The Amarnath Yatra
The Amarnath cave has been a place of worship since times immemorial. 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. Other than this, there are further references to this pilgrimage in many other ancient texts.
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 Baba Barfani for all believers and a pilgrimage which is done by lakhs of people each year.
The Holy Cave is a popular Yatra destination for Hindus. 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. The beginning of the annual pilgrimage, called Amarnath Yatra is marked by ‘Pratham Pujan’ to invoke the blessings of Shri Amarnath Ji. In 2017, the Yatra would commence on 29th June to 7th August 2017.
Either from Srinagar or from Pahalgam, devotees travel the cave on foot. The latter journey takes approximately 5 days. There is a regular services provided from Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal by The State Road Transport Corporation and Private Transport Operators. Privately hired taxis are also available from Jammu & Kashmir. The shortest 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). He released the Moon from his hair (Jataon) at Chandanwari. 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. Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Dance, as a symbol of sacrificing the earthly world. Then, finally, Lord Shiva entered the Holy Amarnath Cave along with his consort Parvati.
En-route the cave, Various non-profit organizations set up food supply and resting tets called pandals which are available for free to the pilgrims. Hundreds of tents which are erected by locals can be hired for a night’s stay, near around the shrine. 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.
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 militants. 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. 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.
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