BY SHAHNAWAZ SHAH
The culmination of the revered Shri Amarnath annual Yatra 2023 is on 31th of August on Shravan Poornima. It has been a successful endeavour by the administrative team whose meticulous planning resulted in an excellently managed experience for all the devotees in all respects, with the unique feature of this year’s yatra being, the visible signs of revival of that traditional fervor and festivity which clearly exhibited the comfort and safe involvement of the different communities displaying multi faith and multicultural congeniality, the hallmark for any such pilgrimage in our country!
The Himalayan valley of Kashmir known world over for its hospitality and the warmth of its people, particularly during spiritual pilgrimages has always been witnessed as a welcoming and facilitating journey both in the traditional routes from Qazigund to the Cave via Baltal or through the Pahalgam route. The syncretic spirit of this yatra can be traced back to the fact that the main discoverer of this holy cave and the yatra there was by a Muslim nomad named Bota Malik. One of the ancestors of Malik’s dynasty of Batakote village which is located few miles before Pahalgam, is responsible for the name of the village Botakoot, which still makes the villagers feel proud! The historical, spiritual pilgrimage since then has created a chain of inter community spiritual and social bonding, which has evolved overtime multifold, strengthening each year between the Hindu and Muslim communities.
Despite facing the roller coaster phase during the last few decades, the locals of Pahalgam, Aishmuqam, Sonamarg etc. have always stood as ambassadors of true “kashmiriyat” and have won millions of hearts across the country! There have also been certain natural disasters in the past when the local community opened up their houses to accommodate the yatri’s selflessly, and showcased their unconditional regard and respect for the sentiments of the devotees. In places like Frislan, Chandanwari, Athenadan, Laaripora, Rangwaad, Botakoot and Aishmuqam villages, some of the yatri’s in extreme weather conditions were even given free stays, ration and money as a compassionate gesture and an integral act of preserving the long-standing history of this revered pilgrimage.
Being an annual feature, this pilgrimage brings about huge developmental progress for the areas enroute, thus benefiting the stake holders and the common man in all respects for whom it used to be a long wait but fascinating experience to be a part of. When this Yatra used to pass through the traditional routes with the enthusiastic local communities’ participation at each padaav (halting area), from Qazigund to Pahalgam via Anantnag, Mattan, Aishmuqam…the local pundit community along with their Muslim neighbors and friends would come together to extend courtesies to the pilgrims and exchange gifts like walnuts, fruits etc. thus, creating an opportunity for multicultural interaction, a hallmark of such festivals and pilgrimage in our country since times immemorial.
The local people’s involvement this year was a heartwarming site seen all over while the pilgrims were greeted and garlanded wholeheartedly. Mir Bazzar, Anantnag, Mattan, Aishmuqam, Pahalgam to name a few, showcased this positive change and raised the hopes and aspirations for an evolution in the form of more community involvement and a greater role of the kashmiri pandit brethren who used to exchange gifts on this occasion with their local Kashmiri Muslim friends and also used to wear rakhsha bandhan threads to forge brother sister relationship with each other!
This year the changed atmosphere for the Yatra has again raised the hope that this revered pilgrimage should not be seen as an organized security issue but a spiritual sojourn for all the people involved in its management and facilitations. Although the administration, specifically District administration Anantnag worked well to ensure its smooth conduct, particularly by creating an atmosphere that involved the local people for retaining its traditional flavours, there is always room for improvement.
In this advanced age of technology, the security can be better done by using hi tech gadgetry and camouflaged deployment of security rather than putting the common man into inconvenience, post G20. The whole Tourism scenario has advanced and we need to develop an infrastructure which is compatible and comparable to international standards so that the pilgrims from within and other countries get access to the best facilities and have a smooth and memorable pilgrimage.
The tourism circuit from Qazigund, the sun temple Martand (Mattan) to the holy cave via Aishmuqam, Pahalgam should be given a facelift so that it is recognized as a Sufi Shiva circuit, as this route naturally encompasses a blend of both cultural pilgrim sites being the abode of Sufi saint Hazrat Zain u din Reshi in Aishmuqam, Bodh Reshi in Hassan Noor and the sacred cave of Lord Shiva in the holy cave of Amarnath connecting this large thread of humanity each year, binding them in deep spiritual and social bonds.
Shahnawaz works in tourism sector as the marketing head for SKICC. He contributes to promote MICE tourism and works for interfaith harmony. He can be reached at: Shahnawaz email@example.com