News – The Telegraph, Calcutta: Srinagar, May 22: Planning to take off on a soul-cleansing journey to Amarnath within the next few days? Tarry a while.
The Jammu and Kashmir government has deferred the official date of the yearly pilgrimage as it wants to steer clear of any controversy over early melting of the Shiva lingam.
The two-month yatra will now officially start from June 18, authorities said, adding that the administration has banned any movement of pilgrims to the cave shrine ahead of that date.
“Yes, we have imposed Section 144 to prevent any pilgrim visiting the cave before the said date and we are fully implementing it,” Kashmir divisional commissioner Mehboob Iqbal said.
“We are doing so at the recommendation of the (Amarnath) shrine board.”
Official sources said police teams deployed at both the Baltal and Pahalgam routes to the cave were turning back pilgrims.
Over the years it had become a routine that the unofficial yatra would commence a month ahead of the formal opening, with the full backing of shrine board officials.
Last year, devotees were disappointed to find that the lingam had melted even before the official yatra commenced.
In 2006, the board was mired in another controversy after allegations that an artificial lingam had been placed to keep the pilgrimage going after the original lingam had completely melted.
“The board does not want any controversy this time, the reason the unofficial yatra is not taking place this year,” a source in the board said.
Reasons cited for the early melting have ranged from increase in the cave temperature because of the duration of the pilgrimage, hugging of the lingam by devotees to burning of incense sticks within the cave.
Board chief executive officer Arun Kumar, however, said there was no scientific evidence to prove that the lingam melts because of the long pilgrimage period.
“We have urged the government in the past also to prevent any unofficial yatra. This time we are happy that they are properly implementing it.”
Kumar said there had been reports of pilgrims going too close to the lingam last year and even hugging it. “This will not happen this year as we have erected a 53-foot-long and nine-foot-high iron fence around the lingam.” He added that a perfect lingam, measuring 14 to 16 feet, had formed this year.
Board sources said they were expecting around five lakh pilgrims, around two lakh more than last year.