Jammu: For the first time in 150 years, the 'partham pujan' that symbolises the start of the Amarnath pilgrimage was not performed at the cave shrine in the Himalayas but at a spot six km away. No reasons have been attributed for this, in spite of an agreement having been reached on performing the prayers at the shrine. The prayers were organised by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) at Panjtarni in south Kashmir's Anantnag district.

“R.K. Goyal, chief executive officer (CEO) of the shrine board, performed the pooja at Panjtarni on Chandanwari-Holy Cave track today,” a statement said.

A row had arisen between the state government and the Baba Amarnath Yatra Niyas (BAYN), a group of Hindu organisations, which had demanded that the pilgrimage be started from June 15, instead of June 29 as scheduled by the state government.

The standoff was resolved when the government and the shrine board agreed Monday to perform the first prayers at the shrine.

The agreement was that four people -- two each from the BAYN and the SASB -- would go to the shrine by helicopter and offer the first prayers in front of the 'Shivlingam', an stalagmite at the cave shrine considered an icon of Lord Shiva.
 
However, no reasons have been given for the prayers not being offered at the shrine.

According to Hindu mythology, it was at this cave at a height of 13,500 feet that Lord Shiva had narrated the tale of immortality to his consort Parvati, which is why it is called Amarnath or the shrine of immortality.

Every year, Hindus undertake an arduous mountainous journey, trekking the slippery tracks and glaciers to reach the shrine. Earlier, it used to be a fortnight-one month long affair, but since 2005  it became two month-long affair.

This year, however, the shrine board, because of the intense cold and large amount of snow and keeping in view the safety of the pilgrims, curtailed the duration to 46 days - June 29 to  August 13. Hindu groups had been asking for a two-month-long pilgrimage and that was the point of confrontation between the two sides.

(Agencies)