The most sacred and most ancient book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns, Vedic Myths, rituals and even testify to his existance from the dawn of time. Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in a cave in Amarnath. Unknown to them, a pair of doves eavesdropped on this conversation and having learnt the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode.
The annual yatra to Holy Amarnath Cave, situated at 14000 ft. above sea level, is organised by the Jammu & Kashmir State Government during the month of July and August. The intending pilgrims are allowed to perform darshan from Ashard Purnimashi to Shravan Purnimashi which course spreads over a month or so.
Amarnath cave is located in a narrow gorge on the farther end of Lidder valley at 3,888 m above sea level. The cave is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. The trek begins in July-August. Despite being an extremely difficult trek, millions of devotees come to pay homage to Shiva in one of his Himalayan abodes.
The yatra, in its present religious form, commences with the ceremony of "Chari Mubarak," at the Dashnami temple, Akhara, Srinagar. After the prayers, the yatri acquires a sort of walking stick. It has both physical and religious significance: physically, it helps the yatri in steadying himself on a snow covered slippery path; spiritually it reminds him of his resolve at the temple at times when his faith begins to waver in the face of a long and arduous journey. Nowadays people travel to Pahalgam first and then undertake the onward journey of 45 km on foot, in batches. Overnight halts are in encampments that are set up at fixed distances and give the appearance of a military site. The return trek has to be covered in five days with night halts at Chandanwari, Wawjan and Panchtarni. The distance of 12.8 km from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is completed in five to six hours with the first night halt at Chandanwari. The trail is along thick and green woodlands of breathtaking beauty. The playful stream of Lidder meanders and dances alongside, showing its sparkling white foam with the pride and purity of a maiden descending directly from the lap of the perennial Himalayas. One main attraction of this trail is the bridge on the river Lidder, which is covered with snow even when the surroundings are bereft of snow.
From Chandanwari, there begins a steep ascent to Pishu Ghati (3,171 meters), reminding the yatris that the path to salvation involves superhuman struggle and stamina. A feeling of having reached an ethereal destination overwhelms yatris when they reach Seshnag (3,570 meters) so striking is the beauty, the ambience and the very colour of this great lake. Seshnag symbolizes the cosmic ocean in which Lord Vishnu, the preserver of this universe, moves, reclining on a seven-headed mythical snake. The second night halt is at Wawjan overlooking the deep waters of Sheshnag Lake and the glaciers beyond it.
The third and the last camp en route to the cave is at Panchtarni. This 13 km trek gains height at 4,600 m and then descends to the green meadows of Panchtarni. The cave is 6 km from here. There are long queues waiting to enter the cave for a darshan before returning to Panchtarni. The return journey takes two more days.
There are few precautions which have to be taken on this yatra. Children below 12 years and infirms are not allowed. It is imperative that one is adequately equipped against the cold in the high altitude. It is important to be aware of high altitude sickness and take basic precautions to prevent it. There are ponies available to carry provisions and personal belongings.
Managing this yatra is a mammoth task and requires planning and coordination. The committee managing the shrine keeps maintains the route, ensuring that it is free of boulders and snow, in co-operation with military and civil authorities. More recently, there have been incidents of terrorists having tried to disrupt the yatra, and there is heavy armed protection provided to the yatris. A yatra-officer is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.
The Himalayan pilgrimages are the oldest organised travel system, evolved over time by Hindu sages and embodying the spirit of wander, adventure and spirituality
Shiva, in the form of a lingam, Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice - stalagmite
One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most ancient and sacred book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time.
Shiva is known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself or his bride. He was an ascetic, and yet married; he could be both for "he was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud."
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in the Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).
Yatra arrangements at Pahalgam
The trek to Amarnathji, in the month of Shravan (July - August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice - stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice - lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesha.
According to an ancient tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a sadhu. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. To date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust which manages the shrine.
Yet another legend has it that when Kashap Reshi drained the Kashmir valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish Reshi who was travelling the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Amarnathji for them became Shiva's abode and a centre of pilgrimage.
The Yatra Procession
Whatever the legends and the history of Amarnathji's discovery, it is today a very important centre of pilgrimage and though the route is as difficult to negotiate as it is exciting, every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage before Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnathji stands at 3,888 m and is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin the journey from Pahalgam, and cover the distance to Amarnathji and back in four or five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar.
Since the base point for the pilgrim's trek is picturesque Pahalgam, a large tented township springs up to accommodate the pilgrims. The conduct of the yatra is a gigantic task in which the State Government takes the assistance of the security departments for providing security and helping to keep the route open. All intermediate halting places have the same kind of facilities as are provided at Pahalgam, and a Yatra Officer is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.