It’s impossible to say how long the ice came and went hidden within the Amarnath Cave before people happened along to give it meaning. According to legend, a Muslim shepherd named Malik discovered it in the twelfth century. Kashmir at the time was an interreligious land, even at the individual level. It was not unusual that this follower of Islam had spent a fair amount of time in Hindu temples, and so when he saw the column of ice—slightly taller than it was wide, with its rounded top like the crown of a man’s head—he knew just what it looked like: a lingam, the phallic symbol of the god Shiva, Hindu deity of creation and destruction. Driving his goats down from the mountains, Malik decided he should inform a local Hindu priest of what he had seen. The priest doubted the shepherd’s description, but still he followed him to Amarnath to have a look himself. When he entered the cave and saw the lingam he was overcome with devotion, and immediately began offering prayers. In the eight centuries since then, the Amarnath Cave has become one of the world’s major pilgrimage sites.
more from Peter Manseau at Killing The Buddha here.