The governing body of the annual 56-day Amarnath pilgrimage to the cave shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas may have last week temporarily suspended the registration of pilgrims in views of a surge in the Covid-19 cases, but it is yet to take a call on cancelling it, officials said on Wednesday. The pilgrimage, which was called off last year, is scheduled from June 28 to August 22.
“The SASB [Shri Amarnath Shrine Board] has temporarily suspended the registration of pilgrims in view of the spike in Covid 19 cases. There has been no decision yet to call off the pilgrimage,” said an official, requesting anonymity. “…decisions [such as calling off the pilgrimage] are taken at the board meeting. …last year, the pilgrimage was cancelled on July 21 because of the rise in Covid 19 cases.”
The official said the final decision will depend on how the Covid situation evolves. “Our intention is that if the situation improves, we will try and conduct the pilgrimage strictly in accordance with the Covid… [protocols].”
Political and religious gatherings have been cited among the reasons for the worst surge of Covid-19 infections that India faces. The second wave of the pandemic has pushed the death toll in the country close to 200,000 and starved hospitals of life-saving medical oxygen and beds.
The Mahamandleshwar, or head of Juna Akhada, the largest of the 13 sects of seers, Swami Avdheshanand Giri, was forced to declare the conclusion of the Mahakumbh on April 17 amid the surge in Covid-19 cases. The announcement came following a phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting only symbolic participation in the fourth and last Shahi Snan (holy dip) on April 27 in the mega fair.
The SASB last year arranged a live telecast of rituals from the cave shrine of Amarnath. In 2019, the pilgrimage was curtailed ahead of the nullification of Jammu & Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status as the erstwhile state was locked down and a communications blackout was imposed.
In 2018, 285,006 pilgrims undertook the pilgrimage, and this year the government has been making arrangements for 600,000 devotees. On Tuesday, Jammu & Kashmir reported 25 Covid-19 deaths that pushed the toll from the pandemic to 2,197 in the region.