Updated May 29, 2023
About Shri Amarnath Cave Temple
Shri Amarnath Cave Temple is one of the oldest Hindu shrines in India. Located in Anantnag District in Jammu and Kashmir, this holy cave is the site of a magnificent stalagmite (ice formation that rises from the cave floor) that takes the form of Shiva Lingam. This natural wonder draws thousands of visitors every summer, primarily Hindu devotees, on a pilgrimage to worship Lord Shiva.
Nestled in the Himalayas at an elevation of approximately 3,888 meters (12,756 feet), the pilgrimage, known as Amarnath Yatra, happens when the Shiva Lingam reaches the apex of its waxing phase through the summer months. It involves a 43-kilometer (27-mile) mountainous trek that begins at the Nunwan and Chandanwari base camps at Pahalgam and culminates at the cave temple after two nights of rest at the Sheshnag Lake and Panchtarni camps.
History of Amarnath Cave
The history of this wondrous cave is as follows, in ancient times, the Valley of Kashmir was submerged underwater. At some point, a sage known as Kashyapa succeeded in draining it via a system of rivers and creeks. After draining the valley, another sage known as Bhrigu discovered the Shri Amarnath Cave Temple and performed the first darshan of Lord Shiva.
Ever since then, hundreds of thousands of devotees have flocked to the cave temple during the annual Amarnath Yatra. In 1663, a French physician named François Bernier wrote about the cave shrine in his book Travels in Mughal Empire. In 1898, an Irish disciple of Swami Vivekananda named Sister Nivedita wrote about his visit to the cave in her book, ‘Notes of Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda.’
As stated earlier, the Shiva Lingam found within the cave is an awe-inspiring stalagmite formed by the accumulation and freezing of water droplets that descend from the cave’s roof. This unique phenomenon makes the Shiva Lingam a Swayambhu Lingam, signifying its self-manifested and self-existing nature.
The cave combines limestone and gypsum, allowing water percolation in summer (May-Aug). The natural process waxes the lingam, aligning with the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage. In Hindu mythology, the cave is where Lord Shiva shared profound wisdom with Parvati. Accompanying the grand Shiva Lingam are two smaller stalagmites symbolizing Parvati and their cherished son, Ganesha.
Amarnath Cave Yatra
The Amarnath Yatra begins with the Pratham Pujan, which translates to “First Prayer”. The trek winds through the South Kashmir Himalayas mountains until it culminates at the Shri Amarnath Cave Temple, located in the Lidder Valley. The Yatra is a source of livelihood for local merchants and tax revenue for the state government. However, militant groups in the area regularly harass and attack pilgrims undertaking the Yatra.
In 1993, a rogue jihadi group issued threats in response to the demolition of the Babri Masjid the previous year. Although no significant incidents occurred that year and in the subsequent years, a series of attacks took place consecutively in 2000, 2001, and 2002, resulting in the loss of many lives, including Hindu pilgrims and local Muslim civilians.
2017 a Lashkar-e-Taiba attack claimed eight pilgrim lives at the Amarnath Cave Temple. According to IGP Munir Khan, the militants opened fire on a bus containing the pilgrims. Despite these unsettling events, the devotion of worshippers remains undeterred, and every year, hundreds of thousands of people continue to visit this ancient shrine, displaying unwavering determination in their pursuit of spiritual connection.
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