Hindu Pilgrimage Canceled for First Time; Coronavirus Surge Cited

The Sri Amarnathji Shrine Board canceled the historic Hindu Yatra Amarnath, an annual Hindu pilgrimage, for the first time, amid continued increases in coronavirus cases in Jammu and Kashmir.Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed region north of India and Pakistan, has surpassed 15,000 coronavirus cases, according to the Hindustan Times.In a Supreme Court order July 13, the board was left with the decision about whether to conduct the yatra, or pilgrimage. The board canceled it Tuesday, citing “serious” health concerns and the possibility of pilgrims’ infection.The pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave, located at an altitude of approximately 13,000 feet in the south Kashmir Himalayas, ranges from a trek of about 8.7 to 29 miles, depending on the path taken. Given the arduous nature of the pilgrimage and past high mortality rates, participants must obtain medical certificates from authorized doctors and hospitals, straining already thinly spread resources during the pandemic.In a statement on its website, the board said the cancellation of the pilgrimage would “enable the Health, Civil and Police Administrations to focus on the immediate challenges facing them rather than diverting resources, manpower and attention to the conduct of the Shri Amarnathji Yatra.”The cancellation will fall in line with the rest of Jammu and Kashmir’s coronavirus restrictions on religious activities, which are keeping religious places and places of worship closed until July 31.“The Board is aware of and respects the sentiments of millions of devotees, and to keep the religious sentiments alive, the Board shall continue the Live Telecast/Virtual Darshan of the morning and evening Aarti,” it stated. “Further, the traditional rituals shall be carried out as per past practice. Also, the Chhadi Mubarak shall be facilitated by the Government.”In Hinduism, darshan is the beholding of a holy deity, and aarti is a religious ritual.The Yatra Amarnath had over 300,000 participants in 2019 and lasted about six weeks. The Amarnath mountain cave contains an ice stalagmite considered to be a physical manifestation of Hindu god Lord Shiva.

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