|The Amarnath Caves|
What is it about the place? First the legend.
Once, Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva the reason for his immortality. While she had been taking different births, he remained the same. Shiva avoided the discourse till he could, but then Parvati would not give up. At last Shiva decided to tell her the mystery, but wanted to ensure that none other than she should hear it.
Shiva identified a cave in the mountains and as part of the preparations for the secret discourse; he left his vahana, the Nandi Bull at Pahalgam (Bail gaon). He left the moon from his hair at a place called the Chandanwari and his snakes at the Lake Sheshnag. He left Lord Ganesha at Mahaguna Parvat and the five elements of life at Panjitarini. (All these are present day sites of reverence and part of the Amarnath yatra). Once inside the cave, Shiva opened his third eye, from which he created a ball of fire which destroyed all living being around the area, leaving the two, Shiva and Parvati all alone for the Amar Katha (immortal discourse). Shiva then sat on his deer skin and related the entire mystery.
It was in this cave of Amarnath, where the discourse was supposed to have taken place.
From here there are different versions of the legend. We will go through them briefly.
One version says that under the deer skin was an un-hatched egg of a pigeon. In the course of the discourse, the egg hatched and out came a pair of pigeons. Since they had heard the discourse, then have become immortal and pilgrims say that even today, a pair of pigeons are found flying around during this season of pilgrimage.
Another version says that from the egg came out a parrot. Shiva had told Parvati that she should continuously acknowledge, by saying “Hm”, during the discourse as he would be in his yogic trance. When the egg hatched and the first thing the parrot learnt was the “Hm” uttered by Parvati. In due course of the discourse, Parvati had fallen asleep and it was the parrot who had kept acknowledging during the entire discourse. When Shiva came to know about it, he was angry and sent his trident to kill the parrot. The parrot flew away from the chasing trident and entered into the mouth of a yawning wife of Sage Vasishta. The parrot entered into the womb of the wife, but did not want to come out as he had known all the mysteries of life and did not want to enter the world of Maya, illusions. Later with the intervention of Lord Vishnu, a child was born the sage’s wife, who became famous by the same of Sage Shuka (Shuka is parrot in Sanskrit).
Shiva also ordained that anybody who visits the Amaranath caves during this auspicious period will be released from the cycle of birth and death.
Though the Amarnath yatra has had its share of controversies due to the impact on national security as well as the environment due to rampant pollution, the yatra has its picturesque moments, besides spiritual and divine moments. For the believer, it is a quest of immortality and for the adventurous it is the thrill of the tough terrain; in both the cases it draws lakhs of devotees every year.
After all, both the believers as well as the adventurous are ‘seeking’!