The Himalayan pilgrimages are the oldest organised travel system, evolved over time by Hindu sages and embodying the spirit of wander, adventure and spirituality. Lord Shiva in the form of a lingam is formed naturally of an ice stalagmite. The most famous and ancient sacred books of India, The Holy Vedas ; Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time. Shiva is known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself or his bride. He was an ascetic, and yet married; he could be both for “he was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud.”
Legends and history Amarnath Yatra
Behind the discovery of the Holy Shrine lies an interesting story. Centuries ago Maa Parvati asked Shivji to let her know why and when he started wearing the beads of heads (Mund Mala), to which Bhole Shankar replied, “whenever you are born I add more heads to my bead”. Parvati said, “I die again and again, but you are Immortal. Please tell me the reason behind this”. ”Bhole Shankar replied that for this you will have to listen to the Amar Katha”
Shiva agreed to narrate the detailed story to Maa Parvati. He started for a lonely place where no living being could listen to the immortal secret and ultimately chose Amarnath Cave. In the hush-hush, he left his Nandi (the Bull which He used to ride) at Pahalgam. At Chandanwari, he released Moon (Chand) from his hair (Jataon). At the banks of Lake Sheshnag, he released the snakes. He decided to leave his Son Ganesha at Mahagunas Parvat. At Panjtarni, Shivji left the Five Elements behind (Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky) which give birth to life and of which he is the Lord. After leaving behind all these, Bhole Shankar entered the Holy Amarnath Cave along with Parvati Maa and took his Samadhi. To ensure that no living being is able to hear the Immortal Tale, he created Kalagni and ordered him to spread fire to eliminate every living thing in and around the Holy Cave. After this he started narrating the secret of immortality to Maa Parvati. But as a matter of chance a pair of pigeons overhead the story and became immortal.
Many pilgrims report seeing the pair of pigeons at the Holy Shrine even today and are amazed as to how these birds survive in such a cold and high altitude area.
The trek to Amarnathji, in the month of Shravan (July – August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice – stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice – lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesha.
According to an ancient tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a sadhu. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. To date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust which manages the shrine.
Yet another legend has it that when Kashap Reshi drained the Kashmir valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish Reshi who was travelling the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Amarnathji for them became Shiva’s abode and a centre of pilgrimage.
How to reach Kashmir and go for Amarnath Yatra
Srinagar, the nearest aerodrome, has world famous sights to see, such as Dal Lake, Nagin Lake, Shankaracharya Temple and Mughal gardens like Shalimar, Nishat and Cheshma-shahi. Known as “Paradise on earth” and being the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir, the city is well connected by air and road. There are daily flights to Srinagar from Delhi and Jammu. On certain weekdays flights also pickup passengers from Chandigarh and Leh.
Jammu is the nearest Railway Station. Jammu is the winter Capital of Jammu & Kashmir. Also known as “CITY OF TEMPLES“, one may visit old temples such as Raghunath Temple, Mahadev Mandir and other temples. Railway station is very well connected and there are lots of express trains to various towns in India.
Jammu and Srinagar are also connected through road. Buses and Taxies are available for this part of the journey. These can be hired on daily as well as on full tour basis.
Trek to Amarnathji Cave
“For those who journey with faith, it is a rewarding experience, this simple visitation to a cave-shrine, the home of the Himalayan mendicant who is both destroyer and healer, the greatest of the Hindu God”
The trek from Pahalgam to Amarnathji cave is on an ancient peregrine route. The 45 – km distance is covered in four days, with night halts at Chandanwari, Sheshnag (Wawjan) and Panchtarni. The distance from Pahalgam to Chandanwari (16 km) is now covered by motor transport. The pilgrims camp here or at Pahalgam on the first night out.
The first day’s trek of 13 km from Chandanwari is through spectacular, primeval countryside. The main centre of attraction on this trek is Sheshnag, a mountain lake which derives its name from its seven peaks, resembling the heads of a mythical snake. The journey to Sheshnag follows steep inclines up the right bank of a cascading stream and wild scenery untouched by civilisation. The second night’s camp at Wawjan overlooks the deep blue water of Sheshnag lake, and glaciers beyond it. The lake is also associated with legends of love and revenge, and at the camp these are recounted by campfires, to the stillness of a pine-scented, Himalayan night.
The second day’s 12 km trek steadily gains height, winding up across Mahagunas Pass at 4,600 m and then descending to the meadow – lands of Panchtarni, the last camp enroute to the holy cave.
From Panchtarni to Amarnathji is only 6 km, but an early morning’s start is recommended for there is a long queue awaiting entrance to the cave. The same day, following darshan, devotees can return to Panchtarni in time for lunch, and continue to Wawjan to spend the fourth night out; or continue further to Zojibal, returning to Pahalgam on the 4th day.
Entrance to the cave is regulated, and darshan a hasty affair for there are many others waiting outside to pay homage before the awesome Shivalingam. The devotees sing bhajans, chant incantations, and priests perform aarti and puja, invoking the blessing of Shiva, the divine, the pure and the absolute.