Navratras attract heavy rush of pilgrims

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Sept 24: Holy cave shrine of Goddess Vaishno Devi ji has been witnessing tremendous rush of pilgrims during the Navratras with 1.39 lakh yatris paying obeisance to natural pindies during first four Navratras amidst number of religious programmes organized by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB), social and religious organizations.
SMVDSB Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Jitendra Singh told the Excelsior that around 1.39 lakh pilgrims have visited the shrine during first four Navratras and offered prayers at the cave shrine, located between Trikuta Hills at the height of 5200 feet from sea level in Katra town of Reasi district.
“During first Navratra, 41,000 pilgrims paid obeisance to Goddess Vaishno Devi followed by 27,000 on second, 31,000 on third and around 40,000 on fourth Navratra today,’’ Singh said, adding that the pilgrimage was going on smoothly all along the 13-kilometers track and the Bhawan.
The CEO SMVDSB said the best possible facilities are being provided to the pilgrims.
“A number of religious functions were going on at Katra, the base camp of the shrine, Adh-Kunwari, Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan and other places, which were being enjoyed by the pilgrims and local people,’’ he added.
Singh said hawan is being performed daily at Mata Vaishno Devi Ji Bhawan, ‘Mata Ki Kahani’ programme is being staged daily in two shows, Ram Leela is also being performed daily at Katra while cultural programmes have been organized at Fountain Chowk at Katra Bus Stand.
Sources said during remaining nine Navratras also, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has been anticipating heavy rush of pilgrims and, for that, all arrangements have been made at Katra town, which serves as base camp for the shrine, 13-kilometers track from Katra to Bhawan, Adh-Kunwari and Mata Vaishno Devi Bhawan.
“The yatra is being monitored and regulated regularly to ensure that the pilgrims don’t face any problems,’’ they added.
Tourism Department along with local administration, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB), Non-Governmental Organizations and other private players including hoteliers have also joined hands to make the festival a memorable one for the visitors.
“To woo more visitors, an All India Devotional Song Competition and cultural programmes with varied themes based on local lifestyles and traditions are also being  organized during the auspicious festival,” sources said.
“The Tourism Department has introduced a special package of ‘Sampoorna Manokamna’ yatra facilitating visits to nine deities,” sources said.
Also, performance of Ram Leela, which had ended 25 years ago, was restarted to a positive response this time.
The festival is scheduled to end on September 29.
The past few years have witnessed decline in rush of pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi Ji shrine as compared to previous years.
It was in the late nineties when yatra started increasing drastically.
Not only the Shrine Board but the people of Katra and Jammu, where number of businessmen and shopkeepers are dependent on pilgrim tourism, were also jubilant over sudden increase in number of the pilgrims to Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine during the Navratras as there had been steep decline in number of yatris visiting the Bhawan in the past four years of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 as compared to 2011 and 2012 when the pilgrimage had crossed 10 million mark.
Since 2011  and 2012 when the yatra to Mata Vaishno Devi had crossed one crore mark, it has maintained the declining trend. While 1.04 crore people had visited the Bhawan in 2012, the number was 1.01 crore in 2011, the highest ever so far.
About 77,76,604 yatris had paid obeisance to natural pindies of Goddess Vaishno Devi during 2015 as against 78,03,193 in 2014 and 93,23,647 in 2013.
Pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi was just 13.95 lakh in 1986 when the SMVDSB had taken over affairs of the shrine. Since then, the yatra continued to go up every year creating new records but it fell down during past four years of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 due to variety of natural reasons including Kedarnath ji tragedy in 2013 followed by tensions on the International Border in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and Burhan Wani killing in 2016, which led to unrest in the Valley.
It was for the first time in 1991 that the pilgrimage had crossed 3 million (31.15 lakh). The 4 million mark was reached in 1996 while the yatra reached 50 lakh in 2000 and 60 lakh in 2004. It was in 2007 that the yatra stood at 74.17 lakh.
The pilgrimage came down to 67.92 lakh in 2008 due to two months long Amarnath land agitation but again went up to 82 lakh in 2009 and reached 87.2 lakh in 2010. It was for the first time in 2011 that the yatra crossed 10 million mark and stood at 1.01 crore.