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Ancient Amaranth Pilgrimage

Photographer: Jaipal Singh

 

One of India's most popular and arduous pilgrimages, the Hindu pilgrimage to the Amarnath Cave, about 141 km from Srinagar, Indian Kashmir, is believed to be thousands of years old, but it started in an organized manner during the reign of the Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh.

 

Amarnath is a unique example of secular traditions in India where descendants of a Muslim family are considered to be the discoverers of the shrine at a considerable altitude of about 17,300 feet in the Amarnath Mountains in the Anantnag district of Kashmir Valley. At Amarnath, there is a huge cave which contains a naturally formed image of 'Lord Shiva' in the form of an 'ice-lingam' formed by the freezing of water which oozes from the rock. It is worshipped as a self-created 'Svayambhu' Linga and is considered the embodiment of Lord Shiva.

 

There are two alternate ways to the cave shrine, the traditional and popular 42-km-route of Phalgham (or Pahalgam) and the other 16-km-route of Baltal. The trek from Phalgham to the cave can be covered in three or four days with night halts at Chandanwari, Sheshnag, Panchtarni and the Amarnath Cave. Hindu Pilgrims visit the shrine during the 45 days before Sharavan Purnima, the day of Raksha Bandhan, in July to August every year. The annual Amarnath Pilgrimage is organized by the Jammu and Kashmir state government in collaboration with the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.

 

Many Hindu community organizations provide necessary facilities and free food to pilgrims all along the route during the pilgrimage period. The tents erected by local Muslim people at many places en route to the cave can be hired for night stay. The government also deploys security forces to help the pilgrims to trek through mountains in the revolt-torn Kashmir region.