Srinagar (NVI): Shrines across Kashmir, especially Srinagar, witnessed hustle and bustle, long queues of devotees wearing masks today as authorities re-opened all religious places in J&K after a gap of over five months.
These places were closed as per the Centre’s advisory in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak that has claimed over 550 lives in the UT and affected almost 30,000 people so far.
The famous Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine atop Trikuta hills in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir also witnessed devotees turning up in large numbers to pay obeisance.
Srinagar houses at least over 200 shrines, 50 of them revered, especially the one at Hazratbal area of the city which houses the holy relic of Prophet Muhammad.
On Friday, the J&K government announced the re-opening of religious places including shrines, mosques, temples and gurdwaras across the UT with strict protocols that include wearing of masks, maintaining social distance and using hand sanitizers frequently. The government announced that the use of the Aarogya Setu App was mandatory at the religious places in Kashmir.
“Touching statues, idols or holy books will not be permitted,” the fresh guidelines by the J&K government read. “Any deviation from SOPs shall attract penal action under the Disaster Management Act, 2005.”
Farooq Ahmed, a 70-year-old resident of old Srinagar visited the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Sultanul Arifeen Sheikh Hamzah Makhdoomi in Rainawari area of Srinagar early this morning. “I saw people crying loudly, praying and paying obeisance at the shrine. All were wearing masks and using sanitizers. Nobody was allowed to kiss the tomb of sufi saint,” said Farooq, who visited the shrine after a gap of five months.
“I found solace there. It’s a place of peace and blessings. God listens to my prayers here only as I plead before him with the name of this revered saint,” he told NVI.
A large number of women too were seen visiting the shrine. People also visited Hazratbal shrine in Srinagar and offered prayers. The majority of shrines are located in old Srinagar and according to residents, all were thrown open for the people today after five months.
Women were seen offering prayers at the shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani at Khanyar area of Srinagar, which is one of the most revered shrines in Srinagar.
“I distributed ‘tehri’ (yellow coloured cooked rice) among the devotees at the shrine first time after February,” said Fatima, who had been a regular visitor to the shrine since her childhood. Khanyar is the Srinagar locality where the first Covid-19 case of Kashmir was reported on February 19.
At another shrine of Baba Reshi at Tangmarg area of Baramulla district in north Kashmir, people including women devotees followed the protocols in spirit. “The shrine management asked us to stay in queues and to maintain social distancing while paying obeisance,” said Nasreena, a women devotee. “I prayed for the well being of my family and the health of my husband and children.”
She said it was an emotional moment for many devotees as they visited the shrine after a long gap due to the pandemic.