One of the holy trinity, Lord Shiva is a living God. The most ancient and sacred book of India, the 'Rig 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 adobe in the Himalayas. He built no house nor shelter, not for himself or his consort, Goddess Parvati . He was an ascetic, and yet married; He could be both for "He is the God sporting in the forest or taking his ease on a cloud."
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Goddess Parvati the secret of creation in the Shri Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are liberated from rebirth, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).
The trek to Shri Amarnathji, in the month of Shravan (July - August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Lord Shiva, in the form of a Lingam, is formed naturally of ice - stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice - lingams, that of Goddess Parvati and of their son, Shri Ganesha.
According to an ancient tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a saint. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the saint and thanked him, but on the spot of their meeting he 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 Board 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 traveling the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Shri Amarnathji for them became Lord Shiva's abode and a centre of pilgrimage.
Whatever the legends and the history of Shri Amarnathji's discovery, it is today a very important centre of pilgrimage and though the route is as difficult to negotiate as it is exciting, every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage before Lord Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Shri Amarnathji stands at 3,888 m and is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin the journey from Pahalgam, and cover the distance to Shri Amarnathji and back in four or five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar.
Since the base point for the pilgrim's trek is picturesque Pahalgam, a large tented township springs up to accommodate the pilgrims. The conduct of the yatra is a gigantic task in which the State Government takes the assistance of the security departments for providing security and helping to keep the route open. All intermediate halting places have the same kind of facilities as are provided at Pahalgam, and a Yatra Officer is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.
Useful Tips on the Yatra: The Yatra is organised in the month of Shravan and commences mainly from Pahalgam on specified dates. In recent years the route from Baltal has also been thrown open for the pilgrims to approach the holy Cave.
Dress: Pilgrims are advised to carry sufficient wollens such as sweaters, drawers, wollen trousers, monkey cap etc. Other items could include wind cheaters, rain coat, sleeping bag or blankets, umbrella, waterproof boots/shoes, walking stick, torch etc. Ladies are advised not to go on the trek in saris, instead Salwar suits should be used.
Medical Assistance: Medical posts manned by qualified doctors and nursing staff are established enroute to cater to the needs of the pilgrims, free of cost. However, pilgrims are advised to carry along any medicines specifically prescribed for them.
Provisions: Essential rations are available at fair price rates from the specially established Govt. Depots at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtami, Numerous wayside tea-shops and small restaurants are set up by private parties. However, pilgrims are advised to carry with them biscuits, tinned food etc. to cater to their immediate needs. Firewood or gas can be obtained at Chandanwari, Sheshnag , Panchtarni and near the Cave.
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