THE LEGEND OF AMARNATH TEMPLE
Amaranth cave is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft.)about 141 km (88 mi) from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir and reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine forms an important part of Hinduism,and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism.The cave is surrounded by snowy mountains. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims. Thousands of Hindu devotees make an annual pilgrimage to the Amaranth cave on challenging mountainous terrain to see an ice stalagmite formed inside the cave. 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 Amaranth Cave.
Discovery of Holy Cave
It is believed that after the middle Ages, this cave was forgotten by people before it was discovered by a shepherd in the 15th century once again. 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 Amaranth. Thereafter, when people heard of the Lingam, it became an abode of Lord Bholenath for all believers and a pilgrimage which is done by lakhs of people each year. As we well know Francois Bernier, a French physician accompanied Emperor Aurangzeb during his visit to Kashmir in 1663. In his book “Travels in Mughal Empire” he writes while giving an account the places he visited in Kashmir that he was “pursuing journey to a grotto full of wonderful congelation’s, two days journey from Sangsafed” when he “received intelligence that my Nawab felt very impatient and uneasy on account of my long absence”. The “grotto” he refers to is obviously the Amaranth cave as the editor of the second edition of the English translation of the book;Vincent A. Smith makes clear in his introduction. He writes: “The grotto full of wonderful congelation’s is the Amaranth cave, where blocks of ice, stalagmites formed by dripping water from the roof are worshipped by many Hindus who resort here as images of Shiva.
The temple is a popular yatra destination for Hindus. In 2011 it received about 634,000 persons, the highest recorded number for the site. The number was 622,000 in 2012 and 350,000 in 2013. Pilgrims visit the holy site during the 45-day season around the festival of Shraavana Mela in July–August, coinciding with the Hindu holy month of Shraavana.
The beginning of the annual pilgrimage, called AmaranthYatra is marked by ‘pratham puja’ to invoke the blessings of Shri Amaranth.
In olden days the route was via Rawalpindi (Pakistan) but now a direct train is there connecting rest of India to Jammu, the winter capital of the State. The best part of journey is between Guru Purnima and Shraavana Purnima. But the highly unpredictable weather of the mountains should be more obliging before Guru Purnima as rains would not start. There is a bus service from Jammu to Pahalgam (7,500 ft.).
Devotees travel on foot, either from Srinagar or from Pahalgam. The latter journey takes approximately 5 days.
The State Road Transport Corporation and Private Transport Operators provide the regular services from Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal. Also privately hired taxis are available from Jammu & Kashmir.
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 Amaranth valley and all along the route one can see the river Amaravathy (It is more like a tributary of Chenab) which originates from Amaranth Glacier.
It is believed that Lord Shiva left Nandi, The Bull, at Pahalgam (Bail Gaon). At Chandanwari, he released the Moon from his hair (Jataon). On the banks of Lake Sheshnag, he released his snakes. At Mahagunas Parvat (Mahaganesh Mountain), he left his son Lord Ganesh. At Panjtarni, Lord Shiva left behind the five elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky. As a symbol of sacrificing the earthly world, Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Dance. Then, finally, Lord Shiva entered the Holy Amaranth Cave along with Parvathi.