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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
'Fake shrine' inquiry in Kashmir
Amarnath pilgrims
There is a reported shortage of snow this year
The authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have ordered an inquiry into malpractice allegations at one of the holiest shrines of the Hindu faith.

Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath shrine say that a fake ice stalagmite has been installed at the site because the existing one is too small.

The ice stalagmite is revered by Hindus as a symbol of Shiva.

Every July and August thousands of Hindu pilgrims defy threats from Muslim militants to visit the remote shrine.

Far smaller

Correspondents say that the stalagmite resembles a fertility lingam - or phallus - which is said to form naturally each year from water that freezes.

Amarnath pilgrims
The trek to the cave is long and arduous

Governor SK Sinha - who is also the chairman of Amarnath Shrine Board - said on Thursday that he had asked a retired high court judge to investigate allegations that a man-made stalagmite was placed in the cave after the naturally occurring one failed to materialise.

The BBC's Altaf Hussain in Srinagar says that this has been blamed on a shortage of snow combined with the wrong temperatures.

Our correspondent says that a naturally-occurring ice stalagmite has now begun to appear, but it is far smaller than in recent years.

I'm 100% convinced the Shiva lingam has been artificially formed... It's made of soft snow and not of naturally formed ice
Praveen Kumar, Amarnath pilgrim

In June, a spokesman for the shrine board denied allegations made by the pilgrims that a fake shrine had been installed at the caves.

He said that the board was not a commercial organisation looking for profit, but only a facilitator to regulate and provide logistic support for a smooth pilgrimage.

He said there was no question of "trampling over the sanctity of the shrine" or playing with the religious sentiments of devotees.

Earlier, a key Hindu priest associated with the shrine expressed serious concerns over the reports that a fake shrine had been built from snow brought from higher ground.

He said that if they were true, it would be an act of sacrilege.

Shiva is the Hindu God of Destruction.

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