Friday 5 August 2011

Amarnath Cave

Amarnath – Saviour of Mankind
 Keeping in view the splendor of the holy Amarnath cave, the majesty of its surrounding peaks and the uniquely composite character of the facilities and services historically available en route to the sanctum – sanctorum, the trouble about the shrine board and the controversial allotment of land, simply, appears to be trivial though socially spontaneous among different contending segments of the population of the state. Surely, Lord Amarnath will show us the way out of the presentof the Golden Consensus will prevail resulting in the graceful continuation of the holy pilgrimage.
History has it that the  majority community of the state has always held this holy pilgrimage in high esteem. But  we must understand that the preservation of the ecology and environment of the sacred terrain is  a prayer of the highest order. All necessary efforts need to be made in that direction by all. It must also not be forgotten that in the interface between faith and politics, the former has a paramount role to play in the  lives of the people.
The holy Amarnath Cave is not a shrine in the ordinary sense of the term. It is a destination divinely sanctified and hallowed  by faith and tradition, by memory and legend. Here Lord Shiva is believed to have answered all the queries of his consort Parvati (Shakti) with regard to “Salvation of Mankind” resulting in the total bliss of the latter.
In common parlance, a “board’ stands for a group of persons controlling a business. Any pilgrimage, much less one to the holy Amarnath Cave, is not a business. Venturing out to the holy Cave at about 13000 ft. above sea level through the deep forests and snowy  environment, with inner faith and resolve is a great adventure with a highly pious dimension.
Entering such a realm of the “Divine” is not a casual trip for change or entertainment. The delightful ecology and environment, equally sacred, prevailing between  Nunwan and Baltal, is the heartthrob of every nature lover and a soul – soother for every believer. It is everyone’s duty, therefore, to protect every bit of the same and to do whatever one can to preserve it in its pristine beauty.
Not many people know that  it was customary for the pilgrims and sadhus to smear ash on their bodies and then, from a high hill-top throw themselves into the holy Amravati stream flowing below the cave to attain “Moksha” in their death or else, in their survival, be divinely ordained to live a holy life thereafter. This practice however, is not allowed now.
Today, we are talking of comfort and care en route the cave and desire cover and cuisine like that of sight – seeing tourists.
In a secular state, it is  ironic to have governors and chief ministers to head boards of shrines. The revenues created through these pilgrimages are not used to promote the respective faiths or their orders associated with the shrines, but are used to run institutes not even remotely connected with the shrines or their ideologies. Boards definitely need to be substituted by “organising committees” elected through a  process of franchise and subjected to the constitutional laws of the land.
In the case of Amarnath and the other shaivite shrines of Kashmir, pandits, must have a  significant role to perform in the organisation of these pilgrimages. Pilgrims must understand the faith and devotion and the nature of their conduct which must be  sensitive to the requirements of ecology and environment of the area.
Baltal route to the holy cave is shorter, very steep, mostly uphill and takes seven to nine hours to reach the cave, the slope on the return journey being dangerously slippery. The Pahalgam route is 48 kms long. It touches Chandanwari at 9500 ft. above sea level, Pissu Top, Zoji Bal, Naga Koti, Shesh Nag, Wawbal, Maha Guns, Pabibal, Posh Pathri, Panjtarni, S.S. Parhi, and finally the holy cave at 13,500 ft. above sea level. Pilgrims taking the shorter route or even the aerial route are likely to miss many of these places of divine awe and wonder.
To quote an extract from Parvez Diwan’s book on Kashmir, “a 19th century British account describes that the pilgrims would perform their ablutions in the Amarwati stream flowing at the bottom, then divest themselves of all clothing and enter the cave with their bodies covered by birch-bark. The women contenting themselves with laying aside all superfluous articles of clothing and shrouding themselves in the long sheet or blanket called “loch” in Kashmiri language”. Only such austerity will lend a divine aura to the pilgrimage and accord  a mystical meaning and purpose.
Mythologically, Pahalgam, which some call the land of Rishi Bhrigu, is believed to be the spot in the Parisheelan forest where a drop of sweat is believed to have rolled down the bodies of Lord Vishnu and Rishi Bhrigu on their clasping each other after the latter had performed penance for the former for a thousand years.
At Chandanwari, Parvati is believed to have worshipped her would-be-husband Lord Shiva in the midst of the fragrance of Chandan woods. Pissu Gati is a pile of the dust to which the demons were grounded by the angels by the blessings of Lord Shiva.
At Shesh Nag, the wind – shaped demon who would often disallow the angels from performing yatra, was eaten up by the lord of the serpents as ordered by Lord Vishnu. At Wawjan, Lord Indra, with his thunderbolt (vajra) is believed to have killed the demon Prishtat, who would assume the form of terrible winds to torment the angels on way to the holy cave. Panjtarni, the five holy streams, are the result of the loosening of the top - knotted hair of Lord Shiva, holding the great river Ganga, while he was performing his Tandava dance.
At Amarnath, the immortal Lord Amresh, in order to liberate mankind from the curse of death, pulled the crescent moon “Ama” out of his knotted hair, squeezed it to produce nectar for immortality which flowed down as Amravati Nadi.
Some drops  fell on the Lord’s chest, and later fell to the ground after drying up on His chest  to take the form of the sacred ice lingam in the holy cave.
Those who faithfully understand and follow this divine logic and practice in their pilgrimage are believed to conquer death and achieve salvation though the blessings of lord Amarnath.
Traditionally, the yatra to Amarnath is believed to be a thousand years old. But, historically the yatra was first organised around 1850 A.D. by Maharaja Gulab Singh.
The cave was discovered by a Muslim shepherd  Adam Malik of Batakot, towards 17th or 18th century AD. One third of the offerings made at the cave by devotees were paid to Maliks till the year 2000 AD. Maliks also were given a jagir by the Dogra ruler.
 Earlier during Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s reign, the “holy mace” symbolic of Lord Shiva’s mace was stored at Amritsar.
 It was later, shifted by the Dogra rulers to Dashnami Akhara at Srinagar from where it is taken to the holy cave in a procession during the moon-lit fortnight of the month of Savan.
Pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave is not just another yatra. Those who care about the power of the spirit and undertake this pilgrimage for the blissful liberation of the soul must not lose sight of the splendid flora and fauna of this great marvel of Nature and do whatever to protect and preserve its social sanctity and divine supremacy and thereby earn for themselves the boon of immortality from the precincts of the cave of the greatest Lord Amarnath.
Article by : J. L. Jogi
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 August 2008
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