The Vaishno Devi hill shrine in Jammu and Kashmir is all set for the nine-day long Navaratri festival starting Tuesday that will include cultural programmes and religious discourses.
Organised by the Jammu and Kashmir tourism department and the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, the festival that ends October 8 will be held at the shrine and its base camp at Katra. Around 30,000 to 40,000 pilgrims are expected to converge at the shrine daily during the festive season.
"There will be cultural and religious events besides various competitions like food, devotional songs and wrestling for the large number of pilgrims who visit the shrine during the Navratras," said Jammu Divisional Commissioner Sudhanshu Pandey.
Katra town, the base camp of the pilgrimage in Trikuta hills from where devotees trek 12 km to reach the shrine dedicated to goddess Vaishno Devi, has been decorated for the occasion.
The festival would be inaugurated Tuesday morning with religious and cultural processions taken out through Katra town. Thereafter, such processions comprising different troupes and tableaux will become a daily evening affair during the festival.
"There will be an all India devotional song competition every evening and the winner will get a prize worth Rs.100,000 in the form of gold coins arranged by the shrine board," Pandey said.
There will also be an ethnic food festival during these nine days.
During the festival, wrestler Sushil Kumar who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, would be honoured and gifted Rs.51,000 by the state government.
Security has been tightened at the shrine and at the base camp and CCTV cameras have been installed at several places to prevent any untoward incidents, the official said.
The Vaishno Devi shrine, nestled in the Himalayas at a height of 5,200 feet above sea level, has been on the target list of terrorists earlier. In 2003, terrorists had lobbed grenades and killed seven pilgrims near Banganga, en route the 13 km trek to the shrine.