Yatra on target
# Monday’s attack is the second major militant strike on the Amarnath yatra in two and a half decades of militancy.
# Annual Amarnath pilgrimage continued uninterrupted during 2008, 2010 and 2016 street protests.
In 1994, Pakistan-based Harkat ul Ansar said they would not allow the yatra until government removed bunkers at Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar. The bunkers were removed, but the militants announced other demands. The yatra, however, was peaceful that year.
In August 2000, militants made the first major strike on the Amarnath yatra when they opened indiscriminate fire at Pahalgam, a base camp, killing 25 people.
In September 1996, thousands of pilgrims were stranded when freezing rain and snow lashed the area for three days. Sudden drop in temperature across the route resulted in death of over 200 pilgrims while thousand others fell ill.
What is the importance of Amarnath?
Legend has it that when Shiva decided to tell Parvati the secret of his immortality (Amar Katha), he began looking for a place where nobody could overhear him. He chose the Amarnath cave, 3,888 m above sea level, in a gorge deep inside the Himalayas in south Kashmir that is accessible through Pahalgam and Baltal in Sonmarg. The cave can be reached only on foot or on ponies through a steep winding path, 46 km from Pahalgam and 16 km from Baltal.
How was the cave discovered?
According to lore, in 1850, a saint gave a Muslim shepherd, Buta Malik, a bag full of coal while he was with his herd high up in the mountains of south Kashmir. When he reached home, Malik opened the bag to find it full of gold. An ecstatic Malik ran to thank the saint but couldn’t find him. Instead he found the cave and the ice lingam. He told the villagers about his discovery and that was the beginning of the pilgrimage. “Originally the yatra used to be for 15 days or a month,” says the Purohit Sabha Mattan president. The sabha organised the yatra before the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board took over in 2000. In 2005, the board decided to extend the pilgrimage to over two months.
There is no official record though of when the yatra first began. The annual yatra ends when Mahant Deependira Giri, custodian of the Holy Mace, carries it to the cave.
How is the lingam formed?
The lingam is formed by a trickle of water falling from a small cleft in the cave’s roof. The water freezes as it drips slowly to form a tall, smooth cone of ice—the Shivlingam. 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.