SRINAGAR, Aug 2: After lasting for a period for 39 days, this year’s controversial Amarnath pilgrimage ended today with special prayers at the cave shrine, 3880 metres high in Kashmir Himalayas.
Officials say more than 6.20 lakh pilgrims have worshipped so far at the cave shrine which houses the Shivlingam or an ice stalagmite considered to be a symbol of Hindu deity Lord Shiva. The pilgrimage, one of the holiest for Hindus, started on June 25.
The last procession of ash-smeared holy men or Sadhus, led by Mahant Deependra Giri – the custodian of ‘Chhari Mubarak or Lord Shiva’s holy mace – reached the cave early Thursday morning signifying the end of the annual pilgrimage co-inciding with the Raksha Bandhan festival, they said. Governor NN Vohra was present at the cave shrine during the special prayers.
This year’s pilgrimage has been tumultous after the management Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board’s (SASB) decision to curtail it’s duration was heavily criticised by right-wing Hindu groups alleging infringement upon religious rights.
SASB said they feared that frozen tracks and cold weather could jeopardise the lives of pilgrims and hence a late start.
Nevertheless, more than a hundred pilgrims still have died, most of them falling sick while on the track which passes through ice-fed streams and glaciers right up to the cave.
Authorities say the continuous harsh weather proved fatal for “unfit” devotees who, they say, produced wrong medical certificates declaring them fit for the high-altitude pilgrimage.
The SASB was also pulled up by the Supreme Court for allowing during the ‘short’ period a large number of pilgrims to the cave shrine which, it noted, posed a threat to the fragile ecology of the mountainous area.