Priests fear devotees thronging the temples might increase the risk of coronavirus (Representational)
Most temples in Uttarakhand reopened their gates to devotees on Monday after a over three months but the famous Chardham in Garhwal Himalayas and those within the limits of Dehradun municipal area will remain shut.
Barring Chardham and the temples located within Dehradun municipal area, all shrines in the state have been reopened, CEO of Devasthanam Board Ravinath Raman told PTI.
A decision on reopening Chardham, including Badrinarth, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, for pilgrims will be taken in a day or two after taking priests and stakeholders into confidence over the matter, he said.
"The district magistrates have been asked to hold discussions with the priests, stakeholders, haq and hakoodharis of the temples. A decision on whether or not to open them for devotees will be taken accordingly," he said.
Chardham priests are opposed to opening their gates to devotees who may be coming from high-load COVID-19 zones.
They have written to Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat requesting him not to start the yatra to these temples till at least June 30.
Mr Rawat held a meeting with senior officials late on Sunday night and left the decision to the Devasthanam Board which manages the affairs of 51 temples in the state, including the Chardham.
While the board will take a few days more to take a call on the issue, the CEO said even if the annual yatra begins it will be conducted initially in a very limited way with only locals and people from within the state to be allowed to visit the temples.
Those who visit the temples will have to strictly follow the MHA guidelines about social distancing and wearing masks, Mr Raman said.
District magistrates have been asked to be strict with people who try to violate the COVID-19 protocol, he said.
Temples within the limits of Dehradun Municipal area were also not opened for devotees as there has been a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in town, Mr Raman, who is also the Garhwal commissioner, said.
Chief priest of the famous Tapkeshwar temple in Dehradun Mahant Krishna Giri Ji Maharaj said if keeping the temples closed for devotees for a few more days or a fortnight saves lives, there is no harm in this.
"As per the guidelines of the centre people cannot sound the bell, offer jalabhishek, touch anything inside the temples or get prasad. So how are they going to enjoy coming to the temple?" he said.
"It will be better if they wait for some more time and come to the temple when these restrictions are removed," the chief priest of the temple said.
However, the founder of Vaishno Devi temple adjacent to Tapkeshwar, Acharya Vipin Joshi, said there was no harm in opening the temples in the urban areas which are not thronged by devotees on normal days.
"Visiting temples will dispel the gloom that is surrounding people in the times of coronavirus. On normal days, when temples in urban areas do not witness throngs of devotees, maintaining social distancing should not be difficult," he said.