The annual pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir concluded on Thursday in a subdued ceremony with about 3.39 lakh pilgrims offering prayers at the naturally-formed ice-shivalingam this year. With the arrival of the 'Charri Mubarak', the holy mace of Lord Shiva, at the Himalayan shrine on Shrawan Purnima on Thursday, the yatra which was cut short by 16 days came to an end, officials said.
The custodian of the holy mace, Mahant Deependra Giri, along with about 20 other priests were flown to the cave in a helicopter where they performed the rituals in a subdued ceremony, they said. The holy mace is carried by a group of seers and devotees led by its custodian Giri to the shrine on the conclusion of the yatra, the officials said.
Normally, the group of seers and devotees trek 42 kilometres from Pahalgam to reach the cave shrine in south Kashmir with night halts at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarani. The 46-day yatra which had begun on July 1 was suspended on July 31 for four days in the wake of "inclement weather conditions". Three days later the army said Pakistan-based terrorists are planning to target the yatra and the Jammu and Kashmir administration asked the pilgrims and tourists to "curtail" their stay in the Valley and leave immediately.
The yatra did not resume after that. The Jammu and Kashmir Governor's administration had issued a security advisory, saying pilgrims and tourists "may curtail their stay" and "return as soon as possible".
"Keeping 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, in the interest of safety and security of the tourists and Amarnath Yatris, it is advised that they may curtail their stay in the Valley immediately and take necessary measures to return as soon as possible," the advisory by the principal secretary (Home) had said. The National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) had said the advisory will trigger panic in the Valley and called it unprecedented.
On August 5, the government moved to revoke the special status given to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 and announced its bifurcation into two Union Territories -- Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh. The Government has strictly enforced section 144 in the Valley since then as a security measure.
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