Amarnath Temple

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Amarnath Cave Temple
Cave Temple of Lord Amarnath.jpg
Amarnath Cave Temple
DistrictAnantnag district
FestivalsMaha Shivratri
StateJammu and Kashmir
Amarnath Temple is located in Jammu and Kashmir
Amarnath Temple
Shown within Jammu and Kashmir
Amarnath Temple is located in Ladakh
Amarnath Temple
Amarnath Temple (Ladakh)
Amarnath Temple is located in India
Amarnath Temple
Amarnath Temple (India)
Geographic coordinates34°12′54″N 75°30′03″E / 34.2149°N 75.5008°E / 34.2149; 75.5008Coordinates: 34°12′54″N 75°30′03″E / 34.2149°N 75.5008°E / 34.2149; 75.5008
Elevation3,888 m (12,756 ft)

Amarnath Temple is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft),[1] about 141 km (88 mi) from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine represents an important part of Hinduism.[2][3] The cave, located in Lidder Valley, is surrounded by glaciers, snowy mountains and is covered with snow most of the year, except for a short period of time in summer when it is open to pilgrims. In 1989, pilgrims numbered between 12,000 and 30,000. In 2011, the numbers reached a peak, crossing 6.3 lakh (630,000) pilgrims. In 2018 pilgrims numbered 2.85 lakh (285,000). The annual pilgrimage has varied between 20 and 60 days.

The Amarnath cave, abode of the Mahamaya Shakti Peetha, is one of the 51 Shakti Peethas, temples throughout South Asia that commemorate the location of fallen body parts of the Hindu deity Sati.[4]

Shiva Linga[edit]

Ice Lingam of Lord Shiva at the Amarnath Cave Temple

The Shiva Lingam is a stalagmite formation located at the Amarnath Mountain which has a peak of 5,186 metres (17,014 ft), and inside a 40 m (130 ft) high cave at an elevation of 3,888 m (12,756 ft). The stalagmite is formed due to the freezing of water drops that fall from the roof of the cave onto the floor resulting in an upward vertical growth of ice. There are different types of stalagmites. Here, the stalagmites considered as the lingam, a physical manifestation of Shiva, form a solid-dome-shape. Parvati and Ganesha are also present here as two smaller stalagmites.[5]

It is mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts of Mahabharata and Puranas that Lingam represents Shiva.[6] The lingam 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; thereafter, the lingam gradually wanes.[1] As per religious beliefs, it is said that the lingam grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon, reaching its height during the summer festival.[7] According to Hindu religious beliefs, this is the place where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort, Parvati.[8][9]

Lidder Valley, where the cave is located, has a number of glaciers.[10] In 2009, glaciologist Professor M. N. Koul, the former head of the geography department at Jammu University, has said that while more scientific studies are needed, contributors to change in lingam size could include changes in the pathways for water leading to the lingum.[10] The cave is made of limestone and gypsum.[11] Heat generated by tourists, affects the size of the stalagmite.[11] Outside temperate changes also affect its size.[12][13] To minimize artificially induced temperature changes, helicopter trips and helipad sites are regulated.[10] There has been talk of artificially extending the life of the stalagmite, however this has been objected to.[11][10]


The book Rajatarangini (Book VII v.183) refers to Krishaanth or Amarnath. It is believed that, in the 11th century AD, Queen Suryamati gifted trishulas, banalingas and other sacred emblems to this temple.[14] Rajavalipataka, begun by Prjayabhatta, contains detailed references to the pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave Temple. In addition, there are further references to this pilgrimage in many other ancient texts.

According to legend, Sage Bhrigu was the first to have discovered Amarnath. A long time ago, it is believed that the Valley of Kashmir was submerged underwater, and Sage Kashyapa drained it through a series of rivers and rivulets. As a result, when the waters drained, Bhrigu was the first to have darshan of Shiva at Amarnath. Thereafter, when people heard of the lingam, it became an abode of Shiva for all believers and the site of an annual pilgrimage, traditionally performed by lakhs of people in July and August during the Hindu Holy month of Savan.[15] According to researchers and as per the belief of locals, the gadaria community were the first to discover the Amarnath Cave and saw the first glimpse of Shiva.

François Bernier, a French physician, accompanied Emperor Aurangzeb during his visit to Kashmir in 1663. In his book Travels in Mughal Empire, he provides an account of the places he visited, noting 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" referenced in this passage is obviously the Amarnath cave — as the editor of the second edition of the English translation of the book, Vincent 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...."[16]

In 1895, pilgrims would first travel to Kheer Bhawani for a brief stop.[17] Sustained by free rations given by the state, the pilgrims would then travel to Srinagar.[17] From Srinagar, in batches, the pilgrims would then head up Lidder Valley, stopping at locations for holy dips.[17] At Mach Bawan, local Hindus would join them. Maliks of Batok were responsible for the route during these years.[17] Sister Nivedita, in Notes of Some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda, writes of Swami Vivekananda's visit to the cave in 1898.[18]

Yatra (pilgrimage)[edit]

Amarnath Yatra Camp.

The pilgrimage, Amarnath Yatra, occurs when the iced stalagmite Shiva lingam reaches the apex of its waxing phase through the summer months.[19] The period of July–August is a popular time for the pilgrimage.[20][21][22] The beginning of the annual pilgrimage is marked by pratham pujan (transl. first prayer).[23][24]

It begins with a 43 kilometres (27 mi) mountainous trek from the Nunwan and Chandanwari base camps at Pahalgam and reaches cave-shrine after night halts at Sheshnag Lake and Panchtarni camps.[25] The yatra is a way of earning revenue for the state government by imposing tax on pilgrims.[26][27] Local Muslim Bakarwal-Gujjars also make a living by offering services to the Hindu pilgrims. This source of income has been threatened by the Kashmiri militant groups who have harassed and attacked the yatra numerous times.[28][29][30][31][32][33]

In 1995 the pilgrimage lasted for 20 days. Between 2004 and 2009 the duration stretched to 60 days. The following years saw the pilgrimage last between 40 and 60 days.[34] In 2019, the Yatra would commence on 1 July and end on 15 August.[35] 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 May 2022, the state government initiated the construction of a pilgrimage centre (3000 people capacity) for yatris in Srinagar to facilitate their stay when travelling for the holy pilgrimage.[36]


Amarnath route

Old route[edit]

Bhrigu's Amarnath Mahatmya identifies a number of location on the pilgrimage on the way to the Amarnath cave: Shurahyar, Shivpora, Pandrethan, Pampore, Javati, Awantipur, Barsu, Jaubror, Belihar, Wagahama, Chakreshwar (Tsakdar), Hari Chandar, Sthalwat (Thajwor), Suryai Gohwat (Sriguphvara), Lambodari, Sirham, Bodrus, Bala Khelyan, Ganish, Mammaleshwar, Bhrigupati Kshetra, Nila Ganga, Pissu Hill, Shesh Nag, Wavjan, Panchtarni, Amravati.[37] On the return journey Mamleshwar and Naudal are crossed.[38]

New Route[edit]

Following the construction of drivable road, the route of the pilgrimage has changed at certain places.[38]

  • Jammu - Pahalgam - Chandanwari - Pissu Top - Sheshnag - Panchtarni - Amarnath cave
  • Jammu - Baltal - Domail - Barari - Amarnath cave
Pilgrims en-route Amarnath

Devotees travel on foot, either from Srinagar or from Pahalgam.[3] The journey from Pahalgam takes about five days.[3]

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 Domel, 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 Amaravati (a tributary of Chenab) which originates from Amarnath Glacier.

It is believed that Shiva left Nandi, the bull, at Pahalgam (Bail Gaon). At Chandanwari, he released the Moon from his hair (Jata). On the banks of Lake Sheshnag, he released his snake. At Mahagunas Parvat (Mahaganesh Mountain), he left his son Ganesha. At Panjtarni, Shiva left behind the five elements - Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky. As a symbol of sacrificing the earthly world, Shiva performed the Tandava Dance. Then, finally, Shiva entered the Amarnath Cave along with Parvati and both of them manifested into a Lingam made of ice. Shiva became the lingam of ice and Parvati became the yoni of rock.[39]

Organisation and facilities[edit]

Officially, the Yatra is organised by the government in collaboration with the Shree Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). Various 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.[40]

Pandal tents serving free community kitchen food to the pilgrims

En-route the cave, various non-governmental organisations have 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.[40] In 2019, pilgrims were given identification cards for the duration of the pilgrimage which were to be tagged at certain locations.[41] Vehicles are also tracked so that the entire pilgrimage can be mapped.[41] In the 1970s, for merchants and local businesses along the route, it was a good season to make money.[42]


The number of pilgrims in 1989 varies between 12,000,[43][44] 20,000[45] and 30,000[46] according to different accounts, to over 400,000 in 2007.[44][47] The pilgrimage reached a peak in 2011 when the site received about 634,000 people.[48] The number was 622,000 in 2012 and 350,000 in 2013.[49] In 2018 the number of pilgrims were 285,006.[50]

Figures and estimates (*) of pilgrims to Amarnath, and duration
Year Pilgrims Days Ref Year Pilgrims Days Ref Year Pilgrims Days Ref
2021 [51] 2009 3,81,000 60 [49] 1997 79,035 [52]
2020 [53] 2008 5,33,000 60 [49] 1996
2019 3,42,883 45 [54][55] 2007 2.14/2.96 lakh 60 [56][49] 1995 70,000 20 [57]
2018 2,85,006 [50][58] 2006 2.65/3.47 lakh 60 [56][59] 1994
2017 2,60,003 [58] 2005 3,88,000 60 [59] 1993 75,000* [60]
2016 2,20,490 [58] 2004 4,00,000 60 [59] 1992 50,000* [60][61]
2015 3,52,771 60 [58] 2003 1,53,314 30 [52] 1991 30,000* [60]
2014 3,72,000 [62] 2002 1,10,793 30 [52] 1990 4,000* [60]
2013 3,53,000 55 [49] 2001 1,19,037 [52] 1989 12,000-40,000* [44][47]
2012 6,22,000 [49] 2000 1,73,334 30 [52] Source: Duration[34]
2011 6,34,000 [49] 1999 1,14,366 40 [52]
2010 4,55,000 [49] 1998 1,49,920 [52]

Pilgrims have to pre-register and are allotted quotas according to state. States compromising a majority of the allotment include Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra and West Bengal.[63]

Deaths due to health, accidents and disasters[edit]

Sir Walter Roper Lawrence in The Valley of Kashmir (1895) writes that the difficulty of pilgrimage route affected the weak and sick, with many also falling victims to cholera.[17] In 1928, over 500 pilgrims and mules died on the way to the cave.[64] In 1969 a cloudburst resulted in the death of 40 pilgrims.[64] The 1996 Amarnath Yatra tragedy involved the death of 243 pilgrims due to exhaustion and exposure.[65][43] In July 2012, 12 pilgrims were killed in a road accident. The pilgrims were part of a team who had set up a community kitchen at the pilgrimage.[66] Three people were killed and more injured due to a cloudburst at Baltal in 2015.[67] Of the 622,000 yatra pilgrims in 2012, 130 died during the yatra. The major cause was attributed to people 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.[68]


Every year, thousands of central armed forces 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.[69] This includes CRPF, BSF, ITBP, NDRF/SDRF and state police and traffic police.[70]

Threats, attacks, and massacres[edit]

The first threat targeted against Amarnath pilgrims was in 1993; that year Pakistan-based Harkat-ul-Ansar had announced a ban due to demolition of Babri Masjid in the previous year.[71] The pilgrimage however was mostly peacefully.[71] The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen group imposed what it called a "ban" on the yatra in 1994, 1995 and 1998 while threatening the pilgrims of "serious consequences", however the pilgrimage did continue.[72][73]

2000 pilgrimage massacre[edit]

On 2 August 2000, militants attacked the Nunwan base camp in Pahalgam. 32 people, including 21 unarmed Hindu pilgrims, 7 unarmed Muslim civilians and 3 security force officers, in a two hour long indiscriminate shoot, were killed.[30][74] Among the dead were mostly pilgrims or porters and horsemen who were ferrying pilgrims.[75][76] This attack was part of the larger 1-2 August 2000 Kashmir massacre in 5 separate coordinated terrorist attacks that killed at least 89 (official count) to 105 people (as reported by PTI), and injured at least 62 more.[30][75] Then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee blamed Lashkar-e-Taiba for the killings.[77]

2001 massacre[edit]

On 20 July 2001, a terrorist threw a grenade on a pilgrim night camp at Sheshnag near the Amarnath shrine in which at least 13 persons, including 3 women, were killed in two explosions and firing by militants, 2 were security officials and 3 of the killed person were Muslim civilians.[32][29] 15 other were also injured in the attack.[78]

2002 massacre[edit]

On 30 July and 6 August 2002, in two separate incidents terrorists from al-Mansuriyan, a front group of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, massacred 2 and 9 pilgrims and injured 3 and 27 people in Srinagar and near Nunwan pilgrimage base camp respectively.[30][33]

2017 yatra attack[edit]

Eight Hindu pilgrims were killed on 10 July in a gun attack returning from Amarnath. The Pakistani outfit, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, was found responsible.[79]



The Amarnath pilgrimage was suspended in July 2016 due to the Kashmir unrest.[80] A section of Sufis and Shias later demanded resumption of the Yatra. Kalbe Jawad, a Shia cleric and general secretary of Majlis-e-Ulama-e-Hind and Sufi cleric Hasnain Baqai expressed concern that the tradition had been suspended because of upheaval in Kashmir.[28]


The pilgrimage was suspended in August 2019 after the state government stated there was a threat of possible terrorist attacks. Similarly, the pilgrimage to Machail Mata was suspended as well.[81] However, it was also speculated that the Yatra suspension might have been linked to the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.[82][83][84][85]

COVID-19 pandemic[edit]

On 22 April 2020, the Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine Board announced the suspension of the Yatra because of the COVID-19 pandemic in India. Later however it withdrew the press circular and announced cancellation of the suspension.[86] Lieutenant Governor G. C. Murmu said that a final decision will be dependent on any future developments relating to the pandemic.[87] In light of the pandemic, union territory government on 4 July announced that only 500 people will be permitted road travel to the shrine and everyone coming into the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir from outside will be tested for COVID-19, being quarantined until their reports come out to be negative.[88] The pilgrimage was later cancelled on 21 July by the board due to the pandemic, with cases of coronavirus in the union territory increasing greatly since 1 July.[89] Facilities for viewing the prayer ceremony online were made available.[90]

The shrine board on 27 March 2022 decided to resume the pilgrimage after a gap of two years, starting from 30 June and lasting for 43 days, while following protocols to prevent the spread of COVID.[91]


2008 Land transfer controversy[edit]

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)[92] 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.[93] 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.[94][95]

Environmental impact[edit]

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.[96] 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 Cave Temple Yatra tax controversy[edit]

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 2,000 for seven days and 2,000 per day after that. Similar provisions were made for pilgrims going to Sri Mata Vaishno Devi under which they need to pay 2000 for a period of three days. India's central political party the Bharatiya 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 Jizya 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, S. S. Palanimanickam clarified that tax is levied on 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.[97][27]

Popular culture[edit]

Famous Santoor artist Rahul Sharma named a track after Amarnath Cave temple as "Shiva Linga: The Amarnath Cave"[98]


See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

Pilgrim health

External links[edit]