I returned to my hotel room in Delhi a few days ago to find television news channels screaming out that Baba Amarnath was naraz (angry) with his disciples, and had withdrawn earlier than usual this year, denying them darshan (audience). Disappointed pilgrims speculated on the cause of his anger.
Baba Amarnath is in fact a stalagmite in the shape of Shiva’s lingam, in a Himalayan cave high up at 12,756 ft in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Considered one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism, the cave is accessible only for about 45 days each year over June, July and August.
Millions of pilgrims make the perilous 5-day journey during this period, braving the elements and militancy. Hundreds die trying. Last year, for instance, 130 people were killed either because they were not fit enough for the arduous climb, or because of road accidents. The pilgrimage was banned altogether from 1991-1995 because of the threat from militants.
The pilgrimage season usually ends in August, as the stalagmite melts. This year, however, almost 40 per cent of it had melted even before the season started on June 21, and all of it was gone in July.
The channel I watched chose to draw out the “angry god” angle, but other media outlets eventually either blamed global warming, or the rush of pilgrims. Since the melting started before the pilgrims came, the former seems more likely – or at least a major factor.
Sadly, no mass campaign against global warming followed. Last heard, Baba Amarnath was getting his own refrigeration unit to keep him going.