The Amaranth Bhakti Yatra
Thousands of Hindu devotees throng annually to the Amarnath Cave in Jammu & Kashmir in a bid to visit the famous ice lingam. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Hinduism. The annual Amarnath Yatra is a grand process that many Hindu devotees look forward to. In 2011, as many as 6,34,000 pilgrims completed the yatra!
The main attraction of the yatra is a stalagmite of ice inside the 40 metre high Amarnath Cave. It is believed by Hindus that this Shiv Lingam fates back to the days of Lord Shiva. However, it was forgotten about for many years, and was rediscovered by a shepherd in the 15th century.
Legend has it that Lord Shiva preached the secret of life and eternity to Goddess Parvati at this very spot. According to beliefs, the ice lingam grows and diminishes with the phases of the moon. The time of the yatra coincides with the peaking of the growth of the ice lingam.
Hindus believe that one needs to take the Amarnath Yatra at least once during their lifetime. The yatra is particularly popular among aged devotees.
Location and Route
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, the Amarnath shrine is located near Pahalgam town in Jammu and Kashmir. The main shrine is inside the Amarnath Cave, which can be found inside a mountain, at a height of 40 metres.
Pilgrims can travel to the shrine on foot from Srinagar or Pahalgam. This takes around 5 days. Amarnath yatra packages also offer bus and hired taxi services from Jammu and Srinagar up to the town. The trek to the shrine takes you through beautiful snow-covered valleys and glaciers.
It is believed that Lord Shiva himself walked from Pahalgam to the cave. He left his bull, Nandi here. Many believe that he then made his way to Chandanwari, from where it is said he released the moon from his locks of hair. As he continued to Amarnath with Parvati, he left behind his snakes at the Sheshnag Lake, his son, Ganesha, at the Mahaganesh Mountain, and the elements of air, earth, fire, sky and water at Panjtarni.
As usual, Shri Amarnath Yatra 2017 will be organised by Shree Amarnath Shrine Board along with the Jammu & Kashmir State Government. Pilgrims can visit the shrine for around 45 days during the holy month of Shraavan. The site is generally open during the festival of Shravani Mela. The State Police and Indian Government provide thousands of security personnel along the entire route of the yatra for the safety of the pilgrims. Many not-for-profit organisations also set up pandals or resting tents, and food and water stalls for the pilgrims as they make the journey to Amarnath.