HINDU PILGRIMAGES: VARANASI, MT. KAILASH, AMARNATH

HINDU PILGRIMAGES

20120502-Aarti_raised_up_during_evening_Ganga Varanasi.jpg
Fire raised up during
evening Aarti on the Ganges in Varanasi
Hindu pilgrims make pilgrims to important religious sites such as major temples and caves, sacred mountains and rivers. The primary purpose of these pilgrimages is to see a deity or a place associated with a certain deity and to be seen by the deity. Many of the most important sites are on the Ganges or other important sacred rivers or sites associated with legends and mythology. River crossings have special significance because they are a metaphor for crossing from one world to another.

According to the BBC: “Pilgrimage is an important aspect of Hinduism. It's an undertaking to see and be seen by the deity. Popular pilgrimage places are rivers, but temples, mountains, and other sacred sites in India are also destinations for pilgrimages, as sites where the gods may have appeared or become manifest in the world. [Source: BBC |::|]

India is covered with holy sites associated with the exploits of the gods, the waters of a sacred river, or the presence of holy men. Texts called the Puranas (ancient lore in Sanskrit) contain lengthy sections that describe numerous sacred places and the merit gained by traveling to them in a devout manner. Bathing at such sites is a specially meritorious act. With the expansion of public transportation in the twentieth century, there has been a vast increase in the numbers of people who visit these spots to partake of the divine and visit new places. In fact, for many Indians pilgrimage is the preferred form of tourism, involving family and community groups in enjoyable and uplifting vacations.[Source: Library of Congress *]

For many pilgrims, the process of getting to their destination involves preliminary vows and fasting, intensive cooperative efforts among different families and groups, extensive traveling on foot, and the constant singing of devotional songs. On arrival, groups of pilgrims often make contact with priests who specialize in the pilgrim trade and for a fee plan the group's schedule and ritual activity. At some of the major sites, the families of the priests have served as hereditary guides for groups of pilgrims over many generations. Where a shrine is the focus, the devotee may circumambulate the buildings and wait in line for long hours just for a glimpse of the deity's image as security personnel move the crowds along. At auspicious bathing sites, pilgrims may have to wade through the crush of other devotees to dip into the sacred waters of a river or a tank. Worshipers engaged in special vows or in praying for the cure of a loved one may purchase shrine amulets to give to the god (which are circulated back to the shrine's shop) or purchase foodstuffs, sanctified by the god's presence, to take to friends and family. Nearby, souvenir hawkers and shopkeepers and sometimes even amusement parks contribute to a lively atmosphere that is certainly part of the attraction of many pilgrimage sites. *

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Kailash Tanka
See Separate Article on the KUMBH MELA

Websites and Resources on Hinduism: Hinduism Today hinduismtoday.com ; Heart of Hinduism (Hare Krishna Movement) iskconeducationalservices.org ; India Divine indiadivine.org ; Religious Tolerance Hindu Page religioustolerance.org/hinduism ; Hinduism Index uni-giessen.de/~gk1415/hinduism ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Oxford center of Hindu Studies ochs.org.uk ; Hindu Website hinduwebsite.com/hinduindex ; Hindu Gallery hindugallery.com ; Hindusim Today Image Gallery himalayanacademy.com ; Encyclopædia Britannica Online article britannica.com ; International Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Shyam Ranganathan, York University iep.utm.edu/hindu ; Vedic Hinduism SW Jamison and M Witzel, Harvard University people.fas.harvard.edu ; The Hindu Religion, Swami Vivekananda (1894), Wikisource ; Hinduism by Swami Nikhilananda, The Ramakrishna Mission .wikisource.org ; All About Hinduism by Swami Sivananda dlshq.org ; Advaita Vedanta Hinduism by Sangeetha Menon, International Encyclopedia of Philosophy (one of the non-Theistic school of Hindu philosophy) ; Journal of Hindu Studies, Oxford University Press academic.oup.com/jhs

Hindu Pilgrimage Sites

Major Hindu pilgrimage sites include Hardiwar, Allahabad, Dwarka, Ujjain, Gaya, Varanasi, Mt. Kailash. Popular pilgrimage destinations include Kurukshetram the site of a great battle in the Mahabharata ; Ayodhya, the reported birthplace of Lord Rama; Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna; and Mount Kailash in Tibet, said to be the home of Shiva’s mountaintop heaven. During the religious ceremony of Yagya, women carry pitchers filled with water and festooned with marigolds to offer prayers to Lord Vishnu.

Hardiwar, in northwestern Uttar Pradesh, far up the Ganga in the foothills of the Himalayas, is the Varanasi of northwest India for Hindus living there and is a favorite spot for ritual bathing. It is where hundred of thousands of pilgrims come each year to worship a depression in a stone believed to be the footprint of Vishnu, the God of Preservation and one most important and loved Hindu deities. The footprint is found in the Hari-ka-Charan Ghat, which itself is located on a small island in the Ganges. Every twelve years many pilgrims attending the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad also come to Hardiwar to commemorate a fight between gods and demons for the possession for the "nectar of immortality." During the struggle several drops of the nectar fell to the earth—in Hardiwar and Allahabad—making these places sacred to Hindus. Every six years pilgrims come for Ardh Kumbh festival. Every they take a holy bath at Har-Ki-Pauri in the evening. Situated on the right bank of the Ganges with the Shivalik mountains in the background, Hardiwar is considered a Gateway to the Gods and is filled with ashrams and religious institutions.


Hindu pilgrims bathe in the Tungabhadra River near Hampi

There are numerous destinations in the Himalayas, including Badrinath and Kedarnath, isolated sites in northern Uttar Pradesh that once required a long journey on foot. In southern India, the rivers Kaveri, Krishna, and Godavari attract pilgrims to a large number of bathing sites, and the coastline features major temples such as the Ramalingesvara Temple in Ramesvaram, Tamil Nadu, where Ram and his army crossed over to Lanka to rescue Sita. Pandharpur, in Maharashtra, is the destination for many thousands of devotees of Vitthala, an incarnation of Vishnu, whose tradition goes back at least to the thirteenth century and was written about by the great Marathi bhakti poets Namdev, Tukaram, and Eknath. There are smaller sites near almost every river or scenic hilltop. [Source: Library of Congress]

Allahabad (100 miles southeast of Lucknow) is one of holiest places to Hindus in India. As is true with Hardiwar, according to Hindu lore, a fight between gods and demons took place here for the possession for the "nectar of immortality" and several drops of the nectar fell to the earth here. Every 12 years a massive festival called the Kumbh Mela is held to honor the event. Millions of pilgrims and hundreds of thousands of bearded, half-naked holymen gather at the confluence of the Ganges and the Yamuna rivers for what has been called the "biggest bathing event in the world. A smaller version of this festival, called the Magh Mela, is held every year.

Ujjain (35 miles from Indore) is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites in India. The Ujjain Simhastha is a mass Hindu pilgrimage, and one of the fairs recognised as Kumbh Melas. During the Simhastha, Hindus gather to bathe in a sacred river.At Ujjain, it is held once every 12 years, on the banks of Kshipra river. It is also known as Simhastha, when it falls during Jupiter's stay in Leo of Simha. The latest Simhastha was held in Ujjain from 22 April 2016 to 21 May 2016. Interesting pilgrimage temples include Mangalrath, regarded as the birthplace of Mari; Navagraha, dedicated to the nine planets; and Mahakaleshwar, with a soaring shikhar that dominates the skyline of Ujjain.

Varanasi, Popular Pilgrimage Destination


Golden Temple in Varanasi in 1915

Certain important sites are well-known throughout India and attract hundreds of thousands of pilgrims annually. Probably the most significant is Varanasi (also known as Banaras, Benares, or Kashi) in southeastern Uttar Pradesh on the north bank of the Ganga. It is sacred to Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, who flock to the ghats, or steps, leading from temples down to the banks of the sacred Ganga in their search for an auspicious site for death, cremation, or immersion of ashes.

Varanasi (480 miles east of New Delhi) is the holiest city of the Hindus, the most important pilgrimage site in India and the place where every Hindu wants to die. If their life ends here, Hindus believe, they will escape the toil of reincarnation, attain a state being known as moksha, and immediately be transported to heaven. Many Hindus come to Varanasi when they are near death. If one can't actually die here the next best thing is being cremated here and thrown into the Ganges. So auspicious is to die in Varanasi that bars have placed at the top of some wells to prevent suicide.

Every Hindu hopes to make a pilgrimage to Varanasi in his or her lifetime. According to one old scripture, "when sinful people set out for [Varanasi] all their sins, even those that have affected the very elements of their bodies, stagger and fall off.” Pilgrims ideally bathe or swim in the river to wash away their sins, make offerings at shrines along the river and at dawn offer water from the river as a salutation to the rising sun. During a religious festival in Varanasi crowds of men carry metal pitchers filled with “sacred water.

A ghat is a set of bathing steps that Hindus use to enter the Ganges or other holy Hindu rivers. A pandit is a religious teacher and a sadhu is a holy man. Ashrams are lodging houses for pilgrims who come to study yoga and other disciplines. The Ganges has 108 sacred descriptions which can all be found in a little book. Number 102 is the "Roaming About Rose-apple-tree Island."

The maharajah of Varanasi is revered by some as a god. During festivals he rides through the streets on an elephant with a gilded headdress and floats down the Ganges on a royal barge. He drinks only Ganges water, for it keeps the longest without spoiling, he says.

Varanasi Pilgrimage Routes


pilgrims gathering to bathe in the Ganges

Panchkroshi Road is an important part of the 50-mile pilgrimage route that many Hindu devotees follow when they come to Varanasi. The pilgrimage begins at Manikaranika Ghat with a ritual bath and prayers and ends at the confluence of the Ganges and Vruan River. The pilgrims start their journey before dawn. In the course of five days they stop at 108 sacred sites to worship. Many of the sites are unadorned shrines or painted rock formations honored since ancient times. Sometimes the pilgrims fix humble meals in front of the shrines, offering food first to the deities and then taking some for themselves.

The followers travel in groups and spend the night in rest houses donated by rich patrons, sometimes with free room and board. Every Hindu hopes to take this pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime the same way every Muslim hopes to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. The pilgrimage is believed to "approximate in miniature the girdling of the whole world." Items the pilgrims bring back to their villages from Varanasi are reverently displayed in their houses.

Five Fords, another popular pilgrimage route in Varanasi, begins at Asi Ghat. "Ford" in this case is not a river crossing but a crossing from the material world to the spiritual one. After bathing in the Ganges, the pilgrims follow the river north, praying and making offerings as they go. Pilgrims stop at Panchganga Ghat, Tulsi Ghat, Jaendra Pasad Ghat, Dasashvamedh Ghat, Andamayi Ghat and Adi Keshav Temple. Their final stop is Manikarnika Ghat, where they take a bath.

Pilgrimage to Mount Kailash

The 33-mile trek around Mount Kailash is one of the holiest acts for Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Bonpos. Pilgrims from all four religions do the trek. Tibetan Buddhists believe that one trek around the mountain cleanses one of his or her sins and 108 circuits (an auspicious number to Tibetan Buddhists) will lead to nirvana in this life.

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Mount Kailash
Each year thousands of pilgrims complete the hike, known as the kora. Most of them follow the Buddhist custom and walk clockwise around the mountain. A few pilgrims walk counterclockwise. They are mostly followers of the animist Bon religion. The main pilgrimage season is in May. Many of them prostrate themselves at regular intervals. Along the route are discarded clothing and drops of blood left by pilgrims who cover the distance on their knees.

Those who prostrate themselves, take one step, make a Tibetan prayer gesture, raise their hands in prayer, and lay down on the ground, their arms extended in front of them. Then they stand up and place their fee where their fingertips had just touched and repeat the process again. Those that do this often wear knee pads, aprons and canvas shoes on their hands and take two three weeks to complete the journey.

Amarnath: Pilgrimage to Shiva's Cave

Amarnath Cave, 30 miles from Pahalgam in Kashmir, contains a pillar of ice, which forms every year. Hindus regard it as a large lingam, a phallic symbol representing the Hindu god Shiva. Located at an altitude of over 12,000 feet, the cave is a shrine that attracts tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees during the annual mid-July-to-mid-August pilgrimage known as the Amarnath Yatra. The cave has been a pilgrimage site since the 1970s when a Hindu priest viewed the ice pillar and declared the cave as the mythical home of Shiva.

Pilgrims from across the globe visit the Amarnath shrine. Hindus believe it was in the cave that Shiva revealed the secrets of life and immortality to his divine consort Parvati. The sacred stalagmite appears each year in the cave — although it often melts away before the annual pilgrimage ends. According to Reuters, “Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims trek through treacherous mountains in revolt-torn Kashmir, along icy streams, glacier-fed lakes and frozen passes, to reach the Amarnath cave, located at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,700 feet). The phallus-shaped stalagmite is believed to be a symbol of Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration. [Source: Reuters, June 29, 2007]


Cave Temple at Amarnath

Around a half million pilgrims visit Amarnath during the 55 day pilgrimage season in June, July and August. More than 350,000 pilgrims hiked to the cave in 2013, which ended on August 21, down from a record number of 620,000 in 2012. Rainy weather and a security clampdown following communal clashes were partially responsible for the drop in 2013 officials said.

Devotees come in large numbers even though the pilgrimage has been attacked in the past by Muslim rebels opposed to Indian rule of the region. “All difficulties and worries vanish by visiting this place. That is why everyone comes here,” said Shopinder Achariya, a pilgrim from the Indian city of Lucknow who has trekked to the shrine every year since 2001. “This place is special because here Lord Shiva narrated the eternal story to Mother Parvati.”

Madhur Singh wrote in Time: “High up in the stunning Kashmir Valley lies a natural cave called Amarnath, where stalagmites form during the summer months. Devout Hindus believe this cave to be one of the holiest sites of their religion, and that the largest of the ice formations is a Shiva Lingam, the symbol of Lord Shiva. Hindu mythology has it that Shiva — the destroyer in the Hindu Trinity that includes Brahma the creator and Vishnu the preserver — imparted the secrets of creation to his consort, Parvati, in Amarnath. Each year, during the months of July and August, hundreds of thousands of Hindu pilgrims from across India and abroad take an arduous five-day, 40-mile trek to worship at this cave. The cave is a gigantic challenge to managing the logistics of the pilgrimage — not only is it perched 4,000 meters (12,000 ft) above sea level where rain, snow and landslides are common, it is also plunk in the middle of the insurgency-ravaged Kashmir Valley. And with ever greater numbers of pilgrims coming in the government reasoned that more temporary shelters were required. And so on May 26 the ruling Congress-led government of Jammu and Kashmir decided to divert 100 acres of forest land to erect such facilities for Hindu pilgrims. [Source: Madhur Singh, Time, August 6, 2008]

Amarnath Pilgrimage Route

Every summer for two months, hundreds of thousands of devout Hindus, some chanting hymns, trek high into the Himalayas in Indian Kashmir in a gruelling pilgrimage to a cave shrine. Surrounded by clouds and 3,800 metres (12,800 feet) above sea level, the Amarnath shrine is one of Hinduism’s most revered sites. [Source: AFP, August 28, 2013]

Much of the main pilgrimage route is comprised of two parallel dirt track that wind through meadows, pine forests, and past rushing streams and granite cliffs. Many of the pilgrims have marks on their forehead, wear orange clothes and shout “Hail, Hail, Shiva!” as they walk along. They include barefoot sadhus, naked to the waist, marching with tridents, symbols of Shiva; elderly men and women carried in lawn chairs by thin but muscular porters; amputees walking on their stumps; and women in pink, red and yellow saris, with infants in their arms. For those who don’t want to walk locals rent out scrawny-looking ponies they can ride on.


scenery along the Amarnath pilgrimage route

The traditionally pilgrimage is from the south and is 36 mile long. Places of interest on this trek are Chandanwari (10 miles), Sheshnag (7 miles) and Panchtarni (8 miles). The trek is generally done in three days, which means two nights are spent sleeping outside in temperatures that often drop below freezing. A new route has opened up from the north in the early 2000s. It is 19 miles long which ,means that pilgrims can do the whole pilgrimage in one day. Many yuppies and middle class families can be found on this route.

Pilgrims are only allowed to view the pillar for a couple minutes. Many ritually bath in an icy stream and change into clean clothes first and then wait in line for up to two hours until it is their turn. Around the cave is a parade of hawkers selling every thing from lingams to postcards to soft drinks. When pilgrims enter the cave they ring bells and hail Shiva. Some are disappointed when they finally see the pillar, which is protected behind iron bars. In 2002 the pillar was only 12 inches high. Many want to confess their sins and make request to Shiva but are ordered by soldiers to move along. [Source: David Rohde, New York Times, August 5, 2002]

Melting Shiva Symbol Worries Hindu Pilgrims

The phallus-shaped stalagmite symbolizing Shiva often changes size from year to year and in recent years has been shrinking. Some say it is a naturally occurring phenomena. Others blame premature melting on global warming and heightened human activity near the shrine. Reuters reported in 2007: A stalagmite which occurs annually in a cave shrine deep in the Himalayas is melting fast, officials said, disappointing Hindu pilgrims who worship it as a symbol of Lord Shiva. "It is melting very fast," N K Raina, director of the Amarnath Shrine Board, told reporters, adding that when the stalagmite was last measured on May 25 it was 12 feet (3.5 metres) tall and its circumference was 8 feet (2.5 metres). "Now, it has reduced to almost one-tenth of its original size," he said, without elaborating on the reasons. [Source: Reuters, June 29, 2007 *-*]


Shiva's Pillar

“Syed Iqbal Hasnain, a glaciologist at New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research, blamed it on a combination of factors. "One is, the number of pilgrims have increased dramatically, generating more heat. Also, atmospheric temperatures attributable to climate change have also gone up in recent years," he said. *-*

The size of the stalagmite has varied in previous years depending on the weather. Last year, pilgrims were outraged when authorities reportedly used snow to create a stalagmite as the natural ice formation failed to show up at the start of the pilgrimage. Many Hindus consider the melting as a bad omen. "Last year, it did not appear, and this year there are reports it is melting fast. I think Lord Shiva is angry with us," said Rajni Goswami, a 55-year-old housewife, who is due to start for Amarnath. "I will still travel to the holy cave and pray for peace in Kashmir." Shiv Kumar, a pilgrim from the northern Indian city of Lucknow who visited the cave, said he was "deeply saddened" by the "very small size" of the stalagmite. *-*

Pilgrimage Threatens Pristine Indian Kashmir Himalayas

The pilgrimage route to Amarnath has become strewn with garbage and, in some places, reeks of urine and feces. In 2013, AFP reported: “By the end of the 55-day pilgrimage season, rubbish, including plastic bottles and bags, as well as human waste, can be found strewn across the mountain trails that wind through the fragile Himalayan environment. Some of the rubbish falls into melted glaciers rushing through the valleys, threatening a vital source of drinking water for thousands of people who live downstream, experts said.“There are more than 53 glaciers in that area,” said Professor Shakil Ramshoo, who heads the earth sciences department at the University of Kashmir. “Huge quantities of fecal matter and waste generated from the many eateries directly finds its way into the water bodies, deteriorating the water quality,” he added. [Source: AFP, 28 Aug 2013]

“The government and pilgrimage organisers insist they continuously improve measures to protect and preserve the environment. Sewage systems have been installed at the start of the mountain paths and a number of composting toilets have been set up — on a trial basis — along the way. But management of the area is a source of tension in the Muslim-majority region. “We have to fine-tune it further,” Navin Choudhary, head of pilgrimage administration, conceded of current facilities for the trekkers. “(However) we are committed… The environment of the area is extremely important,” said Choudhary, chief executive officer of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. He added: “We have to preserve it while providing any facilities for the yatris (pilgrims).”


Amarnath pilgrims

“Environmentalists say a cap should be placed on the annual number of pilgrims and the season shortened to limit any environmental damage, said Arjimand Hussain Talib, a consultant on international development and conservation in the region. “Any visits to Amarnath cave have to be strictly controlled as per the carrying capacity of the area,” Talib said. Some of the pilgrims, who can afford it, take a helicopter from the twin base camps in Sonmarg and Pahalgam — two popular tourist destinations in the region. But the chopper rides, along with the body heat of thousands of pilgrims, are adding to environmental concerns. Both are blamed for speeding up melting of the nearby glaciers in the ecologically sensitive area.

“On any given day during the pilgrimage about 30,000 people, emitting radiation at 37 degrees Celsius, are in the vicinity hastening the melting of these glaciers,” Ramshoo said. Many pilgrims also defecate in the open near the glacier-fed streams whilst temporary food shacks generate mounds more waste, he said. Authorities say hundreds of temporary pre-fabricated toilets are set up every year all along the two tracks leading to the shrine, but only a few are bio-degradable ones, that can ensure waste does not reach the streams.

Frequent rains in the valleys also wash away some of the rubbish, making it difficult to collect for disposal, environmentalists say. Pilgrimage administrators counter that the clean-up operation is extensive, lasting two months after the season ends. “We see to it that all the garbage in the area is properly disposed off,” Choudhary said.

Pilgrims Brave Protests, Terrorist Threats and Storms to Visit Amarnath

The pilgrimage to Amarnath has been disrupted by trouble in Kashmir but has been brought back to life with assistance from columns of Indian soldiers and free food. Some 200,000 pilgrimages participated in the annual event in the 1990s. Islamic insurgents staged attacks against the pilgrims in 2000 and 2001 that left 42 people dead. Most of the victims were Hindus. The attack was blamed on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. There have been minor attacks since then. But no large ones until 2017 (see below).

An active militancy has raged in Kashmir since around 1989. Separatist groups involved in the struggle call for Kashmir to be granted independence from Delhi or to merge with neighbouring Pakistan, which controls a portion of Kashmir divided from India by a heavily militarised “line of control”. In 2002 thousands of Indian soldiers and police were deployed to protect the pilgrims. As the situation has improved, pilgrims began returning in the mid-2000s. Weather can also be a problem. In 1996, 100 pilgrims died in a freak storm. Every year a few pilgrims and porters slip off the paths and tumble to their deaths.


pilgrims walking a glacier near Amarnath Cave

In 2007, Reuters reported: “The pilgrimage has been targeted several times by Islamist separatist militants fighting against New Delhi's rule in India's only Muslim-majority state. Last year, over a dozen pilgrims were wounded in attacks. Security, as a result, has been stepped up over the years and thousands of troops guard the 330-km (200-mile) route taken by pilgrims. Officials say more than 42,000 people have been killed in Kashmir in the insurgency since it first erupted in 1989. Human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000. [Source: Reuters, June 29, 2007]

In 2008, the transfer of a parcel of land to shrine administrators, partly to build better facilities and shelters for pilgrims sparked separatist claims of a Hindu takeover and triggered anti-India protests in the region. The transfer was later rescinded. Madhur Singh wrote in Time: “For more than two months now, this small, 150 ft high and 90 ft long cave has been the center of a raging communal and political storm in the state of Jammu and Kashmir — one that has divided the Hindu and Muslim populations of the state....Muslim hardliners complained vehemently against what they alleged was an attempt to create "Israel-like" settlements of Hindus to change the demography of the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley... Once the fears spread, protests in Kashmir grew. The government eventually backed down and revoked the shelter order on July 1. That, in turn, led to a backlash from Hindus in the Hindu-majority Jammu region of the state, with right-wing parties including the BJP jumping in to protest against what they alleged was capitulation to "Muslim separatists." [Source: Madhur Singh, Time, August 6, 2008 /=/]

“Since then, protests have engulfed many parts of the state, with demonstrators clashing with the police in what many say is the largest mass agitation in the state since the 1990s, when the insurgency was raging. This week, at least three protestors have been killed and scores injured. On Tuesday, Hindu protesters blocked traffic on the main highway, leaving the Valley short of food, fuel and medical supplies, and leaving Kashmiri fruit-growers seeing their produce rotting instead of heading for markets in the rest of India. /=/

“The situation has come as a political bonanza for the BJP, the Hindu hardline party. The party has been at the forefront of Amarnath controversy in Jammu, and with its announcement that it will undertake nationwide strikes over the issue, it is set to make Shiva's cave a presence in the general elections. Ironically, the Amarnath cave has long been one of many symbols of Hindu-Muslim camaraderie. Legend has it that the cave was discovered by a Muslim shepherd, and Muslim vendors benefited from the religious tourism for years until 2000, when the cave was put under the authority of the government-run Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, the agency in charge of the shelters for pilgrims. /=/

“Manoj Joshi, author of Lost Rebellion: Kashmir in the 1990s, says all parties are equally to blame for dividing the state along religious lines. "And by blockading the Valley, they [Hindu hardliners] are making the Muslims more insecure and making them lean towards Pakistan." Joshi says, "It is a very dangerous game. One wonders how far they can go on playing with national interest."” /=/

Attack by Militants Kills at Least Seven Hindu Pilgrims in Kashmir


postcard-like souvenir for pilgrims

In July 2017, seven Hindu pilgrims were killed when a tourist bus was hit by bullets during a firefight between militants and police in Kashmir during the pilgrimage to Amarnath. It was the deadliest attack against Hindu pilgrims in region since 2000 Michael Safi wrote in The Guardian, “Six women and one man were killed in the evening attack in the southern district of Anantnag. The attack comes amid heightened religious tensions across northern India and another summer of violence in Kashmir. The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, tweeted he was “pained beyond words at the dastardly attack” on Hindus participating in the Amarnath Yatra. [Source: Michael Safi, The Guardian, July 10, 2017 *^*]

“The pilgrimage went ahead despite police intelligence of a planned militant attack. Unprecedented security measures, including surveillance cameras, bulletproof bunkers and phone jammers, had been implemented to protect the estimated 115,000 pilgrims. The pilgrimage was suspended because of security fears on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Burhan Wani, an anti-India militant whose death triggered weeks of protests and the longest curfew in the history of Indian-controlled Kashmir. *^*

“Police in Kashmir said the attack began with militants firing on a security bunker and a police checkpoint in Anantnag. “The fire was retaliated. A tourist bus was hit by bullets in which about 18 tourists were injured,” they said in a statement. “Among them six persons died while [the] rest are being treated.” One pilgrim taken to a hospital in Anantnag said: “There was a lot of firing. We don’t know what happened. We were going to Katra [in the Jammu region] from Srinagar.” *^*

A former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Omar Abdullah, tweeted the attack was “the one thing we had all feared this year”. The internet has been temporarily suspended in Kashmir but in a sign of the authorities bracing for a backlash, sources in the telecommunications sector told the Guardian the internet would also be temporarily shut down in Jammu, a region in the state with a greater Hindu population. *^*

Hindu Pilgrimage Disasters


16th century Portuguese renderings of Hindu pilgrims in the Codice Casabatense

In April 2000, 28 people were electrocuted in the eastern Bihar town two of Daltongunj, 500 kilometers southeast of Delhi, after a flagstaff carried by a chariot in a Hindu procession struck an electric cable, which fell on the crowd below, setting the chariot on fire and electrocuting Hindu devotees and people in the crowd.

In January 2005, more than 250 people were killed in a fire and stampede that occurred as 300,000 people converged on the hilltop Mandher Devi temple in Wai, 260 kilometers southeast of Bombay. Witnesses said the tragedy began when some pilgrims slipped on the steep steps to the temple, where some slippery coconuts had been left as offerings to the goddess Kalubai. Fires then wept though stalls selling flowers, fruit and food. Some said the fires were set intentionally by relatives of people hurt in the first stampede. Other said the fires were caused by a short circuit from a knocked down electric pole. In any case the fires set off another wave of stampedes. Most of the dead were crushed to death. The pilgrimage is popular with members of lower castes and is held during a full moon. The 24-hour-long festival features a number of animal sacrifices to the goddess Mandher Devi.

In August 2003, 39 people were killed and 125 were injured when the collapse of a barricade set off a stampede at a religious festival that drew more than a million Hindu devotees to the Godavari River, about 175 miles northeast of Bombay. One witness told AP, “There were some 50,000 people behind one barricade and they were pushing, The barricade suddenly broke and they just fell down. People at the back just began walking on them and that’s how the stampede happened.”

In 1999, 51 pilgrims died after a stampede caused a landslide at a Hindu shrine in southern India. The stampede began after a rope meant to guide the flow of people snapped.

See Separate Article DISASTERS AND STAMPEDES AT TEMPLES, PILGRIMAGES AND FESTIVALS IN INDIA

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Indian History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 3 South Asia” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); “The Creators” by Daniel Boorstin; “A Guide to Angkor: an Introduction to the Temples” by Dawn Rooney (Asia Book) for Information on temples and architecture. National Geographic, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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