Shiva’s Most Important Shrine (India)
The Amarnath Cave is the most important shrine of Shiva in India. It is located in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is 141km away from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The cave is covered with snow for most of the year except in the summers when it is open for pilgrims. In Amarnath Cave an ice stalagmite is formed naturally every winter due to the freezing of water droplets. This stalagmite grows vertically up from the cave floor and always occurs in the form of a Shiva Linga.
The story of Amarnath goes like this. Once, Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva why he wears a garland made of skulls (munda mala). Shiva told Parvati that whenever she takes birth he adds a skull to the garland. Then Goddess Parvati wanted to know why her body was destroyed every time but Shiva was immortal. Shiva replied that it is due to Amar Katha. Parvati insisted that she may be told this secret. Finally Shiva agreed. He wanted to tell Parvati this story where no living person could hear it. He chose the Amarnath Cave. Before reaching the Amarnath cave Shiva left Nandi, Chandrama(moon), Snake Vasuki, Ganesh and the five elements (earth, water, air, fire and sky) on guard.
On reaching Amarnath, Shiva and Parvati sat on a tiger skin. Shiva concentrated hard and created Rudra. He instructed Rudra to spread fire in the cave to eliminate every living thing. After this he started narrating the secret of immortality to Parvati. But two pigeon eggs were lying beneath the tiger skin. As Shiva and Parvati were sitting on it, the eggs were safe. A pair of pigeons was born out of these eggs. These pigeons became immortal as they had heard the secret of immortality (Amar Katha).
Many of the pilgrims who have been to Amarnath report that they have seen this pair of pigeons. In the above story, Shiva represents the soul and Parvati the body. The soul never dies and is immortal. To become pure, one needs to get rid of all desires, only then can the body and the soul unite. In this story, fire that is initiated by Rudra symbolizes the spiritual fire or agni which burns all negative thoughts and energies.
Pilgrims visit Amarnath cave annually during the festival of Shravani Mela in July-August, which coincides with the Hindu month of Shravan. In Amarnath along with the Shivalinga, there are two more stalagmites which are of Parvati and Ganesh.
The place is of great significance for Hindus as it holds the secret of immortality. Attainment of moksha(salvation) after death is considered to be the ultimate goal. Hence, Amarnath cave is one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in the worship of Shiva.