Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

A Symbol of Hope and Strife in Kashmir

 by Bennett Gordon


Tags: spirituality, Amarnath, India, Pakistan, Kashmir, Search magazine, Peter Manseau,

Amarnath CaveThe Kashmir region between India and Pakistan is known more for religious and political strife than it is for symbols of peace, and there’s good reason for that. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the area is being threatened once again by bombings, allegedly by Islamic terrorists, that could inflame historical tensions between Pakistan and India.

Deep in that violence-plagued region , the Amarnath Cave represents both the problems and the hope for the Kashmir region, according Peter Manseau, writing for the newly founded Search magazine. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus make the arduous pilgrimage to the Amarnath Cave in southern Kashmir every year to visit an icy shrine to the Hindu deity Shiva. Legends say that the shrine was discovered by a Muslim shepherd, who showed the cave to a Hindu priest, who immediately recognized it as a holy place.

Today, the symbol of interfaith cooperation is being threatened, not only by the violence that seems endemic to the entire region, but also by climate change. With average temperatures on the rise, and throngs of people packing into the cave, Manseau reports that the ice shrine has begun to melt earlier each year. Many pilgrims haven’t been able to see the object of their journey at all, and instead have been shown crudely packed snow in its place.

For Manseau, the Amarnath Cave represents both the good and bad in the Kashmir region: The interfaith cooperation and the religious strife, the importance of symbols to human faith and the lengths people will go to protect them. “Holy ground reminds us of all we hope for,” Manseau writes, “and all that might be lost.”