Monday, August 13, 2007

the melting god

At an altitude of 3800 metres, the cave of Amarnath, sacred to the Hindu god Shiva, must be among the highest pilgrimage destinations in the world. It is also one of the most dangerous, as pilgrims have increasingly become the targets of militants in war-torn Kashmir. 2005 saw the murder of 32 pilgrims; last year, 10. In 2007 to date, twelve have been killed, including nine yesterday in a grenade and machine-gun attack on a pilgrim camp by a lone militant. State officials have moved to suspend the pilgrimage which, despite its perils, has attracted an estimated 84,000 pilgrims since the one-month season began July 19th.

Even the pilgrims who have made it safely to Amarnath have found little to worship there, as once again the object of their veneration has melted. The sacred object of the Amarnath cave is a Shiva lingam (the phallic image of Shiva) in the form of a natural ice stalactite.
Normally the stalactite waxes in summer and wanes in winter, but last year the stalactite failed to form at all - prompting person or persons unknown to construct one. The shrine's attempts to pass off this man-made frosty-the-snowman as Lord Shiva fooled no one, and scandal erupted amid accusations that shrine authorities had attempted to deceive pilgrims.

This year, once more, the lingam failed to linger. The secular-minded are pointing to global warming as the cuprit, the faithful left wondering why the Lord Shiva has withdrawn his favour.

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