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Amarnath Yatra cancelled in wake of COVID-19 pandemic

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Pilgrimage will be kept symbolic this year, SASB to live stream rituals: LG

Srinagar: In the wake of the Covid pandemic, the Jammu and Kashmir administration has decided that the annual Amarnath Yatra will be kept symbolic, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said on Monday.

The 56-day Yatra to the 3,880-metre-high Himalayan cave shrine was proposed to start from the twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal on June 28 and culminate on August 22. The pilgrimage was cancelled last year too due to the pandemic.

Sinha also directed officials to ensure devotees can virtually attend the morning and evening ‘aartis’ (prayers) at the shrine. This will allow them to pay their obeisance while also avoiding travel and exposure to the infection, the LG said.

He said that at the shrine, all traditional and religious rituals shall be performed according to past practice.

“It’s important to save people’s lives. So, it is not advisable to hold and conduct this year’s pilgrimage in the larger public interest. Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees, and to keep the sentiments alive, the board shall continue the live telecast of morning and evening ‘aarti’ from the holy cave shrine,” Sinha, who is also the board’s chairman, said.

The decision to keep the pilgrimage symbolic was taken after discussions with members of the SASB, including Swami Avdheshanand, DC Raina, Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, Prof Anita Billawariya, Sudarshan Kumar, Prof. Vishwamurti Shashtri, Pt. Bhajan Sopori, Dr. C.M. Seth and Tripta Dhawan on the present Covid-19 situation, an official spokesman said.

Following the meeting with the board’s members, the LG also held deliberations with Chief Secretary Arun Kumar Mehta, DGP Dilbag Singh, Principal Secretary Home Shaleen Kabra, and LG’s Principal Secretary Nitishwar Kumar, who is also the CEO of the Shrine Board, he said.

Those in the meeting were informed that the SASB has made arrangements so that devotees can watch the morning and evening prayers on virtual platforms and television, the spokesman said.

The LG stressed upon the need to follow Covid protocol on significant and pious days like ‘pratham pooja’ and ‘samapan pooja’.

He further stressed that seers visiting the cave shrine to perform ‘aartis’ according to rituals must follow Covid-appropriate behaviour.

The SASB CEO said the Shrine Board has made the arrangements for the mace of Lord Shiva ‘Chhari Mubarak’ to be taken to the holy cave on August 22, when the Yatra is to conclude coinciding with the festival of Raksha Bandhan.

“The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board has been assessing the Covid situation in the Union Territory and the country. Our focus is on containing the pandemic and strengthening health infrastructure,” he observed.

The CEO Kumar said that both morning telecast of ‘aarti’ at 6 am and evening ‘aarti’ at 5 pm, each for 30 minutes, is to be live-streamed on the board’s official website and an app specifically dedicated for devotees.

The devotees can pay their virtual obeisance online through the Shrine Board’s ‘aarti’ link.

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