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Amarnath Yatra: In Search Of SalvationSince centuries a pilgrimage to the Holy cave of Amarnath in Northern Kashmir has been the dream of every Hindu; however it remains a dream for many because of the extremely ardours nature of the pilgrimage. Located at over 13,000 feet above sea level, with a steep gradient, this is indeed a challenge even for the physically tough and mentally robust, leave alone the old and frail. But amazingly it is possible to see thousands of middle aged and old people not obviously physically fit going on this pilgrimage. This only gives credence to the famous saying attributed Mahatma Gandhi:” Faith can move mountains”. Faith can indeed move mountains!!!
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The Amarnath cave is located at a height of 12,756 ft , 141 km north of Srinagar. The mountain in which this cave is present is called Mount Amarnath. Dedicated Lord Shiva, this cave is believed to be more than 5000 years old. The cave is a natural cave cut on the rock face by millions of years of work by elements of nature.
Inside the cave is an ice stalagmite which resembles the Shiva Lingam. When fully grown the lingam is over nine feet tall and it is believed to wax and wane with the phase of moon. Legend has it that this was the place where lord Shiva narrated the Amar Katha or the immortal story to Parvathi.
There are two routes to reach the cave. The traditional southern route (Believed to be the route taken by Shiva and Parvathi to reach the cave) starts from Pahalgam where the first camp is located. The route then spans over 40 km passing through Chandanwadi, Seshnag, Ganesh top, Panchtarani and Sangam to reach the cave.
The shorter 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.
The Amarnath Cave has been a place of worship since times immemorial. There are references to one Aryaraja (32BCE-17CE) 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.
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.
Discovery of Holy Cave
It is believed that after the middle ages, this cave was forgotten by people before it was discover by a shepherd in the 15th century once again. However there are many stories about the discovery of this cave. One story states that once a Gujjar (Shepherd) named Buta Malil was given a bag full of coal by a holy man. When he reached home, he found that the bag contained not coal, but gold coins. Overjoyed he ran back to the place where the he had met the Holy man. However the holy man had disappeared and Buta Malik instead discovered the cave and the Lingam.
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 Lord Bholenath for all believers and a pilgrimage which is done by lacs of people each year.