The annual Amarnath Yatra will conclude quietly today with the arrival of Charri Mubarak, or holy mace of Lord Shiva, at the cave-shrine coinciding with Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bhandan).
Traditionally, the holy mace is carried to Amarnath by its custodian, Mahant Dependra Giri, after a night halt at Panjtarni, the third and final halting station en route to the 3,888-metre-high place of worship. He is accompanied by a large number of saffron-clad hermits called sadhus right from its (Charri Mubarak’s) abo-de in Dashnami Akhara in Budshah Chowk locality of Srinagar.
The final ceremony sees a grand puja ritual amid the chanting of religious hymns in the spiritual ambience of the lower Himalayas, in the presence of thousands of other devotees and officials of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board. Though all rituals are likely to be held strictly under Hindu customs, it will be somewhat a subdued affair this time.
On July 31, the authorities Jammu and Kashmir suspended the yatra till August 4 on the pretext of impending inclement weather and heavy rainfall, citing an “advisory” by the India Meteorological Department (IMD). IMD sources later said no such weather advisory had been issued by it.
Three days later (August 2), the state government asked the pilgrims and tourists to curtail their stay in the Valley “in view the latest intelligence inputs of terror threats with specific targeting of the Amarnath Yatra and given the prevailing security situation in the Kashmir Valley”.
The same day, Srinagar-based Chinar Corps chief Lt. Gen. Kanwal Jeet Singh Dhillon at a hurriedly-called press conference claimed that terrorists backed by the Pakistan Army have planned an attack on the yatra.
Subsequent events proved beyond a shadow of doubt that all these statements and measures were part of the government’s “strategy” to ensure the return of all pilgrims and tourists from the Valley before making its contentious moves of abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcating the state.
It is now learnt it also wanted to divert a greater part of over 40,000 security personnel requisitioned for the yatra to parts of the Valley for performing law and order duties in anticipation of possible uprising.
Till July 31, when the yatra was suspended, as many as 339,687 devotees had visited Amarnath to pray and have a darshan of the shivling. The 46-day yatra had begun on July 1. This year, 29 pilgrims, two volunteers and two security personnel, including one each from the BSF and CRPF, who were on yatra duty died due to natural causes. Last year, 2,85,006 devotees had visited Amarnath during the two-month-long yatra.