Eight day Navratra fest starts, crowd pulling events shelved

* Special rituals at shrines from Nagrota to Katra

Sanjeev K. Sharma

JAMMU, Oct 6: As the vaccinated population in India has crossed the 90 crore mark triggering a sharp decline in number of COVID-19 cases, which prompted authorities to ease restrictions associated with the pandemic, the popular annual Navratra festival associated with the pilgrimage of world famed cave shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Ji at Trikuta Hills of Katra is expected to bring the jamboree back, albeit, to a prescribed limit as per the guidelines of administration.
These positive developments have increased hopes of the businessmen and traders associated with the pilgrimage who speculate that their business will again be on track after a lull of months together and these Navratras will be the starting point for big profits to them “ushered by the blessing of the Goddess.”
Interestingly, Katra Hoteliers have come forward with a 50 per cent discount to the visiting pilgrims during the Navratra period from October 7 to 14 this year.
“Hotel and Restaurant Association at Katra is offering a 50 per cent discount for the Navratra period on pre-booking,” informed Rakesh Wazir, Association president.
Wazir, also a member of Navratra Festival Management Committee and president of All India Devotional Song Committee further informed that keeping in view the ongoing pandemic, certain events have been shelved this year as a precautionary measure.
“Crowd pulling events including the much awaited Bhaint (devotional song) competition will not be there this time,” he said adding: “On October 11-12 we will invite some renowned singer to sing devotional songs for the devotees at Katra but there will be no competition.”
Sources informed that the Bhagwat Katha programme will has also been shelved this time as it triggers crowd gathering.
Varinder Kesar, Chairman Shobha Yatra Committee said that Shobha Yatra (procession showcasing important aspects of the pilgrimage) will be on the first and last Navratra this time.
“There will be eight religious tableaus while the ninth one will be of holy Pindis of the Goddess and all these activities will be done by duly following the COVID Appropriate Behaviour (CAB),” he further said.
Kesar, also Katra head of Chamber of Industry and Commerce, further informed that Dogra food will be served on selected hotels and Dhabas at Katra during these Navratras.
“Now the visiting pilgrims may relish Khameera, Alu Poori, Ambal, Rajmah-Rice, Kyur etc during Navratra days at selected hotels and Dhabas in Katra,” he maintained.
Rakesh Roshan, president Dry Fruit Union Katra said as the Navratras are starting shops at Katra have filled their dry fruit stocks expecting good sales this time.
“After turmoil in Afghanistan, prices of dry fruit have gone up but still we only expect a nominal profit,” he said.
Sohan Singh, leader of Pony, Porter, Palki Union Katra informed that there are 12,200 labourers registered with Shrine Board who are engaged with horses, as porters and Palkis to facilitate visiting pilgrims at the cave shrine.
He further said that almost all of these labourers have been vaccinated.
Sanjeev Kumar, at a Prasad shop in Katra informed that their business is slowly returning on track and they expect that Navratras may further give a boost to their profits.
“Though the shops are only allowed to remain open from 9 am to 11 pm but we expect that full normalcy may return soon so that the business here may go round the clock as it was earlier,” he said.
Surinder Mahajan, president of Raghunath Bazar Businessmen Association, Jammu said since the year 2019 their business is almost nil.
“With the festival season starting from these Navratras we expect more pilgrims to visit the cave shrine at Katra as the same will have a direct impact on business here which may give a relief to the crisis ridden businessmen of Jammu,” he said.
However, temples associated with the pilgrimage of Mata Vaishno Devi are also coming up with certain special programmes during these Navratras.
“There will be about ten days of special rituals starting from tomorrow (first Navratra) and the same will continue till Dussehra,” Pandit Jai Kumar of Kol Kandoli temple Nagrota said.
The Kol Kandoli temple at Nagrota is the first Darshan to the pilgrimage of Mata Vaishno Devi.
“There will be daily Aarti from 5 am and 6 pm, Satsang at 2 pm by different groups and Bhandara for those observing Navratra fasts,” Jai Kumar said adding that on Saptmi (7th Navratra), Ashtami (8th Navratra), Navmi (9th Navratra) and Dasmi (Dussehra) there will be Hawan for world peace and well being, Kanya Pujan and Bhandara.
Bansi Lal, Pujari at Deva Mai (second Darshan to the pilgrimage) temple at Katra said, on Saptmi there will be special Pooja at the temple while on other days usual rituals will be performed.
However, the cave shrine at Katra is beautifully decorated while other temples, especially those of the Goddess are also beautifully decorated across the country in view of the Navratras and shops have been stocked-up with certain items consumed by those observing Navratra fasts.
It is pertinent to mention here that authorities are only allowing vaccinated pilgrims or those with negative COVID-19 reports to pay obeisance at the cave hrine.