The yatra to the cave shrine of Lord Shiva high up in the Himalayas of south Kashmiris among the country’s most revered pilgrim ages, made by hundreds of thousands of people every year. The cave is at 3,888 m above sea level, and can be reached only on foot or by pony. Pilgrims travel 46 km from Pahalgam or 16 km from Baltal along a steep mountain trail.
Legend of the shrine
According to legend, when Lord Shiva decided to tell Parvati the AmarKatha, he chose the Amarnath cave. The cave is believed to have been discovered in 1850 by a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malikwho, while grazing his herd in the mountains, came across a Sufi saint who gave him a bagful of coal. When Malik returned home and opened the bag, he found it was full of gold. He ran to the mountains to thank the saint but could find no one.
What he found instead, was the cave and its famous ice lingam. Believed to represent Lord Shiva, the lingam is formed by a trickle of water from a cleft in the roof of the cave. As the water drips, it freezes to form a stalagmite.
The lingam gets its full shape in May every year, after which it begins to melt. On the left of the lingam are two smaller ice stalagmites, rep resenting Parvati and Lord Ganesh.
The history of yatra
There is no official record of when the yatra formally began. The family of Buta Malik remained the traditional custodian of the shrine, along with Hindu priests from the Dashnami Akhara and Purohit Sabha Mattan.
This turned Amarnath into a symbol of communal harmony and composite culture.
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