Amarnath cave is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft), about 141 km (88 mi) from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine forms an important part of Hinduism, and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. The cave is surrounded by snowy mountains. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims. Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees make an annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave across challenging mountainous terrain.
The Linga (Ice Lingam at Amarnath Cave)
Inside the 40 m (130 ft) high Amarnath cave, a stalagmite is formed due to freezing of water drops that fall from the roof of the cave on to the floor and grows up vertically from the cave floor. It is considered to be a Shiva Linga by Hindus. It is mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts of Mahabharata and Puranas that Lingam represents Lord Shiva.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 and gradually wanes thereafter. As per religious beliefs, it has been claimed that the lingam grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon reaching its height during the summer festival, although there is no scientific evidence for this belief. According to a Hindu legend, this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort, Parvati.
The book Rajatarangini 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. Rajavalipataka, begun by Prjayabhatta has detailed references to the pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave. Other than this, there are further references to this pilgrimage in many other ancient texts.
The peak pilgrimage occurs when the iced stalagmite Shiv lingam reaches the apex of its waxing phase through the summer months.The July-August popular annual Hindu pilgrimage, undertaken by up to 600,000 or more pilgrims to the 130 feet (40 m)-high glacial Amarnath cave shrine of iced stalagmite Shiv linga at 12,756 feet (3,888 m) in the Himalayas, is called Amarnath Yatra. 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. The yatra is both a way of earning revenue by the state government by imposing tax on pilgrims, and making living by the local Shia Muslim Bakarwal-Gujjars by taking a portion of revenue and by offering services to the Hindu pilgrims, and this source of income has been threatened by the Kashmiri militant groups who have harassed and attacked the yatra numerous times, causing killings and massacres, with at least 59 people killed till July 2017 on this yatra causing death of mostly Hindu pilgrims, at least 10 Muslim civilian, and few more Muslims among security forces.
The Harkat-ul-Mujahideen group had in the past imposed what it called a "ban" on the yatra in 1994, 1995 and 1998 while threatening the pilgrims of "serious consequences". The Amarnath pilgrimage was suspended in July 2016 due to the Kashmir unrest. 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, expressed concern that the tradition had been suspended because of upheaval in Kashmir.
At Pahalgam the pilgrims arrange for coolies or ponies to carry gear of food and clothes etc. Everybody remains busy making arrangements for the Yatra. The golden glow of, the sun falls on the turbulent river at Pahalgam. Pahalgam in Kashmiri means the land of shepherds.