Over 62.71L pilgrims have visited Vaishno Devi shrine

Devotees offer prayers at the holy cave shrine of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi on the occasion of 'Mahanavami', the ninth day of Navaratri festival, in Katra onMonday. (PTI Photo)

Over 62.71 lakh pilgrims have paid obeisance at the famous Vaishno Devi shrine atop the Trikuta hills in Jammu and Kashmir's Reasi district so far this year, officials said on Tuesday.

The number included 3,64,643 pilgrims who visited the cave shrine during the Navratras which concluded on the auspicious occasion of Mahanavami on Monday -- the highest in the past several years, they said.

They said the footfall at the shrine was over 15 lakh post the scrapping of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5.

While the restrictions, placed as a precautionary measure across the state in the aftermath of the abrogation of provisions under Article 370 of the Constitution, were eased within a week in Jammu region where the Vaishno Devi shrine is located, normal life continued to remain disrupted in Kashmir for the 65th consecutive day on Tuesday.

Ever since the inception of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board in 1986, the shrine has witnessed an ever-increasing number of devotees.

The footfall in the yatra which was 13.96 lakh in 1986, increased to its highest of 1.04 core in 2012. It saw 93.24 lakh pilgrims in 2013, 78.03 lakh in 2014, 77.76 lakh in 2015, 77.23 lakh in 2016, 81.78 lakh in 2017 and 85.87 lakh pilgrims in 2018.

The officials said over 5 lakh pilgrims visited the shrine in January this year but the number fell to 2.69 lakh in February, the month in which a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) suicide attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama district of south Kashmir killed 40 jawans.

The subsequent events like India's preemptive air strike on a JeM camp in Pakistan's Balakote on February 26 in response to the February 14 Pulwama terror attack, parliamentary elections in the country and restrictions on the movement of civilian traffic to facilitate smooth movement of Amarnath pilgrims from Jammu to Kashmir had some impact on the arrival of pilgrims at the shrine as only 4.62 lakh devotees visited the shrine in March.

However, the number of pilgrims marked an upward trend in April when 6,90,893 people visited the shrine, followed by 8,07,125 in May, 11,59,715 in June and 8,45,071 in July, the officials said.

The issuance of an advisory by the state administration on August 2, asking Amarnath pilgrims and tourists to leave Kashmir due to a "terror threat" had an impact on the footfall at Vaishno Devi shrine, with only 6,02,088 pilgrims joining the yatra to the shrine in August.

On Monday, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik directed that the Home Department's advisory be lifted with effect from October 10.

In the month of September, as many as 6,56,167 pilgrims visited the Vaishno Devi shrine, the officials said, adding that the Navratras, from September 29 to October 7, saw over 3,64,643 pilgrims offering prayers at the shrine at an average of 40,515 devotees daily.

They said 3.07 lakh pilgrims had arrived at the shrine during the Navratras in 2017 and 3.20 lakh in 2018.

The newly constructed 'Golden Gate' at the entrance of the cave shrine, having nine images of goddess Durga with Mahalakashmi figured prominently, and the launch of the Vande Bharat Express were the highlight of this year's Navratras.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the launch of the Vande Bharat Express on the Delhi-Katra route as a "Navratri gift" for the devotees of Vaishno Devi.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah flagged off the train from the New Delhi railway station and said it was a "big gift" for the development of Jammu and Kashmir which is all set to become Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh at the fag end of this month.

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