Amarnath Lingam melts away the day pilgrimage begins


Srinagar : The ice stalagmite inside the Amarnath Cave shrine, an icon of Hindu Lord Shiva, melted away completely on Sunday – the day the annual two-month pilgrimage to the holy cave officially took off after the weather improved.

Support TwoCircles

A senior official of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which manages the affairs of the holy cave, confirmed the melting of the naturally forming ice stalagmite, revered by devotees as Shiv Lingam.

"Nearly 50,000 pilgrims performed the yatra during the last 20 days even before the pilgrimage started officially. One human being generates heat equivalent to that emitted by a 100-watt electric bulb. Presence of such a large number of devotees inside the small cave must be the reason for the melting," the official told IANS here on condition of anonymity.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Lieutenant General (retd) S.K. Sinha, who is also the chairman of the SASB, had told the media that the ice Lingam had grown to 14 feet when he visited the Cave early last month.

However, a police officer said: "It was one foot high when I visited the cave shrine a week back."

Last year's pilgrimage season was marred by a controversy that the Lingam had not formed naturally.

There has been a debate whether or not the decision to extend the annual pilgrimage season to two months from the traditional fortnight is wise.

Meanwhile, the yatra that could not commence Saturday due to heavy rains and flash floods officially took off Sunday.

"As the weather showed marked improvement, we have allowed pilgrims to move towards the holy cave on both the north and south Kashmir routes," a police officer said here.

The officer added that around 6,500 pilgrims would move towards the cave from the north Kashmir Baltal base camp and around 2,000 devotees would trek from the south Kashmir Nunwan (Pahalgam) base camp.

The SASB, which conducts the annual pilgrimage, has decided not to allow any pilgrim movement Sunday from the winter capital Jammu to avoid the rush at the base camps. Nearly 4,000 pilgrims have been camping at Jammu since Saturday.

Thousands of personnel from the police and the Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) besides the army are deployed to protect the pilgrims.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who arrived here Saturday, studied the security arrangements. Patil said the situation in terror-torn Jammu and Kashmir had improved considerably.

The Himalayan Cave of Amarnath, at 3,888 metres above the sea level, was re-discovered by a Kashmiri Muslim shepherd, Bota Malik, of Botakote village near Pahalgam around 200 years ago.

"The herd strayed into the rugged mountainside, leading to the accidental rediscovery of the cave. It is said the shepherd met a sadhu (hermit) there who gave him a bag of charcoal from the fire he had lit outside the cave.

"When Malik reached home, he found the bag full of gold coins," said M.Y. Teng, a noted Kashmiri scholar.

But it is believed that Hindus had been visiting the Amarnath cave much earlier.

The cave houses an ice stalagmite formation believed by the Hindus to represent the Lord Shiva's icon. There are two small ice formations beside the main stalagmite inside the cave.

The devotees believe these to represent Shiva's consort Parvati and their son Ganesh.