On Icy Trail
he recent unfortunate episode of hasty withdrawal of the allotment of forestland to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board is wholly unfortunate and unwarranted, to say the least. If anything, it speaks volumes for the political milieu in the country. The land was initially allotted to provide facilities for the pilgrims visiting the holy shrine every year with a specific mandate that the Shrine Board could use the land only for erecting temporary sheds to accommodate pilgrims. No permanent structures were envisaged, nor could the land be sold or mortgaged by the Shrine Board.
This decision is in sharp contrast to the manner in which the State and the Central Indian Governments treat religious minorities, especially Muslims whose shrines across India are being taken such good care, their Haj pilgrimages even subsidized, and Haj terminals built in airports and hospitals in Jeddah,
Significance of the Pilgrimage
| Yatra Begins
The stage for Amarnath Yatra is set with the approach of the full moon night in the bright half of the lunar month of Shravan, which generally falls in the month of July-August every year,
A symbol of faith, cultural pride and national integration, the Yatra normally starts in a traditional manner from Srinagar in the form of a procession with the Head of Dashnami Akhada carrying the holy mace made of silver. Thousands of pilgrims, including holy men from all over India, join the procession, which takes five days to reach Pahalgam where the holy mace is placed on an altar at the local Gauri Shankar temple.
According to a legend woven around the significance of the holy mace a, Lord Siva gifted a scepter to Rishi Bhringish in response to his prayers for the safety of the pilgrims who used to be harassed by the demons. Ever since, the scepter, known as Chhari Mubarak, has been the symbol of protection of the pilgrims to the cave site.
In recent years, however, the safety of the Amarnath pilgrims has been threatened by the terrorists, aided and abetted by Pakistan from across the border. This year, too, the threat loomed large despite the security cover provided by the State government. Unfazed by the terrorist carnage, the devout have been making the pilgrimage every year in record numbers.
|Journey of Faith
Pahalgam, the famous tourist resort of the Kashmir Valley, suddenly comes alive in July-August every year with a large tented township springing up to accommodate the thronging pilgrims and routine visitors. It is from here that the holy men, the devout and a variety of other people begin the 46-kilometer journey to the cave shrine.
One can see men and women, young and old, including even the infirm, gasping for breath and struggling to get a hold in the soft snow. A few even collapse during the strenuous journey that remains, by and large, a journey of faith, courage and conviction. For the Siva worshipping pilgrims, it is, of course, a spiritual experience par excellence.
The entire journey from Pahalgam is covered in four days with three night halts at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarni. These three stretches involve trekking of roughly 13 kilometers each and finally a relatively short lap of 7 kilometers to the main shrine.
The first day’s trek to Chandanwari runs through the finest woodlands and along the Lidder stream, meandering against a rocky backdrop and breaking silence with its multi-syllable noise, that sounds so melodious to the ear.
After a night’s halt at Chandanwari, the pilgrims leave the tree line behind, while climbing the idyllic Pissu Ghati, rather a difficult climb and indeed a test of one’s nerves. Each mountain rock is awe-inspiring, carved as it is by nature’s deft hands without any tools. Nature at its best, one could say.
Pissu pass leads to Zojibal and another five kilometers away to the bare 3171-meter high plateau of Wavjan (Genie of the Wind), which is notorious for its strong winds and torrents.
| Blue Glacial Lake of Sheshnag
En-route down below Wavjan lies the glacial lake-Sheshnag (3570 meters) with its sprawling deep Prussian blue waters, at once clean and icy-cold. The placid lake is ravishingly beautiful.
When the sun looks in the mirror of Sheshnag with the towering snowy peaks silhouetting the border of the Lake, the effect is gorgeous with divine chiaroscuro. Since Sheshnag is associated with the seven-headed mythical snake on which Vishnu, one of the holy Trinity, reclines, the devotees take a dip before marching onwards to brave the steep 5-kilometer climb up the dizzying heights of 4350 meter high peak known as Mahagunas (the great serpent).
To the students of history, Sheshnag is the symbol of Kashmir’s pre-historic past when the whole Valley was a huge lake, known as Satisar whose waters were drained off by one Kashyap Rishii by making a cut in the mountains.
Trek to Panchtarni
From Mahagunas peak, the track goes down and wades through wild flower meadows, called Poshpathar, with such intense and intoxicating scents that the pilgrims are warned not to linger too long, lest they swoon amidst the variety of fascinating myriad-colored flowers.
The route continues to dip till the pilgrims reach Panchtarni, so called because of the confluence of five streams. It is a glacial Valley, turned into a lush green meadow with an abundance of camping sites. Whatever physical strain one may have experienced in the ascent to Mahagunas peak gives way to a sense of joy at the downhill trek to Panchtarni.
|The Cave Shrine
The final lap of about 7 kilometers from Panchtarni to the cave shrine is performed in the early house of the full moon day (Poornima) of the bright half of the liunar month of Shravana.
The huge natural cave (15 meters long, 17 meters wide and 14 meters high at the center) is in the midst of a mountain amphitheatre and seems to have been carved out of limestone by elemental forces.
Before entering the mystic environs of the cave (3880 meters), the pilgrims take a holy dip in the Amravati, a tributary of Panchtarni Nala, which in turn flows into the Sindh river, a major tributary of the river Jehlum. The snow-fed Amravati cascades from the west of the cave. The pilgrims rub Amarboot, a chalky compound consisting of chloride or sulphate of calcium, all over their bodies in preparation of one of the finest sights of supernatural glory, the magnificent Ice-Lingam formed by water dripping through the lime-stone roof of the cave.
The manifestation of a complete Lingam on a full moon day is mind-boggling, a phenomenon without a parallel. It is believed to wane and wax with the phases of the Moon. The Ice-Lingam is a sight of unmatched serenity when calm and tranquility descends of the mind and time stands still.
Interestingly, very near the main Lingam, there are three more Ice-Lingams (albeit smaller), representing Siva Parivar-Siva, Parvati and Ganesha. Of these stalagmite formulations, only the main one is regarded as one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, resplendent cosmic pillars, spread all over India.
The devotees bow in wonder, blow conch-shells, sing melodious prayers and the words Har Har Mahadev (Victory to Lord Siva) rent the air. The devout feel doubly blessed if they get a glimpse of a pair of snow pigeons who, legend has it, had eavesdropped when Lord Siva was explaining the secrets of life to his consort, Parvati, at the cave site. For the faithful, the pigeons are the incarnations of Siva and Parvati.
Continuing Spiritual Presence
Thus ends the trail to Lord Siva’s icy abode, Amarnath that has kept the fire of spirituality burning in the hearts of the people. One finds in the cave shrine the very soul of India lay bare in its innate beauty.
Swami Vivekananda who visited the shrine in 1898 AD exclaimed in ecstatic mood: “I never had been to anywhere so beautiful, so inspiring”. Long after, Swami’s mystical experience was recalled by his disciple, Sister Nivedita when she said, “never had the Swami felt such a spiritual exultation. So saturated had he become with the presence of the great god that for days after the visit to the cave site Swami could speak of nothing else but Siva.”
Yet another great savant, Swami Ram Tirath who hailed from Punjab, said after his visit to the holy cave at Amarnath: “On entering the cave I was in full ecstasy, tasted the sweet nectar and was overwhelmed with eternal divine bliss.”
Amarnath Yatra Video
A journalist by profession, a scholar by temperament and a writer by choice, Gopinath Raina was inclined to the study of religion from his very young age. It was Swami Vivekananda’s dynamic exposition of Hindu thought that fired his imagination while he was still at school, and by the time he entered college, he had been drawn to the writings of Gandhi, Aurobindo, Narayana Guru, Radhakrishnan and Bertrand Russel.
After retiring from Indian Information Service (I.I.S.) in 1983 where he distinguished himself as an editor, correspondent, commentator and administrator in All India Radio, he edited, AICC Journal, Varnika, (Jan.'84-Dec.'90), Koshur Samachar (March'91-Oct '95, Sanatana Sandesh,(1997-2005) and KASHEER (2003-2004),
He has been writing profusely on various aspects of Hindu thought. He enjoys writing, particularly on saints and sages, not only of Kashmir, but of the other parts of India as well. Presently he lives in Miami, and spends his time writing personal memoirs.
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Very well written article on Amarnath Yatra and one of the best that I have read on Amarnath rightly named as Lord Siva’s icy abode. Thanks and Lord Shiva bless us all.
Added By Ashok Bhat
I congratulate the whole team of Shejhar for their efforts for bringing out such a good volume and for their continuous cause of Kashmiriyat .
Added By Suraj Parcha
A soul stiring account of the journey to the abode of the Lord of Snow.It inspires faith and surrender before His splendour.Respects to the author.
Added By pushkar ganjoo
You are right when you say that Amarnath has kept the fire of spirituality burning in the hearts of the people. The recent happenings in India is proof of that statement.
Added By Nirmal Saproo
I have never gone for this Yatra, but after reading this beautiful article, it seems that I have to visit this place like a heaven. Thanks for this article.
Added By Saroj Raina
The superb description immediately transports the reader to the celestial valley of SHIVA. May Lord Shiva further sharpen the talents of the author and bestow upon him the choicest peace and tranquility. That's my prayer!
Added By JL Bhat
I have visited the cave 16 times, 12 times I have celebrated my birthday there. Each year I want to visit again as my soul is somewhere there.
Added By vinod razdan
Delighted to read the article and congratulate the shehjar team for their efforts in this task.
Added By Dr. Rattan Dhar