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.
(Image Credit: Anantnag)
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 mentioned above, the Shiva Lingam is a massive stalagmite made of ice, which forms from a collection of water droplets that fall to the ground from the roof of the cave and then freeze. As a result, this Shiva Lingam is a Swayambhu Lingam, meaning that it is “self-born,” “self-manifested,” “self-existing,” or “created by its own accord.”
The cave combines limestone and gypsum, porous rocks that allow water to seep through the summer months of May through August. Consequently, the lingam waxes or grows in size during these months that mark the annual Amarnath Yatra. According to Hindu belief, this cave is where Lord Shiva once explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort, Parvati. In addition to the Shiva Lingam, two smaller stalagmites represent Parvati and their 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.
The first such threats were made in 1993 by a rogue jihadi group in retaliation to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in the previous year. Although nothing happened that year and over the next few years, some attacks happened consecutively in 2000, 2001, and 2002, leaving dozens of people, including Hindu pilgrims and local Muslim civilians, dead.
More recently, in 2017, another attack was carried out that killed eight pilgrims on their way back from Shri Amarnath Cave Temple. According to then IGP Munir Khan, the attack by four Lashkar-e-Taiba militants opened fire on the bus that contained the pilgrims. Despite these incidents, devotees remain unfazed in their desire to visit this holy shrine as every year sees, hundreds of thousands of worshippers flock to this ancient shrine.
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