Srinagar: The Amarnath yatra has been cancelled this year in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. An official spokesman here the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) held an emergency video conference on Tuesday and decided to cancel the yatra “in the larger public interest”.
The annual pilgrimage to the cave-shrine tucked away in the Kashmiri Himalayas at a height of 3,888 m was scheduled to begin on June 23 coinciding with Skandshasthi, an auspicious occasion in the Hindu calendar, and conclude on August 3, the day of Shravan Purnima or Raksha Bandhan.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the authorities to shorten the duration of the yatra and restrict it to the shorter Baltal route via Srinagar. It was also announced that only 500 people would be allowed to visit the cave-shrine daily.
In fact, SASB had in April announced the cancellation of the yatra citing several reasons, including paucity of time in view of the nationwide lockdown and COVID-19 exigencies.
However, various Hindu religious leaders and organizations and some right-wing political groups sharply reacted to this decision following which SASB on April 22 issued a guarded statement saying it may not be possible to conduct this year’s pilgrimage due to the pandemic. However, the board later apparently succumbed to pressure and agreed to conduct a short 14-day yatra through the Baltal route from July 21.
Last year, the yatra was curtailed prematurely before the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcation of the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
While announcing its decision on Tuesday, SASB cited the Supreme Court’s July 13 order in which the decision to conduct the yatra was left to the administration. It said the board was informed that the arrangements were on track since February this year but due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, the State Executive Committee of J&K “has continued to keep religious places and places of worship closed to the public, the prohibitions which will continue till July 31”.
The statement read, “The board further discussed that the pandemic has stretched the health administration to its limit. The COVID spike has been particularly sharp in July. Health workers and security forces are also getting infected and the focus of the entire medical, civil and police administration at the moment is on containing local transmission of COVID-19”.
The statement concluded, “Based upon the circumstances, the SASB decided with a heavy heart that it is not advisable to hold and conduct this year’s yatra and expressed its regret to announce its cancellation. The board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees and to keep the religious sentiments alive, the board shall continue the live telecast/virtual darshan of the morning and evening aarti. Further, the traditional rituals shall be carried out as per past practice. Also, the Chhari Mubarak shall be facilitated by the government.”
Earlier in the day, the Chhari Mubarak or the holy mace of Lord Shiva was taken to ancient Sharika Bhawani on the foothills of Hari Parvat in central Srinagar today to pay obeisance to the goddess on the occasion of Shravan Shukla Paksha Pratipada’, as per age-old tradition. Only a select number of sadhus led by Mahant Deependra Giri, the custodian of the holy mace, participated in the hour-long pujan ritual.