India is a land of wonders. Wonder that is India. Amarnath cave of Kashmir is such a cave. This cave is Situated at an altitude of 12756 feet from sea level. It is 141 km from Srinagar, the summer capital of Kashmir. One has to go through the town of Pahalgam. It is one of the holiest places of India. There is an ice shiva linga formed naturally. Geographically speaking inside the 130 feet high cave a stalagmite is formed due to the freezing of water drops that falls from the roof of the cave on to the floor and grow upward vertically from the cave floor. This Shiva Linga is very sacred to the Hindus and is mentioned in Hindu texts like Mahabharata and puranas that lingam represents Lord Shiva.
The lingam can be seen from the month of may to August as snow melts in to Himalayas. The lingam grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon. This is the place where shiva explained spiritual secret knowledge to parvati, his wife. Raja tarangini (Chronicles of kings of Kashmir mentions amaranth. In the 11th century queen suryamati gifted trishulas, banalingas and other sacred emblems to this temple.
It is believed that the sage Bhrigu was the first to have discoverd amaranth. The valley of Kashmir was submerged under water. Sage kashyapa drained it through many rivers and rivulets. As a result, when the water drained bhrigu was first to see Lord Shiva at Amarnath. From that time it became a pilgrimage. During the month of Shravan, Lakhs of people go there to have darshan of the ice lingam – the symbol of Lord Shiva. It is called Amarnath yatra. It begins with a 43 km mountainous trek from Nunwan and chandanwari base camps at pahalgam and reaches cave shrine after night halt at Seshanag Lake and panchatarni camps.
The yatra earns revenue for the state government. The beginning of the annual pilgrimage is marked by ‘Pratham pujan to get the blessings of Lord Shiva. In olden days the route was via Rawalpindi (Pakistan), but now a direct train is there connecting rest of India to Jammu, the winter capital of the state. The best part of journey is between guru purnima and shravan purnima, But the highly unpredictable weather brings hindrance to the pilgrims. There is a bus service from Jammu to pahalgam (7500 feet). At pahalgam the pilgrims arrange for coolies or ponies to carry food and clothes etc. Pahalgam in Kashmiri means the land of shepherds. Devotees travel on foot, either from Srinagar or pahalgam. The journey from pahalgam takes about five days.
Kashmir was a land of Shaivism known as Kashmir shaivism. Kashmir was a land of Sanskrit learning. Poets like Abhinaba gupta, Vamana, Kuntaka kshemmendra, Mammata and others were born in Kashmir. That was the golden era of Kashmir. So far as Shaivism is concerned Kashmir is still a reputed place of shiva devotees. Amarnath cave is a testimony to that.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)
Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur. He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.
He can be reached at [email protected]