Bandipora: Devotees were ecstatic as the Chota Amarnath Yatra, a one-day ritual, resumed in Bandipora on Thursday after several years.
The holy cave shrine in the Sampthan forests of Arin was decorated with flowers and flags, and the air was filled with chants and hymns as devotees reached the cave to pay their respects. “I can't describe my feelings in words after coming here again after many years,” said a middle-aged woman pilgrim. “I have visited the cave shrine before too.”
The administration had allowed a small group of about 70 pilgrims this year, while arrangements were being made for a month. "The Yatra has resumed in a full-fledged way after almost a decade. Even though a group had embarked in 2017, it was not as significant as it is today," said Deputy Commissioner Bandipora, who flagged off the Yatra along with SSP and other senior officers on Thursday morning from Sharda Mata temple in Kaloosa village of the district soon after special prayers.
The Yatra, which has been a symbolic ritual for years in the past, had lost its enthusiasm due to infrastructural constraints and situational uncertainty. On reaching Dardpora village in Arin on Thursday, where they took the 5-kilometre trek, the Yatris received a warm welcome from the local Muslim community.
Villagers and PRIs beat drums and garlanded the Yatris. Many locals, horsemen and volunteers also walked along. "There used to be Langers along the way, and local Muslims would host us in their homes. It is so exciting and fulfilling that the same is being revived," said Ramesh Razdan, the religious head of SMT, as he reached the cave shrine.
Various departments and the army had also set up stalls along the route, distributing tea, water and breakfast. "The feelings are similar to when I was a child and would come to the holy cave to pay obeisance," said elderly Lakshmi Koul, a local.
"Today we prayed for our brothers, country and especially Kashmir," Koul said. "We are grateful to the administration and to the local Muslims who have been shoulder to shoulder with us. The feelings are indescribable," she added.
The devotees entered the narrow cave in small groups to pay their respects and by sunset, they returned to their destinations, culminating the one-day ritual.
"We believe that a message has gone out that our brotherhood is as strong as ever and there is peace," said Arin's DDC Ghulam Mohuidin Rather.
He said, "We expect this Yatra to continue annually," and that "we will always be welcoming and ready for any assistance." He said there is a deep respect for the Pandit community and people are "happy that the Yatris have arrived again."