The Amarnath Cave has a special significance in the Hindu religion. As per legend, Lord Shiva had chosen this cave to describe the secrets of immortality and formation of the universe to Maa Parvati.
Amarnath cave is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft),about 141 km (88 mi) from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine forms an important part of Hinduism, and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims. The Amarnath temple is one of 18 Maha Shakti Peethas, or “Grand Shakti Peethas” – highly revered temples throughout South Asia that commemorate the location of fallen body parts of the Hindu deity Sati. (Source: Wikipedia)
According to the legend, Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva, “why are you immortal and I keep on dying again and again?” Lord Shiva replied that this is due to the Amar Katha. Goddess Parvati insisted to hear that Amar Katha and after convincing Lord Shiva for a long time, the latter decided to narrate that story.
To narrate the story, Lord Shiva started looking for an absolutely lonely place so that no living being could hear that Amar Katha except for Goddess Parvati. He finally found the Amarnath Cave. To reach there, he left all his belongings lon the way. For instance, he left his favourite Nandi bull at Pahalgam, his Moon at Chandanwari, Hhs snakes at the banks of Lake Sheshnag, his son Ganesha at Mahagunas Parvat and at Panjtarni, He left his Five Elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Sky).
After this, Lord Shiva entered this holy Amarnath Cave with Goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva sat on the deer skin and took a samadhi. To further make sure that not even a single living being could hear the secret Amar Katha, he created a rudra named Kal-agni and ordered him to light a fire around the cave so that everything living around that place could be destroyed. He then started narrating the story of immortality to Goddess Parvati. But in spite of all these efforts, one egg remained protected under the deer skin on which the Lord was sitting. But it was considered as non-living. A pair of pigeons was born out of that egg and supposedly became immortal. Pilgrims can still see the pigeon pair while going towards the Amarnath Cave.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alam Chand in 1898 showing the Yatra Camp along the Babal Canal beneath the Shrine at Aishmuqam, Anantnag, South Kashmir.
Discovery of Holy Cave
According to the legend, Bhrigu Muni was the first to have discovered Amarnath. Long time ago it is believed that the Valley of Kashmir was submerged under water and Kashyap Muni drained it through a series of rivers and rivulets. Therefore, when the water drained out, Bhrigu Muni was the first to have Darshan of Lord Amarnath. Thereafter, when the people heard of the lingam, it became an abode of Lord Bholenath for all believers.
With the passage of time devotees did not take much effort to undergo this arduous and dangerous pilgrimage and the pilgrimage stopped altogether.
According to folklore, the cave was rediscovered in 1850s by a shepherd named Buta Malik who was a Muslim. He had been grazing his cattle in the mountains when a Sufi Saint gave him a bag of charcoal, which turned out to be gold later. He went back to thank the saint but instead found the cave and the Shiva Linga. He informed everyone and the authorities of the day.
Maharaja Ranbir Singh, a devout Hindu, after learning about the scared holy cave, performed yatra and from then onwards Amarnath Yatra became a yearly ritual. The descendants of Buta Malik had been the custodians of the shrine since. Priests of Dashnami Akhara and Purohit Sabah Mattan were taking care of the holy cave till 2000 AD. Thereafter, Malik family and other organisations were evicted and the the Amarnath Shrine Board was formed to look after the affairs of the shrine.
The photographs in this collection include important locations enroute the yatra from Pahalgam to the holy cave. They also include a few photograph of the northern route of the yatra from Baltal Side, which Maharaja Partap Singh under took in the year 1908.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chand in 1898 at Pahalgam showing yatra camp.
PAHALGAM – According to legend Lord Shiva took Parvati to the cave to tell the story of Amarkatha, he first left Nandi, his vahana at this place which was later called as Pahalgam. It is 92 kilometres from Srinagar and is surrounded by mountain peaks.
A Kashmiri Pandit lady serving food to Kashmiri Muslim Porters at the Yatra Camp Pahalgam in 1951.
Photograph taken by R.R. Stewart in 1915 showing the Yatra Camp Pahalgam.
Photograph taken by R.R. Stewart in 1915 showing the Holy Mace (CHADDI MUBARAK) at Pahalgam.
R.R. Stewart photographing Sadhus at Pahalgam Yatra Camp in 1915.
Photograph taken by R R Stewart in 1915 showing Yatra Doctor namely Dr. Sadiq who was appointed by the Maharaja flanked by a Sadhu and a team member of R.R. Stewart namely Mr. Roger Dick.
Photograph taken in 1955 showing Kashmir porters carrying a Hindu woman pilgrim in a dandi during annual yatra just outside Pahalgam.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chand in1898 showing Maharaja Partap Singh (middle) flanked by Raja Amar Singh (right) and the Mahant of the Yatra at Chandanwari Camp.
CHANDANWADI – It is 16 kms away from Pahalgam. According to beliefs, Lord Shiva did a very unique thing here. This place is also known as Chandramoli because Lord Shiva sacrificed the moon from his head here. The moon then waited for the Lord Shiva to return here. That is why the name of this place became Chandanwadi.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chand in 1898 showing Maharaja Partap Singh and his brother Raja Amar Singh and their courtiers paying their respects to the Mahant of the Yatra at Chandanwadi.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chand in 1898 showing Sheshnag Stream at Zojibal with Koh-i-Nur Mountains (17000 ft ASL) in the background.
Photograph taken in 1915 by R.R. Stewart showing the Holy Mace (CHADDI MUBARAK) outside the head Mahants tent at Chandanwadi.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chand in 1898 showing the Royal Pilgrims being carried in Palanquins towards Pissu Top.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chand in 1898 showing Maharaja Partap Singh being carried in a Royal Dandi / palanquin up the treacherous Pissu Gati towrads its top.
PISSU TOP – Pissu Top is slightly ahead of Chandanwadi. The importance of this place is related to Amarnath’s philosophy. According to this, for Darshan of Amarnath, there was a huge fight between the Gods and demons. At that time with the help of Lord Shiva, the gods i.e. Devas defeated the demons. A mountain was formed with the dead bodies of the demons. Since then, this place is known as Pissu Top.
Photograph taken by R.C. Mehta in 1945 showing a panoramic view of Sheshnag Lake.
SHESHNAG LAKE – The next destination after the Pissu top is Sheshnag. Lord Shiva had dropped the snake from his neck here. There is a lake of blue water, which proves that this is the place of Sheshnag. It is 12 kms away from Chandanwadi. Devotees take a customary holy dip in the ice cold water of the lake before proceeding towards the holy cave.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chan in 1898 showing a group of Sadhus at Sheshnag Camp.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chan in 1898 showing a group of Sadhus at Sheshnag Camp.
CAMP at Sheshnag showing Yatris taking the ritual bath in the ice cold water of the lake in 1955.
Photograph taken by Dewan Alim Chand in 1898 showing Yatris ascending Nagpal near Panchtarani Ghat known as Bairagi Ghat or Barou Bal on way to Amarnath cave.
Photograph taken in 1952 showing the Yatra Camp at Mahagunas Pass.
MAHAGUNAS TOP – This place is about 4 to 5 kilometres from Sheshnag. It is at an altitude of 14,000 feet. It is believed that Lord Shiva had left his beloved son Ganesha here. There are many waterfalls and beautiful scenes at this place.
Photograph taken in 1898 by Dewan Alim Chand showing a panoramic view of the Panchtarni Peaks & Glacier.
PANCHATRANI – It is 6 kms from Mahagunas Mountain. It is at a height of 12,500 feet. It is believed that Lord Shiva sacrificed the five Panchabhutas here, that is, earth, water, air, space and fire. There is a confluence of five rivers here. It is believed that the five rivers flowing here which emerges out from the tangles of Lord Shiva hair.
Photograph taken in 1898 by Dewan Alim Chand showing the Yatra Camp at Panchtarni.
Photograph taken in 1952 showing yatris in Dandis crossing a bridge over a rivulet at Panchtarni for onward journey.
Amarnath Yatra Camp at Panchtarni in 1952.
Photograph taken by R.R. Stewart in 1915 showing the Yatra Camp at Panchtarni.
Photograph showing the Holy Mace (CHADDI MUBARAK) at Panchtarni in 1952.
Photograph taken in 1898 by Dewan Alam Chand showing a Royal Palaquin carrying a female member of the Royal family towards the Holy Cave from Sangam.
Photograph taken in 1898 by Dewan Alam Chand showing the first view of the Holy Cave
AMARNATH CAVE – This is the final destination of the journey. Amarnath cave is located at an altitude of 13,500 feet. The 3 km route to the cave is covered with snow. After crossing the river of ice, the cave can finally be seen. The cave is about 100 feet long and 150 feet wide. In this Cave, the Shivalinga is formed of natural ice and here only Lord Shiva told Goddess Parvati the secret of immortality.
Photograph taken by R.C. Mehta in 1945 showing the sacred shivaling inside the cave.
Along with Shivalinga in Amarnath cave, two more ice lingams are formed, each one representing Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesha. Every year the devotees visit Amarnath for the entire month of Sawan from Aashadh Purnima till Raksha Bandhan. According to the legends, Lord Shiva himself visits in the Amarnath cave on the full moon day of Raksha Bandhan.
Photograph showing devotees inside the cave having darshan in 1951.
Photograph taken by Georges Bourdelon & Bernard Daillencourt in 1955 stating “The Amarnath cave is surrounded by streams of ice which, in summer, partially melt; they then affect strange forms which evoke for the pilgrims the lingam of the god Shiva, the womb of the goddess Parvati, and the lingam of the son of Shiva and Parvati, namely Ganesh, the baby elephant. The lingam of Shiva, & the full August moon, measures about three meters high. The monks decorate it with flowers. The pilgrims throw at his foot quantity of offerings, especially fabrics and clothes because the tradition wants that One presents itself naked before the Almighty. A third of the offerings thus collected are attributed to the Muslims of Batkot in memory of the ancestor shepherd who, having discovered the cave, had shown it to the Hindus. These resources allow them to assume the maintenance of the path. A small contingent of police monitors the pilgrimage. He opposes the spectacular suicides of the faithful who, desiring to anticipate death in a sacred place, would throw themselves – like those of former times – into the abysses close to Amarnath cave. The cave, whose volume is about one hundred and fifty cubic meters, shelters a pair of pigeons.”
Photograph taken in 1908 showing the Yatra Camp at Baltal. This year Maharaja Partap Singh went for the yatra through the Baltal Route.
View of The Pilgrim Camp of Maharaja Partap Singh at the ‘Base of Panjtarni. The five point peak of Panjtarni a dazzling citadel of Snow facated jewel can be seen. “Beside it another Double Pointed peak of almost equal Grandeur and Beauty can also be seen in the photograph taken by V.C.Scott O’Conner in 1908.
Photograph of Maharaja Partap Singh praying as a pilgrim at the Sangam (Confluence) of Amravati & Panjtarni streams taken by V C Scott O’Conner in 1908. This year Maharaja Partap Singh took the Baltal Route for the annual pilgrimage.
(Omission if any is regretful and we are open to correction)
Showkat Rashied Wani is a collector of vintage photographs. His wide ranging collection is called ‘Nostalgic Kashmir’