The attack on the Amarnath yatra, in which seven persons died on Monday, is the second major militant strike on pilgrims in two and a half decades of militancy in Kashmir.
Amarnath cave, a prominent Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, is visited lakhs of devotees every year. In 2017, as many as 2.15 lakh pilgrims have registered with the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), which conducts the annual pilgrimage to the high-altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.
The shrine has legends and lore behind pilgrimage and the formation of Shiva Lingam.
Legend of Amarnath yatra:
According to a legend, Lord Shiva chose Amarnath cave, 3,888 m above sea level, in a gorge deep inside the Himalayas in south Kashmir to tell Parvati the secret of his immortality (Amar Katha). Shiva chose the isolated place so that nobody could overhear him. The cave can be reached only on foot or ponies through Pahalgam and Baltal in Sonmarg. The cave is 46 km from Pahalgam and 16 km from Baltal.
Who discovered the cave and how?
A Muslim shepherd Buta Malik discovered the cave and the ice lingam. According to lore, in 1850, a saint gave Buta Malik a bag full of coal while he was with his herd up in the mountains. When he reached home, Malik found a bag full of gold instead of the coal. An overjoyed Malik ran to thank the saint but couldn't find him. Rather, he found the cave and the ice lingam.The pilgrimage to the cave baegan after Malik shared his discovery with the villagers
Duration of Yatra:
Originally the yatra used to be for 15 days or a month before the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board took over Purohit Sabha Mattan in 2000, said the Purohit Sabha president. In 2005, the board decided to extend the pilgrimage to over two months. The annual yatra ends when Mahant Deependira Giri, custodian of the Holy Mace, carries it to the cave.
How is the ice lingam formed?
Inside the 40 m (130 ft) high Amarnath cave, the stalagmite (formed of calcium salts deposited by dripping water and often uniting with a stalactite) 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.
It gets its full shape in May. Then it begins melting gradually and by August it is reduced to just a few feet in height. On the left side of the Shivlingam are two more ice stalagmites of Lord Ganesh and Parvati.
Woman being treated after the attack
An injured woman being treated in a hospital after militants opened fire on the Amarnath Yatra in which some pilgrims were killed many injured in Anantnag in Jammu and Kashmir on Monday. PTI Photo
Security of Amarnath pilgrims
A security vehicle escorts the first batch of Amarnath pilgrims, on way to the holy shrine, at Jammu-Srinagar national highway near Jammu on Wednesday. PTI Photo
Pilgrims cross mountain trails during their religious journey to the Amarnath cave on the Baltal route, some 125 kms away from Srinagar. PTI photo
Registration for pilgrimage
Sadhus wait in a queue to register for the annual pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine at a base camp in Jammu. PTI photo
Sadhus on way to Amarnath
Sadhus chant religious slogans during their Amarnath Yatra, in Jammu on Wednesday. PTI Photo