Srinagar: The traditional 'Chhari Mubarak' or the Lord Shiva's mace was taken from its abode here on Saturday amid much fervour for its onward journey to the Himalayan cave shrine in Jammu and Kashmir.

The "Chhari Mubarak" or the holy mace is carried every year to the Amarnath cave shrine during a month-long pilgrimage, which draws Hindu faithfuls from across India.

Swami Dipender Giri, the custodian of the "Chhari Mubarak", led an impressive procession of sadhus (sages), who escorted the Chhari.

Slogans of "Jai Baba Bhole Nath", "Bam Bam Bhole", "Har Har Mahadev" rent the air as the custodian removed the Chhari from its abode inside the Amareshwar temple at Dashnami Akhara Building adjacent to city centre Lal Chowk on Saturday morning.

"So far, six lakh devotees have performed the Amarnath Yatra, which will conclude with the arrival of the Chhari Mubarak at the cave shrine Aug 2, coinciding with the Shravan Purnima festival," Swami Dipender Giri told reporters at the beginning of the Chhari's  march towards south Kashmir Pahalgam base camp of the yatra.

The "Chahri Mubarak" will travel through the traditional south Kashmir route to reach the Himalayan cave shrine situated at the altitude of 12,756 feet, which has natural ice stalagmite believed to be an icon of Lord Shiva.

Deaths of pilgrims due to natural causes hogged the limelight during this year's Yatra as experts and administration battled to find out the reasons for the alarming rise in deaths that has reached 100 so far.

The Supreme Court took suo moto cognizance of these deaths and directed the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), that manages the affairs of the annual pilgrimage and the Jammu and Kashmir government, to augment the healthcare facilities for the pilgrims.

Doctors attending the pilgrims have, however, blamed lack of proper acclimatization and high altitude sickness as the main causes for the pilgrims' deaths due to pulmonary oedema, brain oedema and congestive cardiac failure.

It has also been argued that medical fitness certificates, which are compulsory for a pilgrim to undertake the arduous journey, have in many cases been detected to be fake.

"How can a patient with known history of cardiac problems and pulmonary infirmities be declared fit for standing an altitude of 13,500 feet after a breakless two-way mountain trek of 28 km?" asked Parvaiz Koul, head of medicine at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences Soura (SKIMS), state's only super specialty hospital.

Swami Dipender Giri agreed with the medical opinion."Based on my understanding of the medical advice, I believe yatris must be allowed to acclimatize by halting them at the base camps for at least 48 hours before they are allowed to move ahead.

Further, the number of yatris performing the yatra daily must be highly regulated," Giri said.

The yatris must understand that the health fitness certificates are not mere formalities, but essential requirements to protect their lives, he added.


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