Amarnath yatra ends, least number of pilgrims in decade

Srinagar, Aug 18 (PTI) The 48-day annual pilgrimage to theAmarnath shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas ended today,coinciding with the festival of Raksha Bandhan, with over 2.20lakh pilgrims offering prayers to the naturally formed ice-shivlingam despite the ongoing unrest. This year’s figure is the lowest in the past decade. The holy mace of Lord Shiva popularly known as ‘ChhariMubarak’, carried by a group of sadhus and devotees led by itscustodian Mahant Deepindra Giri, arrived at the holy cave inthe wee hours for the day-long prayers, officials said. The group of sadhus and devotees trekked 42 kilometresfrom Pahalgam to reach the cave shrine with night halts atChandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarani. After traditional rituals at the sanctum sanctorum, theholy mace would start the return journey before dusk today. While officially the yatra ended today, ‘pujan’ and’visarjan’ (immersion) ceremonies for the journey of ‘ChhariMubarak’ would be performed on the banks of Lidder river inPahalgam on August 20. It will be followed by a traditionalopen kitchen, the last ritual of the pilgrimage. The holy mace would return to its abode at Amareshwartemple at Dashnami Akhara here the same day, the officialssaid. The yatra had commenced from Pahalgam and Baltal routesamid strict security arrangements on July 2, a week beforeprotests erupted in the Valley following the killing of HizbulMujahideen commander Burhan Wani by security forces on July 8. The unrest has left 64 people, mostly young boys, dead andover 8,000 injured. Twenty-nine people — 21 pilgrims, a sage, three sevadars(community kitchen workers), two local Muslims and as manyparamilitary troopers — died during the yatra after sufferingcardiac arrest, while 40 yatris and 10 local Muslims wereinjured after falling from steep slopes, the officials said. A pilgrim and a Muslim driver were killed when a yatra buscollided with a truck near Bijbehara on the Srinagar-Jammunational highway on July 13. Muslim villagers had defiedcurfew to save the lives of the injured pilgrims. Setting an example of communal harmony and brotherhood,the residents had also offered free meals to the pilgrims atvarious places including Nigeen Club and TRC in Srinagarduring the yatra. (MORE) PTI MIJ GVS SKGVS

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