Amaranātha

(‘Lord of the immortals’)

Pilgrimage to holy places is an integral part of the religious observances of the Hindus. Though the number of such places in India is extremely large, only a few have attained great celebrity over the centuries. The Amaranātha (Śiva) cave in Kashmir is one such. Its importance and antiquity were well-known even by the twelfth century since Kalhaṇa’s Rāja-taraṅgiṇī mentions it.

Situated in the Himalayan ranges at a height of about 4300 metres (13,000 ft.) it lies to the north-east of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, at a distance of 138 kms. (86 miles.) It is a big natural cave about 45 metres (150 ft.) in height, 30 metres (100 ft.) wide and 60 metres (200 ft.) in length. Except for a small area, most of the roof leaks. There are two holes in the northern wall of the cave from which water trickles out and freezes into ice almost immediately. One of the holes is bigger and below that a huge liṅga of snow is formed. This is the famous Amaranātha-liṅga. On its left and right sides there are two more formations of ice, known respectively as Gaṇeśa and Pārvatī. The cave faces south and the rays of the sun do not fall directly on the liṅga.

There is a traditional belief that the snow liṅga gets formed every lunar month in the bright half and gets dissolved during the dark half. Thus there is no liṅga on the new-moon day and the liṅga attains its maximum size on the full-moon day. Even Ain-i-Akbari of Abul Fazal (16th cent.) mentions this belief.

Visiting the cave-temple on the Śrāvaṇapūrṇimā day (July—August) is considered extremely auspicious since, according to the mythological lore, Śiva appeared in this cave on this day. He made the gods immortal by feeding them with amṛta or nectar. Hence the name Amara-nātha, ‘Lord of the immortals’.

The pilgrims travel in a group from Srinagar. The government makes elaborate arrangements for their comfort and safety.