The pilgrimage to Amarnath is undertaken in the month of Shravan (Jul- Aug) when lacs of people from all over the country visit the cave, located at a height of nearly 14,000 feet above sea level, in the high Himalayas, at a distance of 141 kms north east of Srinagar. The high point of the pilgrimage is the ‘darshan’ (viewing) of ice lingam (stalagmite) that waxes and wanes with the moon. The legend of the cave goes back to about 3000 years. Amreshwar Mahatamya mentions that Rishi (sage) Bringash performed great penance and offered prayers to Lord Shiva, who was moved so much by the dedication of the Rishi that he revealed himself to the sage at the precise location where Shiva Linga appears in the Amarnath cave.
Some of the old references and the legend connected with the cave are given below:-
This Cave was chosen by Shiva for narrating the secrets of immortality and creation of universe to Parvati, his divine consort.The story goes like this. Centuries ago, Parvati asked Shiva to let her know why and when He started wearing the beads of heads (Mund Mala). Shiva replied, “Whenever you are born, I add one more head in my beads”. Parvati said, “My Lord, my body is destroyed every time and I die again and again, but you are Immortal. Please let me know the secret of this.” Shiva replied that it is due to Amar Katha.”
Maa Parvati insisted that she may be told that secret. For long Shiva continued postponing. Finally, on consistent demand from Maa Parvati, He made up his mind to tell the immortal secret. He started for a lonely place where no living being could listen in. He chose Amarnath Cave. While preparing for this task, He left His Nandi (the Bull, which He used to ride) at Pahalgam (Bail gaon). At Chandanwari, He released Moon from his hair (Jataon). At the banks of Lake Sheshnag He released the snakes. He decided to leave his Son Ganesha at Mahagunas Parvat (Mahaganesh Hill). Being the Lord of the five elements, which make living beings, namely, Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky, Shivji left these elements behind at Panctirthi. Incidentally, all these places are prominent milestones on the way to Amarnath from the Pehalgam route. After leaving behind all these, Shiva enters the Holy Amarnath Cave along with Parvati. Lord Shiva takes his Samadhi on the deer Skin and concentrates. To ensure that no living being is able to hear the Immortal Tale, He created Rudra, named Kalagni, and ordered him to spread fire to eliminate every living thing in and around the Holy Cave. After that He started narrating the secret of immortality to Parvati. But as a matter of chance, one egg which was lying beneath the deer skin, remained protected by Shiva-Parvati‘s Asan (Bed). The pair of pigeons which were born out of this egg became immortal, having listened to the secret of immortality (Amar Katha).
Many pilgrims report seeing the pair of pigeons when they trek the arduous route to pay their obeisance before the Ice-Lingam.
Discovery of Holy Cave; the Modern Narration
The story narrated by people about the discovery of this Holy Cave is of a Gujjar (shepherd) Buta Malik. He is given the credit of discovering this Holy Cave. As per the story, while searching for his cattle gone astray in high in the Himalayas, he met a saint near the present day cave doing tapasya. The saint gave Buta Malik a bag full of Coal to carry to his home. On reaching his home when he opened the bag, to his utter surprise, the bag was full of gold coins. He was overwhelmed with joy. He ran to thank the Saint. But, when he reached the cave; he found that the Saint had disappeared. Instead, he found that a Shiv Lingam had formed inside the cave. He announced the discovery of this to the Villagers, at Batakote. A large number ofpeople went to check the veracity of what he said. When they reached there, they found his statement to be true. This incident took place around 1869.Then onwards this has become the sacred place of Pilgrimage. The organized Yatra took place from 1872 onwards, during the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh.
The ancient epics narrate another story which goes like this. The valley of Kashmir was under water. It was a big lake. Kashyap Rishi drained the water through number of rivers and rivulets. In those days Bhrigu Rishi came that way on a visit to The Himalayas. He was the first to have Darshan of this Holy Cave. When people heard of the Lingam, Amarnath for them became Shiva’s abode and a Centre of pilgrimage. Since then Lacs of devotees perform the pilgrimage through tough terrain and avail eternal happiness.
The trek to Amarnath, in the month of sharavan (July–August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a Lingam, is formed naturally of an Ice Stalagmite, which waxes and wanes with the Moon’s cycle. By its side are fascinating, two more Ice Lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesh.
(Col (Dr) Tej K Tikoo