Preparations for famous pilgrimage to Amarnath cave are in full swing.
Amarnath pilgrimage has always been a thorn in the eyes of Pakistan and separatists due to its power of integration and living that it generates for thousands of Valley people who otherwise, in the absence of livelihood, are vulnerable to terrorist threats and unlawful activities. At some level the Pilgrimage also acts as a communication bridge between the people of the Valley and people from other parts of the country which causes great discomfort to the separatists.
Amarnath pilgrims are always on the radar of terrorists which make them vulnerable to terror attacks. But despite threats, the terrorists have failed to inculcate fear in the mind of devotees of Shiva. This year defense minister himself has taken view of the security situation of the pilgrims. In the view of the rise in the activities of separatists, the state government has asked for extra security personnel from the central government and the centre has agreed to send 80 extra companies of paramilitary forces.
Taking note of the health issues pilgrims face due to cold climate and high altitude, this year, a total number of 66 medical camps would be set up by various government and private agencies. Apart from this, the health Ministry of the state has planned to build five base hospitals at various location of the pilgrimage route. Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, N.N. Vohra, himself is supervising and taking briefs of the preparations.
Other preparations may include deployments of NDRF teams, dog squads, firefighter units and meteorological department along with advanced system for prediction of avalanches. Mount rescue teams would also be deployed at places of difficult climb to save pilgrims from adversity.
Amarnath Shrine stands at 3,888 m height from sea level, 46 Km from Pahalgam and 14 Kms from Baltal. There are two routes of pilgrimage; one from ‘Jammu to Pahalgam to Holy Cave’ and second from ‘Jammu to Baltal to Holy cave’. In 2012, approximately 6.5 Lakhs pilgrims visited the shrine which is the largest number till today.
Before Kashmir became synonymous with terrorism and intolerance, the famous Shaivism cult of Kashmir used to be the part of the philosophy and legends that were told across the world. Secrets of eternity revealed to Maa Parvati by Lord Shiva in the Amarnath Cave formed a part of the legend/philosophy.
Old Puranas mention that Bhrigu Rishi is believed to have had the first darshanat the Holy Cave at the time when Kashyap Rishi had created present Kashmir Valley from a big lake. It means people got to know about the holy cave at the time of creation of Kashmir Valley itself. When people heard of Lingam there, Amarnath for them became Shiva’s abode and a centre of pilgrimage. Since then devotees perform pilgrimage through tough terrain and achieve eternal happiness.
Yatra Dates are not pre-fixed and are always released by the Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), the caretaker of this holy cave. It is an annual pilgrimage which usually span through the Hindu months of Ashadh and Sravan. This year the Amarnath Yatra initiates at the start ofAshadh month (2 July) and would conclude at end of Shrawan month, i.e.Purnima (full moon) of Srawan month (Raksha Bandhan, 29 August).
The shrine is managed by the Shri Amarnath ji Shrine Board (SASB) which was constituted by an Act of the Jammu & Kashmir State Legislature in 2000. Governor of Jammu and Kashmir is its ex-officio Chairman. Anyone wanting to know the details about the pilgrimage should visit the well-maintained website of the Shrine Board (http://www.shriamarnathjishrine.com/).
Arvind (The writer is a researcher at J&K Study Center, New Delhi)