Amarnath Yatra-an arduous journey towards peace
V K Magotra
Kashmir, known famously as paradise on the earth is limping back to normalcy with all time high turnout of over 8 lakh tourists at present. Proper arrangements have been made by the Union territory of J&K for the smooth conduct of the pilgrimage of Amarnath Shrine by placing men and sophisticated machinery at work. The entire Kashmir Valley is bestowed with ancient shrines, mosques and temples. Every shrine has its own prominence and sanctity which is carved out with a legendary tale behind it and is held in high reverence by all the communities irrespective of caste, color and creed even today. The ancient monuments designated and preserved by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) depict the glorious past of the valley.
The pilgrimage of Amarnath Shrine commencing 30th June 2022 is indeed an amazing, adventurous and arduous endeavour of J&K Union Territory. The pilgrimage is taking place after a gap of two years owing to covid-19 pandemic lockdown. The enchanting Amarnath cave is one of the most revered pilgrimage sites of Hindus. Situated at a height of 12,756 feet above sea level in Lidder valley, Amaranth cave is considered one of the holiest shrines of Lord Shiva. Notwithstanding the constraints, lakhs of pilgrims are expected to throng the site of Amarnath cave to have a glimpse of snow formed, Shivling a symbolic representation of Lord Shiva. The formation of Shivling from melting of ice from the roof of the cave to the floor is perhaps unprecedented in the whole universe where people all across the world turn up to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva. This year the pilgrimage would continue for 43 days starting from the auspicious occasion of Skanda-Sashi and will end on August 11, 2022, the day of Sharvan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan).
The pilgrimage of Amarnath Cave would be incomplete without knowing the history of Kashmir which reveals a beautiful cradle of ancient culture. Ancient India has nothing more worthy as its early civilization than that of the grand ruins of Kashmir. The remnants of hundreds of temples, stupas, viharas and numerous schools of thoughts would show how in ancient times it has been a nursery of two great religions of India – Hinduism and Buddhism and how these religions met and mingled in the mindscape of the people. Kashmir’s own creative contribution to the Hindu thought, particularly to the evolution of the monistic philosophy of Saivism, known as Trika – Sastra, has been truly historic. And when Islam made its appearance in the middle of the 14th Century, it acquired its own distinct hue in the valley. There are good geological and mythological reasons to believe that the Kashmir valley was once a vast span of water, similar to a huge dam, walled by high mountains. There were some habitations on the higher ranges which were not under water. Over the years, as a result of violent geological upheavals such as earthquakes, the mountain walls were breached at a few points and water gushed out forming the valley in its present shape.
According to Kalhana, a Kashmiri Pandit who wrote Rajatarangini – the river of kings in 1149 AD, the history of various dynasties which ruled Kashmir from earliest period described monumental work in Sanskrit literature. Such is Kashmir, the country which may be conquered by the force of spiritual merit but not by armed forces – where there are hot baths in winter, comfortably landing places on the rivers, banks, where rivers being free from aquatic animals are without peril. Amarnath is considered to be one of the major Hindu Dhams (seat of a deity) of Kashmir valley. The holy cave is the abode of Lord Shiva. The guardian of the absolute, Lord Shiva – the destroyer is enshrined in the form of Ice- Lingam in the cave. This lingam is formed naturally, which is believed to wax and wane with the moon. Though there is no scientific proof till now. Along with Shivling, one can also witness two other ice formations which are said to be of Goddess Parvati and Bhagwan Ganesh.
Although the existence of the Holy Cave is mentioned in the Puranasas well, as per a Hindu legend; it is believed that when Parvati asked Shiva the secret of life and eternity, at first, he refused but she insisted, so he decided to reveal the secret to her. He left Mount Kailash along with Goddess Parvati and left his belongings at various places. For instance, Nandi, the Bull at Pahalgam, Moon from hair at Chandanwari, and snakes on the banks of Lake Sheshnag. Lord Ganesha was left at MahagunasParvat also called Mahaganesh Mountain. Plus, the five elements of nature – Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Sky were left at Panchtarni. As he sacrificed his belongings, he performed the Tandava Dance and later, enter the cave with Parvati. To ensure no one was listening, he created fire to demolish all the life around him. But a pigeon under Lord Shiva remained and heard the secret of immortality. They were born and even today, devotees who visit Amarnath Temple can see a pair of pigeons inside the cave nesting. And because the secret of immortality was told here by Lord Shiva, the cave was called Amarnath. Shiva followers thus, take the Amarnath Yatra with true hearts and feelings and present to Lord Shiva in a hope of a righteous living, health, prosperity, and purity from the sins. Families, friends, and companions are often seen traveling together to Amarnath Temple in Jammu and Kashmir despite it being 36 Km to 48 Km long and difficult to enlighten themselves by Shiva’s true light. Amarnath Yatra is organized every year. There are 2 routes to the cave – Pahalgam and Baltal. This can be covered in 4 to 5 days via Pahalgam and 2 to 3 days via Baltal. Most devotees prefer the longer and more traditional route from Srinagar though. Elderly citizens can choose to a pony ride too. Buta Malik – a local shepherd first discovered the cave as per references of Rajatarangini, which has a mention of Amarnath Temple (Amareshwar) and people believe that Queen Suryamathi gave a present of Trishul, Banalingas and sacred emblems to Amarnath temple back in 11th century AD. Buta Malik rediscovered the present cave in about 1850. Malik received a bag full of coal from the saint & when he got back home, he was overwhelmed to see gold coins instead of coal. Malik rushed back to thank the saint at the site but found the cave with Shivling inside instead. This led to the discovery of Amarnath Cave. Since then the site has become one of the major pilgrimage centers of Hindus. There are some other epics also one of them is focused on Bhrigu Rishi who visited the Himalayas and was first to have the Glimpse of Holy Amarnath cave which became Shiva’s abode and a center of Pilgrimage.
The Pilgrimage of Amarnath shrine is still one of the most difficult – pilgrimages of northern India till date. The devotees trek through the daunting mountains to Amarnath shrine in south Kashmir every year to pay obeisance. At present the shrine is managed by Shri Amarnath Shrine board (SASB) with the Governor of the UT of J&K as its ex- officio chairman. The shrine board is entrusted with the task of making the pilgrimage hassle free for devotees besides upgrading of facilities all along the route.
SASB and administration have made commendable efforts for comfortable pilgrimage of devotees and tourists by way of providing transport, accommodation, medical, telecommunication and Langar facilities. To avoid any threat of security, all roads, trek routes leading to the holy cave are being sanitized. The services of drones are being put in place for the first time for safety and security of devotees. For the first time helicopter services from Srinagar to Panjtarni and vice versa are being introduced for completion of Holy Yatra in a single day. Sadhuas – female monks in large number have started pouring in Jammu well before commencement of pilgrimage.
(The author is retired Media Officer from the Ministry of I&B, Govt of India).