Amid tight security arrangements nearly 250 devotees, mostly migrant Kashmiri pandits, left Jammu on Tuesday in a fleet of government arranged buses to pay obeisance at the revered Kheer Bhawani temple in central Kashmir's Ganderbal district, officials said.
The annual Mata Kheer Bhawani mela at the famous Ragnya Devi temple, one of the biggest religious functions of the displaced community, is being observed on June 8 after a hiatus of two years owing to COVID-19 outbreak.
However, the usual rush of the devotees was missing due to the recent targeted killings in the valley and calls for relocation of the employees working under the prime minister's package for Kashmiri Pandit migrants who moved to Jammu from the valley since 1990 due to security concerns.
Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Ramesh Kumar flagged off the yatra from Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu and said adequate security arrangements are in place both in Jammu and Kashmir divisions for the successful conclusion of the pilgrimage.
About 250 Kashmiri pandits and locals of Jammu have left for Kashmir. The government has made all necessary arrangements for the pilgrims for safe and secure pilgrimage, Kumar told reporters.
He said the pilgrims will perform darshan' at the temple on Wednesday and will return to Jammu a day later.
Kheer Bhawani melas are organised at five shrines across Kashmir. These are Ragnya Bhagwati shrines at Tulmulla in Ganderbal, Manzgam in Kulgam, Devsar in Kulgam, Logripora in Anantnag and Tikkar in Kupwara.
Among these temples, the Tulmulla temple nestled in the shade of mammoth Chinar trees witness massive gathering with pandits settled in Kashmir and different parts of the country visiting the shrine to seek the blessings of the presiding deity.
Asked about the low turnout of devotees in view of the targeted killings, the divisional commissioner said, the government facilitated the pilgrims who registered for the yatra.
The pilgrims will not face any difficulty in performing the yatra. There will be no shortcoming as security will be ensured enroute and at the shrine, he said.
Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed eight targeted killings since May 1. Three of the victims were off-duty policemen and five, civilians.
We responded to the call of Mata and are leaving for the shrine to offer our prayers, a 24-year-old Manik, a pandit migrant living in Jagti township here, told PTI.
Manik, who is accompanied by several of his relatives, said the targeted killings caused fear among the community but we decided to go ahead as we could not visit the shrine in the past two years due to COVID-19.
Expressing satisfaction over the security and other arrangements made by the government, the banker by profession said they have made the registration for the yatra on May 31.
"We will pray for peace and prosperity of Jammu and Kashmir," he said.
Vicky Bhat, another pandit who had come to see off his friends and relatives, said he too had registered for the yatra but gave up his plan on the advice of his parents.
Wishing the pilgrims a safe yatra, Bhat said he wishes to perform the yatra next year.