Amarnath Cave Temple
|Proper name||Amarnath Cave Temple|
|State||Jammu and Kashmir|
|History and governance|
Amarnath cave (Hindi: अमरनाथ गुफा) is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft), about 141 km (88 mi) from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir and reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine forms an important part of Hinduism, and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. The cave is surrounded by snowy mountains. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims. Thousands of Hindu devotees make an annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave on challenging mountainous terrain to see an ice stalagmite formed inside the cave.
- 1 The Linga
- 2 History
- 3 Yatra
- 4 Controversies
- 5 Popular culture
- 6 Gallery
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Inside the 40 m (130 ft) high Amarnath cave, the stalagmite is formed due to freezing of water drops that fall from the roof of the cave on to the floor and grows up vertically from the cave floor. It is considered to be a Shiva Linga by Hindus. The Cave waxes during May to August, as snow melts in the Himalayas above the cave and the resultant water seeps into the rocks that form the cave and gradually wanes thereafter. As per the religious beliefs, it has been claimed that the lingam grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon reaching its height during the summer festival, although there is no scientific evidence for this belief.
According to a Hindu legend, this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort, Parvati. Two other ice formations represent Parvati and Shiva's son, Ganesha.
The main purpose of the annual pilgrimage to the cave is worship of the ice stalagmite Lingam.
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There are references to the legendary king Aryaraja (ascribed dates 300 BCE) who used to worship a lingam formed of ice in Kashmir. The book Rajatarangini (Book VII v.183) refers to Amareshwara or Amarnath. It is believed that Queen Suryamathi in the 11th century AD gifted trishuls, banalingas and other sacred emblems to this temple. Rajavalipataka, begun by Prjayabhatta has detailed references to the pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave. Other than this, there are further references to this pilgrimage in many other ancient texts.
Discovery of Holy Cave
It is believed that after the Middle Ages, this cave was forgotten by people before it was discovered by a shepherd in the 15th century once again.
Another story relates to Bhrigu Muni. Long time ago it is believed that The Vale of Kashmir was submerged under water and Kashyapa Muni drained it through a series of rivers and rivulets. Therefore, when the waters drained, Bhrigu Muni was the first to have Darshan of Lord Amarnath. Thereafter, when people heard of the Lingam, it became an abode of Lord Bholenath for all believers and a pilgrimage which is done by lakhs of people each year. As we well know Francois Bernier, a French physician accompanied Emperor Aurangzeb during his visit to Kashmir in 1663. In his book “Travels in Mughal Empire” he writes while giving an account the places he visited in Kashmir that he was “pursuing journey to a grotto full of wonderful congelations, two days journey from Sangsafed” when he “received intelligence that my Nawab felt very impatient and uneasy on account of my long absence”. The “grotto” he refers to is obviously the Amarnath cave as the editor of the second edition of the English translation of the book, Vincient A. Smith makes clear in his introduction. He writes: “The grotto full of wonderful congelations is the Amarnath cave, where blocks of ice, stalagmites formed by dripping water from the roof are worshipped by many Hindus who resort here as images of Shiva…..”
The temple is a popular yatra destination for Hindus. In 2011 it received about 634,000 persons, the highest recorded number for the site. The number was 622,000 in 2012 and 350,000 in 2013. Pilgrims visit the holy site during the 45-day season around the festival of Shravani Mela in July–August, coinciding with the Hindu holy month of Shraavana.
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. The Government of Jammu and Kashmir makes all arrangements for the comfort of the pilgrims for undertaking the ritualistic journey for visiting the shrine on Shravan Purnama. But the highly unpredictable weather of the mountains should be more obliging before Guru Purnima as rains would not start. There is a bus service from Jammu to Pahalgam (7,500 ft.). At Pahalgam the pilgrims arrange for coolies or ponies to carry gear of food and clothes etc. Everybody remains busy making arrangements for the Yatra. The golden glow of, the sun falls on the turbulent river at Pahalgam. Pahalgam in Kashmiri means the land of shepherds.
In 2016, the Yatra would commence on 2 July and end after 48 days on 18 August.
The State Road Transport Corporation and Private Transport Operators provide the regular services from Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal. Also privately hired taxis are available from Jammu & Kashmir.
The shorter northern route is just about 16 km long, but has a very steep gradient and is quite difficult to climb. It starts from Baltal and passes through Domial, Barari, and Sangam to reach the cave. The northern route is along the Amarnath valley and all along the route one can see the river Amaravathy (It is more like a tributary of Chenab) which originates from Amarnath Glacier.
It is believed that Lord Shiva left Nandi, The Bull, at Pahalgam (Bail Gaon). At Chandanwari, he released the Moon from his hair (Jataon). On the banks of Lake Sheshnag, he released his snakes. At Mahagunas Parvat (Mahaganesh Mountain), he left his son Lord Ganesha. At Panjtarni, Lord Shiva left behind the five elements - Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky. As a symbol of sacrificing the earthly world, Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Dance. Then, finally, Lord Shiva entered the Holy Amarnath Cave along with Parvathi.
En route the cave, various non-profit organizations set up food supply and resting tents called pandals which are available for free to the pilgrims. Near the shrine, hundreds of tents which are erected by locals can be hired for a night's stay. Helicopter services from base camp to Panjtarni (6 km from the cave) are also available from various private operators.
Every year, thousands of central police and state police personnel are deployed to provide security to pilgrims from potential terror threats. The forces position at various halts and also in the perimeter of the shrine.
Of the 622,000 yatra pilgrims in 2012, 130 died during the yatra. The major cause was attributed to persons who were not physically fit for the arduous climb, high elevations, and adverse weather undertook the yatra. Some also died in road accidents before reaching the base camp from where the yatra starts. Of the 130 deaths, 88 were due to purported health reasons and 42 in road accidents. The 2012 pilgrimage ended on Shravana Purnima (Raksha Bandan) Day, 2 August 2012.
Officially, the Yatra is organised by the State Government in collaboration with the Shree Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). The Government agencies provide necessary facilities all along the route during the Yatra period, which includes provision of ponies, supply of power, telecommunication facilities, firewood and setting up of fair price shops.
The pilgrimage was banned from 1991 to 1995 due to threats from terrorists. In 1996 the militants had assured that they would not interfere allowing a resumed yatra with far greater numbers than in previous years. However, unseasonal blizzards in late August of that year led to a tragedy that claimed the lives of 242 yatris, killed by exhaustion and exposure.
Four years later, the pilgrimage suffered another setback with the massacre in Pahalgam of 30 people by Kashmiri separatist. Most were yatris on their way to Amarnath or porters and horsemen who would have ferried the pilgrims to the site. Then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for the killings.
2008 Land transfer controversy
On 26 May 2008, the Government of India and the state government of Jammu and Kashmir reached an agreement to transfer 100 acres (0.40 km2) of forest land to the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) to set up temporary shelters and facilities for Hindu pilgrims. Kashmiri separatists opposed the move citing reasons that it will jeopardize the article 370 that gives separate identity to the people of Jammu and Kashmir and prevents any Indian citizen to settle in Kashmir. People in Kashmir staged widespread protests against this decision by government of India. Due to the protests, the J&K State government relented and reversed the decision to transfer land. As a result, Hindus in the Jammu region launched counter-agitations against this roll back.
Environmentalists have expressed concern that the number of people participating in the Amarnath Yatra is having a negative impact on the area's ecology and some have expressed support for government regulated limits on the number of pilgrims permitted to make the trek. However no studies have been made nor has an environmental impact assessment done. As of date, the Government of India restricts travellers only on the basis on logistics, time window for the yatra and weather.
Amarnath yatra tax controversy
The Government of Jammu and Kashmir had in 2010 issued a notification under the State Motor Vehicle Taxation Act 1957, under which vehicles going to Amarnath Yatra will have to pay a tax of Rs 2,000 for seven days and Rs 2,000 per day after that.Similar provisions were made for pilgrims going to Sri Mata Vaishno Devi under which they need to pay Rs 2000 for a period of three days.India's central political party the Bhartiya Janata Party expressed its ire over imposition of entry fee and accused the then UPA led central government to direct the Jammu and Kashmir dispensation to desist from making attempts to "discriminate" between followers of various religions.BJP criticized the decision "as a reminiscent of Jaziya imposed during Mughal period on Hindus," In response to the question in Lok Sabha( Lower house of the Indian Parliament) then Minister of State for Finance, Shri S.S. Palanimanickam clarified that tax is levied on all All India Tourist Vehicles entering the state and is therefore not correct to say that Government of Jammu & Kashmir is levying any additional tax on vehicles going to Amarnath and Vaishno Devi.He also said that Taxation of Motor vehicles falls under the purview of State Governments as per the seventh schedule of Constitution of India and Central Government cannot direct the State Government to change the tax rate on vehicles.
Pandals in service to the pilgrims
Helicopter service up to panjtarni on route to Amarnath Cave
Glacier over Lidder River in Chandanwari on the way to Amarnath Temple
- 1996 Amarnath Yatra tragedy
- 2000 Amarnath pilgrimage massacre
- Amarnath land transfer controversy
- List of caves in India
- List of rock cut temples in India
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