June 27, 2011


[ This post goes in sequel to  'MT. SAGARMATHA IS THE WORLD'S HIGHEST PEAK' posted on June 17, 2011. Posted again are two essays: 'Awe' and 'Everest not Everest' below by  an American photographer Jeff Botz who specializes in mountain photography and who wants the name of the world's highest mountain be changed to Mt. Sagaramatha. The  mountain was named Peak XV and 'was found to be the worlds' highest by the Trigonometric Survey of India in 1852 and it was named Mount Everest on May 11, 1857 by the Royal Geographical Society of London after Sir George Everest, the first Surveyor-General of India' writes, Prof. Kamal Prakash Malla in his paper: 'Sagaramatha: Linguistic Conquest of Mount Everest.' The actual discoverer was not the Surveyor-General George Everest, it was Mr. Radhanatha Sikdar, a Bengali native, an employee of the Survey of India. The Himalayan Voice liked Jeff Botz's idea of changing the name of the mountain in Nepali national language, Sagaramatha. Below posted is a comment by Bal K. Mabuhang, a professor of population science, at the Central Department of Population Studies, Tribhuvan University in Kirtipur, Kathmandu. Prof. Mabuhang even goes further  and writes: "not to endorse the name of rivers, mountains, lands and even people with words  of 'colonial reflections' no matter older or newer". He writes, 'Mt. Sagaramatha' is also a colonial name-word imposed against 'Chomolungma'. Why not we rename in his or in other words: Limbu native tongue Chomolungma ? - The Blogger]

By Jeff Botz
 A Chinese map of the Qomolungma Area - the map itself 
does not have date. Courtesy: NGS Brad Washburn
(Click on the image to enlarge) 

Awe is a spontaneous, quick dip into the void. It is the brief, slack-jawed response to overwhelming stimulus whether it be a cool, briny breeze off the ocean, a late day’s reflection of October maples seen on the surface of a calm Walden pond, or the sight of the world’s tallest mountain, more than ten times taller than man’s tallest structure and over fifty thousand times it’s volume.

When I experience awe (defined in Webster’s as “a profound and humbly fearful reverence inspired by deity or by something sacred or mysterious”) upon coming within sight of ‘Everest’, I connect directly to the very emotion which lead the Tibetans in the 12th century to name this highest mountain in their, and everyone else’s world, Qomolungma, Goddess Mother of the World/Universe.

Awe is the glue that joins the mountains to the spiritual realm.

When I make awe’s visceral connection to this mountain, I realize why the name Everest, an homage to the British Surveyor General of India, is so out of sync with the direct experience of the mountain and a diminution of it’s meaning. The term ‘Everest’ is appropriate and emblematic of Britain’s 19th century imperial, scientific, and acquisitive nature and its understanding of the geographic significance of the landmark. The contradiction is that the mountain is situated on the border between Nepal and Tibet, a sovereign nation and a region within another sovereign nation, neither of which have ever been a part of the British Empire; yet their mountain bears this British name. Had either nation been a British colony and then released, as India was, there would have been an opportunity to make a name change; but since neither has ever been a colony of Britain, there has been no clear moment or venue for such change.

If we can step back, let the fog clear, and consider the forest instead of the trees, this naming discrepancy may be cast as tug of war between Eastern and Western thought. The Tibetans assessed the mountain in qualitative terms while the British have surveyed it using purely quantitative means. The Tibetans standing before the mountain could feel it’s palpable physical presence and responded reverentially, inspired with awe. The British surveyed the mountain from between 70 and 150 miles away and over several years calculated its significance using complex trigonometric equations. To the Tibetans she was a Goddess, to the British a landmark. One perceived and recognized the spiritual significance of the mountain, while the other its geopolitical value.

It has been said that to name is to own, and to own is to dictate use. Many locations in the Himalayas have intrinsic spiritual value and have become destinations for pilgrimages. During the many days, weeks or months it may take to approach these sites, the pilgrim contemplates the meaning of the site with respect to his life and his world, and he purifies his soul in preparation to encounter it. Arguably, there is no sight in the Himalayas attributed a higher spiritual status than Goddess Mother of the Universe but that fact and that identity are obscured by the shroud cover of the Everest moniker.

Today when we hear the term Everest, we immediately conjure up images of hyper-active climbers clad in overstuffed brilliant colored orange, red or blue snowsuits and goggles with dark lenses clambering over rock and snow - we don’t consider spiritual issues. Last year about twenty thousand people trekked out to directly experience this mountain, fewer than 400 were actual climbers. Very few of the trekkers considered their trip to be a pilgrimage to a spiritual location, even if they were vaguely aware of the name Qomoungma.

In 1857 when the British discovered(!!!) and then named this, the world’s tallest mountain, it had no affect in Kathmandu(capital of Nepal) or Lhasa(capital of Tibet), where they probably weren’t even aware it had happened. But now, in the era of globalization, the world has shrunk and 500,000 Westerners visit Nepal annually, and a smaller number visit Tibet, the British naming tradition directly affects their world.

In the 1990’s the world learned that a huge cache of oxygen bottles cast off by expeditions over several decades littered the pure white snowfields of ‘Everest’s’ South Col staging area. The revelation of these discarded bottles sent the world into appropriate paroxysms of environmental indignation. The name, Everest, is the just the opposite action but in the ideational environment to what the discarded oxygen bottles found in the 1990’s were to the physical environment: the bottles are the inappropriate detritus emblematic of a culture that doesn’t cherish the mountain or the societies in which it exists, and the name, Everest, was the British capturing a valuable symbol/trophy of geography on the world map. Throw away the trash: take away the value. As long as we recognize and use the term, ‘Everest’, we deny the cultural legitimacy of these host countries and validate Britain’s Imperial actions. Is there no indignation about this?

In Nepal the mountain is called, Sagarmatha, The Stick that Churns the Ocean of Existence, a new word consciously made up from Sanskrit rootsin the 1970’s by Nepali scholar, Babu Ram Acharye, as their name for this mountain in their country. This mountain is their primary claim to fame; it is simply the most significant thing in Nepal and Tibet to the rest of the world. The mountain is the centerspice around which the fabric of their modern national identity is woven.

There is a new national spirit evolving in Nepal. In 2008 the monarchy was dissolved after 293 years of rule. Now a group is drafting a new constitution. Although this sovereign nation doesn’t have a very old naming tradition, it seems, if nothing else, that it should have the right to name the object of greatest national pride which exists within it’s own borders.

The title of my photo exhibit and proposed book, Everest Not Everest, tries to bring attention to my belief that Everest is not Everest: Everest is Qomolungma; Everest is Sagarmatha. To make this change and recognize these names would be to validate Tibetan and Nepali culture. It would represent a keyhole to Eastern philosophy and tradition in general. There would be subtle, and not-so-subtle, financial and mass psychological benefits that these nations need and could internalize instead of outsourcing them to England. Finally, it would represent hopeful change: people in other lands will see this correction and realize that in this information age even longstanding injustices can be rectified.

The graphic on my cover, the vandalized E with the drippy paint, is appropriately reminiscent of an American Indian dreamcatcher: the dream of recognizing and celebrating the ancient culture of the East thru the use of these names is my dream; I am the vandal. The photos inside: my attempt to portray the awe.

Please respond with comments and corrections to jeffbotz@gmail.com

By Jeff Botz 
In all eras, on all continents, all poetry, prose, myth and legend draw inspiration and the  terms of expression by referencing the things man sees and experiences. The raw materials of human reflection are the sea, the sky, the moon, stars and sun, the winds, rain, snow, fire, ice, the valleys and the mountains. Each seems to take on a common elemental power and character regardless of the source culture.

The positive god source is the heavens above, while the negative god source is the underworld, below. To ascend is to be closer to the gods. The mountains are the residence of the gods or the bridge to that realm. For instance, in classical Greek culture the pantheon of gods resided on Mt. Olympus while Hades, the gods’ nemesis, lived in the underworld. In religious studies the technical term for this cosmic mountain concept is axis mundi, the axis or hub of the universe, “a sacred place deemed to be the highest place in the world and perhaps identified with the center of the world and the place where creation first began”(1).

View looking south from the Tibetan plateau at Pang La with Qomolungma just left of center.

The Tibetan people have lived on the high plains north of the Himalayan chain for millenia. The mountains, both as reality and metaphor, are inextricably woven into their lives, customs, culture and religious heritage. Looking south to the Himalayan curtain, one mountain ferociously plumes and lords over all others, and as such was recognized by the Tibetans as the axis mundi of their world by naming it Qomolungma, Goddess Mother of the World. Rheinhold Messner, the first man to climb the mountain solo and the use of supplemental oxygen, in his book, The Crystal Horizon, p.134, quotes a poem from the 12th century by Milarepa,a famous Tibetan monk, as using the name Qomolangma with reference to the mountain.

By the beginning of the 19th century, Britain had extended it’s Empire to include India. With a 30 year effort titled, The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, the new colony had been measured to within a fraction of an inch from the high tide line at the southern tip to the foothills of the Himalaya. Almost as a sport, or afterthought, the surveyors, barred from entering the Kingdom of Nepal, set their surveying devices’ sites on the lofty peaks of the Himalayas and made readings from six stations on the Indian plain between 75 and 150 miles from the mountains.

In 1852, after years of sittings and hand trigonometric calculations to the 17th decimal point, Radhanath Sikdhar, the excited head of the ‘computing’ department reported to his superior officer, “Sir, I have discovered the highest mountain in the world!” This statement although presenting a somewhat misleading implication, because the mountain was obviously well known to the Tibetans and Nepalis, as well as Indians, was saved intact and used as headline in London and presumably throughout the West(but not in Nepal or Tibet which had closed their borders to all for foreign influences).

After a cursory investigation into the indigenous name of the mountain, during which the word Qomolungma had been reviewed but rejected as not adequate for such a significant geographical point(2.), the British decided to honor the man who had been the second Surveyor General of India, George Everest, by naming the mountain after him. There was an objection by The Asiatic Society in Bengal which was ignored because of the more pressing problem of the Indian Mutiny which broke out around the same time and demanded attention.

These were heady days for Imperial Britain and the scientific revolution of which the Trigonometric Survey was the leading edge. Art historian, Paul Greenhalgh, wrote “The rationalism that was dispensing with magic and miracles was employed with increasingly spectacular results in the transformation of the material fabric of life in Britain and then Europe.” (3) Briatin used the same rationalism to transform India and simultaneously to dispense with the Goddess Qomolungma which was part and parcel of the magic and miracle laden religion of Tibet by renaming the world’s tallest mountain after Everest.

Other examples of British naming conventions exist in their now released Indian Colony. Place names such as Bombay and Calcutta were used in cities where the original names were awkward. Bombay had, prior to the British invasion, been called Mumbai, Calcutta, Chenai, and now, again after 200 years, a plebiscite of the inhabitants has determined they will be called Mumbai and Chenai once again.

In Alaska, the tallest mountain in North America, for decades called Mt McKinley, has recently been changed back to the name the native Athabascani inhabitants called it, Denali, The High Place. Ansel Adams, after making a most beautiful image of the mountain accompanied it with this succinct and poignant verbal observation:

“I prefer the Indian name, Denali, instead of Mount McKinley, and Denali is
now the official name of the park, though not of the mountain. It was a chauvinistic
characteristic of our nation to attach political names, quite often insignificant in history,
to the glorious features of our land: Presidents senators, governors, prospectors,
sheepherders, and a few scientists are represented in the highlands, lowlands,
deserts,and shores of our fifty states. Native American names are in the minority on
our maps. The fact that this is the highest peak in North America (20,600 feet) is a
statistic with which the Original Inhabitants were not concerned, but the impressive
presence of the mountain undoubtedly evoked a deep religious response.”(4.)

The issue with respect to Everest is very similar to those Adams describes with respect to McKinley. The Tibetans, approaching from the North, see the mountain as cathedral, the abode of the Goddess Mother*. The British, approaching from the South, see a snow capped mountain, the remnant of geological cataclysm. The Tibetans make reverent pilgrimages of contemplation and purification. The British launch military stlye ‘assaults’ on the mountain to conquer it, and when they finally do, Sir Edmund Hillary, the first ascender, famously declares “We knocked the bastard off!”

The Tibetans and the British approached the mountain from diametrically opposed directions both physically and philosophically. The British scoffed at the Tibetan tradition and obscured the Goddess of the mountain by covering her with the shroud of George Everest changing the meaning and the uses of the mountain. This isn’t a simple act of identity theft, it’s character assination.

Our general use of the term Mount Everest for the mountain the Tibetans have called Qomolangma and the Nepalis have elected to call Sagarmatha, The Stick which Churns the Ocean of Existence, denies the respect owed to their culture and traditions while visiting their countries to see this great mountain. Some will say that the Everest name is too old to change  but an error, or a lie, oft repeated, makes it no more true. Further, I have been able to find no legal basis or precedent for any one nation creating place names and applying them to locations within the borders of other sovereign nations without due

Finally, in this post modern period, with our vastly improved access to information and our newly developed appreciation of cultural diversity, to embrace the indigenous names of the mountain would be to endorse the validity and empowerment of this rich but gentle heritage which these people have been wholly incapable of asserting by themselves on a raucous international stage.

*From my understanding the title Goddess Mother of the World is akin to our term Mother Nature.

1)History of Religion, Mircea Eliade, v2.
(2) Everest:History of the Himalayan Giant, Roberto Mantovanni,©1997, p38
(3) The Modern Ideal, c2005 Paul Greenhalgh, V&A Publications, London
(4)The Making of 40 Photographs, Ansel Adams, 1984, Little & Brown, p75
Essay Copyright2008 Jeff Botz (revise4/2010)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Balkrishna Limbu
Date: Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at

It is ironical and futile exercise of The Himalayan Voice  whether Sagarmatha should replace Everest on the account of linguistic 'purity' or nationalism.  My first and foremost argument would be: what do you mean by 'purity' or 'pure Nepali language' ? At least you need to ascertain the attributes of purity.  What is Nepali and what is not? Who fixes the meaning of purity and impurity? I would like you to remind of the name of rivers ending with '-di' in the middle part of Nepal, and '-gad' in the western Nepal. Similarly with '-wa' in the eastern part of Nepal. It simply carries the common meaning of water in different nationalities languages.  Ironically these are converted with '-koshi', '-gandaki,' and '-kali' these all imply the name of Hindu goddesses. It is what we call the Hinduization of Nepal has come through the dark age of Hindu Religious Kingdom.

The same applies with the name of the mountains. The indigenous peoples or nationalities such as: Limbus/ Rais call Chomolungma and Sherpa call it Jhyomolungma for Mt. Everest. As a  Limbu myself,  I would give you more names from my own language: Chenchenlungma  for Mt. Kanchanjungha, Phaktanglung for  Kumbhakarna, and so on.  In Limbu language, or say Tibeto-Burman family 'Lung' means stone/rock. '-ma' implies femininity. For instance 'Anga' means me in Limbu language. And when you take 'Aa' prefix and add to '-ma' suffix it becomes 'Amma' means mother in Limbu language. So the suffix ,'-lungma' stand for 'rocky mountain'.  Nature is often taken as feminine   for example: rivers, mountains, jungles etc. So the nomenclature on the basis of colonial linguistic, ethnic, or any means doesn't justify the purity of certain place or mountain etc. We do have a Nepali proverb:  'BOLNEKO PITHO BIKNE, NABOLNEKO GHIU PANI NABIKNE,' goes for a while. An intellectual debate should not sound like this. No problem with Mt. Everest, Sagarmatha, and so on, but one should not forget that what indigenous nations/ nationalities call the mountains or rivers in their own language.

I would request intellectuals not to endorse the name of rivers, mountains, lands and even people with words  with 'colonial reflection', no matter older or newer. The matter of concern is the oldest, from time immemorial and indignity. Nepalese, no matter whether you are indigenous nationality or some other ethnic stock , you need to maintain your heritage - the cultural heritage that includes language and name words also.     

Prof. Balkrishna Mabuhang,
Central Department of Population Studies,
Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu,
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Tilak Shrestha 
Mon, Jun 27, 2011 at

The criterion is to use local names as long as possible. Both names - 'Sagar Matha' and 'Chomolungma' can be used reflecting Neplai and Tibetan cultures. It is not necessary to have only one name. However, the name 'Everest' is not acceptable. Because it is imposed one without any regards to the local cultures.

Prof. Kamal Prakash Malla brings an interesting point that the name could be 'Saagar Maatha' from one of the Kirati dialects.

If it can be ascertained in the ground then it should have the precedent. Otherwise, from Nepalese side 'Sagar Maatha – sky, head' is already in use.

Tilak Shrestha, Ph.D
Alabama, USA.

---------- Forwarded message ----------

From: Kamal  P. Malla
Date: Mon, Jun 27, 2011 at 5:00 PM

None of the peaks from west to east of the Nepal Himalaya has MAATHAA as its name Of the forty-nine peaks east of Annapurna none has a Sanskrit name.

Although we do use MAATHAA for the head, it is rarely, if ever, used for a mountain peak. Nor is SAGAR used in everyday Nepali for the sky.

Sadly, few participants in this debate appears to have closely examined the Survey Maps of the Khambu region. Not only the Survey of India Maps dated 1924 -26(First Edition, 1932) but also the Survey Map of the Department of Survey, HMG, 1985 give the location of the village SAAGAR at longitude 86.26 east of Greenwich and at latitude 27.36 north of Equator.

As I wrote in my 1998 paper, SAAGAR has nothing to do either wirh the sea/ocean or with the sky

It comes from the TB root SAA, (meaning, the earth, land, soil, field, according to the online Sino-Tibetan Etymological Dictionary and Thesaurus, 2011 compiled by Professor James A. Matisoff, Caliiforni, URL: http://www.stedt.@edu.berkeley)

The root is attested in other place names in that area such as SAA-DI, SAA-NAM, SAA-BRA,, SAA-RE, SAA-LUNG, SAA-BUNG, SAA-NU( RIVER), ,SAA-LPAA, SAA-LLERI, etc.

We can continue to hold on to the past shibboleths and act like ostrich , refusing to see the evidence of scientific survey maps and toponyms by hanging on to a pundit's etymological concoction, if we are also willing to wear blinkers.

Baburam Acharya thought that Everest was visible from the top of his roof at Gauchar airport.!


Kamal P. Malla
Georgia, USA

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From Sudeshna Sarkar 
Date: Tue, Jun 28, 2011 at 3:49 AM
Subject: Renaming Mt Everest

It is extremely ironic that while conducting such a passionate and lengthy debate on renaming Mt Everest, most of the participants are happily getting other people's names wrong without any remorse.

It is not Radhanath Sikandar, as you and others have been referring to the survey official repeatedly. His name is Radhanath Sikdar. Sikandar is Islamic while Radhanath is a Hindu name. How could the two have been together at that time! It really raises doubts about the debate's awareness and erudition level.

Sudesna Sarkar
Editor, New Delhi 
(Sudeshna Sarkar writes particularly on Nepal for IANS - Indo-Asian News Service, India's largest independent newswire)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Ashok T. Jaisinghani
Date: Wed, Jun 29, 2011 at 3:17 PM

The Editor,
The Himalayan Voice.

If you must change the name of Mount Everest, you should ask the Nepali scholars and leaders to bring out the Grand Mountain's great loftiness and magnificence through its new name.

The world's highest mountain should be given a suitable name in the local Nepali language, which should also be simple and easy to pronounce.

The Nepali scholars should be able to find a new name for Mount Everest, which may be considered as an equivalent of one of the following names in some local languages of Nepal:

Uchchatam Parbat,    Uchchatam Shikhar,    Sarvoch Parbat,    Sarvoch Shikhar,    Sarvoch Himalaya Parbat,    Sarvoch Himalaya Shikhar,    Sarva Shreshthha Parbat,    Sarva Shreshthha Shikhar,    Shreshthhatam Parbat,    Shreshthhatam Shikhar,    Shreshthhatam Himalaya Parbat,    Shreshthhatam Himalaya Shikhar,    Vishwa Shreshthhatam Parbat,    Vishwa Shreshthhatam Shikhar

Ashok  T. Jaisinghani.
Editor & Publisher:
New Delhi, India
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