Who discovered Amarnath ?

By  M.M. Munshi

It has been clearly documented in history that Amar Nath Shrine has been visited by pilgrims since ancient times including a ruler of Kashmir between 34 BC and 17AD . (Kalhana’s Rajtarangini Book II . Verses 130-141).

Narrative of Amarnath Mahatmyas and other related composite Mahatmyas in BhrngiSamita (translated by Dr.Amar Nath Shastri on pages (156 to 225) proves beyond doubt that Amarnath Shrine was an important pilgrimage during 2nd and third AD century.  Mention of Amreshvara (Amarnath) in Nilamata Parana along with other tirthas of Kashmir also proves that Amarnath ji Shrine was well known during 5th – 6th century AD.

Kalhana while referring to the legend of Sushram Naga (Sheeshnag) states that (Sheeshnag) and Zamtirnag are seen to this day by pilgrims proceeding to Amreshvara (Amarnathji) i.e. 1148-49 A.D. (the period of compilation to Kalhana’s Rajtarangini (Taranga I verse 267).

Muslim rule was established in Kashmir in 1339 and conversions to Islam started by the end of 14th century AD during the rule of Sikandar butshikan. How on earth Muslim shepherds/ Maliks could have discovered Amarnathji Shrine which was visited by pilgrims in early historic, if not prehistoric times?

It is believed that Sikandar Butshikan after desecrating, damaging and destroying most of the Hindu temples of Kashmir valley was proceeding to Amarnath ji cave for the same purpose but turned back from Ganeshbal (Lidau Valley) and after reaching Vijesvara (Bijbhera) repented his deeds.

The fact that Zain-ul-abdin (1420-1470), pious Muslim ruler of Kashmir visited Amarnathji has been documented by his chronicler Jonaraja (Jona’s Rajtarangini Bombay Edition).

Ali Mardan Khan the Mughul governor of Kashmir during the rule Emperor Shahjahan (1635-58 AD) has derisively commented on the so called madness and religious eccentricism of the streams of the faithfulls barefooted, illclad winding their way in rain and snow through slush and tracheous routes to behold what was not a god in a cave. However, he dreamed of Mahesevara (Shiva) and changed from sceptic to a firm believer and compiled beautiful persian couplets in praise of Shiva.

The French physician Francis Bernier who visited Kashmir in the company of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1663 after visiting number of interesting places in Kashmir was about two days march from some place in Sind Valley to a grotta (Cave) full of wonderful congeliations (frozen things) apparently Amarnathji Cave was recalled by the emperor. Smith who has edited the 2nd edition of Bernier’s book has identified the cave as that of Amarnathji (Travels in Moghul Empire) by Francis Bernier.

Vigne in his book “Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh and Iskardu”, 1842 says “The ceremony of the cave of Amarnath takes place on 15th of the Hindu month of Sawan…. Not only Hindus of Kashmir but those from Hindustan of every rank and caste can be seen collecting together and traveling up the valley of Lidar towards the celebrated cave which from his description must have been the place which Bernier intended to visit but was prevented. Vigne himself tried to visit Amarnath ji cave in late season of 1840 during the rule of Sikh Maharaja Sher Singh but was forced to return from Vawjan due to bad weather. From his narrative we can easily conclude that pilgrimage was in vogue before 1840 – 41 and pilgrims from the plains outside Kashmir Valley visited Amarnathji in great numbers.

It has baffled the Kashmiri Pandits, to be told that this Yatra, holy cave was lost for quite a long time, some theorists like Pervez Dewan have gone on to claim that Amarnathji Yatra had been lost for thousands of years, others have been saying  few hundreds of years, historically both look fantastic. There is no mention of Yatra having been banned. It is not possible to opine that Zain-ul-Din or Akbar or their descendents could have done that. Afghans took over from Mughals in 1753, they ruled Kashmir for 66 years. It is here that whole story of lost and found is hinged.

None of the lost theorists is committal about the time the Yatra and hoiy cave got lost, about rediscovery of the Shrine they have given conflicting dates. Accordingly to ON Chrungoo the Amarnathji Cave was rediscovered about 1600 AD and Yatra again remained in abeyance during the Afghan rule 1753 – 1819. Yatra was resumed only during the reign of Maharaja Gulab Singh (Pilgrimage to Amarnath Daily Excelsior 06.08.2000). Parvez Dewan in his article “Discovery of Lord Shiva’s temple” Daily Excelsior says that Amarnathji cave was rediscovered some time between 1750 – 1775. Maliks themselves claim to have rediscovered the cave by 1775 i.e. Afghan rule which is constrained by the adversity of that time as Afghans who ruled Kashmir between 1753 – 1819 persecuted Kashmiris in general and Hindus in particular, would not have taken kindly to Maliks or anybody else for discovering or rediscovering a Hindu or a Buddhist Shrine. Moreover theorists of lost and found have given contradictory names of the Muslim shepherd who rediscovered the shrine as Adam Malik, Buta Malik and Akram Malik.

As the claims about timing names etc. are contradictory these cannot be accepted as factual. We have positive evidence from Vigne that pilgrimage was in full swing before Gulab Singh appeared on the scene. We have only few gaps of non-mention of the Yatra for few decades in the otherwise continuous Yatra. No community loses its collective memory in matter of few decades.

It could have been a low key affair during political upheavals or after natural calamities or catastrophes but lost never.

The concept of Shrine having been discovered / rediscovered by Maliks / Muslim Shepherds has to be understood taking into account the History and background of Maliks and not to be confused with that of Kashmiri Shepherds who were and are still known as Pohuls or Choupans. According to Baron Von Hugel  (1840) and R.K. Parimoo (History of Muslim Rule in Kashmir). Malik is a title of honour and distinction given to successors of Davarpatis, Margesas (Later called Magres) holding charge of watch-cum-military stations on feudal basis on the important routes and passes, entering and leaving Kashmir, by the independent Sultans of Kashmir and also to other clans like Chaks, Rainas, Dars for latter’s loyal service. After the annexation of Kashmir by Mughals in 1586 A.D. most of the Maliks, Rainas, Magreys and Chak clans etc. who had fought against the former were hunted, killed and banished from Kashmir, some of them escaped to remote and inaccessible hills and valleys to avoid persecution. But those who later submitted themselves before Akbar and took the oath of loyalty were allowed to resume the duty of guarding the routes, administration and even judiciary. All routes except the Baramulla – Muzaffarabad route remained closed during the Afghan rule.

With the advent of Dogra rule in 1846, opening up of all the routes and gradual establishment of regular police posts at vulnerable places, the ancestral occupation of Maliks came to an end. Since the latter part of 19th century the Maliks had to content themselves with guiding and escorting the pilgrims to Amarnath Ji, Harmukh, probably to Sharda in Kishenganga valley and other places of Pilgrimage. The allotment of a part of offering , at the Amarnath shrine, could have been in lieu of these services.

Lawrence in Valley of Kashmir mentions that pilgrims to Amarnath were joined by Brahmins at Mattan and further up at Batkot the Maliks used to take charge of the pilgrimage. According to Lawrence Valley of Kashmir (1895) the Maliks were supposed to keep the track in order, guide and escort the pilgrims and carry sick ones and ensure that nothing was stolen, and received one third of the offerings at the Amarnath Ji Shrine. The other two shares used to go to Pandits of Mattan and Giri mahants of Amritsar who used to and still lead the pilgrimage with Chari Mubarak. Lawrence does not mention any where that share of offerings to Maliks was in lieu of their having ‘discovered/rediscovered’ the cave. There is no mention of receipt of rasum rahdari from pilgrims nor grants from the State Govt. for the services rendered by Maliks. Apparently the share seems to have been received by Maliks for the services rendered. Neither Lawrence, Vigne, Montogmery nor others have mentioned that Amarnath ji Cave was lost from memory or was discovered-rediscovered by Maliks / Muslims Shepherds . The lost theory is a wild conjecture that does not stand any test. The history of Amarnathji pilgrimage to be depicted on the plaque at the war to be built in front of the Shrine should be based on actual historical research from authetic documents and not on hearsay for petty reasons. It may amount to distortion of history and suppression of facts , to presume that Amarnathji Shrine was discovered by Maliks/Muslim shepherds. It is prayed that distortion of history of the Amarnathji Shrine should not be depicted on the Dewar or any other structure to be built at or on way to the Shrine.