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This pilgrimage knows no regress

In the current controversy the true meaning and message of the Amarnath Yatra is lost

Written by Jagmohan |
June 22, 2006 12:18:09 am

A fierce controversy is raging at present over the formation of the Ice Shivalingam in the Holy Cave of Amarnath in the Himalayas. It is being alleged that, since the natural formation did not occur this year, someone created it artificially by bringing snow from the neighbouring mountains. Whether these allegations are true or false is difficult to say. On a few occasions in the past the Shivalingam appeared either partially or not at all. In 1978, the Holy Cave remained almost dry, and in 1997 the formation was less than half. Those who have faith believe that such non-formation or partial formation is a bad omen; others attribute it to the vagaries of weather. The controversy appears to have been blown out of proportion.

Amidst this controversy, unfortunately, the true meaning of yatra is being lost sight of. The yatra is significant not merely on account of full formation of Shivalingam, its overwhelming importance lies in the whole range of cultural messages that it transmits.

The route to the Holy Cave itself is one of the most enthralling routes in the world. It creates a feeling of being ‘upward and divine’. The Himalayas being a symbol of sublimity, serenity and strength, there is a very close relationship between these ‘silvery mountains’ and Lord Shiva. This relationship is best articulated by Shankara when overwhelmed by the beauty of the white peaks, he sang: “Oh Shiva, Thy body is white, white is Thy smile, the human skull in Thy hand is white. Thy axe, Thy bull, Thy earrings, all are white. The Ganga, flowing out in foams from Your matted locks, is white. The crescent moon on Thy brow is white. Oh all-white Shiva, give us the boon of complete sinlessness in our lives.”

The yatra, in its present religious form, commences with the ceremony of ‘Chari Mubarak’, at the Dashnami Temple, Akhara, Srinagar. After the prayers, the yatri acquires a sort of walking stick. The stick helps the yatri in steadying himself on a snowy and slippery path. Spiritually, it reminds him of his resolve at the temple should his faith waver in the arduous journey.

After the ceremony, the yatris proceed in groups to Pahalgam, from where a small road leads to Chandanwari, the woodlands of breath-taking beauty, perched on little hills, with the stream of Lidder meandering in between, with its white-foam sparkle. From Chandanwari, it is a steep ascent to Pishu Ghati (3,171 metres), reminding the yatris that the path to salvation involves superhuman struggle and stamina. A feeling of having been lifted to a heavenly spot dawns upon the yatris when they reach Seshnag (3,570 meters) — so striking is the beauty of this great lake! The lake symbolises the cosmic ocean where Vishnu reclines on a seven-headed mythicl snake, Seshnag. After a refreshing bath in the ice-cold lake, the yatri climbs the difficult Mahagunna (4,350 metres). The yatris move via Poshpathan to Panchatarni, a confluence of five mythical streams, and then to the cave.

At this point a strange sense of fulfilment seizes the yatris, their fatigue quickly forgotten. Even at temperatures touching zero degree celsius, the yatris are driven by their faith to bathe in the Amravati. Recently, a statutory board, constituted on the lines of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, has been making tremendous efforts to improve the traditional route as well as the seasonal route via Bal Tal.

Apart from the fact that the yatra satisfies the urge to take one to soaring heights, its message extends to the much larger issue of the cultural unity and vision of India from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kathiawar to Kamrup. Its great and historic importance as an underlying integrating force needs to be recognised.

When some people talk of Kashmir’s relationship with the rest of India only in terms of Article I and Article 370 of the Constitution, I am surprised at their ignorance. They do not know that this relationship goes much deeper. It is a relationship that has existed for thousands of years in the mind and soul of the people, a relationship that India’s intellect and emotions, its life and literature, its philosophy and poetry, its common urges and aspirations, have given birth to. It is this relationship which inspired Subramania Bharati to visualise Kashmir as a crown of Mother India, and Kanyakumari as a lotus at her feet, and also made him sing: “She has thirty crore faces, but her heart is one.”

The writer is a former J&K governor and union minister

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