India has always been a land for religious people who are always eager to do anything to please the Almighty. More out of devotion and respect than anything else, people worship the idol of a deity found in different forms and places. Shivalinga, a form of Lord Shiva, is an example of the omnipresence of God as it is found in several destinations of India. One famous temple which houses this form of Lord Shiva is the Amarnath Cave Temple of Jammu and Kashmir.
|Amarnath Cave [source]|
The unique feature of this temple is that the Shivalinga is found in the form of an ice Amarnath Cave Temple: A Heavenly Temple in Jammu and Kashmir stalagmite and the cave where it is seen itself is covered with snow for most of the time.
Amarnath Cave Temple is located at an altitude of 12,756 feet, at a distance 88 kilometres from the state capital Srinagar.
The cave where the shrine is located has been a place of worship for several centuries. A few ancient texts suggest that the cave was a worship centre since 32 BCE. It is also said that a Queen named Suryamathi visited this temple and gifted several sacred objects. Several other texts also address the cave as a pilgrimage frequented by rulers of several dynasties.
Due to reasons unknown, people no longer visited the cave temple after the middle Ages. It was rediscovered during the 15th century though there are no specific evidences as to who discovered it. Some people suggest that it was a shepherd who stumbled upon the caves. A legend states that this shepherd received a bag of coal from a holy man around the caves. As he reached home and opened the bag, he was startled to see that the bag was full of gold coins. He decided to meet the holy man again and ran to the spot, but the holy man was no longer in sight. As he was searching for the man, he discovered the cave and the shrine.
He reached back to the village and narrated the incident to other residents, following which they started worshiping Shiva at the cave.
Another legend states that in the ancient period, Kashmir Valley was submerged in water. The water was drained through different lakes and channels by a saint called Kashyap Rishi, and thus the valley became visible. Another saint named Bhrigu Rishi visited the valley and the Himalaya mountain range and accidentally discovered the cave and the shrine during this expedition.
The cave is also believed to be the site where Shiva narrated the Amar Katha to his wife. On the way, he left his vehicle Nandi, snakes, moon, his son, and the five elements that together form the universe, so that no one could hear the reason behind his immortality.
|Devotees on their way to Amarnath Cave Temple [source]|
The place where he left Nandi is known as Pahalgam. Lake Sheshnag is the place where he left the snake. Chandanwari is where he left the moon, and Mahagunas Parvat is where he left his son.
The holy cave rises to a height of 130 feet. It houses the shrine which forms as the drops of water freeze on the floor and gradually take the form of Shivalinga. Devotees worship this Shivling and the other two ice formations that are believed to represent Shiva’s wife and son, Parvati and Ganesha respectively.
Amarnath Yatra is a procession of devotees that begins in July and goes on for 45 days. This period is known as the Shravani Mela. More than five lack devotees visit the temple during this period.
The challenging climb to the hills has resulted in death of many devotees who are not physically and mentally fit. Physically fit to endure the extremities of the climate and high elevation. Abrupt changes in the temperature and sudden rainfall can bring the climb to a halt and also affect the health of the devotees. It is, therefore, advised that before you plan a trip to the temple, visit your physician to ascertain if you are really fit for the task.
To be on the safer horizon, people must start working out to achieve required level of fitness, at least a month before the date of journey.
Visitors must carry ample supplies of various medicines which help to combat the uneasiness, fever, body-ache, nausea and other reactions occurring in the body. Cosmetics, munchies, toffees and dry fruits must also be included in the items that visitors carry to the top. Consumption of alcohol and other narcotic substances is strictly prohibited keeping in mind the sanctity of the place.
Using flash camera inside the shrine is prohibited. Visitors must not pay more than the rates displayed by the vendors. Carrying polythene is not a problem, but it must not be thrown en route.
How to Reach
The nearest airport from the temple is located in Srinagar. Regular flights to Delhi, Mumbai, Jammu, Amritsar, Bangalore, Leh, Nagpur, Indore and a few other cities are available from here.
The nearest railway station is located in Jammu, which connects the town with several destinations of India through regular express trains. Visitors can also hire taxis or private vehicles to reach Srinagar or Pahalgam, from where they are required to travel on foot.
There are two routes to climb the hills. Various stalls set up by nonprofit organizations provide food, water, and tents for the visitors. Tents for rent are available near the shrine as well.
Devotees often take a bath in the Amravati River before they enter the cave for worship.
For those who find it difficult to trek through the mountains, deluxe and budget helicopter packages are available. The prices of helicopter packages vary according to the additional services required by the tourists.