Social distancing, no prasad as religious places reopen

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: Religious places reopened on Monday for the first time in over 70 days, welcoming devotees after the easing of curbs that were imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), while others preferred to stay closed despite the central government’s approval.

At Gorakhnath Temple in Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Yogi Adityanath, who also is the head priest of the shrine, offered prayers before its gates opened at 5am, a day after he reviewed the safety arrangements at the site.

In Ayodhya, just five devotees at one time were allowed at the iconic Hanuman Garhi, Ram Janmabhoomi and Badi Devkali. “Devotees have been asked to leave the temple premises as soon as possible after paying respect to the deity,” said Raju Das, a priest at Hanuman Garhi.

At Lucknow’s historic Mankameshwar temple, devotees stood in queues since early morning even though they were not allowed to touch idols. No prasad was offered either.

“I came here at 4.30am. Before me, there were just two more devotees who performed darshan. I was not able to offer milk or prasad, but I understand all this has been done to protect us,” said Vivek Tewari, a devotee.

A limited number of people was allowed entry for namaz at Lucknow’s Aishbagh Eidgah. “After so many days, I offered namaz inside the mosque...but with social distancing,” Mohammad Mushtaq, a resident of Aishbagh, said.

However, Varanasi, Agra and Meerut administrations decided not to open religious places immediately. In Vrindavan, the Bankey Behari temple was closed.

In Assam, the famous Kamakhya Temple remained shut. “We closed the doors of the temple on March 20 following government directives. As of now, we have decided to keep the temple off limits for devotees till June 30,” said Kabindra Prasad Sarma, the chief priest (junior) of Kamakhya Temple.

The famous Mahakal temple in Madhya Pradesh’s Ujjain opened doors to long queue of devotees, who underwent thermal screening, sanitised their hands and maintained social distancing. “The registration was done through an app and a toll free number,” said temple administrator Sujan Singh Rawat said.

In West Bengal, most of the religious places remained closed, including the famous Dakshineswar Kali temple near Kolkata. “In a day or two, we will start letting in 10 people at a time as prescribed by the state government, but managing the crowd that will wait outside the main gates will pose a problem,” said Prasun Hazra, one of the trustees of the temple.

In Bihar, most of the places of worship, including temples, mosques, gurdwaras and churches, opened their doors across the capital city of Patna.

The 300-year-old Mahavir Mandir installed an automatic sanitizer dispenser and infrared thermometer at the entrance. “This was the first time I didn’t visit Mahavir temple for so long. I am glad as today is my son’s birthday and we have come to seek blessing,” Geeta Tiwari, a devotee, said.

Golden Temple in Amritsar, which was open during the lockdown, did not witness a rush of pilgrims. “During complete lockdown, there used to be two or three rows of devotees having langar (free food) in the community kitchen. On Monday, it increased to four or five rows,” said Sukhbir Singh, who runs the kitchen committee at the temple.

In Uttarakhand, the prayer at Har Ki Pauri in Haridwar began, and the twin shrines of Mata Mansa Devi and Mata Chandi Devi allowed pilgrims to visit with certain restrictions. The Char Dham pilgrimage, however, will take some time to resume with priests apprehensive about the coronavirus situation, chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat said.

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