This year it is going to be a million-pilgrim Amarnath Yatra, an unprecedented proposed setting for the holy Himalayan cave in Kashmir, devoted to Lord Shiva as reiteration of the fact Hindus from all over the world will have unhindered access to the pilgrimage route and the ultimate destination of the journey of faith in a transformed Jammu and Kashmir. It will be a sort of convergence of the messages of the complete religious freedom for Hindus in Kashmir which will also underscore the change J&K has experienced since the abrogation of its special status and bifurcation on August 5, 2019. Jammu and Kashmir is now part of the nation, like any other state/UT of the country and the pilgrimage of this unprecedented scale will further reinforce, the “one nation, one constitution” invocation of August 2019.
This pilgrimage of 2022 has become special because of multiple reasons, ranging from the national commitment of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to ensure a smooth yatra wherein the pilgrims have hassle-free darshan of the cave and naturally made stalagmite of ice, standing as an icon of Lord Shiva, the main attraction of the pilgrims over the centuries. All the previous records of pilgrims undertaking yatra staggered around four lakh. Amarnath pilgrimage is seen, especially since the eruption of militancy in Kashmir in 1990, as a test of the nation to conduct the yatra under hostile circumstances filled with terror attacks and other apprehensions. The number of pilgrims is seen as a barometer of the success of the yatra. This year’s million mark is going to be a turning point in the history of the pilgrimage and also the place through which it passes- that is Kashmir.
Home Minister Amit Shah held out this commitment to the nation and the pilgrims while reviewing arrangements for the pilgrimage at a high-level meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday. He told the meeting that the yatra should not only be smooth but it should be made a memorable experience for devotees undertaking this spiritual journey, and no efforts should be spared on this count.
For months the preparations had been going on for the pilgrimage which traverses through the challenging Himalayan heights, negotiates narrow bridle paths covered with several feet of snow even during summers, and culminates at the cave situated at the height of 13,500 feet above sea level. The cave houses a naturally made snow stalagmite in the shape of “ Shivlingam”, and that is revered as a reflection of Lord Shiva. The Hindu mythology says that it was in this cave that Lord Shiva had revealed the secrets of immortality to his consort Parvati – that’s why it has been named “ Amarnath”- resonating the divine tale of immortality. Lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha who also is chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has been personally monitoring the arrangements for the pilgrimage.
The official estimate, which was pegged at 800,000 pilgrims until recently has been revised to the arrival of one million pilgrims as there is a lot of enthusiasm among the would-be pilgrims across the country, who want to undertake the yatra, to fulfill their religious obligations as also to experience the spirituality of the pilgrimage. Moreover, since it is going to be the first yatra after the constitutional changes of August 2019 in Jammu and Kashmir, there is a nationalistic fervor, fuelled further by the tourists telling through TV cameras,” Kashmir is beautiful and enchanting”.
The Amarnath yatra -2022 will be taking place after a gap of two years – the yatra could not be held in 2020 and 2021 because of the covid pandemic, and even in 2019, it had to be halted weeks before its conclusion because of the security concerns associated with the abrogation of Article 370 that abolished the specials status of Jammu and Kashmir.
There were two aspects of the review – one that there should be no hassle for the pilgrims- their transportation, accommodation, healthcare, and other logistics. This particular aspect is crucial as the pilgrims have to negotiate Himalayan heights in the challenging terrain and weather conditions. The weather can change its nature at any moment, and the Valley is prone to unpredictable rains and snow even during July-August . The vagaries of weather pose one of the biggest challenges for those making arrangements for the pilgrimage, especially against the backdrop of the waylaying of nearly 242 pilgrims and porters in 1996 by the avalanches and flash floods. Most of the pilgrims were rescued by the locals and the army. A panel was appointed to suggest remedial measures, and the panel headed by a retired IAS officer Nitish Sen Gupta after studying the whole nature of the terrain and the vagaries of weather that could strike the pilgrimage had recommended that only 35,00 pilgrims be allowed per day – 2800 from Pahalgam in south Of Kashmir and 700 from the northern side of Baltal in the north.
The second aspect concerns the security of the pilgrimage. There have been several attacks on the pilgrims since 990 after the militancy erupted in Kashmir. Several pilgrims fell victim to bullets and bombs of militants in the year 1994, 2000, 2001 and there were many small incidents when the militants would hurl grenades and cause momentary disruptions in the pilgrimage. But the overall threat to the pilgrimage never ceased because of the continuous designs of Pakistan-sponsored militants to cause disruption.
This year, at the time when the arrangements for the yatra, scheduled to begin on June 28 and to last till August 11- the Raksha Bandhan day- there has been a spate of killing of the non-local laborers, and the Valley has sent a particularly disturbing message following the jilling of a Kashmiri Pandit Rahul Bhat for his murder has triggered fear and the calls for migration of the employees under the PM’s Employment and Rehabilitation Package. This has raised serious security concerns.
Home Minister while taking a review of the security situation has instructed that “ yatra should be secure in all senses of the word and action,” he has directed that security forces, particularly J&K police put up a special plan to secure the yatra route, pilgrims. There should be no laxity. It was made clear .
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express, and The Tribune. He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.
This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with those of prameyanews.com.