Amarnath cave (Hindi: अमरनाथ गुफा) is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. It is dedicated to Shiva. 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 Amarnath cave on challenging mountainous terrain to see an ice stalagmite formed inside the cave.
The Linga: Inside the 40 m (130 ft) high Amarnath cave, the stalagmite is formed due to freezing of water drops that fall from the roof of the cave on to the floor and grows up vertically from the cave floor. It is considered to be a Shiva Linga by Hindus. The Cave waxes during May to August, as snow melts in the Himalayas above the cave and the resultant water seeps into the rocks that form the cave and gradually wanes thereafter. As per the religious beliefs, it has been claimed that the lingam grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon reaching its height during the summer festival, although there is no scientific evidence for this belief. According to a Hindu legend, this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort, Parvati. Two other ice formations represent Parvati and Shiva’s son, Ganesha. The main purpose of the annual pilgrimage to the cave is worship of the ice stalagmite Lingam.
History (Itihasa): The Amarnath cave has been a place of worship since times immemorial. There are references to the legendary king Aryaraja (ascribed dates 300 BCE) who used to worship a lingam formed of ice in Kashmir. The book Rajatarangini (Book VII v.183) refers to Amareshwara or Amarnath. 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 Amarnath Cave. Other than this, there are further references to this pilgrimage in many other ancient texts.
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 Amarnath. 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.
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