Unique among Bangladeshi islands for its hilly terrain, Moheshkhali in Cox's Bazar is assumed to have separated from the mainland some centuries ago. It is recorded that Moheshkhali Channel, dividing island from mainland, first arose in 1559 as the result of a devastating cyclone coupled by a powerful earthquake.
Moheshkhali's hills are essentially the most seaward extension of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a part of a range linked through northeast India to the Himalayas; and it's not solely this geography, nor a history of earthquakes, that ultimately joins Moheshkhali to Nepal. There is a spiritual connection.
Atop Mainak Hill in Little Moheshkhali Union, with sweeping views across the interior, the channel and mainland, SreeSreeAdinath Temple has attracted pilgrims for centuries. It is said to be the site where Ravan, primary antagonist of the Ramayana, set down a sacred Shiva Linga stone he had promised Lord Shiva to carry uninterrupted from Kailash to Lanka in return for being granted immortality.
In Moheshkhali efforts failed him and the Shiva Linga remained there. But the story of the temples beginning is not the origin of the connection with Nepal. Rather it stems from the experience of a solvent Moheshkhali Muslim named Noor Mohammad Shikdar.
Trouble began when one of Shikdar's cows suddenly stopped giving milk. At first he blamed his cowherd who in turn sought to discover the cause of the matter. The cowherd watched the cow one night, to find that during the dark hours it left the barn and made its way to the Shiva Linga where milk began to instantaneously flow over the black stone. Only when the flow of milk stopped did the cow return to the cowshed.
Shikdar did not, however, believe the cowherd's narration of events; until he had a dream to tell Moheshkhali's Hindu zamindar landlord to build a temple at the site.
In a subsequent dream, in 1612, Shikdar was ordered to steal a protima statue of Lord Shiva from the Nepal State Temple to place on Mainak Hill. To complete the task he assigned one Naga Sannyasi who was, unfortunately, caught in the act. On the night before his trial however, the Sannyasi found favour with Lord Shiva who appeared before him, advising that he simply tell the truth and answer the judge's trial questions calmly.
On the following day the judge asked the colour of the protima. While the King of Nepal replied that the statue was a touchstone colour, the Sannyasi said it was white. As the latter answer was correct it was understood the Sannyasi had divine blessing in his task. As such, the Nepalese king asked forgiveness and on his own initiative arranged for the protima to be brought to Mainak and with due honour.
Since that time the Adinath Temple that has become an icon of Moheshkhali Island has been honoured by the Nepalese, with Nepal's government continuing the tradition of providing grants, including recently, according to locals, to construct the impressive jetty below the hill adjacent to the channel which provides for easier temple access.
Pilgrims from near and far continue to seek out the temple every year, especially during the renowned two-week Shiva Choturdoshi festival each Falgun month, including pilgrims from Nepal. There it is common to tie string around tree branches in the temple grounds as a request for a blessing, with strings untied and puja performed once a divine blessing has been granted.
In recent days at Moheshkhali'sAdinath it would be as well to offer a prayer for Nepal, to ask for the blessing of a speedy recovery from the recent earthquake devastation, at a Bangladeshi place that's spiritually connected to the Himalayan land. The strings of any such wish – let's hope they can be soon untied.