Jammu, April 15 - Countering the criticism of some Hindu groups, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) Sunday said its schedule for the Himalayan pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine in south Kashmir was according to religious traditions and it cannot have a fixed duration.
This year the SASB has drawn up a schedule of starting the annual Himalayam pilgrimage on June 25 and concluding it on Aug 2, the day when 'Sharavan Purnima' or the festival of Raksha Bandhan falls. The pilgrimage concludes every year on Raksha Bandhan, though its starting day keeps on changing depending on the factors like weather and snow accumulation enroute to the cave shrine devoted to Lord Shiva.
Some of Hindu right wing groups have challenged the SASB schedule and are insisting on a two month schedule. They see a conspiracy in reducing the duration of the pilgrimage, which attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.
SASB Chief Executive Officer Navin Kumar Choudhary Sunday clarified to media how the schedule was worked out.
As per tradition, the annual Amarnathji Yatra concludes on the date on which Raksha Bandhan falls. Thus, last year the 46-day-long Yatra commenced on June 29 and concluded on Aug 13, the date of Raksha Bandhan. This year the duration of the Yatra has got reduced by seven days as Raksha Bandhan is taking place 11 days earlier than last year i.e. on Aug 2, even though the Yatra is scheduled to commence on June 25, four days earlier than last year, he said.
A naturally made stalagmite of ice, known as Shivalingam, revered as the symbol of Lord Shiva, is the main attraction of the shrine, which is accessible through two routes - Pahalgam in south Kashmir which passes through Mahagunus pass at a height of 14,500 feet above sea level before descending to the shrine located at the height of 13,500 feet. There is a steeper and shorter route via Baltal, 110 km north of Kashmir.
The CEO recalled that the Shrine Board had set up a Committee, chaired by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, to consider all relevant factors and recommend the factors on which the schedule and duration of the 2012 and subsequent pilgrimages could be settled. He recalled that this Committee was specially set up consequent to an agreement concluded by the Shrine Board in June 2011 with the Baba Yatri Niyas and various other organisations which had raised issues about the basis on which the Shrine Board fixed the Yatra duration.