More holy water from Tibet

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Mount Kailash, which forms part of the Transhimalaya in Nagari Prefecture of Tibet, is sacred to Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and the native religion of Bon.  Aside from the mountain itself, the large lake Manasarovar, which lies at the base of its foothills to the southeast and is fed by its glacial runoff, is also considered to be of exceptional holiness.

The Sanskrit word "Manasarovar" (मानसरोवर) is a combination of two Sanskrit words; "Mānas" (मानस्) meaning "mind (in its widest sense as applied to all the mental powers), intellect, intelligence, understanding, perception, sense, conscience" while "sarovara" (सरोवर) means "a lake or a large pond".


Every year, despite the challenging terrain, distance, and high altitude, thousands of pilgrims from India trek to the region and circumambulate Mt. Kailash.

Now, a group of enterprising entrepreneurs have contrived to bottle the waters of the mountain and market it as Kailash Springs Natural Spring / Mineral Water.  Here are some of the things the water can do for you:


•Few drops of this powerful unique water is believed to cleanse the sins of the person committed over hundred lifetimes

•It is most sacred and holds a very high spiritual value in Hindu Religion

•Newly born are given this holy water to bless & to protect them for life

•It is believed to be source of immense spiritual energy


•Is Offered to Lord Shiva – Shivling

•Sprinkled to bless the home and to keep the evil away

•Used to welcome and purify new things

•Supposed to be the cleanest form of Life

•One who drinks this water will go to the abode of Shiva after-life.


Kailash Springs Natural Spring / Mineral Water reminds me of Tibet 5100 Glacial Mineral Water, which Ben Zimmer called to my attention a year ago:  "Tibet water" (12/1/19). 

Tibet 5100 Glacial Mineral Water had made a big splash in the months and years before November, 2019, whereupon it precipitously nearly dried up.  It was only with the help of Jichang Lulu and Dan Yerushalmi (aka Dan Martin), who brought Kailash Springs Natural Spring / Mineral Water to my notice on this occasion, that I was able to understand the arcana of Tibet Magic Water and Icelandic Spring mineral water, which purportedly has an auspicious pH of 8.88 (8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture), all ginned up by murky (zhuó 濁 — which we've been learning about in recent posts on historical phonology) Chinese businessmen.


Selected reading


  1. Jonathan Silk said,

    December 9, 2020 @ 2:22 pm

    Hm, well, to bring a linguistic element to this, "the shamanic religion of Bon-po." Setting aside to what extent it is meaningful to call Bon shamanic, Bon po must refer to a follower of Bon, because -po is a nominalizing suffix. (I assume you do not mean "the religion of the priests of the Bon" ) Generally speaking po is distinguished as masc. (from fem. mo), and distinct from -pa (ba or ma), and as far as I know *bon-pa does not exist. I'm sure that those familiar with Tibetan-Burman linguistics might have something to say about this.

    [VHM: Thanks. Fixed.]

  2. Daniel Barkalow said,

    December 9, 2020 @ 5:14 pm

    That's a list of claims that, almost uniquely, don't look like they should be backed up by randomized controlled trials. On the other hand, being on a bottle of water makes me think of some items in a different light. Like, when you offer it to Lord Shiva, do you pour it into a glass, or hand him the sealed bottle? I guess if any deity has the responsibility of disposing of plastic packaging waste, it would be Shiva.

  3. BillR said,

    December 9, 2020 @ 6:01 pm

    I’m sure that, if they haven’t already, Nestle or Coca Cola are on their way to “invest” in this enterprise.

  4. martin schwartz said,

    December 9, 2020 @ 7:39 pm

    There's something fishy in this lake, etymologically.
    In Sanskrit manas- (Vedic mánas-), with short -a-, is 'mind';
    it has an adj. mānasa-. Given the rules of sandhi-compsoition,
    neither would really work + sarovara- to give the cited lake-name.
    *mānasasraovara- with haplology?? Maybe someone could check further.

  5. martin schwartz said,

    December 9, 2020 @ 7:45 pm

    I meant "composition".

  6. Dan Martin said,

    December 10, 2020 @ 7:59 am

    I was just reviewing a part of the story of Siddhartha where he shoots an arrow that hits a rock creating a spring with healing waters.

    To quote the Deyu History translation of part of the archery contest, held in order to prove his manhood to his prospective bride:

    Then our young prince [Siddhârtha] pierced all the targets, passing through the center of the ring as well, but the arrow went further still, ending up sticking into a rock on the far side. His father and brothers tried using their curved knives and other instruments to pull or dig it out, but they could not extract it.* The prince himself pulled on the notched end and the arrow immediately came out. It is said that from the spot where the arrow had been a spring sufficient to run a grain mill gushed forth.

    *The word for 'curved knife' is ku-ku-ri, which sure resembles Nepali word khukri that I think comes from Sanskrit kukkuṭa-pakṣaka. That means “a knife shaped like the wing of a cock,” according to the Monier-Williams dictionary.

    According to the Lalitavistara Sūtra (Bays tr.), p. 233, the spring was named Śarakūpa, or “Arrow Hole.” The early Chinese pilgrimage accounts mention this spring as an active holy site located well outside of the city of Kapilavastu:

    “From this 30 li south-east is a small stūpa. Here there is a fountain, the waters of which are as clear as a mirror. Here it was, during the athletic contest, that the arrow of the prince, after penetrating the targets, fell and buried itself up to the feather in the ground, causing a clear spring of water to flow forth. Common tradition has called this the arrow fountain (Sarakūpa); persons who are sick by drinking the water of this spring are mostly restored to health; and so people coming from a distance taking back with them some of the mud (moist earth) of this place, and applying it to the part where they suffer pain, mostly recover from their ailments.”

    The source of this quote is Beal, Si-yu-ki, part 2, 23–24.

    Anyway, I guess none of this is directly relevant to a point I would want to make, which is: that water sourced at Mt. Kailash is already believed to have healing and blessing powers, and that the Chinese entrepreneurs don't have to make assertions — but need only remind — believing Hindus of what they are supposed to already know. The healing and blessing will naturally follow. (Not meaning to let the capitalists off the hook, not at all!)

  7. M. Paul Shore said,

    December 10, 2020 @ 2:46 pm

    Particularly seeing as this thread hasn't attracted that many commenters, I wonder whether I might be forgiven for hijacking it to a certain extent, while retaining the general theme of "strange allegedly Tibetan ideas", in order to try to find an answer to a question that's been puzzling me for half a century.

    One of my all-time favorite movies is the gloriously chaotic and extravagant 1967 James Bond parody Casino Royale. (It's one of those movies whose appeal is more or less incomprehensible to some people; so if you're one of those people, you'll just have to take it on faith that it's possible for individuals of taste and/or intelligence and/or good character to like it.) The plot is based on the notion that the James Bond of the Ian Fleming novels and of the Sean Connery movies is a vulgar British-Intelligence-sponsored impostor, and that the real, original James Bond (played by David Niven) is an elderly gentleman whose glory days were during World War I and who long ago retired to an opulent mansion in the English countryside to cultivate his refined, eccentric interests. In the opening scene, spy chiefs of four nations are on their way to visit the original Bond; M (played by John Huston) briefs the other three on some of Bond's peculiarities, including the fact that he "lets his intestines down and washes them by hand, something he learned during his sojourn in Tibet".

    My question is, where, if anywhere, did this notion come from? (Incidentally, the biological term for turning an internal organ inside out and partially ejecting it through an orifice is "eversion" or "prolapse": certain marine species are quite adept at doing it as part of a normal self-cleaning procedure, but in humans it can generally only be done to a minor extent and, to the extent that it occurs at all, is usually involuntary.) Is this a crazy exaggeration of some real-life Tibetan practice? Does it come from some Tibetan myth? Was it taken from some inaccurate traveler's narrative, or some Western Orientalist fantasy like the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton? Could it have come from one of the Bond novels? Or is it merely a flight of silliness by one of the screenplay's many contributors (which included Joseph Heller, Billy Wilder, and Ben Hecht)?

    By the way, I considered the option of asking this question on some Tibetan-interest forum, but I was intimidated by the thought that there might not be any such forum that had the freewheeling, whimsical, open-minded quality that this one has, and that therefore the question might annoy the participants.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    December 10, 2020 @ 5:28 pm

    @Paul Shore:

    Thank you for appreciating what we do at Language Log.

    If you get hold of Victor H. Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (I don't have a copy of it where I am now), look up the biography of Hua-t'o / Huatuo, which I translated in its entirety.

    Mair, Victor H. (1994). "The Biography of Hua-t'o from the "History of the Three Kingdoms"". In Victor H. Mair (ed.). The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature. Columbia University Press. pp. 688–696.

    In the annotations to that translation, I adduce a lot of evidence that Hua-t'o / Huatuo was a practitioner of highly advanced Indian medicine.

    See also this Wikipedia article, which quotes me extensively:

    One of the things that Hua-to / Huatuo did is take out the intestines of a patient, wash them, and put them back in the abdominal cavity.

    I wouldn't be the least bit surprised that the Tibetans learned such practices from the Indians, to whom they were greatly indebted for much of their medical knowledge.

  9. M. Paul Shore said,

    December 10, 2020 @ 6:55 pm

    Fascinating! I wonder how stories of subcontinental and Himalayan intestine-washing came to be transmitted into the head of one of the Casino Royale (1967) screenwriters. Could it have had something to do with the published writings of some explorer or traveler? Or the presence of Allied military personnel in that part of Asia during World War II? Or the 1960s Western fascination with Indian and Indian-related cultures?

    I'd tend to think that the main potential clues would be references to intestine-washing that might be lying forgotten in mid-twentieth-century mainstream Western newspapers, magazines, and/or books.

  10. Dan Martin said,

    December 11, 2020 @ 2:09 pm

    I wasn't going to say anything about it, but it does raise an interesting linguistic point.

    The blog begins, "Mount Kailash, which forms part of the Transhimalaya in Nagari Prefecture of Tibet…"

    Nagari ought to be Ngari. But I'm not surprised at this. It just reminds me that Chinese and their maps call it (མངའ་རིས་) Ari just because they absolutely cannot pronounce that initial 'nga' sound. When I taught Tibetan years ago I also could not get my American students to pronounce it. So I dreamed up a drill where they had to say after me several times "Singuh songuh sixpence," and then told them to say one syllable at a time: Si-nga so-nguh six pence, repeating that a lot of times, until finally I asked them to drop the "si" and the "so" and just say nguh! And it was worth the effort, because Tibetan also has initial 'ny' sounds like in [Ma]ñana, and it was an irritation to hear the students pronounce the 'ng' as 'ny' or just 'n'.

    I'm convinced Chinese speakers have this difficulty, because they also do the same with the "Aba Autonomous Region," in Sichuan, based on the local rNga-ba place name with its initial sound 'ng'.

  11. Dan Martin said,

    December 12, 2020 @ 5:43 am

    My bad, I should have said Ali instead of Ari.
    Ari is the 2-syllable form of A-me-ri-ka.

  12. Andreas Johansson said,

    December 14, 2020 @ 1:55 am

    @Dan Martin:

    Unless I'm badly misinformed, historical ng- in (Mandarin) Chinese has gone to zero, so their version of "Ngari" may simply be borrowed before the change.

  13. Victor Mair said,

    December 14, 2020 @ 11:16 pm

    From Jichang Lulu:

    I think Martin Schwartz is exactly right about the lake's name: it comes through haplology from mānasasarovara, i.e. mānasa (adj. from manas ‘mind’) + sarovara (from saras ‘lake’). A Tibetan form yid-kyi-mtsho (different from the current Tibetan name of the lake) exists that literally translates ‘mind lake’. Unfortunately I can't chase references at the moment.

    Indeed, here it is: yid-kyi-mtsho is used by Tāranātha, here translated as Mānasasarovara.
    p. 100 (130 of the pdf), n. 30.

  14. B.Ma said,

    December 17, 2020 @ 8:48 am

    @Andreas Johansson

    I was speaking a student from Hunan last year (here in the UK) and he definitely pronounced 饿 as "ngè".

  15. Victor Mair said,

    December 18, 2020 @ 11:55 pm

    From Jichang Lulu:

    I had no time to check this last time, but now I've added references to the original text giving a Tibetan name of Lake Manasarovar in Tāranātha's History of Buddhism in India in a Twitter thread:

    Towards the end I added an example of multiple negations in Kumārajīva's translation of Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyakakārikā (中论), providing a missing reference to my comments to the ‘not-not’ post.

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