Differences sharpen between Amarnath board, religious groups
Jammu, May 12 (IANS) Differences have sharpened between Hindu religious groups and Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) over the duration and commencement of this year's annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir.
SASB, which manages the shrine and is headed by Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra, has decided to start the pilgrimage on June 25 to end Aug 2 (39 days), while Hindu religious groups Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal want the pilgrimage period to be of two months.
The VHP has warned of 'serious consequences' if the annual Hindu pilgrimage is reduced to less than two months.
VHP's international general secretary Praven Togadia said the pilgrimage would start two months ahead of Aug 2, the official date announced by the board when the pilgrimage concludes.
'If any attempt is made to stop the yatra, it would have country-wide reaction,' Togadia said.
A spokesperson of the SASB, however, said: 'The schedule of the yatra has been worked out by a committee by taking into consideration, weather, terrain and all other aspects.'
According to the board, a growing number of pilgrims have been losing their lives during the annual pilgrimage, particularly due to cardiac-related ailments.
'We have made it mandatory for the pilgrims to submit fitness certificates before proceeding to the shrine,' the spokesperson added.
Bajrang Dal has also criticised the SASB decision to limit the yatra to 39 days and accused it of 'misleading' the devotees.
'We will send a team of 100 activists to Baltal and Pahalgam base camp to assess the state of the route to the shrine on May 13,' Bajrang Dal's regional co-convener Nand Kishore Mishra said.
Terming the SASB move as 'anti-religious', Mishra said the decision would hurt the sentiments of devotees.
Claiming that the board has no right to decide the date and period of the yatra as it is a matter to be decided by religious leaders, Mishra said the Bajrang Dal will launch a protest if its team is stopped from pilgrimage to the cave shrine.
The shrine, devoted to Hindu God Shiva, is located at 13,500 feet above sea level. The route leading to it is highly treacherous and receives heavy snowfall.
The official registration of the pilgrimage began on May 7.
More than 630,000 pilgrims visited the shrine last year, breaking all previous records, essentially because of the facilities extended by the SASB.
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