The Amarnath caves (Hindi: अमरनाथ गुफा, Urdu: امرناتھ گُپھا) are one of the most famous shrines in Hinduism, dedicated to the god Shiva, located in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The shrine is claimed to be over 5,000 years old and forms an important part of Hindu mythology.
Inside the main Amarnath cave lies an ice stalagmite resembling the Shiva Linga, which waxes during May to August and gradually wanes thereafter. This lingam is said to grow and shrink with the phases of the moon, reaching its height during the summer festival. According to Hindu mythology, this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort Parvati. Two other ice formations represent Parvati and Shiva's son, Ganesha.
The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft), about 141 km (88 mi) from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The Central Reserve Police Force, Indian Army and Indian Paramilitary Forces maintain a strong presence in the region due to security concerns.
It is a popular pilgrimage destination for Hindus - about 400,000 people visit during the 45-day season around the festival of Shravani Mela in July-August, coinciding with the Hindu holy month of Shraavana.
Devotees generally take the 42 km (26 mi) pilgrimage on foot from the town of Pahalgam, about 96 km (60 mi) from Srinagar, and cover the journey in four to five days. There are two alternate routes to the temple: the longer and more traditional path from Srinagar, and the shorter route from the town of Baltal. Some devotees, particularly the elderly, also ride on horse-back to make the journey.
Shree Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) former chief executive officer Arun Kumar was reported in The Hindu as saying "The Shivlingam has melted owing to the rise in temperatures. It is a normal phenomenon; weather affects its shape and size".
The other ice lingams had not completely melted. Many environmentalists blamed global warming for the incident.
The SASB has authorized the installation of a cooling system to preserve the formations in coming years.