07/14/2012, 00.00
INDIA

Himalaya: Tragic start to Hindu pilgrimage to caves of Shiva

CT Nilesh
Since June 25 there have been 72 deaths from exposure to the cold, heart attacks and accidents. In less than a month, over 4 million faithful visit natural cave of Amarnath situated in the Himalayas. The place is famous throughout India for ice formations sacred to the god Shiva.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Every year thousands of Indian devotees undertake a pilgrimage to the cave of Amarnath in the Himalaya. In a natural cave of the mountain, because of infiltration of water from the top, a column of ice is formed that looks like a lingam  that all over India is a sacred and holy symbol of Shiva.

During the summer months thousands of pilgrims climb kilometers and kilometers of mountain paths in devout pilgrimage. As many as 4,23,681 pilgrims have visited the cave shrine till last week as reported by The Times of India.

But the climbing is so hard that every year not a few people faint and die. Four more pilgrims and a porter died en-route to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas since Thursday night, taking the toll during this year's pilgrimage to 72, officials said.

Sixty-year-old Nirmala Tripathi, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, died of cardiac arrest at the 3,880 metre high cave shrine after paying obeisance to the naturally formed ice-shivlingam on Thursday night, the officials said.

In another case, Chand, a resident of Madhya Pradesh, suffered a heart attack and died near Brarimarg along 16-km Baltal cave route in Ganderbal district on Thursday, they said.

Two unidentified pilgrims, including a woman, were found dead along the traditional 45-km Pahalgam cave route between Chandanwari and Panjtarni, the officials said, adding efforts were on to identify the deceased.

A porter identified as Abdul Rehman Paddar, 65, hailing from Anantnag district, died of cardiac arrest at Zojibal near Pahalgam, raising the number of porters who passed away during the pilgrimage to two, they said.

The annual Amarnath yatra commenced on June 25 from the twin tracks from Baltal and Pahalgam and was going on smoothly although the weather remained cloudy on Friday.


In India religious pilgrimages are very popular among all religions. Also the Catholics like to go to  Mount Mary in Mumbai or to Vailankanni in Tamil Nadu. Some missionaries in their efforts of inculturation undertook pilgrimages to the traditional Hindu sites like Arunachala mountain in Tamil Nadu or Haridwar where Ganges enter the plains. The Benedictin monk Henry Le Saux published a diary of his pilgrimage to the source of Ganges. Also Raimon Panikkar wrote about his pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain of Kailasha.

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