While observing the increasing number of people being affected by Covid-19 with 254 deaths, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board had to take the decision to cancel the holy pilgrimage this year.
The Amarnath cave is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism and hundreds of thousands of devotees undertake the arduous annual pilgrimage in south Kashmir Himalayas.
The yearly Amarnath yatra was scheduled to begin from 21 July and end on 3 August, for a shortened duration of just 14 days. Every year the yatra, which is conducted and managed by Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, would attract lakhs of devotees. Their destination – the Amarnath Cave, which is nestled in the high Himalayas in the Pahalgam area of the Anantnag district in Jammu and Kashmir. The yatra season normally lasts for two months.
Pahalgam being the traditional route for centuries together would attract most of the flow of devotees. However, due to the COVID-19 outbreak a limited number of pilgrims were allowed up to the cave, this time from the Sonamarg-Baltal side, a non-traditional and shorter route. This has cast a pall of gloom on the traditional route of Pahalgam.
The annual Amarnath Yatra has now been cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic that has already affected, and is still affecting a large number of people. The decision to cancel the holy pilgrimage has been taken by Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. The yatra goes through Jammu and Kashmir, a state where about 14650 people have been affected by the virus, with about 254 deaths.
The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, headed by Girish Chandra Murmu, Lieutenant-Governor of J&K, took this decision through a video conference at the 39th meeting of the board.
The pilgrimage that attracts hundreds of devotees was scheduled to begin on June 23 this year, and conclude on August 3, on the day of Shravan Purnima. But the prevailing conditions did not permit so. According to an official spokesman of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, it has been said that while the board respects the sentiments of devotees, it is not advisable to hold the yatra this year. It was further stated that darshan can be viewed online, or on TV. There will be provisions made for live telecast of the morning, and evening aarti.
It was also said that the holy ritual of Charri Mubarak, wherein Lord Shiva’s holy mace is brought to the holy cave from the Dashnami Akhara Temple in Jammu will be facilitated by the government.
It has been further stated that even health workers, and security forces are getting infected by the virus. Therefore, the district administration is spending all its resources on curbing the spread of the infection. The health concerns are very grave at the moment, and the board thought that it is the right decision to cancel the yatra.
The SASB, in its meeting, discussed the Supreme Court order of July 13 in which the decision to conduct the yatra was left to the administration after assessment of the ground realities prevailing in J&K.
All religious places in J&K are closed for public till July 31.
The board deliberated on the fact that the focus of the entire medical, civil and police administration at the moment is on containing the local transmission of the pandemic and how it has pushed the health administration system to its limit. The spike has been particularly sharp in July and health workers and security forces too were getting infected.
The board was of the view that the health concerns are so serious that the strain on the health system, along with the diversion of resources to the yatra, will be immense. This would also unnecessarily put the ‘yatris’ at risk of catching the Covid-19, board members observed.
The board decided that all rituals would be carried out as per practice. Also, the Chhadi Mubarak will be facilitated by the government, said an official spokesman.
Meanwhile, “Chhadi Mubarak Swami Amarnathji” was taken to the ancient Sharika Bhawani Temple at Hari Parvat in Srinagar on Tuesday to pay obeisance to the goddess on the occasion of ‘Shravan Shukla Paksha Pratipada’, as per age-old traditions. Only a handful of sadhus participated in the puja.
Goddess Sharika Bhawani, popularly known as Tripursundari, is believed to be the ‘Isht Devi’ (presiding deity) of Srinagar city who manifested herself in a figure of a ‘shila’ (holy rock) at Hari Parvat.
Way back on July 4, chief secretary B.V.R. Subramhmanyam said the yatra would be undertaken in a restricted manner in view of the pandemic. He had announced that 500 pilgrims would be allowed per day by road but no dates were given. The decision triggered uproar in the Valley with many asking why the yatra was the only event to be exempt while all religious gatherings were banned since March.
Last week, Jammu and Kashmir High Court asked the board to take an urgent decision on holding the pilgrimage but said the health of every pilgrim should be on the “highest pedestal”.
The petition filed by Jammu lawyer Sachin Sharma, which had expressed reservations over the health of pilgrims, was permitted.
Another petition was filed in the Supreme Court, which had also left it to the government to take a decision after assessing the ground realities.
The official spokesperson said the board cancelled the yatra after a meeting with top officers, including the chief secretary. The cancellation comes despite the administration making necessary arrangements for conducting a curtailed pilgrimage through a shorter Baltal track in Ganderbal district.
Various government departments and security agencies had also made all preparations to welcome the pilgrims.
Pertinently last year, the Amarnath Yatra was curtailed following intelligence inputs of terror threats and violence ahead of BJP led central government’s move of abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and in 2018, the pilgrimage was held for 60 days.