Dismayed Vaishno Devi shrine devotees return with prayers on lips against corona spread

KATRA: Dismayed over the suspension of pilgrimage to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine due to coronavirus, hundreds of pilgrims are returning to their homes with a prayer to the goddess to help the world overcome the deadly infection.

The pilgrims, many of whom were not aware of the Jammu and Kashmir government's decision amid their travel over the past two days, said they were greeted on their arrival here by announcements asking them to return due to the closure of the shrine. The government on Wednesday announced the suspension of the yatra to Vaishno Devi shrine and interstate bus service till March 31 as part of the precautionary measures to control and prevent the coronavirus spread.

"This has been done to ensure the safety of pilgrims and the people at large. The pilgrims are requested not to plan their visits to the shrine till the situation normalises completely," a spokesman for the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board had said. However, he said the pooja, aarti and other rituals would be held at the cave shrine as usual. Katra, the base camp for the pilgrims visiting the shrine atop Trikuta hills, on Thursday still had a few hundred pilgrims waiting hopelessly to get a chance to fulfil their desire to pay obeisance at the temple and seek blessings of Mata Vaishno Devi.

"We have reached here after three days of travel to offer our prayers and was shocked to hear that the shrine has been closed till March 31," Nilesh Malvi, a resident of Indore in Madhya Pradesh told media.

Malvi, who was accompanied by his two relatives, has come to seek blessings of the 'Mata' to fulfill his desire of a child and said, "Coronavirus played a spoilsport and we pray the goddess to help the world to overcome this disease." He welcomed the government's move but said "since it was a sudden decision, the government and the management should have facilitated the darshan of the visiting pilgrims for at least a day or two after proper screening." Raj Kumar, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, said he and his family were lucky to pay obeisance at the shrine minutes before the closure of the shrine on Wednesday evening. "We had also planned to visit other temples in Jammu but now we are returning home since we heard that all temples, including the famous Raghunath temple, have been closed," he said. Mahesh Goel said he felt bad for the people waiting outside the registration counter with a hope to get permission.

"We will win the fight against the coronavirus with the help of the blessings of the Mata but the decision of the government was not in good taste, since most of the people arriving for darshan were already on their way to the shrine," he said, while returning after visiting the shrine on Wednesday. Sanjeev Kumar, a Chattisgarh resident, said he had made train and hotel reservations two months ago coinciding with the children's school vacation.

"We have no option but to return. It is very difficult to return again this year," he said, adding "the government should at least have made a special arrangement for their return journey. As people were waiting outside the registration counters, a sanitization worker spraying disinfectants in the otherwise crowded area, said, "It is a testing time and this phase will also pass with the grace of Almighty." Katra's Hotel and Restaurant Association president Rakesh Wazir said it was for the first time in the history of the shrine that the yatra was stopped. "We pray for the resumption of the yatra soon. The government should allow the yatra with less numbers as is being done by Tirupati Temple Trust after taking all precautions," he said.

"Since the Yatra is stopped and business activity in Jammu region has come to a standstill, all related matters including postponement of bank installments, electricity and other dues needs to be considered accordingly," he said..


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