evil demons and at such times adding good is not necessary.

Goddess Nanda Devi has been regarded  variously as a human representation of the Great Mother Goddess and even as that of Mother Earth. Goddess Sunanda has appeared in mythology and  history from time to time as the companion goddess or sister of this goddess. In nature the Nanda Devi mountain, one of the highest in the Himalayas is regarded as a sacred and majestic representation of the Great Goddess on Earth. It is a twin peak mountain in which the lower summit was referred to as Nanda Devi East by European explorers because the locals did not spell out the name of the other peak, so habituated they were in calling the entire massif as Nanda Devi. Naming a part of a sacred mountain as something east is not an appropriate nomenclature for those who hold the mountain in spiritual reverence.

In his article on Nanda Devi - Nanda Devi: Vision or Reality? - authored by Bill Aitken (William McKay Atiken)and author of several books on the Himalayas,  published in 2006  (Himalayan Journal 62, url: this is what Bill Atiken had to say about the nomenclature of Nanda Devi east:

“Pilgrims to Garhwal’s Char Dham evince little interest in the Goddess for she is largely indiscernible except from high ground like Rudranath or on the descent to Tapovan. Nor does she have any conspicuous temples since her representation in the Sri Yantra form does not permit of any roof. Kumaun astride the pilgrim route to Kailash was forced to take note of the Goddess’s presence and some read in the first English version of the peak (as Nundi Deva ) a reference to Shiva’s sacred bull. No one has commented on the inappropriateness of the foreign mountaineering nomenclature ‘Nanda Devi East’ which could suggest a dismembered deity. This colonial ascription survives while other Sanctuary features like the cols named after Longstaff, Ruttledge and Shipton have all been replaced (not always successfully) by local names.

To illustrate how local lore can assert claims that fail to stand the test of time, is the naming of Nanda Devi’s east peak as ‘Latu’ by the Schlaginweits on their German map of1857. As the Garhwal herald of the Goddess who leads her twelve yearly Raj Jat via Rupkund to Homkund, Latu Devta might seem a logical candidate for the lesser of the twin summits and this apportioning would neatly symbolize the takeover of a primitive cult by a more sophisticated faith. However the drawback to this theory is that, as noted, the twin peaks are not obvious from Garhwal. Indeed the Raj Jat, so far as I know, enjoys not a single vantage point from which either of the Nanda Devi peaks can be seen.

The fact that no one in Kumaun has ever suggested the name of Sunanda, the younger sister of Nanda Devi, for the lesser peak is a reminder that few of the Devi’s village worshippers are concerned about the particulars of her physical identity. Most are unaware that today Latu Devta has been relegated to become Latu Dhura, occupying a back seat on the east Sanctuary curtain overlooking Kumaun, a completely meaningless ascription from the point of view of Raj Jat lore.”

However, this oversight has now been corrected by this author. What appears to be the first published reference to Nanda Devi East as Sunanda Devi has been recorded in his novel “Nude besides the Lake” This book is available as a searchable google book and therefore the nomenclature has been quickly noted and adapted by others including online encyclopaedias and information sources, religious organizations,  mountaineers, several official websites and others. Thus the proper recognition of the good bliss giving goddess, Sunanda Devi, as the younger companion of Nanda Devi and the younger daughter of the Himalayas has now been restored and the unintentional yet inappropriate foreign reference to a sacred mountain as something east of something is no longer necessary. May the Goddesses Nanda and Sunanda continue to bless all who approach them with reverence and respect due to Mother Earth, some of whose majestic facets, these sacred mountains represent.

May the good goddess Sunanda fill  hearts and lives with love and goodness even as her older sister Nanda goes about vanquishing evil from their lives. May the great goddesses together fill the lives of all inhabitants of the planet, over which they keep a watch from their adjacent lofty perches, with bliss. Jai Nanda, Jai Sunanda.


Thanks for the post, quite informative

ashok said…
Thank you Ananth. If you click on the blog title you would reach the full blog and may like some other posts too.
very interesting indeed.
ashok said…
Thanks Anindya. Saw a beautiful mountain photo on your google plus cover.

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