The Amaranth Yatra and beyond

Kashmir Magazine

The Amaranth Cave in Kashmir Valley is considered as the holiest shrine of Lord Shiva and the pilgrimage to this attracts lakhs of devotees from all around the world every year. This is one of 18 Maha Shakti Peethas or “Grand Shakti Peethas “ –highly revered temples throughout the south Asian region. Inside the 40 meter high cave, a 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. Some historian writes that Francois Bernier, a French physician accompanied Emperor Aurangzeb during his visit to Kashmir in 1663. In his book “Travels in Mughal Empire” he writes while giving an account the places he visited in valley that he was “pursuing journey to a grotto full of wonderful congelations, two days journey from Sangsafed” when he “received intelligence that my Nawab felt very impatient and uneasy on account of my long absence”. The “grotto” he refers to is being told was the Amarnath cave as the editor of the second edition of the English translation of the book, Vincient A. Smith makes clear in his introduction. He writes: “The grotto full of wonderful congelations is the Amarnath cave, where blocks of ice, stalagmites formed by dripping water from the roof are worshipped by many Hindus who resort here as images of Shiva. The holiest pilgrimage which dates back centuries has now become a major event of attraction and attention around the globe ever since the militancy broke out in the valley in early 90’s . Though the yatra has remained mostly incident free barring a few minor incidents, it has become off late more than just a religious pilgrimage. The yatra used to be managed by the Jammu and Kashmir State Government until the Farooq Abdullah Government formed Amarnath Shrine Board and handed over its control to the board which is being headed by Governor of the state. Though the intention of handing over the affairs to Shrine Board could have been to make the arrangements more focused and centralized, it came with many draw backs as well, with locals traders, Ponny wallas and others associated with the pilgrimage complaining of being sidelined and given very limited role in earning bread and butter during the two month long religious pilgrimage. Many local vendors recently protested in Anantnag, for – what they said- not being permitted to open their stalls en-route to holly cave where they used to sell tea, water and other juices in-order to earn livelihood. They alleged that Shrine Board was now bringing everything from Lungers to tea stalls from outside Kashmir which has badly hit their business. Earlier the holly pilgrimage would bring huge income to the local businessmen, vendors and shopkeepers but now the things go otherwise. This is not though, the only reasons why Yatra is grabbing the headlines and remains the focus of the attention across the country and beyond. There are many more angles to it too. One being the recent controversial decision of civil traffic restriction on Srinagar- Jammu Highway. Though Government maintains that it was to ensure the safety of the Yatris, the local politicians, civil society and common man appears to be unwilling to buy the narrative and are viewing it as a deliberate move to choke the civil liberties for a religious event which has remained ‘ incident free’ even in the peak of the militancy. The restriction decision has give ammunition to an already existing sense of alienation in the locals who feel isolated and alienated over so many years with no visible efforts of reach out by the BJP Government. Fighting with insurgency and dealing with Public have been and must be viewed and tackled differently but post Pulwama suicide attack , the priorities and narrative seems to have been changed drastically which needs to be reviewed so that an ordinary Kashmiri does not feel more isolated and less important viz a viz in his civil liberties and other rights.