Jammu: Devotees thronged the famous Mata Vaishno Devi shrine atop Trikuta hills in Jammu and Kashmir's Reasi district on Sunday as Navratra celebrations commenced amid tight security, officials said.
A 'Shobha Yatra' was taken out in Katra town, the base camp for pilgrims visiting the cave shrine of Vaishno Devi, to mark the first day of Navratra. During the nine-day-long festival, about four lakh pilgrims from across the country are expected to pay obeisance at the shrine, they said.
According to the officials, elaborate arrangements have been made by the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) and the local administration for the devotees. Enroute to the shrine, adequate water and sanitation facilities have been provided. Special food will be available at shrine board eateries for pilgrims who are fasting, they said.
The highlight of this year's celebrations is a 'golden gate' at the cave shrine's entrance. The gate features nine forms of Goddess Durga. The work on the gate began over two months ago and it was built using about 12 kg gold, 1,200 kg copper and 1,100 kg silver from a group of special donors, the officials said.
Police, CRPF and other security forces have been deployed in strength in the town, peripheral areas and enroute to the shrine to maintain tight vigil, they said. Dozens of CCTV cameras have also been installed to keep a close watch, they added.
Various activities have been planned as part of the festivities, including presentation of 'Mata Rani ki Kahani' and 'Ram Leela', 'Prabhat Pheris', devotional song competition, cultural programmes and wrestling competition, the officials said.
An international wrestling competition is organised every year in the town by the Jammu and Kashmir Indian Style Wrestling Association. Mahakali Temple, popularly known as Bawe Wali Mata Temple, in Jammu also witnessed a heavy rush of pilgrims on the first day of Navratra.
Former Deputy Chief Minister and senior BJP leader Kavinder Gupta also offered prayers at the temple. "Navratra is a very important festival for Hindus... I prayed for return of peace and prosperity to Jammu and Kashmir post scrapping of the state's special status," he said.