Among other things, the pandemic, and the many lockdowns, have impacted India's annual pilgrimages and yatras. Multiple state governments and pilgrimage authorities have suspended these religious calendar events this year. However, thanks to technology, and the concept of virtual travel, you can now pay a visit to some of these sacred sites without having to leave the safety of your home.
Char Dham Yatra
Spread across a circuit of four pilgrimage sites, Char Dham commences with the Badrinath temple. Located in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, this Himalayan temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The other three dhams are Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Gangotri.
The Uttarakhand Tourism Department has already opened the portals of Kedarnath and Badrinath and devotees can attend live rituals like the aarti. The yatra which began on May 14 will continue till November 19, the eve of Vijay Dashmi. The rituals and puja of the Char Dham Yatra are slated to be performed only by four priests of the respective temples this year. You can virtually access the shrines here.
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The iconic Amarnath Yatra is a nearly two-month long trek in the Himalayas, and commences around the time of the Shravani Mela festival. The trek usually begins from Chandanwari and Nunwan and ends at Sheshnag Lake and Panchtarni camp, before leading to the cave shrine of Amarnath perched at an altitude of 12,756 ft.
Taking note of the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, the Shree Amarnathji Shrine Board today decided to temporarily suspended registrations for this year’s Shree Amarnathji Yatra. It was also noted that government has taken a large number of measure to reduce the spread of— Shri AMARNATHJI SHRINE BOARD SASB (@ShriSasb) April 22, 2021
The Jammu and Kashmir administration has announced the temporary suspension of the registrations for the yatra this year. The online registration and the offline preparations were in full swing as it was scheduled to commence on July 28 this year. However, as of now, it is not yet clear if the yatra will happen.
Last year, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board had cancelled the yatra owing to safety concerns due to the pandemic. The government had promised a 'virtual darshan' and a live telecast of the morning and evening aarti at the shrine. This year too, the board has said that it will host a live telecast of morning and evening aartis for devotees across the globe. They can also download the Shri Amarnathji Yatra App available on the Google Play store to get real time information and for availing several services online. You can keep tabs here.
Puri Rath Yatra
Usually held in June-July, the famous Rathayatra, or the Chariot Festival, is the most well-known religious festival of Odisha. Lord Jagannath and his siblings—Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra—take a chariot ride to their aunt’s home and return to their abode after a seven-day holiday. The festival is observed throughout the state but the most famous is the one at Puri. The huge deities ride three gigantic chariots that are pulled by attending pilgrims. Interestingly. The 10-day festival in Puri is conducted by the descendants of a tribal king and not Brahmin priests (who attend to the deities for the rest of the year).
The Rathyatra is slated to take place on July 12 this year. However, in view of the second wave of coronavirus, only a limited number of people will be allowed to attend and the premises of Jagannath Puri temple will remain closed till June 15. There's a chace it may be cancelled if the situation vis a vis the Covid-19 outbreak remains the same. Last year, the Supreme Court had stopped it because of the pandemic, and instead, for the first time in its 143-year-old history, the Rathyatra was watched on TV and mobile phones.
You can keep tabs on the yatra and its telecast online here.
The pilgrimage site of Vaishno Devi, located atop the three-peaked Trikuta hill, sees worshippers embark on a 13km trek to the shrine located at a height of 5,200 ft. Although Vaishno Devi yatra is a round-the-year event, the one taken during Navratri is considered the most auspicious. In 2020, the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine had announced the launch of a mobile app where devotees could access live darshan and also conduct live havan. The Vaishno Devi app also enables home delivery of the puja prasad through Speed Post. The holy shrine's daily rituals of worship and aarti will also be live-streamed on a religious TV channel. You can keep tabs here.
Varanasi, also known as Kashi, is one of the oldest Hindu pilgrimage sites in India visited by millions of pilgrims. Every year, devotees visit the temples and ghats spread on the banks of river Ganga. The yatras pass through the numerous temples of Varanasi, such as Kashi Vishwanath Temple, Parshwanath Jain Temple, and ghats like Dhashahshwamedh Ghat, and Manikarnika Ghat.
This year, those to wish to take a virtual tour of these temples can access a 360-degree view of all the Vishnu temples here. The website lists 18 temples besides ghats, the Ganga aarti, and the heritage and markets of Varanasi. You can also select which yatra you wish to undertake from a list including Gauri Yatra, Durga Devi Yatra, and Jal Tirth Yatra.
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple administration has also launched an initiative to open a Virtual Experiential Museum (VEM) developed at Man Mahal which aims to recreate 60 ancient temples and their actual physical locations and sculptures found among the buildings of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor.
Haridwar hosts several religious events through the year. Har-ki-Pauri is considered to be one of the holiest bathing ghats here. It is believed that this is where Lord Vishnu left his foot-print on a rock, and where Bhagirath performed penance, in response to which Lord Shiva sent forth the Ganga cascading from his knotted locks. The ghat is believed to be the exact spot where the Ganga enters the plains. Har-ki-Pauri is also where divine nectar fell from the celestial kumbh, according to legend. The famous Kumbh mela is held at Haridwar every 12 years.
Taking a dip in the sacred river won’t be possible right now. However, with one click, a dedicated pandit could be assigned to you and you could get see the ghat online. You can also get an exclusive darshan, and prasad can be delivered to your doorstep. Interested? Book your slots here.